2020 is going to be known as the year we spent inside…at least here in Melbourne.
As days have blurred into weeks and the weeks into months I’ve lost track of exactly how long we have been in lockdown.
Time simultaneously seems to take forever and flash by in the blink of an eye.
A while back I stopped trying to make sense of the right vs the wrong decision and consciously decided to let go of the anger, fear and angst. I stopped trying to second guess the government. And let the year pass by in its own time.
I stopped reading angry posts on Facebook. And muted people whose posts were promoting outrage or spreading misinformation.
This has been very psychologically healthy. And in tuning out the endless chatter of conspiracy theories and all that negativity, I’ve had the cognitive and emotional space to think my own thoughts…and come to a deeper understanding of what all this pain, separation and constriction might be trying to teach us about the meaning of life the universe and everything.
There’s been lots of thoughts and posts written about looking for silver linings. And they are there for sure. But it’s hard to see sometimes how that compensates for the losses in the way we live – and may not return to in the foreseeable future.
I’m much more interested in thinking about how I can understand a deeper meaning that goes beyond a simple cost benefit analysis of silver linings vs dark clouds. I’m not interested in Pollyanna views of the world – but in somehow grasping, if I can, something more about the essence of things.
So here’s how things seem to me:
We are not in control.
For a long time it has seemed we can control our world. Control our health. Control just about everything.
We think the answers are in our hands. Success is up to us …. If we eat right, live right than the world will turn out just the way we want it.
In a micro view of the world this seems reasonable. Things seem reasonably linear and predictable. If you do X, then you will get Y.
But the more you zoom out, and include other perspectives (and externalities as economists might say) the more unfathomable, unpredictable and uncontrollable it all seems.
Whether it’s managing climate change, covid or illness – there comes a point where the complexity of the system is more than we can cope with.
In so many cases there seems to be no single right path to take. We have no choice but to acknowledge we can do our absolute best with our whole hearts with all our resources….but then we need to let go and see the outcome is not in our hands.
I don’t feel despair about this – but rather humility. It brings into sharp relief for me the importance of living with a strong sense of moral and ethical values.
Seeing as we can’t control the outcomes of our efforts in so many ways, we need to focus so much more on the process and be as decent as we can in all our endeavours and live with as much faith, trust, grace, courage and dignity as we can.
Life is short
We have all watched in horror the early days of the pandemic – people dying who in other circumstances ought to be alive.
How clear it seems to me that none of us alive today have any idea how long for – or when it might unexpectedly end because of the unforeseen and unpredicted (God forbid).
We may or may not have plenty of time to fulfil our plans and ambitions for our life. We just don’t know.
What counts more, surely, than the length of time we live, but rather the spirit and vitality and positive intention and attitude with which we live.
Are we using the time we’ve got in the best way? How can we live better for today? Not tomorrow, or next week. But. Right. Now.
We can be whole even when we are alone.
We all know how important it is to be connected with each other. How others complete us. How destructive loneliness is.
The enforced isolation from our social networks has been enormously difficult for so many. Virtual get-togethers will never compensate for the loss of being with other people. The sheer joy of feeling another person’s energy. To be in the presence of a loved one.
This, perhaps in many ways, has been the hardest loss of all.
When I was younger I saw life as a path of continuous gain. Gaining in age, wisdom, possessions, money, friends, experiences….all of which added up to some utopian future of having it all.
But as I get older, and especially this year, I see how much we experience loss along the way. And how painfully it is felt. And that no-one is immune from loss – and the grief that comes with it. And grieve we must.
There is another side to this that I’ve only been thinking about recently.
And that is that maybe we acquire things, people, relationships to fill up emptiness in ourselves. And when we do that it leaves something special about ourselves unknown and unexplored.
We gain things, friends, relationships. And along the way we lose many of them too. Not much seems to last forever. If we are not careful we can become sunk in a never ending sense of loss and grief.
But this changes once we start to see the things we have as external to our real selves. But our essence and our humanity is a constant that is with us always. The deep love and spiritual connections we share with others transcends physical separation – and in a sense becomes one within ourself. Somehow we all become included with each other at this essential level.
So I’m starting to see how it is possible to suffer an external loss, without it breaking me. Because my essential self is unbreakable in the first place.
This does not mean not feeling grief. It does not mean all this loss is sometimes enormously hard. But it means that if we can go deeper into our essential self we might find an enriched way of being alone in the world without all the externals. A way where experiencing your own aloneness is to experience your own wholeness and paradoxically your connectedness with others.
We have more blessings in our lives than we can ever count or appreciate.
We take so much of normal life for granted and don’t even realise the preciousness of each moment – until it is all taken away.
Living for months without being able to go more than 5 km from home and all the other restrictions has been really hard. In some ways it has felt like being imprisoned.
If you look through the arc of human history, even our lockdown restrictions involve far more privilege and blessings than even the wealthiest people of only a few generations ago had.
So rather than focus on lack, maybe we need to start feeling joy and gratitude for the countless blessings we do have.
I am alive today! I am breathing! How amazing is that!! How am I going to live, really live, today? How can I make every single breath worth it?
Responsibility brings meaning, purpose and hope.
It’s really very easy to start blaming others for our pain.
The incompetent government/doctors/whoever. The selfish community/corporation or whatever. The broken system, toxic culture…or something else.
Blame relieves us of taking responsibility. So it can feel good – we get to stay holy, pure and most of all right!
But it does mean we can too easily feel like a victim. A victim of other people, of a regime, of circumstance.
And even more – that we have been robbed of our ‘rights’ – human rights – that the world and life owes us.
But thinking about these rights inevitably gives rise to anger and frustration that we can’t exercise them – or someone evil has taken them away from us. Oppressed us. We focus on loss and the things we don’t have.
But I don’t know. Anger is an important energy to change the world. But too much anger – feels kind of self destructive.
So maybe thinking about our rights is the wrong focus.
Perhaps it would be more constructive to think about what is required of us in this circumstance – albeit painful. What do I need to do now? What responsibilities are being revealed to me in this constriction?
It may not turn pain into pleasure, but thinking like this can certainly turn despair into meaning, purpose and hope.
And meaning, purpose and hope make life, no matter how hard, worth living with all our might.