The world is increasingly in lockdown and life as we have hitherto known it is breaking down, yet my recurring thought amongst all the fear and uncertainty is that transformation often comes through suffering. The potential for change is always there, awaiting action or awareness, but as long as we’re comfortable nothing is likely to change. The pain wakes us up and motivates us to move. It screams at us that this cannot be the only way.
A Painful Process
I know that myself. My life was fine (or was it?) until my physical pain got so bad in my late 20s, that I found myself saying out loud (into an empty room!): Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Eventually my life changed, but I’m not sure any of it would have happened without the pain. Sure, there are days when I wish I had not suffered so much, but when I am truly honest with myself, I am able to acknowledge the pain which lies behind that desperate appeal to a force greater than myself.
We may well be at a collective crossroads. Or maybe we’re simply passing a signpost to a place we think is for others to discover. After all, we have a proclivity to delay the necessary until it’s (almost) too late. Our talent for dissuading ourselves, combined with our deep, unconscious conditioning and a reluctance to look too closely at the reality of our lives, keep us where we are. Even when things get uncomfortable we still prefer the familiar to the unknown.
Life Has Changed Forever
Yet people are saying that life will never be the same again. What exactly does that mean? Without context, it’s just an indication of change. But what kind of change? That depends on us; on our beliefs, perspective, intention and desire. Do we want hope or despair? Fear or love? Resignation or surrender? The choice is ours. It always was, and it’s possible that the most powerful consequence of where we currently are is that we are seeing that we really do have a choice (to make).
And so it was that, when the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak became clear, I felt an optimism born of my own experience. Knowing also that my process is applicable at the level of the entire species, I immediately saw comparisons: Circumstances conspire to jolt us out of the passivity of our automated habits. We lose things we had taken for granted. The pain is unbearable. We become conscious that something has to change. In our new awareness we begin to see our unquestioning acceptance of life as it is. Very quickly we make bargaining assessments of what we truly value and what we don’t really need. We cry out for help.
Unfortunately, where I had initially hoped to see solidarity and recognition in the faces of the scattered strangers who passed me on the street, I saw fear and anxiety. Nevertheless, my grounds for optimism endured. I know the direction this can take us. Where we can take ourselves. As a species we are not short of ideas regarding how we can create a better world or what that world might look like, but we have been too locked for too long into our old ways of doing things. Those shackles may now be loosening.
A Time For Reflection
I’m not saying it will be easy. (I’m naive, but not that naive.) My own turning point was impossible to ignore and came over 20 years ago, yet I am still making my way towards my personal utopia. Life-changing events are hugely challenging, and always take longer and require more effort than one would wish, but they invariably carry with them the opportunity for transformation. It begins with the type of reflection we have all been given the chance to do. This is our time to reflect. If not now, then when?
In the weeks since those early days, my hope has been tempered with the pain and sadness of people’s stories. The health workers risking their lives for us. Already overworked and underpaid, they consistently display the traits which nations so easily claim for themselves in times of crisis, but which actually belong to all of humanity. The loved ones lost without warning, without a chance to say goodbye or embrace each other in grief. The people in violent relationships, locked down with their abusers. And the children, for whom the closed schools are the only safe haven in their lives, forced now to exist permanently in damaging, threatening environments.
My optimism continues to falter as my awareness of the suffering increases, but the thought persists: Where might this lead? Surely we are seeing things more clearly? Seeing what can be done by governments and communities. Seeing the cracks in our comfortable worlds. Seeing our own fears and anxieties as they rise to the surface, demanding our attention. Seeing more clearly than ever that we have love in our hearts and an innate pull towards beauty and compassion. Seeing that, even without the physical contact, we can connect with others at the deepest of levels. And, among the rubble of our existence, we are beginning to see and to show ourselves in a far greater light; one which shines so brightly that it also illuminates the prospect of a better world for everyone.