What does it take to live well during this year? For so many of us, the foundations on which we have built our lives seem to be washing away.
Job losses and illness, lacking social contact, the intensity of homeschooling. Any one of these can cause us to become disoriented, but when life is going on as usual it’s easy to push down our concerns and fears, and ignore that quiet voice that whispers to us - sometimes in the middle of the night!
This is certainly my story. For many years, I wanted nothing more than to ‘fit in’. I thought that if I could only do more, be more, I would be worthy of my life.
Perhaps it’s because I was born different? I have one hand, and it can be challenging to be so obviously unlike most people. But I’ve come to realise that this isn’t what really matters. It’s the story I tell myself about who I am that has the potential to bring a life that is filled with joy and gratitude, or one that leaves me feeling a victim of circumstance and inadequate.
I think all of us have a reason to want to shut ourselves off from the world. To close the door in the middle of a pandemic, hide under the bedcovers and hibernate until the demands of life make it impossible.
But what if there was another way through?
Now, more than ever, many of us are realising the futility of defining our lives by external criteria. Job success, a big home, a fancy car and glamorous overseas vacations are all ways that we can make ourselves feel successful, and maybe even become the way we motivate ourselves to get up every morning.
But if these are taken away, what remains?
For many of us, it’s in the undoing that the real gift of life appears.
It might not come easy.
But there’s no time like the present.
At some point, this pandemic will end. What sort of world do we want to emerge? What sort of people do we want to become?
At the core of all of this, for me, is the recognition of just how precious is this life we have been gifted with. Not the one that’s visible from the outside, but the one that shines from within, if we let it.
Underneath all the noise from the outside world, the demands to do more, to be more, is the gift of your unique and irreplaceable soul.
How do we remember this, when life becomes chaotic and confusing? When the world is telling us that we’re not enough?
There are a few ways that I am learning to remember, and I hope that by sharing these insights with you we might be able to spark a revolution. After all, it only takes a small amount of light to penetrate the darkness: even the narrow beam of a torch can help us navigate a path forward, step by step.
First, don’t be afraid to confront the darkness. There’s a difference between the darkness that we face when life doesn’t go according to plan, and the darkness that comes when we realise that, in our own ways, we haven’t allowed ourselves to be all we could be.
It can feel a bit like this.
Do you see how, at the base of the tree, everything appears dead? The roots are held in rocky ground at the edge of the cliff, battered by changing tides and high winds. But they keep growing, searching in the rock for their nutrients, and although the early growth has died away, higher up there is new, lush growth readying itself for spring.
What if we see our lives a little like this? The pandemic is our rocky cliff-face, but every one of us has the capacity to send our roots down a little deeper and find a new path to growth.
For me, this is an exercise in faith. I have been reading Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful book Hope in the Dark recently. In it, she acknowledges that change is a complex process. “Sometimes it’s as complex as chaos theory and as slow as evolution. Even things that seem to happen suddenly arise from deep roots in the past or long-dormant seeds. A young man’s suicide triggers an uprising that inspires other uprisings, but the incident was a spark; the bonfire it lit was laid by activist networks and ideas about civil disobedience and by the deep desire for justice and freedom that exists everywhere.” Hope in the Dark p.xxiv
What is prerequisite to change in every case is the faith that things can, in fact, be made better. At whatever scale this change is made, it must start with us as individuals. Of course. We can’t hope to give away what we don’t have, so the first step must always be to find that spark in ourselves that we are much more than our circumstances, or our troubles.
In fact, it’s my belief that each of us carries within us the spark of the divine. The creative force of the universe lies embedded in us all, and it’s our task of a lifetime to recognise this in ourselves and each other.
This means, of course, that there is nothing that truly separates us. The person in front of you in the grocery store, the nurse in the COVID ward, the teacher, the student.
These aren’t weasel words. Recognising this means nothing less than a revolution. We can no longer afford to make distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’, nor to imagine ourselves separate from the planet on which we depend.
Every action we take, every decision we make, is intimately connected and generates a new network of consequences that can carry far beyond our limited imagination.
The question, then, becomes how we turn the ratchet in a way that builds the momentum towards a world where benefits are shared amongst the many, not the few. Where people who have been on the margins are recognised and celebrated for divergent, enriching perspectives. Where those at the centre of power are held in place by a system that creates norms of respect, engagement and care.
It means recognising that each one of us is worthy of treating ourselves with the same privilege.