My writing knows more than I do. That’s what I’ve learned and that’s what I try to share with others. Sit down, get out of the way, and let the writing take over. It will teach you a thing or two.
Well, in these Covid-19 times I am struggling to take my own advice. My writing voice is yelling at me, “You humans are the biggest virus on this planet. You’ve destroyed countless species of plants and animals forever. You threaten the very future of this planet and now you’re freaked out by a virus attacking humans? Well, it’s about time! What is happening now is precisely what’s been happening for decades. Destruction of earth, its people, and its future.” Phew. Upon hearing this, I immediately experience writer’s block. There is no way I can write this, I’m thinking—as I do.
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has taken me by surprise. It has plunged me into fear—for myself and others, shortened my attention span almost to zero, and shriveled my spiritual awareness into a mockery of spirituality.
I read articles about this virus being “the big correction” that we so desperately need. The wake-up call to the endless damage created by capitalism and consumption. The ways in which materialism—from what we buy to the ways we think—has created a tragic future for all life on earth. Now, some say, we get to wake-up and change our ways.
Then I take a much-needed step back into my body and ache for all who are suffering throughout the world—from the virus itself to its isolating consequences. We are being asked to physically disconnect from one another precisely when we need human connection more than ever. Innocent people all over the world, from those living quiet agrarian lives to those in big cities, are being afflicted by this virus as well as by these times. We need each other more than ever, even as we are being advised to stay apart.
The complexity knows no bounds. The economic system has been developed to reward the upper few percent with greater and greater profit at the cost of humane equality for the rest of us and environmental integrity for the earth. It is a system that has been cultivated by the top to serve the top first and foremost. And it trickles down mercilessly in an exploitative ripple effect that also has a global impact.
This corporatization of consciousness has been a slow and steady invasion for decades. It has framed too many lives in consumptive unconsciousness, depriving us of meaningful human connection with one another and with this planet, our only home.
My writer’s life is traditionally quiet, private, and somewhat distanced from the world-at-large. So, what’s the difference now? Usually I am in writing seclusion from a world that is complex in its unfolding but not steeped in global tragedy. The immensity of this tragedy makes my writer’s life feel pathetic and useless. “Do something, god-dammit!” are the words I am hearing. But what?
Every morning I wake-up into the dark of it all. I cannot imagine the light because it feels like a betrayal of this truth we are all experiencing. Then I kick my own ass down to the beach where, for years, I have blissed out in one direction and picked up plastic in the other. That first step out of the car hits my pathetic mindset with a wake-up call into the consistent, non-stop beauty of the natural world. The unfolding of the day that never ends. I am reminded of being in India where, every evening as the sun was going down, it was coming up here on San Juan Island. Light happens. And continues to happen. This is the daily reminder I am now needing every day.
This daily ritual often involves a stop at Market Place to pick up a few things. This, too, holds a most meaningful reminder. Everyone working there is working for us all. They are risking their health for our community’s needs. So very grateful to all who continue in their critical jobs serving public needs. They wake me up to life beyond my misery and I say, “Thank you!” as often as I can.
When I get home, I have a heartbeat of balance and I turn to two things: something that makes me cry with both grief and gratitude and something that reminds me to do my work as a responsible human being.
The grief and gratitude comes from this performance by Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, and the East London Gospel Choir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9uYu4R2nk8&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0_z8bBjpxOyCXDqXVnhnIQhWbFIClt7w5MXwAexxKTxME4bgXnC258KYo
The work part comes from a Buddhist teacher’s talk for these times. To many people, Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion. It has faith and devotion to deities which represent Mind, Body, Spirit and Eternal Being. This teaching encompasses them all with matter-of-fact reality:
I had to cancel my trip to India this year and I will so deeply miss my friends there and the non-stop eye-contact, spiritual recognition, and prayerful presence that is so unique in rural India. The entire country is now in a 21-day lockdown.
As someone who had to make peace with Christianity because of the perversions of my childhood, I am grateful to Rev. West Davis who gifted me with the awareness of real Christianity’s all-encompassing-love-for-all. This article is a gift and a guide:
In this small community of ours, I experience solace every day—from the gentle “Have a good one,” from grocery store employees to the smiles of those I see on my daily walks around the gravel pit where all are walking their dogs and very carefully honoring social distance at the same time.
There is something in the air, above and beyond all viruses. It is the spirit of love, the awareness of this mess we are all in and the recognition of our shared struggle as we do our best to survive in body, mind, soul and spirit.
On Facebook, I post photos from my morning walks. This one is from today:
When I got home, I opened to a random page in the book, “Earth Prayers from Around the World.” It was this:
Listen to the salutation to the dawn,
Look to this day for it is life,
the very life of life,
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of our existence.
The bliss of growth, the splendor of beauty,
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well spent makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn.
--Sanskrit Salutation To The Dawn
It has taken me a week to write this “Opinion” piece and only today was I able to feel the equilibrium necessary to finish it.
Thank you—for reading and for being there.
Janet Thomas has lived on San Juan Island for 29 years. She is the San Juan Islands Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance and was the Superintendent of San Juan County Parks when Jet-ski-whale-watching was prevented from launching from San Juan County Park, a decision ultimately upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. She is an author and playwright whose work has been produced in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her most recent books are: "The Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations" and "Day Breaks Over Dharamsala--A Memoir of Life Lost and Found."
Genna Saturday, 28 March 2020 08:32 Comment Link
Thank you for writing this. I've been feeling very similarly and your column and all the links you included truly helped me feel more calm and centered (though I have a feeling I'll have to revisit this many times in the coming weeks to stay that way). Though my husband and I live far from the islands for now, they've been a source of solace and joy for us for years and we're thinking of all the residents through this time. No matter what's happening it's always a good day to watch the water and the clouds.Report