I invite you to imagine that the bewildering, alarming events of recent weeks, especially coronavirus, have positive aspects which we need to discern: why not try? Like me, you may have attempted to make sense of all this by rational means, and failed. 

The gifts in bewilderment

You may know Einstein’s saying, that a problem can be solved on the level on which it was created. Or Buckminster Fuller’s diction: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality…build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

In recent years, and even more in recent months, the level of turbulence in the world gets more extreme. Whilst specific crises may resolve, the ongoing level of disruption will probably keep growing. This blog offers some ideas on positive responses, finding the gifts in the storm. I’ll give links to earlier blogs as part of this. 

In their excellent book Active Hope, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone describe three stories that we use to make sense of the world: 

  1. Business as Usual: things are basically fine, we just need a bit more economic growth and technology to deal with the problems. 
  2. The Great Unravelling: we’re doomed, the ship’s going down. 
  3.  The Great Turning: if we have the courage to innovate radically, we can get through this crisis. 

Right now, story 1 looks flakey, story 2 looks convincing, and story 3 deserves our serious consideration. So read on! Here are a few ways to see our crisis differently, which have helped me and may serve you.

The implications of the coronavirus, on all levels from individuals to whole societies, are beyond imagining on the material level: health, stress, finance and more. I’m not ignoring that level in this blog, I just don’t know what to say about it. I believe that this crisis, like the climate emergency, has to be met on the spiritual and emotional levels too, and that’s what I hope to help with. 

Sufi viewpoints: unlearning and more 

Many Sufi practices aim at unlearning: freeing us from entrenched beliefs, so we can see reality more clearly. A crisis is a great chance to unlearn! To explore this, see Neil Douglas-Klotz’s great book, The Sufi Book of Life. Sufis often use wazifas, sound mantras, to connect with divine qualities. To navigate bewilderment, I recommend using a four wazifa sequence which has helped me many times. Just click here.

Is Gaia pushing back? 

The scientist James Lovelock uses Gaia to describe the living wisdom of planet Earth, which has guided it through many near-terminal crises in its evolution. There’s now ample evidence that humans are causing mass destruction of ecosystems and of other species: Coronavirus could be one way that Gaia is biting back at humanity. 7.7 billion people is overstressing Earth’s carrying capacity: reducing that number, however it happens, probably means living with a lot more human suffering. It’s a painful prospect, but one which we may have to face up to, as many societies had to do in the past. The impact will be hardest on the most poor and vulnerable, and those of us in relatively easier circumstances need to support them.

The Dream of the Earth: Join in! 

The pioneering eco-philosopher, Thomas Berry, also saw Earth as a living organism. He writes, “we could describe our industrial society as the addictive, paralysing manifestation of a deep cultural pathology”. He coined the terms New Story and Dream of the Earth to urge us all to see ourselves as within Nature, and to start to dream and envision a positive change. He sees creation as a continuing story, in which we can each play a creative part. So if we’re all stuck at home with time on our hands, why not dream? For my blog on Thomas Berry, click here

Embrace Buddhist Wisdom 

Whilst I’m not an expert on Buddhism, I’ve drawn on its teachings for many years. Jem Bendell also recommends Buddhist practices as part of the Deep Adaptation response. I hope hard core Buddhists won’t mind me picking up a selection of of concepts for the current crisis: 

Dukha and trishna: existence brings suffering, which arises from craving and attachment. 

Maya: life is a series of illusions, we have to learn to see through them to find the truth, the essence. 

Metta: loving-kindness, goodwill to others, compassion. A vital quality for our times. If you websearch metta meditation, you’ll find scripts and videos to guide you into metta

Voluntary simplicity: Buddhist teachers urge us to choose a life of material simplicity, willingly turning away from the addictive seductions of consumer marketing. Right now, involuntary simplicity could be worth a try!

An early advocate of voluntary simplicity

Pray — but be careful what you pray for

Last year I was at an inspiring workshop with Gail Bradbrook, who said, “I find that prayer is answered if I pray for something more than my personal needs.” My main spiritual teacher for twenty years, Neil Douglas-Klotz, is best known for retranslating Jesus’ teachings from the original Aramaic. Here’s part of his rendering of Matthew 7:7: 

Pray with desire — as though you interrogated your own soul about its deepest, most hidden longings;

And you will receive expansively — not only what your desire asked, but where the elemental breath led you —

Love’s doorstep, the place where you bear fruit and become part of the universe’s power of generation and sympathy

Coronavirus is truly bewildering. It’s surely a time for prayer, but what do we ask for? I’m praying that this crisis serves the highest good for all life, and that suffering may be relieved wherever possible. 

Find your (virtual) communities 
In times of bewilderment and overwhelm: fellowship is crucial; for emotional support as much as practical, and for the witnessing and affirming that helps us feel that our reactions aren’t crazy, and we’re not alone. I’m already seeing great ingenuity and generosity in online gatherings and other ways to connect, so I hope you find your connections. In April, I’m offering a series of five online workshops, Deepen your Roots: for details, click here.

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