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Making sense of the covid times

I’m writing this in April 2022: we’re into the third year of the covid time, and over 70% of us in the UK have had covid at least once. This is the biggest global pandemic since 1918… so what can we learn from it?

Probably all of us have had many conversations where someone tells us they’ve got covid, or lament the ongoing impact it’s having. Mostly, I hear people meeting covid with a sense of resignation, treating the whole pandemic as some big, random, unfortunate event. I prefer to believe there’s a meaning and purpose to most things, so this blog is my search for this in covid.

Plenty of experts would disagree that covid is simply a random misfortune. It’s a symptom of climate change, of how human disruption of habitats has caused a virus to mutate across species. This is well explained in this blog by Jem Bendell.

So one way we could make sense of this pandemic is by accepting the truth of the climate emergency, admitting how badly that’s already affecting us, and addressing it much more urgently.

I can still recall my sense of amazement and alarm in early 2019, as the picture moved so quickly from some weird health problem in China, to lockdown right here. My feeling at the time was, this is Gaia biting back. I share the view of James Lovelock and many others that our planet, Gaia, is a living system with its own intelligence, and you’d expect a pushback against human abuse. But the scientists are saying the same thing in different words…

Another memory from the early covid period is how many of us valued the slowing down, the lack of cars on the roads, the quiet skies. And how many people asked sadly, will that last when we can travel again? The hopes that the pandemic would boot us into living more sustainably look flimsy now: but this is a clear lesson we could still draw.

There’s also the big question of how we might make sense of covid at a personal level. Here are some of my ideas on this:

  • It’s a reminder that we’re all vulnerable, we don’t control our lives. So be humble, be aware, learn to live with uncertainties. Grow your resilience: see more on this on this website.
  • One of the challenges and gifts of covid has been the need to adjust to different beliefs and preferences (e.g. pro-vax or anti) among both close connections and strangers. Do you wear a mask and keep a social distance in public places? More awareness and tolerance for other people’s wishes must be a gift.
  • Most of us have needed support from others in the pandemic, but in-person contact and face-to-face groups have been harder to find. We’ve discovered we can have deeper connections online than we ever imagined. But I think we’re also being called to find more strength within our individual selves, and from non-human sources, e.g. Nature contact, and prayer and meditation.
  • Covid has forced most of us to live more slowly, simply, locally, which is good for us and for the planet. Let’s hope we can keep choosing what the Buddhists call voluntary simplicity, even though rushing around again may be possible.
  • When I have an infection, I listen to my body to find the meaning in it. I have just tested positive for covid, and what my body tells me is, ‘Slow down and live within your resources and the Earth’s capacity, not just now, but indefinitely! The lungs are a key organ that covid affects, and I feel acutely aware of the steady rise in air pollution that all of us now have to live with. This is yet another reason why raising our ongoing resilience is crucial.

You may have noticed how often politicians reach for military metaphors, and bang on about the fight against covid. I think it’s more helpful to see the pandemic as a symptom, a large warning signal, of the fast-declining health of the global ecosystem. Many experts have warned that the covid virus could keep mutating and affecting us for years, and that further pandemics are likely in future. So let’s aim to learn from them, not just live with them.