Last week we had a spell of surprisingly cool weather, a reminder that autumn is coming and a hint of the joyful relief from biting insects, heat, and humidity that it will bring. That anything new and happy might come our way felt astonishingly welcome, and we were outside as much as we could be, weeding, cutting back faded blossoms, saving seeds, watering plants, drying herbs, breathing in the fresh air, sitting back, and listening. Trying to be open-hearted to what is true for us in the time of the pandemic and to discern the myriad invitations to deepen our gratitude.
It is the season when the garden is filled with such a buzzing and fluttering of guests that I expect to see it elevate and levitate, suspended by the force of all that energy and lift. Bumblebees, tiny insects, butterflies and birds all co-exist, pursuing their driven business, sharing nectar and spreading pollen; it’s a marvel to observe and hear.
Phillip started to build a small deck in the “dog park” that he’d fenced off earlier this summer, but the lumber supply chain has stalled, so he’s found other ways to create. The fence he tossed up rather quickly is just wire mesh attached to posts he dug in and anchored with concrete, so we’ve been talking about weaving in willow branches and wild grapevine to make it look a bit more charming. Possibly. That ought to take the rest of our quarantine months/lives to complete: it’s comforting to choose a project, though, and one we can do together outside, where possibilities always seem more nourishing and expansive. Building and decorating fences…
Outwardly, life goes on almost as it always has. Inwardly, we both feel more anxiety and tension. How could we not? I’ve been trying to notice and meet this anxiety more compassionately and consciously, because I don’t want it to overtake my responses to the gift I believe life is, always.
But I’ve felt a heaviness in my heart as I’ve witnessed people in my community and beyond make choices that have endangered all of our lives, causing losses that could so easily have been prevented. So, I’ve allowed the heaviness to live in my heart, where I’ve hoped I can comfort it, grant it peace, and let it go. It’s ongoing, of course; trying to live centered in awareness is a continual unfolding and unpacking.
Certainly, we’re all responding to tremendous stress, enduring great losses, and being asked to adapt to rapidly-evolving changes without knowing for how long or to what end beyond “survival” these stressors will prevail. The low-grade and deeper depressions and grief being identified are natural responses to living with such sudden and deep gaps in our normal/relative maintenance of peace, joy, and security, and our somewhat reliable knowledge of what’s ahead. And how we all ache for the solace and surprises of community.
Under the influence of deprivation and anxiety, our blood pressures, stress hormones, and heart rates increase, as do bad habits for quick self-soothing, while healthy practices and sound sleep decrease. All of these are normal responses we can manage and counter with gentle presence and attention.
But the selfishness, defiance, petulance, and anger that have been evidenced in our communities only deepen my sadness as we experience these crises together and apart. I had hoped that we would unite more positively and maturely to help one another through this time of profound trauma. It’s personal; almost all of my family and circle of friends work in education or healthcare. I feel anger towards the people endangering my loved ones, and I don’t want to haul around these added burdens of anger and blame as I navigate this ordeal. I feel like something’s placed us on a map at a point labeled, “You Are Here,” and every particle of my being is saying, “But we shouldn’t be; we should be waaaaay over there!” (Pointing to places where the virus is being managed by science, intellect, compassion, and cooperation. Places where racism is more authentically confronted. Places where healthcare and income are equitably provided.)
When I find myself in a frustrated snarl, “shoulding” on myself, and on people and situations out of my control, it’s usually best I sit and turn inward: What can I alter about my own choices and behaviors? What is true? What are the invitations from Love?
I’ve been tentatively walking the trail very early in the day: masked, hooded, and sprayed with repellent, so I can check-in with the Great Blue Herons, Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese and other visitors. Their placidity and stillness comfort and inspire me. I sat with these friends as long as I could most mornings last week. The herons can perch and stare for hours, so I asked them to teach me more about compassion, forgiveness, and surrender. And about fences.
I sat with a heron friend and opened my heart towards the people who seem bent on perpetuating the virus. I considered that they are frightened, anxious, and angry, too, and are choosing behaviors from those feelings. For whatever reasons, they’re not motivated to learn more about the virus and practice the ways it can be mitigated by each of us. I can soften my anger toward them, rest in compassion, and pull my focus back further, to see we’re all living–and dying–from our own choices. Setting up fences; tearing them down. Inclusion, exclusion.
People who don’t wear masks and practice social distancing may endanger themselves, their loved ones, strangers, their children’s teachers, those providing them with care…and so that is what will happen; just as others choose to work in education, healthcare, and service industries, making them more precariously exposed to the virus. I can feel compassion for all of us. I can acknowledge sadness for some people’s ego-driven choices, and deep admiration for the selflessness of those in the path of the careless. How remarkable are those who know what they’re risking but still choose to offer their gifts and lives in the service of others. Courage comes from the root meaning “heart.” True acts of love often demand courage.
And so, people will die because they made selfishness, angry, and fearful choices, and others will die because they chose their actions motivated by courage, selflessness, and kindness. But we will all have to live with the consequences of these choices.
Small, tight fences around our hearts or no fences anywhere in sight: These are always our alternatives; what’s happening right now is always happening. We all make life-giving and death-bringing choices every day. Who and what will we include in our hearts, thoughts, and actions? Who and what will be excluded?
Whenever we’ve acted to gratify our egos at others’ expense, to deny our fears and project them outward, or to anger, criticize, and objectify others, we’ve at least momentarily put their joy and peace on life support and excluded them from the presence and power of our love. And isn’t loving each other into healing/wholeness the reason we’re here?
This is a crucial time for considering our capacity to love. If we choose to ignore practices that will protect the health and safety of ourselves and others, we’re saying, “Nothing and no one matters except for myself and my tribe.”
And, I guess, for me, that’s the learning edge for all of us. If we love at all, is it possible to place perimeters around the love we offer? Can I just love myself, my family, the people who think like me? Can I only love the earth for the ways I can exploit her? Doesn’t real love demand more? Doesn’t the quality of all the choices we make depend upon whether the consequences embrace life, the earth, and others inclusively?
We need to decide, sometimes moment by moment, what actions correspond to “love,” and what love looks like in the world. If it’s something we confine with our egos, deciding who and what will “benefit” from it, it would seem we’re on the wrong track.
Love has no boundaries; it either encompasses and unifies everything or nothing. The entire planet is made from the same starstuff; we breathe the same air other lifeforms have breathed for 2.5 billion years; we are more one than many. A great gift of this time is the chance to accept and live from this truth, to recognize and grow beyond whatever beliefs and practices seek to tame our love, to keep it small and self-serving. Now is the time to dismantle illusionary fences and to love wildly, love all.
Joy to your day; peace to your heart; hope in all you offer and receive.
© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.