And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
~ Once in a Lifetime, Brian Eno and The Talking Heads
I have a print created by an artist named Rodney White hanging on my wall. It incorporates the quote, “The future is just a collection of successive nows.” Whenever I glance at it, I’m reminded of the lines from the sharply-written play (and subsequent screenplay) The Lion in Winter, written by James Goldman. The plot, set during Christmas, 1183, explores the tortured, complex relationships among King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three grown, quarreling sons. At one point, the exhausted family pauses to consider the profound emotional dysfunction surrounding them and Eleanor asks (I’m paraphrasing), “However did we get here?” Henry responds. “Step by step.”
In my country this week, one coast was burning and another was being drowned while many suffered through unbearable heat and drought. All of this was foretold by science for decades; we didn’t listen and we didn’t take steps to alter our course. Meanwhile, the global pandemic continues its march, and the gestation of two centuries of racial and gender injustice have birthed a country malformed, diseased, and radically inequitable. All of these terrors could also have been mitigated; we chose otherwise. Step by step, and here we are: Times are bleak and days are dark. And repeatedly, I hear people comment, “I don’t know how we got here. I don’t know my country anymore; I don’t understand what’s happening.”
We’re quarantined from exposure to a virus, but, as a species, we quarantined ourselves from authentic relationships years and years ago; we lost track of who we were in relationship to ourselves, to others, and to the Earth. We lost focus; we lived unconsciously; we weren’t attentive and, step by step, we arrived at this place we do not know.
Living blindly and often without gratitude, humans dishonored the great gift of life on this miracle of a planet. (I speak of us as a species; every little moment of neglect adds up. Certainly, many of us love and care for the Earth and others as we’re able; yet every human, for generations, could likely have made better choices at times, made the effort to speak up against injustice, helped others in need; argued on behalf of laws protecting the land and water, taken greater time to make connections.)
How often have we considered and thanked the food we’re about to eat for its life and energy? Or thanked the earth for a beautiful day, for nourishing us, for supplying us with warmth, with water, with shelter? Have we acknowledged the peace granted to us by forests and beaches? The majesty of mountains? Have we ever considered a single tree our companion? Why were we willing to believe “someone else” would save the earth while we pursued our busy and important lives? If we had truly practiced reverence and formed relationship with the Earth, how could we have allowed her to be exploited and poisoned? At Full Moon Cottage, we live along a river we couldn’t possibly swim in or drink from without endangering our health: why is that at all acceptable?
How often have we rushed through our days, moving from task to task without really seeing those we love, missing out on the precious gifts of noticing, listening, and on being heard? Why does the value of a completed task transcend the priceless value of moments with our spouse, child, friend, or other companion?
How often have we pushed aside our own need to slow down? To sit and be still? To rest? To feed our spirit? And why? What has all the rushing been for, exactly?
Step by step, and here we are. Collectively, we humans seem unable to genuinely revel in our blessings; if we did, wouldn’t we adore them? Care for them? Value their perpetuation?
Emily: …Just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another!…I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute? ~Thornton Wilder, Our Town
I think the always-moving flow of human energy needs to shift its form and colors from the preponderantly masculine to one balanced with our feminine gifts as well. Time for our Inner Mother to lead, or at least be fully integrated into our choices, so that compassion and empathy will temper aggression and assertiveness, and independence partner equally with connection.
It’s tempting to give in to panic, fear, and inertia when we look at all the urgent problems we face. Yet I am strangely comforted during this time because, as dark as it is, it is also alive with possibility and reasons to be hopeful. It’s exciting to consider that–at any moment–each of us can choose creativity over despondency and inertia. We can choose mindfulness. We can midwife our world through this time with focus, attention, and support and—most importantly—in relationship. We can add our innovations to the process and encourage others to add theirs; we can change the direction of our time on Earth and what births we are gestating together. We can remind each other to breathe, push, and rest in nourishing rhythms, acknowledge our connections, usher into our world new ways of living and being, and teach each other how to creatively and expertly nurse these through infancy to maturity.
And right now, when every push hurts, depletes, and feels like our last and we fear these births will be stillborn, we can remind each other all will be well. Midwifing birth is an honor; it’s painful; it’s light-filled; it’s a mess; it’s both sacred and among the earthiest, most intimate act of creation available to humanity. And the birth of the changes we need to survive on this planet can require long labor: some of us may not be here when others celebrate the arrival of the wonderful gifts this time can create. It doesn’t matter. We are here now to cheer on the creation and support each other and the Earth. We’re here to begin the hard work.
These are dark days, but we have the power to perceive our darkness as tomb or womb. Our choice. And choosing consciously can create greater mindfulness about the steps we take as we move forward. For inspiration, I always go back to Pierre Teilhard’s belief that we’re still and always evolving, that the journey of humans through time is really a spiral upward and outward to the Omega Point, a union with Love.
The steps we take through life were always meant to be taken with others. Intelligence, creativity, energy, courage, and each other: We have everything we need to solve these problems, step by step, to midwife a better world with gratitude and reverence, and to remain awake to the blessings of relationship with our own hearts, with one another, and with the Earth.
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