Discovering the meaning of strength.

These last few weeks, I’ve been slowly recovering from what I suspect to have been covid-19, possibly with some flare-ups of other viral infections added to the mix. It’s been a weird time. I have been doing close to nothing, yet somehow it feels like I’m returning from a kind of vision quest all the same.

Maybe exactly because I’ve been doing nothing at all. When’s the last time that you’ve been confined to your home for five weeks at a time, on your own, not even leaving it for things like basic grocery shopping? Probably never. And that one was the easy lockdown. The harder one was the lockdown imposed on me by my own body. The one that made it physically impossible to do anything useful at all beyond the bare necessities. Had I been my ‘normal’ self, I would probably have used this time to start a million projects, and, as an introvert, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to leave social obligations behind for a while.

It has turned out differently. I had work obligations to fulfill as well (teaching a few courses at the university where I work). I failed them. Badly. The ‘proper’ way to do it would have been to create interactive course material, organize zoom meetings or at least record some videos. I got as far as putting up a note telling my students which pages they were expected to study on their own. That’s as far as I got. And I am not liking it one bit, being given no other choice but to admit defeat, admit that my strength has failed me and that it was just impossible to live up to obligations.

In normal times, when feeling ill, I would just have ‘powered through’, been brave and done my teaching despite the fact that I was feeling horrible. Not this time. I made a few brave attempts at reading through my own course notes, but never made it more than half an hour before I had exhausted my energy for the day (simply thinking hard about something takes up an astonishing amount of energy!!). Eventually I saw no other option but to give up, and admit that the only sensible course of action in this one was to rest as much as I could, and use all strength I had left to allow my body to heal itself.

Quite a humbling experience, and I expect that I’ll be spending quite a bit of time now unpacking it’s lessons…

That’s my personal story. To finish my post, let me share with you the following message that Brighid send me this morning.

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This is Brighid.

Surrender. It is a romantic notion for most of us. Something we know from movies or spiritual courses. Accepting that our fate does not always lie within our own grasp.

It is something that our society tells us day after day. That those who are not strong are lazy. That failure is something you owe only to yourself, that it is simply a lack of character and that it just means we need to learn some discipline.

Until the time comes when you realize that being able to discipline yourself is a kind of privilege. That not everyone has the good luck that willing themselves into action is all it takes. Sometimes the tides are so strongly against us that it is simply impossible to surmount them on our own or at all. It is not always true that we owe our bad fortune only to ourself.

What if you try and try and try, but keep up running against the walls of an invisible prison? These walls might be the limitations of your physical strength when you are dealing with physical illness, or walls put up by family circumstances, by ancestral wounding or by outside actions that are impossible for you to escape from.

Then there will come a point, hopefully, when we realize our struggle is futile, that there is no point in continuing to bash against walls that refuse to budge. Then it is time we start thinking of other strategies.

There is the drop of water that evaporates into steam as soon as it is confronted with heat, and there is the avalanche that is able to tear down any kind at wall. That avalanche happens when all drops decide to act in unison, rather than individually trickling down and having no impact at all.

And so we should learn, whatever our circumstance, to become aware of more than just our individual situations, but instead learn to read the tides, to see the patterns, and to add our voice to them. That way we can become part of the wind of change.

It may not be an easy decision to make. It may mean that you have to give up on hope on the individual level, to sacrifice your own relative comfort for the power you can give to those in a similar situation.

But if there’s one thing the current crisis should teach us is that we are not living on an island. The lack of free speech in China is part of the cause of this worldwide pandemic. This is not a luxury we have, to turn our heads away from the suffering of others. The weak who are unable to social distance because they do not have a comfortable place to seek shelter are the places where this virus will likely bide its time until it can resurge and create a second outbreak. These poor people, no matter where in the world they live, are our concern as well.

Viruses like this exist because of the loss of ecosystems. It does not matter if this is happening in a place you will never visit. It is your concern. Now. Today. It is the reason why you are sick or unable to go to work.

This is how connected we are right now. A butterfly flapping its wings does create a storm on the other side of the planet, and may cause empires to fall.

And we should learn to use that realization to our advantage. All too often, we think that we are too small too matter, or our governments tell us that there is no point in us trying to act against environmental degradation or world poverty as long as they don’t act against it elsewhere, because it does not make a difference. For it does.

The current crisis can help us discover both the limits as well as the full extent of our personal strength. This is a time when something new can start to grow.

And I urge you not to act in haste, or to jump at everything that moves. Start with yourself, start by examining your own feelings and your own needs. For this works in two directions. If it may one day be your wings that set off a storm elsewhere, it may be worth the time to discover that you have them, and what colour they are.

This is a time when illness reigns the world, and the first rule of healing is that allowing your body to rest is essential, that without that you may be literally killing yourself. A similar process is going on in the world today. We are forced into collective slowdown, and little seems to be happening. But it is more like a pressure cooker, where the results will only become apparent once the lid has been removed and the steam has been allowed to escape.

This is but the silence before the real storm. Just like the contents of the pressure cooker, it may be best to use this time to come to terms with the fact that the old world no longer exist. The old normal had evaporated, and there is no turning back the clock. Right now, gathering your strength means allowing that to sink in rather than trying to escape from the pot.

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