There have been a series of beautiful weather days recently here in New Hampshire USA, a perfect time to get outside as much as possible before the onslaught of bug season. There has not been a single plane to be heard or contrail to be seen in the sky. This is normal.
We have things upside down. It is so easy to think that what we have witnessed in the last few years is “normal”. Being the adaptable primates we are, we quickly become habituated to sights, sounds and routines and then consider changes from this to be abnormal, and sometimes we even judge the change negatively.
My students are generally around 16 years of age thus they were born three years after the twin towers collapsed, were only infants when Janet Jackson’s blouse malfunctioned at the super bowl and have never known an Earth with her natural interglacial climate and weather patterns. The Vietnam war and Civil Rights movements are distant history to them, as far back as World War I was to those of us born in the ’60’s. These young people arrived on Earth during the computer age and most have had a cell phone in their pockets since middle school. The chaotic, busy, consumer-driven world they inhabit is their normal.
My father in law, Robert Houston, is still quite well at age 96. He flew B-24 airplanes in World War II. At age 19 he was responsible for a crew of 9 other young men. He remembers as a boy seeing Civil War veterans in the fourth of July parades in his small town, old men honored for their duty and sacrifice. Born in 1924, he grew up before the age of antibiotics, and well before the age of commercial aviation.
We forget that air travel is relatively new and is in truth mostly optional. We are finding out how optional as air travel is down 95%, and while the collapse of that economic sector is creating real and extreme hardship on those who have lost those jobs, the lack of flying opportunities is not harmful to the general population.
In 2018, 4.4 billion air trips were taken by people, up from 2.6 billion in 2010. There is nothing “normal” about billions of Homo sapiens in planes powered aloft by the energy of ancient sunlight, captured by marine algae over tens of millions of years. These flying buses are just one of many frivolous methods we humans are mindlessly using to burn up the planet as fast as we possibly can. Deep in our hearts, we all can find a place of love for planet Earth. What could possibly cause us to turn a blind eye towards her well-being?
Are we flying towards something or away from something? When we take trips to exotic places, yes there is the joy of discovery, seeing new sights, relaxing on warm beaches, and yet perhaps we are also trying to escape our own hectic lives and the internal distress we feel within. We run from anxieties, our troubled relationships, unhealed trauma haunting us from our pasts. A favorite line from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene describes this perfectly.
The result is that confusion and disturbance resonates throughout one’s whole being.
True and lasting peace cannot be found in a 5-day Caribbean vacation. It can only be found within and this requires some work, some conscious efforts to wake ourselves up and to face our inner demons, feel our feelings and allow them to become transformed. There is spiritual work to be done too, in order for us to transcend the illusion put forth in our culture that life is all about competition, winning and acquiring more things. Paraphrasing John Welwood, psychologist and teacher who made great strides in integrating spirituality and psychology…
“If we live just on the horizontal, we will be relegated to a limited life of anxiety and fear. With just psychological work and no spiritual work we won’t be able to see our place in the larger whole. If on the other hand, we try to live only on the vertical, and if we do not inhabit our bodies, we become disconnected with life in this realm, and we will be swallowed by our unhealed issues and complexes. But with both psychological and spiritual work, we can let go, while also taking hold, committing ourselves to meaningful and productive work in this world.”
We are waking up. This pandemic, as terrible as it is in so many ways, is also prompting us to reflect on what is important to us, family, friends, relationships. We find our greatest pleasure and inspiration in stories of compassion and giving. In short, we are starting to see our place in the web of Love that is at the heart of existence. Our drug of choice, endless distraction, is less available and we find ourselves by default, engaging in psychological and spiritual work which offers us liberation and real peace. We are on our way, both individually and collectively as a human family.
A link worth clicking, says it all much better than this essay…