As the pandemic continues into another March, and as I watch new blades of daffodils stir up through the soil in response to light’s longer days, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between behaviors (physical, mental, spiritual and other) that help us survive, and the ones that help us to thrive: that support the actual vitality of our lives.
So even as we all continue to focus attention on doing all we can do to ensure our own and others’ safety and survival by the protective practices we all know by now to follow (right?), now that it seems clear that we are in this for the long haul, I have begun to bring much more conscious attention also on behaviors and practices that support my own and others’ vitality, since protective behaviors that are not eventually complemented by life-giving ones are like planting bulbs in a pot, then storing the pot indefinitely in the garage. Which protects the bulbs from harm, but also deprives them of nourishment, especially the life-giving touch of light.
Fear leads us toward isolation and disconnection, which is a good thing in a time when quarantine is a crucial part of our collective survival strategy! But extended isolation also carries the risk of weakening our sense of connection to what the West African healer and teacher Sobonfu Somé calls the “web of light” from which the entire web of life is made: from the very source of our vitality. And since many of us have been spending a lot more time indoors than we did before the pandemic, some of the naturally-occurring ways that we previously connected with the web of light (mostly by spending a lot more time outside) have been disrupted and constricted. With the effect that, in the process of protecting our safety, we may have been unknowingly neglecting our own everyday practices and habits which support our vitality.
One basic remedy is to make sure to spend some time outside every day –any amount– in which you make conscious that connection in some way, through the body. It may be as simple as taking a walk without listening to a podcast, so that you are engaging instead the active awareness that you are connecting with the web of light and life, and feeling that in your body (this is one of the practices I have recently begun: ditching the earbuds when I walk, and connecting fully with what is around me instead). It might mean standing outside on your patio or in your yard for a just couple of minutes with your cup of coffee (instead of inside, in front of the TV news), and using words to more deeply welcome, allow and receive that connection (words like those ones, even: “I welcome, allow and receive my connection with the web of light and the web of life”). Then do something that connects you to dirt, plants, ground, and notice that you are doing that (which is what “mindfulness” is, by the way: “paying attention on purpose to what is happening now” ). Then notice, over the days, the effect of such brief, simple practices as this (or others practices you are drawn to) on your sense of vitality and connection, even as you continue to distance in other ways.
Which is bringing to mind, as I write, a favorite poem by poet Mary Oliver which itself could be a daily prayer with which to welcome the light. So I’ll leave you with that (for now!):
Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
― Mary Oliver