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Back to Normal? No Way!

Thinking about a new world after COVID-19

“We can’t return to normal because our normal was precisely the problem.”

Bam!! This graffiti, spotted in China, says it all, and this is what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. There is now officially a “before.” We are experiencing the phase of “during,” and the “after” is yet to come. The issue as I see it is that for there even to be an after, we must create it. Otherwise, we return to the before and a stronger and meaner virus will circle back to us, urging us to recognize again what we don’t want in order to create what we do want.

Along with the relentless spread of COVID-19 around the globe we are witnessing a grass-roots explosion of kindness, genuine caring, and courageous action on behalf of others. The meanness and greed and rampant egoism of the before are being superseded in the during by qualities opposite to those. We are feeling deeply the importance of our connections with others. It turns out that this virus that is literally threatening our very lives is nature’s oracle, begging us to wake up to what we have become.

And even more dramatically, nature is showing us how abusive we have been to her. In a span of a few weeks that is the blink of an eye on the timeline of humankind, air pollution has drastically decreased worldwide, dolphins and swans have returned to the now clear waters of the Venetian canals and seismologists tell us that the world is shaking less.

A Radical Idea

In March, 2019, two courageous members of Congress put forth House Resolution 109, The Green New Deal. This resolution proposed drastic changes in the way we inhabit the earth in order to save it. The issues advised were broad and harsh, representing major changes in habits and lifestyles of humankind. It addressed the multiple issues related to how our daily habits are related to climate change and proposals to mitigate them.

I mention this not because of the resolution itself or its content, but to speak of the reactions to it. The bill’s authors were publically ridiculed, marginalized, and called names. The issue was politicized and disdained and the authors received death threats. The almost universal reaction was a thundering moaning throughout the land, bemoaning what conveniences of our lives “they” were trying to take away from us. The bill was quickly killed in the Senate. What we saw and heard was the bloated and voracious collective ego of mankind shouting, Me! Me! Me!

This happened in the before. Now nature is teaching us a thing or two, and the after hinges on understanding how nature works so that we are able to change our attitudes from me, me, me to all of us, to the common good, to care and concern for each other.

How Nature Works

Nature is an integral and deterministic system that developed through four levels of existence—inanimate, vegetative, animal and human. Each level has within it all that existed in the level(s) prior to it, along with added qualities. Therefore, the human is made up of all the elements of the earth and all qualities of the vegetative and animal. The world, in other words, is inside each of us. Nature operates through laws, obvious ones such as gravity, as well as more subtle, but no less binding, laws called interdependence, altruism, balance, harmony, interconnection and unity. It is only the human part of nature that refuses to be in alignment with how nature acts. We are willing to exploit her and harm each other, cheered on by our inborn egoism, in order to maintain our pleasures and creature comforts.

Thus, the measure for “normal” is not the state of before, but of nature herself. When we study the laws of nature we are shown a dazzling array of the qualities out of which we can create the new after. They are beginning to blossom now—kindness, care and concern for others, humor and joy, unique ways to connect, sorrow for the pain being caused and creativity in mitigating it. We cringe at the efforts of those in power and the obscenely wealthy to return to their version of normal and leave the rest of us in the dust. And seeing this, we know on a gut level what we want instead—a world that works in every way for every one.

This cannot and will not be an easy transition. Hard things will be asked of humankind and there will be enormous resistance and weeping and wailing. What will create a peaceful after is deep changes in our attitudes about who we are within nature and how important is our role in coming into alignment with her laws. Research has shown that in any given population, if 10% are strongly committed to one idea, the rest will also fall into line with it.

So we cannot lose this force of doing unto others. We have to lodge it into our very psyches and create an inner posture that defines our relationships with each other. This is what COVID-19 is telling us. There were areas of China where social distancing was discontinued too early and the virus surged again. It may have been too soon for the people to have internalized their vision of the new after. This was not some punishment or Karma. Viruses also behave according to the laws of nature and we will meet COVID-19’s next mutation, more deadly and more vicious, if we’re not able to create a viable environment of after. Are we up to it?

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