Pressing Pause

When was the last time you got down on the kitchen floor and cleaned the cupboard fronts?  Or took soap and elbow grease to the filthy arms of the sofa? I did both those things this morning.

As we settle in to this period of pause, and after an initial period of denial, panic, and existential crisis – we find ourselves doing things we never usually have time for.  So far, I’ve cleaned and dusted all the neglected corners of my living room – including pulling everything out from under the sofa. And I’ve rearranged the furniture – it feels like a completely new room (for about 5 minutes).

We’ve planted seeds in little pots and put them in the window.  We’ve turned our outdoor coffee table upsidedown and made it into a “square foot garden”, full of compost hurriedly purchased on the last day we were allowed out to do that kind of thing.

And I’ve set up a desk in the corner of the kitchen, where I am now writing this.  I’ve put all the coats and jackets in the back hallway, and put away most of our shoes.  When might we need those again?

What else have I been doing?

I’ve launched (via Facebook) a community bunting challenge in our neighbourhood and I’ve been cutting out triangles of fabric from old tablecloths.  And I’ve dug out the sewing machine from the back of the top cupboard, ordered supplies on Amazon.  

…And I think what’s interesting about this is the mental distance you have to travel to get to the place where sewing bunting feels like a helpful use of time.  Just two short weeks ago, there is no way on planet earth I had the time or inclination to start making bunting, or biscuits. What’s happening, seriously? This is weird.

And so I’ve sat down to write this because otherwise my thoughts are just tangling themselves together in my brain, full of passion and purpose one moment only to die in the swamp of pointlessness or cower in the shadows while another voice (not mine) explains that really our only job right now is to exist and be happy about it, because there is nothing anyone can do.

And Virginia Woolfe implores me, just write it, whatever it is, because there are few enough women’s voices as it is, and if even those with the time and inclination, the privilege and the compulsion, to think and to write, stay silent cooking dinner and sewing bunting, if then, then what?

So I’m thinking that the most hopeful thing anyone has said to me about this whole emergency so far, was Mary when she said (and hadn’t I spotted it yet for myself?) that this was Gaia, mother earth, saying, Enough, and I saw in my mind the plump and awesome woman rising like an ocean swell and bursting open the shackles of petty men’s excuses and vanity and politics and thinking themselves so clever.  

And isn’t it the truth, that civilisation as we know it, the transnational omnipresent domination of commercial realities and market economics, is being revealed in all its brokenness, and our first urge is to rush into the garden and plant seeds in the soil and look up through the branches of the flowering magnolias into the blue blue sky?  While the systems crack and men panic and lie and scramble about making deals and spouting bullshit, the hard seed of our shared humanity is stirring in the earth and pushing out its roots and shoots, reaching out hopefully to touch some other tendril of beaten, battered but still alive, hope.

We stand and clap the NHS while thinking cynical thoughts about the whole charade, torn between our deepest gratitude for the men and women heading out to serve another shift, and our deepest scorn for the men with power who have so proudly and openly over many years driven our health service into poverty, degraded the work and value of those who are trying their damndest to care for other people, and who now stand and clap and weep with false pride at the sacrifice of underpaid, overstretched workers whose job it is now (because honestly, what else can they do?) to mop up their abominable mess.

And what’s stirring inside me is an urgent voice that’s begging us to notice, amidst the overwhelming chaos of information and opinion, and in this unprecedented global lockdown of normal daily life…

An immense and sorely needed opportunity, a golden and precious moment, to stop. For once in our lives. And think.

And while governments and local authorities and the NHS and the crumbling social care system and all the suddenly essential workers (only now being acknowledged) must take on the biggest fight of their lives to prevent a million deaths, for the rest of us the challenge is different but no less urgent or essential.  

For those of us with the time and the means, caught at home in limbo between the lives we were living last week and whatever the future might hold, the pause that stretches out in front of us is not just for watching netflix and making bunting, hiding under tables while the bombs explode.

Our challenge, I’m here to suggest, is to PREP for the future.  To Pause, Reflect, Envision and Plan for the future that we WANT to see.

Pause. That’s the first step. Feel the feelings, take a breath, be gentle with ourselves as we go through this.

  • We’ll explore the emotional journey of letting go and slowing down. Finding ourselves at home – maybe alone, maybe in a full house, maybe out of work or trying to work from home. Afraid, isolated, uncertain. Cut adrift in the middle of whatever we were doing, and suddenly wondering, what’s it all for? Through that experience we’ll reconnect with what’s really important – the health, wellbeing and nearness of our loved ones, the fabric of our communities, the basic necessities, access to outside space, and a sense of purpose, and meaning, in life.

Reflect. Look back at the mess we’ve created, grow our awareness of the whole broken system, and then uncover our strengths, our values, the roots of our greatness.

  • We’ll reflect on the brokenness of the current system, identifying all the many ways we hate what we have created and who’ve we have become.  We’ll discuss why it’s important to listen to different voices from all parts of the system, to develop a whole-system awareness. And then we’ll share stories of past triumphs. We’ll ask, where, in all this do we see the greatest hope for humanity? Where are the chinks of light? Those are the stories that will illuminate our strengths and emerge the wisdom of our past experiences.

Envision. Imagine what we really want. What is the life we would love to live, the world we would love to inhabit?

  • We’ll be programming the satnav with the address of the future we want, in all aspects of life – a vision for whole-system flourishing.  From living a meaningful life, fulfilling our own potential for greatness, to a circular regionalised economy that regenerates our planet, communities, and society.  We’ll think about what we really want, even if we have no idea how to get there. Because only with a destination in mind have we any hope of ever arriving. And we know that the mere act of envisioning a flourishing future unleashes powerful forces, within us and among us, revealing the path forward, and empowering us to take action.

Plan. How will we get there, what are we going to do next? Now we can start to create a to do list.

  • We’ll explore what each of us can and will do, towards our shared vision of a flourishing future.  With the whole system in conversation, we’ll share ideas and co-create solutions. Wisdom, resources and value will emerge from within us and among us, so that we can start to make change happen.  From policy ideas to marketing campaigns, from strategies for connecting communities, to best practice pledges for people and businesses and leaders. We’ll emerge a list of the practical things we can all do, as changemakers, community leaders, citizens and civil servants, to make change happen – personally, locally, regionally, nationally, and who knows, maybe even globally.

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