Walking my dog as my ‘one-a-day’ in the first week of lockdown was a very disquieting experience. All the roads, alleyways and fellow dog-walkers so familiar to me suddenly morphed into threat. I could see a similar fear reflected in the faces and demeanours of others as they socially distanced themselves from me. Accusatory or fearful or sometimes belligerent. Why is that guy dawdling on that blind corner? Are those two really going to talk to each other from opposite pavements?? You’re walking your dog off the lead??? Let’s get this done and get back home.
Then, in trying to practice being psychologically flexible, I tried hard to notice the world rather than defend against it. In that instant, I realised I had stopped walking and was standing next to a beautiful small tree overloaded with early spring blossom. It was beautiful and delicate and a stark counterpoint to my mood.
I posted it to social media with the caption ’sometimes it pays to look up’. From being in a place of fear, anger and incredulity about this ever-increasing threat to my safety, I was trying to reflect how to remain connected to beauty when in the throes of an uglier reality. For others though, the photo and caption seemed to hint at a more spiritual dimension. People are trying to latch onto and search for meaning in all this. As the UK government remind us, we need to ‘follow the science’ to deliver us practically from the pandemic but what about our deeper spiritual needs? The global dimension and uniqueness of the situation seem to ask more of us than a reliance on our normal, logical responses to problem solving. These seem to belong to a different world where problems could be overcome through our own skill and understanding. Now what? Maybe our fear and powerlessness are causing some of us to look up rather than elsewhere. We are stuck in our search for meaning in all this. Why us? Why now? Where can we find answers to, or at least some comfort in the unknowable?
Most of us have been lucky enough to never face existential threat in the way we have over the last few months. The generations born subsequent to Word War II have suffered poverty, austerity, illness and disaster individually and sometimes collectively, but global and deadly pandemics are new and terrifying. Suddenly being confronted with our own vulnerability is overwhelming.
I think the tree covered in early spring blossom represents hope. Our scientists are dissecting the data to allow us to survive practically, but morally and emotionally, what can we rely on to support us? Jonathan Sacks explores the inherent connection between (rather than the separation of) science and religion: ‘Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean’. He states that what is pulling us apart physically is drawing us together emotionally and morally. Maybe the search for spirituality encompasses a greater understanding and respect of the best and the worst of nature, renewal and connection to others in a way that transcends physical closeness and a sense of duty to each other – a ‘huge circle of humanity’ that this crisis has unavoidably created.
There will be lessons waiting for us when this is over – how we allow meaning, purpose and hope, as well as science, to point the way when facing future challenges may be one of them.