My brothers and I have been thinking about our dad quite a bit since this cunning coronavirus began gathering pace in its quest for global spread.
Stephen’s fondness for an apocalyptic prophesy was always a bit of a running joke for the three of us. He spoke about one end-of-the-world scenario or another for as long as I can remember, and we’d listen and then lovingly dismiss him as the mad old bastard (we partly thought) he was. One early morning in Begur I was out on his balcony wiping the sleep from my bleary eyes when he poked his head out of the adjacent kitchen window to urgently ask if I’d considered growing my own algae–all I’d need were some “sea rocks” (his words) and sunlight and nature would do the rest–because, he said, we could all survive on just algae if we had to. I said I’d look into it after breakfast.
Cut to today, with the official count of this now-not-so-novel infection soaring towards half a million (and in reality probably tens of times higher still), overwhelming health services across the world, with the global economy in a self-induced coma, and our dad doesn’t seem like such a mad old bastard after all.
So, I’ve been thinking about what he might say to help guide me, all of us, through this time and I feel moved to share it with you now.
I could be wrong, I’m best-guessing after all, but having spent 38 years hearing his ideas, then discussing them along with my own once I’d gained the requisite introspective intellect for ours to interconnect, I feel confident at least half a whiff of his wisdom came my way, enough to imagine what he might now say. And I think he’d say:
Run. Drop everything and fucking run. And get some algae.
Just kidding. For now, anyway.
I have a feeling he’d start by reminding me to breathe.
He might then suggest stepping back from my own version of this global drama that’s running in the foreground of my mind to simply observe it from a position once removed. As if from the front row stalls—rather than standing on the stage itself—at the hottest, most compelling new show in town, to watch how it’s playing out.
So, I do, I step back inside my mind and see that my personal drama mostly takes the form of questions, running on loop, along the lines of: “Will I get it? Will I suffer? Might I die? Will my family or friends? Will all my work dry up? How long will this all last? What will happen next? Will the food run out? Will I starve? Will they loot and riot? Will the world plunge into irreversible depression? What of all my unrealised plans? Why me, why me, why me?” Etc, etc, so on and so forth.
With the distance gained from stepping back I’ve created the necessary space and stillness to assess my situation with calm, rather than the spinning dizziness of sitting within the loop itself.
I see that firstly it’s understandable to be asking such questions now, so I must give myself some slack.
But then, should I choose to be a warrior about things–urban or otherwise–rather than a big old wally, I’ll realise how asking such questions (especially on loop) is accomplishing nothing useful whatsoever because those questions are unanswerable, the answers unknowable.
While not dismissing the veracity or capacity of this catastrophe to cripple in any way, I can choose to channel the same energy into better questions by far. Such as:
What can I do to stay safe and healthy? What is my new routine? How would I like to spend my time? What foods and vitamins do I need to nourish my body and brain? Who can I speak to if I need a spot of support? How can I stay strong and supple throughout? What money do I have saved, what are my outgoings, and where can I trim the excess? What government help is available to me? What can I do to help others?
In a crisis—and I think most of us agree that this is a crisis of epochal scale—only a calm mind can cultivate reasoned solutions and seasoned resolutions, and perhaps these only come from asking the right questions.
Getting lost in the loop of the foreground drama does nothing for the human spirit, mind or body. The spirit gets lost, the mind a splosh, and the body awash with tension.
So, my dad would keep reminding me to breathe and step back from the fairground forebrain to the calm and quiet mind behind to observe reality, recalibrate accordingly, and correct course.
He’d say now, perhaps more than ever before in our lifetimes, we must access this part of ourselves because this is the part of ourselves from which we lead.
This is where our inner leader is found, where our inner warrior—urban or otherwise–is awakened.
Because now, perhaps more than ever before, we need leaders.
It’s our duty, to ourselves and each other, to access our inner leader now.
And you know what? We’re ready for it too, I’m convinced of it.
We may not realise it, but we’ve been in training all along.
Why else have we been doing all this yoga and meditation, the martial arts and conversations, the philosophical mentation and spiritual exploration? The weight-training, exercise classes, kick-boxing and intermittent fasting? The clever quotes on social media, the self-help tropes selling hope to the millions?
Now is the time to put it all into practise. What else have we been preparing for if not this?
Exercise over, real-world mission is here and now.
My dad would say:
You are a leader. Remember that. Recognise that.
It’s time to lead the mission.
And the mission is healing.
If that hasn’t now been made so incontrovertibly, unavoidably, fuck-off-massive-elephant-in-the-room obvious by this coronavirus then nothing will.
All of us, every single one of us, has the capacity to lead, and therefore heal, even in the smallest way.
The leader is the part of us that operates from—and with—courage, strength, love and kindness—to oneself and others.
The leader takes responsibility; quite literally it responds. It responds to the call to action and does so with bravery, integrity.
But to lead requires a still and quiet mind. The mind won’t make sound judgement from the peaks of panic or the depths of despair. Level-headedness, acceptance of the present status, fortitude: these are the qualities of consciousness needed.
So, breathe, take a step back from the forebrain, observe your dramatic patterns, and see where new patterns can be made that lead to leading because leading will lead to healing.
My dad would say, ask yourself:
How can I be of service right now—firstly to myself, then to my family, neighbours and friends, to the person passing on the street, to the person who needs something to eat? What practical, reasoned action can I take to adapt to this new world order? Do I really need 76 tins of beans or dare I leave some for others in need?
Perhaps at first you need to rest, perhaps you need to write out a plan, perhaps you need to do a tally of your finances and seek some help, perhaps you need a new routine to give structure and purpose to the hours in isolation.
And then once you have yourself reasonably sorted; how can you extend yourself to others?
This is what it means to lead, my dad might say.
If we combine and unify and work with one another through effort and acts of kindness, we can heal. This is a monumental test for sure, but we’ve been training for it all along.
So, let’s breathe, step into the back, then lead because the time for healing has begun.
(‘cos I don’t know about you but fuck if I have to survive on algae.)
Wishing you love in the time of quarantine,