Musings in Solitary
How are you? Some people get increasingly distressed about the state of the world, others find inner calm.
I’m a grasshopper, sometimes I hop to one, sometimes the other. (Can a grasshopper find inner calm, hmm?)
It seems amazing to me how the mind can leap in an instant from staring into the abyss of planetary disaster to personal micro moments of joy. (And back again.) But that’s how it is for me at the moment. Are you sometimes like that too?
For me, it’s like this:
With time for reading and good intention, I decided to buy a hefty “something worth reading”, which turned up last week. It’s The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. Written in 1859, it invites a slower reading pace than modern novels, with room for discussion and contemplation in its 900 pages. And so, quite early on, (okay, I’m only a bare one centimetre through an eight-centimetre pleasure, as the Very Hungry Caterpillar might put it) I came upon this passage, which made me go, “wow, that’s it” and set me off on a train of thought.
“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill – he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”
Quite apart from reminding me of a couple of public figures (you too?) and unsettling me with its last phrase, it strikes me as a devastatingly accurate description not only of individuals but of our post-truth (=lying) age.
That got me on to musing that I spot lies more easily in these days of coronavirus. I’m certainly examining my own contradictions more (“the man who lies to himself”); but it’s outside stuff too, like one big hairy lie underlying everything. Who knew that our nation’s normal was so corroded? Who knew till now that caring on your own at home for someone with advanced dementia or a severely disabled child was so impossibly hard? Who knew that migrant health workers have to pay hundreds to pounds per year to access the NHS!? Who knew that people who whistle-blew about dangerous working conditions would lose their jobs? Who knew really that so many children are starving … well we knew and we didn’t know … oh so many things in our beautiful country – the 5th richest country in the world, by the way. No, really, the FIFTH richest country in the world. I thought to myself, I don’t want to remain in ignorance. I want to know properly, genuinely, how things are in this lovely country of mine.
The global catastrophes
By now, I was on a roll. Why stop at the UK? I know the planet is in a bad way, climate emergency, biodiversity crisis, water shortages, mass people movements, war, famine – how could I not? But now …? Now I have time. I read and watch the physicist and social activist Vandana Shiva (various great videos on YouTube), who describes a cogent pattern of economic genocide and ecocide, where a couple of asset management funds grow by a trillion dollars each a year (the USA as a whole grows by less), and the 5 richest men earn more than the total amount earned by half the world’s population; and the world’s commons, all that was once healthy and free, from water and air to seeds and land is privatised, stolen, polluted or damaged, necessitating ever more poison, pharma, oil, war, which creates more climate and biodiversity destruction, necessitating in its turn more poison, pharma, oil, war …. and certain forces grown powerful through plunder find agents to deliver lying hate messages that manipulate us to attack the wrong targets, i.e. people – blacks, Muslims, immigrants, women – and thus to elect unsuitable leaders who continue the devastating cycle; this idiocy precluding any rescue from the global challenge of climate breakdown, which is set to make vast areas of India, Africa and Australia too hot for human life within little more than a decade and cause mass migration on a scale far in excess of what we’ve seen to date, with the grim realisation that attempts to solve migration issues haven’t gone too well so far… . (Is that a long enough sentence for you, Dostoevsky?!)
Coronavirus is like the next act in a cosmic joke isn’t it? Okay, says the Almighty: I’ve sent tornados, I’ve sent droughts and floods and fires and plagues of locusts. When are you going to understand that the only way you’re going to solve this one is through cooperation; all other ways boomerang back to hit you. Coronavirus spreading through Africa and Asia amongst the poor and deprived threatens all of us. Mass migration due to heat and drought affects all of us. Pollution affects all of us. The winners don’t win here.
The grasshopper hops again to remind me that I am a winner, in my comparative comfort in this lovely place, in cleaner air, this beautiful spring with the new spirit of generosity that’s abroad. I do feel grateful. I look around me, and my whole existence depends on others – house, chair, laptop, water, plumbing, electrics, waste disposal, clothes, food, deliveries, medicines, dental treatment, let alone doctors, nurses, parenting, education, relationships, kindnesses from every direction – the list could go on and on. I do feel gratitude, I do, ever more so now.
But I don’t want to ignore this global narrative anymore. The planet is in the ICU and needs our attention at this critical moment, never more than now. How can we say: “Dear grandchildren, I just let it happen?” At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to find out what is happening, sift out the truth from different sources and angles. Our Daily Rag is not enough! We need to know properly what is happening. We need to tell each other what we discover. And now is the time, before normal slides insidiously back. There are more of us that want the good of all, we are the majority. We can do something.
And we all know it really. Clarity emerges in this quiet. Where do clarity and truth emerge from, if not peace and quiet? As I listen to birdsong outside this early evening, there’s something else. Apart from world upheaval and our human debt … apart from THAT! … I find nothing more real or truthful than this moment here and now. They talk about one’s heart being full – I know what they mean, don’t you? Micro moments of joy.
Joy isn’t thinking; it’s a fleeting feeling, breath, pulse, vibration, a transient surge of energy that happens before verbal cognition.
That moment of loving a piece of music before you tell yourself its name.
That breath of surrender to beautiful nature just before you realise that you are finding it beautiful.
The sudden memory triggered of a special moment with a loved one now absent, before you feel the sadness of their absence.
The moment of pleasure in something you have just done, before you think about what you’ve just done.
The moment before the moment you realise that you’re smiling to yourself.
Now, when life has become less varied and less peopled for most of us, is a good time to capture those fleeting moments. They occur every day. I wonder what nano-instances of joy come into your awareness today.
If this speaks to you, I am happy. If it doesn’t, you probably haven’t read this far! I recognise that we are all in different circumstances during this epidemic. Whatever your situation, I send you warmest good wishes and hope for better things to come.
This too shall pass.