We’ve talked about how important it is to slow down and start living in Real Time if you want to get in touch with the beneficial wisdom of Indigenous Knowledge that can generate COVID hope. Here’s your opportunity to experience Real Time, at least a little bit, and the peace it can bring in a time of great anxiety. We all need COVID hope while we’re in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place.
Play the video below. Focus on the sound of the wind in this video. Listen for the birds. Look at the grasses moving. Breathe. Let your body relax. Open your heart to the earth and the sky, the wind and the trees. Let the Land give you a sense of calm peacefulness. Exhale.
Now play the video again. See the area on the hill to your left at the beginning? There are fewer trees there because some years ago there was a very large and devastating wildfire that burned through this entire area — even the place where the photographer was standing to make this video! Why is this important? Because it reminds us all that sometimes things change, and in ways we consider devastating. That’s simply a part of life. But life goes on. And somehow there is beauty again. The world isn’t exactly the same as it was before, but the wind still blows through the grasses and the pines, the birds sing their winter song, and the sun shines even in a clouded autumn sky.
Life will come back again. Breathe. Relax your body. Release your anxiety. Resist the habit impulse to engage in displacement behaviors that will only make make your body more tense.
Watch this video whenever you want. It’s the Land’s gift of Real Time peace for COVID hope.
Filmed by Jo Belasco on the Pine Ridge of northwestern Nebraska, November 2019. The view is to the south and southwest, which are the directions associated with Experiential ways of knowing and Spiritual ways of knowing, respectively. If you look at the directions of south and west on our Circle model, you will see why these directions will help you receive healing from this video.
Yesterday I shared some video clips of people all over the world singing, chanting, and clapping together in shared solidarity and hope. I asked if seeing and hearing these things made you feel something moving inside you, and suggested that what you felt moving was the deep Knowledge that we are all relations. I also said it’s possible you feel nothing at all when you see and hear such things, and that there’s a physiological reason for this. That reason is rooted in anxiety that takes people out of Real Time — and Real Time is the doorway to Indigenous Knowledge that can help ease anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Real Time is the actual, natural speed — or speeds, since it’s not uniform but ebbs and flows — at which events unfold or take place on their own. Flower buds, for instance, open in Real Time. You can’t peel back the closed petals to unfold a rose or a zinnia like a piece of origami. Tides come in and out according to rhythms that humans have nothing to do with. The sun rises and sets according to processes we cannot change, only pretend to change. So we might set our clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time and agree that the next morning it’s going to be 7 am and time to leave for work even though it’s still dark — but our bodies operate on Real Time, not human clock time. So that first Monday of DST sees the start of a day in which people are more likely to have a stroke, fatal car accident, or heart attack (the rate of which jumps by nearly 25% that day). The dissonance, or lack of agreement, between Real Time and the schedule the clock tells us to keep literally throws our bodies into chaos. Then body chemistry and the nervous system don’t work the way they usually do, with serious consequences. Yet we continue to think we can simply change our clocks and somehow change Real Time. Why?
Normally we feel fear during threatening events that have a beginning and an ending. The fear and the body’s physiological response to that fear also have a beginning and ending. But low-level stresses of many kinds can produce a sort of “hum” that stimulates the body to engage in a fear response that never really ends. It just rises and falls, depending on what’s going on. This is the type of stress you’ve probably read about, that over the long term seems to cause an increased likelihood of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Taking the subway to work, navigating jostling crowds, racing to meet a deadline under the watchful eyes of a predatory boss you feel wants to fire you, trying to balance your checkbook to pay your child care provider . . . all these sorts of daily events trigger the body’s fear response systems at an almost constant level. And of course the demands of our relationships with family and friends whose lives are equally hectic generate a whole other set of equally challenging stressors. The near-constant level of low-level fear associated with all these different stresses — not a fear of immediate death or injury, but a more vague and general fear of threats that can seldom be avoided or resolved — is anxiety.
People often respond to anxiety by engaging in quick activities called displacement behavior that permit the person (or animal, for these behaviors are documented in animals too, especially ones in some zoos), to “bleed off” the distress of being unable to find genuine relief from their stress. If you’ve ever been so anxious while awaiting urgent news or a medical report that you leapt to your feet and began to pace, then you’ve experienced a form of displacement behavior. Real relief for most people’s stresses would involve taking action such as quitting your hated job, not paying the bill you can’t afford, or not talking to your spouse about a problem you know will start a fight. As you can see, in modern life most people would say these are not real options. Almost everyone feels trapped by many aspects of daily life. So the average person’s body does something else, instead of the thing it really wants to do that would truly relieve the stress. Displacement behaviors are that “something else.”
Displacement behaviors like pacing use rapid activity to compensate for an inability to escape stress. Fast-paced displacement behaviors are actively applauded in contemporary culture. We are taught to pour the energy of our displacement behaviors into productivity. At work, we are rewarded for multitasking and taking on tight deadlines that require us to work overtime. Society rewards our children for engaging in extra-curricular activities every weeknight and most weekends. As you can see, the displacement behaviors we engage in to escape the stresses of daily life wind up generating even more stress. The system exacerbates itself.
When people speed up the pace of their lives this way, they step out of Real Time. They may work or be online far into the night, eventually experiencing chronically disturbed sleep patterns. Meals are often irregular or missed and frequently don’t provide necessary nutrients at the times the body needs them. When people engage in habitual displacement behaviors, their activities, meals, and sleep-wake cycle no longer mesh with the daily and seasonal rhythms of daylight and darkness that our pineal glands still sense and respond to with hormonal and other physiological changes. Ultimately, disengaging from Real Time this way causes a mental state called dissociation. A person who’s dissociated has a difficult time connecting to their surroundings and being fully aware of what’s going on. They feel “split”, as if part of them is not fully present. There are many explanations for dissociation, but one way to understand it is to see that a person living by the clock and appointment book rather than by the sun and the seasons experiences a very real split between their mind –which is living by human time — and their body, which can’t help but live in Real Time. That’s precisely the split responsible for increased heart attacks the first Monday of DST.
Because dissociation interrupts or interferes with the mind-body connection, severe dissociation often makes it harder to feel our emotions. So people who have been stressed for a long period of time, who have pushed themselves into a faster and faster pace of displacement activity in order to outrun their own helpless sense of unbearable stress, typically don’t feel many emotions. What emotions they do feel are generally negative ones associated with the stress itself.
This is why I wrote the post I wrote two days ago, when I said I cannot adhere to the constraint to “be short and amusing because people are too busy to sit and read.” It is the frantic pace of our displacement behaviors, which only worsen our levels of stress and make us dissociate even more, that create the inability to take in more than a simple meme or a short tweet. And the more we do this, the farther we pull away from Real Time — and the Real World itself. Indigenous worldview lives in the Real World. I can’t share it with you or tell you about it by racing around at your heels in the artificial world of Human Time. They are two different systems of reality, and the one the sun, moon, tides, and seasons also happen to inhabit is the one that’s Real.
You have the right to feel the sense of connection that exists in those videos, and you have the right to feel it all the time. Because it’s there all the time.
A great deal more, that is healing and restorative, comes with that feeling. The terribly dangerous crisis that’s come to us arrives trailing powerful paradox. There is something here worth paying close attention to, and it can’t be done while you multitask. Let us go on, together, in Real Time.
Now that I’ve explained myself, let’s return to the second blog post of this nascent series about the power and potential of the crisis we face at this time. And at the end of this post, I’ll explain the presence of this photograph.
First, I want to say very clearly at the outset that seeing power and potential in a challenging or even tragic event does NOT mean that event has happened “for our own good” or is “not so bad.” It is that bad, it is that painful and dangerous. And it cannot have “been done” for our own good because, quite frankly, we’ve done it to ourselves. Of course we didn’t do it on purpose. But neither did anyone else do it to us on purpose. So let’s be sure to set those ground rules for what I mean and don’t mean as I try to explain what people have asked me to talk about.
The starting point is this: that in our isolation and enforced social distancing, we are discovering the bonds of our common humanity. Let me give you a couple of specific examples, in case you aren’t sure you agree with that observation. Let’s start with American politics. Farmers and bankers, television personalities and assembly line workers, moms and dads, even the politicians themselves, have worried over the increasingly vitriolic rancor between people of different political parties the last few years. Bipartisan cooperation, whether in town halls or the halls of congress, seemed increasingly to be viewed as nearly an act of treason. Yet last night the U.S. Senate passed a relief package for Americans by a vote of 96-0. According to NPR, “Ahead of the 96-0 vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told lawmakers, ‘Our nation obviously is going through a kind of crisis that is totally unprecedented in living memory.'” In other words, in a crisis, we come together. 96 to 0. You may say, “Well, that’s a no-brainer. Of course no one is going to vote to withhold help from people in a crisis.”
Well yes. That’s the point.
It’s not just the politicians, and it’s not just the “big” things like passing relief bills. In countries all over the world, people living in social isolation to prevent contagion have begun singing and even clapping together from apartment windows and balconies. A Common Dreams article links to videos from Italy, Lebanon, and Spain that show people “seeking out human connection” that maintains health and hope in a time of social isolation and separation, The Guardian posted a video (please watch it!) that shows how “In January in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have begun, residents chanted ‘jiāyóu,’ or ‘keep up the fight,’ for the city and its people.”
Did you feel something move within you when you watched these videos? If not, please read tomorrow’s blog. There’s a physiological reason for being unable to feel a response to such videos, just as there’s a physiological reason for feeling moved by them. It is interesting that simply viewing such things on a video can elicit almost the same response as participating in them.
For now, I want to focus on what it was you felt stirring inside you when you heard the people of desperate Wuhan, back at the beginning of all this outbreak in January, calling to one another from their balconies in solidarity and hope — literally in the cold darkness of a deep winter night. Back in January, this kind of isolation had never happened before — nowhere in the world, and at no time in history. The move to shut down an entire city with millions of residents was unprecedented. It turned out to be so effective that of course now it’s being practiced worldwide. Epidemiologists and other health professionals know exactly what the alternative outcome to this pandemic looks like, and quarantine on a massive scale prevented, and is still preventing, literally horrific loss of life.
At the same time, there’s a different cost — and not an economic one, either — to quarantine on such a massive scale. Whether you call it quarantine, social distancing, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, a requirement that people put distance between themselves and other human beings strikes us as somehow unbearable. I can’t count the number of times over the past few weeks I’ve had friends say some variant of, “I can’t imagine not going to my office!” or “I can’t imagine not at least going out to dinner at our favorite restaurant!” Or, more insistently, “There’s no way I can keep my kids from hanging out with their friends! I can’t imagine such a thing!”
Of course, reality is teaching our imaginations what’s actually possible. And if we refuse to retrain our imaginations, the very real threat of literally millions of deaths on unattended gurneys in overwhelmed hospitals is going to make local law enforcement start using hefty fines and future jail time to teach our imaginations new ways of thinking.
But here’s the interesting question: Why do cities and states have to make rules to keep people from being in contact when they know perfectly well they could catch a fatal disease from that contact? Why do people who know what could happen violate these rules, on purpose, to be together anyway — to the point where the rules have to be tightened to ensure enforcement? Why, when the lockdown tightens, do isolated people sing and clap and chant from their windows and balconies? And why does seeing those videos make something powerful move deep inside you?
Because relationship is essential. No, I am not saying you should break quarantine. I am saying that quarantine has taught you something your body and your heart and your soul have known all along, that even your imagination remembered — but that somehow, at a social and political level, this culture forgot: we are all relations. We are deeply, vitally, inextricably connected to one another through a strong-flowing river of Life itself. It is that River we feel stirring and flowing within us when, in the midst of our own fear and isolation, we hear the people of Wuhan calling out to one other and together, chanting in the darkness of winter and the night of a terror that now visits us all: “Keep up the fight! For the city and its people!” And we can FEEL that river of relationship.
So: In forced isolation from one another, we have discovered our deep and literally vital connection.
Paradox of this type should always make us stop and pay attention. For paradox is the hallmark of spiritual ways of knowing. Powerful paradox such as we are experiencing now signifies the presence of Knowledge from a particularly powerful source. You may think of that source in any of a number of ways, depending on your own religious or cultural traditions. But most traditions see that source as the author of, or expression of, Life itself.
This is not the end of the paradoxical power inherent in the situation moving through our world at this time. Nor is it the end of the ways the situation can be viewed through a lens of Indigenous Knowledge.
In a future trial to affix blame for the collapse of world culture that began in the year 2020, my two previous blog posts could be “Exhibits A and B” for the prosecution. Because although I was responding to private requests to write something that would help people understand the ways Indigenous worldview could help people respond to a challenging time like this one, those two blog posts and the “memes” that were their centerpieces wound up expressing — smack dab center-fire — the very culture that’s causing the problem. Because as I wrote those words and started to share them, lots of people (not just one or two) told me, “It needs to be shorter,” and “It needs to grab people in one or two sentences,” and “It would be good if it was funny, or at least cute.” Those two previous posts were the results, and there were several more lined up to go out after them.
But I am not going to do that this time. I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning and the realization of what I’d let happen with those posts was rising up inside me like the lava dome inside Mt. St. Helens. And it was every bit as hot, steaming with the power of the Land itself, molten and alive. So I am going to write words in response to what I have been asked, but I am not going to be dragged onto ground that people insist must be stood upon in order to communicate. I am going to stand my ground as a Native woman, and I am going to say what actually needs to be said. And if people refuse to hear it because it doesn’t have a funny picture with it, all I can say is: My god, if hard things cannot be heard at such a time as this, if no one can be bothered to sit down long enough to take in more than a sound bite or a funny picture . . . then we are done for. It’s that simple. Because it is this impatience that is going to kill you.
Yes: you. All of us with you, of course. But my understanding right now is that this doesn’t carry nearly the weight it should. So I tell you: it will kill you. Worse, it will kill your precious children and grandchildren. This is simply true, not a threat. It grieves me as much as it grieves you; I have no wish to see it happen. But I’m not the one insisting that the bad news can only be entertained if it’s literally also entertaining. And these deaths are not going to happen in some unimaginable future hundreds of years from now when you will be gone and not know about it. If you don’t sit down and pay attention and really change some things, these deaths will happen in your own lifetime, and be the thing that brings an end to that lifetime. And it won’t be a happy or peaceful end, either.
Now: I have not said we’re all doomed. I have said we’re all doomed if you don’t change your ways. And one of the most insidious of “your ways” is to insist that you only have time to read 200 characters (or whatever it is) and look at a quick picture and then be off to the next thing. I realize you’re busy. I realize you’re anxious right now, and distressed, and upset, and very stressed. Which is all the more reason to sit down, calm down, and knock it off.
Just stop. You can. I am 100% positive. Just stop and sit still for a while and you’ll see.
It’s the perfect time for it. In fact, the times demand it. In more ways than one.
–to be continued, tomorrow — Meanwhile, a word from our sponsor . . .
Cliff in Left Hand Canyon where golden eagles nest, near Boulder, CO. Photo by Jo Belasco.
Spiritual ways of knowing are keyed to the great paradoxes humans face: the complementarity of light and darkness, illness and health, life and death. That the best of our existence is interlaced with perilous and tragic events challenges any sentient being, and it is often in spirituality that we find expression of the mysterious, unspeakable power that lies in embracing exactly that which most terrifies us. The challenging and terrifying events we’re facing now are bringing out the compassion, generosity, and loving-kindness of human beings who have been separated by differences of inheritance, tradition, and ideology for too long but now discover the increasingly powerful connection of our common humanity. The walls and physical spaces between us are unexpectedly revealing the existence of the vast sea of Life we have all been swimming through, together, all this time, without ever seeing it for what it was.