A love letter to the future – part 1
“What we do now echoes in eternity,” said Marcus Aurelius. The transition of the past few months has been stressful but also a time to remove obsolete habits, to rebuild our priorities, and to explore new paradigms. With this in mind, here PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN interviews DR. ELIZABETH DENLEY on our ability to adapt to changes during COVID times. Elizabeth holds a PhD in ecology as well as having spent over 30 years practicing Yoga and studying the yogic sciences. She sees the bridging of science and spirituality as the way of the future.
Q: Welcome, Elizabeth, thank you for joining us on this webinar.
ED: Thank you, Purnima. It really is a pleasure to be here with you.
Q: The COVID-19 situation has affected our basic understanding and assumptions of how our society operates. Things like, “Can I go to a restaurant?” “Is it safe to get a haircut?” “Can I meet my friend?” These questions do not have the same answers they did six months ago. So, when humanity has endured this health crisis, what will the new normal be like?
ED: You know, history helps us here. Human beings have been through many such crises. There was the 1918 Spanish flu, the bubonic plague, and many other pandemics that have affected humanity, causing us to reset and recalibrate the way we do things. Some people would say that such crises come only to force us to recalibrate, because we are not looking at ourselves well enough. Why is it that we need a crisis to push us to change? Certainly, COVID is a crisis that is forcing humanity to look at itself in many ways.
The little coronavirus has transformed our behavior. We are experiencing a period where people have the opportunity to reflect, to go within, to figure out what has worked, and what has not worked from the past. We have the opportunity to pause. And we have many very serious social, economic and cultural issues to reflect upon.
One of the first things I learnt at university is that any species that destroys its environment will either go extinct or it will change. In genetics it’s called mutation; in behavioral sciences it’s called adaptation.
In the ’80s, climatologists knew about the way our climate was being affected by human behavior. Governments knew, too. But we have all had our heads in the sand. We have been too focused on our own desires and wishes to have things the way we want them. So, we have long been headed on the path of destruction of our species, and in that sense, we can thank our COVID-19 friend.
I’m not saying it’s easy; there is suffering, death, heartache, and hardship. And yet it’s forced us to stop. It’s forced planes to stop flying, cars to stop driving, and polluted cities have seen clear skies for the first time in decades.
This is a time of recalibration. It’s a time to ask, “What have we done well, what have we not done well, and what can we do to change?” One hundred years from now, people should look back at this time and say, “They really tried to fix this.” They shouldn’t look back and say, “They were blind, they did nothing, they didn’t take advantage of this opportunity given to them.”
How can we take hold of our life so we don’t just become victims of circumstances, even when they are challenging? Surely COVID is a horrible situation, many people are suffering, and unfortunately those in poverty and lower economic situations are going to suffer more than those who are wealthy. The same is true with climate change. Nothing is good about it. Even still, how do we use this opportunity, because in fact we share each other’s destiny? We are not separate. We have to take each other along. How will we take humanity forward into a new era with a moral revolution so that we can bring about a change for the good of everybody, taking everyone along with us?
This is a time of recalibration.
It’s a time to ask,
“What have we done well,
what have we not done well,
and what can we do to change?”
Q: Thank you for sharing that perspective. It leads me to the next question about emotional exhaustion. I have read that the divorce rates have spiked in China, which is very unfortunate. How do we endure the emotional fatigue the current situation is presenting? Because what binds us together, what helps us build resilience and endurance, is our relationships with our loved ones. When those start to collapse, it is certainly unfortunate. What are your thoughts on this?
ED: One thing that is happening is isolation. Some of us are separated from loved ones. In my case, my adult kids are in Australia, and I’m here in India. I used to fly home to Australia to spend time with them, and come back to my work here in India. Now that’s all changed. I’m not lonely, because I’m with a lot of people in a community, although I miss them very much, but imagine those people who are in real isolation, who are very lonely, who don’t have their family members with them. That’s one side of the coin.
The other is where families are thrown together 24/7. People are working from home, so many wives and mothers are looking after their kids, their kids’ schooling, their husbands, they’re having to do full time housework, and often they hold down a job as well. People are thrown together 24/7 in a tight environment, which they are not used to. They are used to going out to work, going out to school, and often not seeing each other for much of the day.
Before COVID, many people would come home from work at 9 or 10 in the night, eat dinner, maybe watch television, go to bed, get up, and go to work in the morning. How can you have a relationship with that sort of lifestyle? It’s coexistence without relationship. Certainly, emotional intelligence and emotional maturity cannot develop in such a relationship. And suddenly now, everyone is thrown together. Husbands and wives, teenage kids who are used to going out doing things behind their parents’ backs, and now suddenly they are stuck at home. Suddenly, they’re in a pressure cooker environment.
The fact that there are more divorces, stresses and irritation in relationships is just a sign of lack of resilience, a lack of emotional intelligence. It’s a far cry from the olden days of extended families, when people lived on top of each other all the time. I’m not saying they were more mature back then, but they had to be more resilient, more tolerant, more accepting, more loving towards each other, because there was no choice economically.
Today, many of us live in nuclear families rather than extended families, because we have the economic means to do so. Family members live on different continents. We are not used to intense relationships. And now, we are thrown together and it’s causing tension. The skills that develop emotional intelligence have been well documented by Daniel Goleman. Meditation is the main skill. The ability to regulate the mind, develop self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-compassion, communication skills, the ability to relate to other people, have empathy, listen – all these skills come from heart-based meditation practice. So, the tools are there, and they are easily available. These skills teach us to handle such situations.
For example, let’s take anger. When you’re really angry with a parent or a spouse, if you can’t regulate your mind and heart, your emotional, inner environment, then what are you going to do? You’re going to shout, and project things onto the other person, blame the other person – all very immature behavior. Whereas, when you regulate your mind and heart, when you have pure consciousness, you may still get angry – anger is a great tool for development – but there is no aggression or conflict with the other person. You can pause, let yourself settle down, clean up the emotional charge from your system and deal with things in a different way. Communication becomes effective. This is a simple life skill that is born out of meditation. I think that’s the key – to learn how to handle the situation better.
Q: That makes sense. One of our listeners says she wants to do something meaningful and feel good about it. In spite of the physical isolation, we are in a really noisy virtual world. So, the mind is always busy and in constant turmoil. In the middle of that, how to do something useful? But before that, how to restore inner balance so as to go ahead and serve. What are your thoughts on this?
ED: Well, when you don’t have a good instrument to work with, if you’re not an effective human being, it’s more difficult to help other people. Can you imagine being a nurse in a busy COVID hospital at the moment, if your mind and heart are in turmoil? You would suffer incredible compassion fatigue, burnout and stress. There are a lot of medical professionals going through this because it is very tough to be on the frontline.
All of us take our hats off and applaud the people on the frontline in the midst of this crisis: medical professionals, hospital staff, transport people, ambulance guys, the people delivering food to migrant workers, are all doing the most incredible basic service for others. It’s our moral imperative to help each other.
There are many ways to help. I am not a doctor but I can pack food parcels, deliver things to elderly people, go to the shops for them. And I can also pray, which is something that I know is often denigrated in our secular world, because it’s not understood well.
When you wake up in the morning, ask yourself:
“What is my intention for the day?
What can I give today?”
Even better, get to a state
where you don’t even need to think about it,
where your nature is love and giving.
Even if it starts mechanically, start somewhere.
Prayer is often seen as begging, demanding something from God. That’s a very narrow view of prayer. We don’t demand anything in prayer. Yes, there can be a request. Yes, there can be a heartfelt plea. And imagine if all of us, every day, were offering a heartfelt plea for the well-being of all humanity in this current crisis, for those who are suffering for their suffering to be eased. Imagine if every single human being on the planet does this every day. It will make such an incredible difference. The world will change, humanity will change, when we all give more than we receive.
So when you wake up in the morning, ask yourself: “What is my intention for the day? What can I give today?” Even better, get to a state where you don’t even need to think about it, where your nature is love and giving. Even if it starts mechanically, start somewhere.
Everyone has something to give. It could be a small child giving a little flower. It can hold such love. If you see an elderly person trying to cross the street, walk with them, help them, and it will make their day. Say something kind to another person to make them feel good about themselves; how will it change their day? Instead of grumbling at somebody in traffic, smile at that person instead. It’s the little things that change everything.
To be continued.
To listen to the original interview.
Interview by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN
August 30, 2020
August 30, 2020
August 30, 2020