In Melbourne, Australia, we are several months into our second lockdown, in this piece I explore the potential of seeing this COVID-impacted season as one of pilgrimage – those journeys never seem to take you where you think you’ll go… that pretty much sums up 2020. How are you travelling on the path to the “new normal”?
I listen to people talk about a “new normal”. I hear it as something ‘out there’ and I wonder, “Who’s making it? Who’s working on building the new normal?”
Sometimes I catch up with friends (over zoom or for a socially distanced walk) and they’ve discovered something wonderful in this season and they ask: “What can I do to keep this? How can I keep living my life with this in it once things go back to normal?”. There is that word again. Normal. This idea that normal is something that happens outside of us and is controlled by forces outside of us. But what we’re really talking about is life, or culture, and culture is made up of ‘the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people’. How and why is lockdown having an impact on these?
In trying to come up with a parallel for this lockdown experience, I started thinking about the idea of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a conscious stepping aside from life as normal in order to explore and experience a totally new environment such as: a journey to the Red Centre, walking the El Camino or doing an internship, or taking a sabbatical often for a time of discernment or at a time of transition such as a relationship or job ending. Anyone who has had experiences of this kind will know that it is not the destination that teaches us something, but rather what we learn along the way as we are taking the journey.
We have not been able to choose to take this pilgrimage, but regardless there are similarities: We have needed to let go of the ‘way things have always been’ and consider what else they might be. The routines aren’t there, the busyness, the commuting, the activities and events that take up our time… the bustle of life has slowed because we cannot travel more than 5kms and need to be home before a curfew. There is an invitation here to consider, what is essential to us? What can we survive well without or even is a relief to stop? Unbidden, we are being asked to reconsider, “What are my values, beliefs, assumptions…”?
Here’s what can happen on a pilgrimage: when you sit with a empty horizon before you and allow the land to speak to you, you will discover how full it is; or when you walk (and walk and walk) and hold silence within yourself knowing yourself to be walking where many others have walked, and will walk again, you can identify both as singular and part of the collective of all of humanity; or when you visit a new country and experience being the person who doesn’t know the language, the food, courtesies, jokes or the slang and might know for the first time that you can be the ‘other’ too… it’s not the place we go that changes, or the places we come back to – but us. I don’t know that change is the right word for this because, really, it’s remembering, and re-membering. A coming back to the wholeness of who we feel called to be, and how we can be – and become – that which we lost sight of somehow.
Here’s what can happen on a pilgrimage: when you walk in your neighbourhood, you meet and get to know your own neighbours, discover a little library, a lovely garden, a cute letterbox – familiar and new as if you were trying to memorise the face of a loved one before you lose them, suddenly there are details you never saw before and they are precious; or when you are removed from friends, family and the usual social circles, you paint a spoon for Spoonville, put a teddy bear in the window, and leave groceries at the free pantry. Learning without words, without touch, without ever meeting, I can connect with someone and that can be profoundly meaningful; or when you are stuck with someone, or stuck apart, stuck in a job you need or stuck on a job you love and can’t go to right now, you recognise the fragility of life and how important it is to do what you love with the people you love best and who love you well – what will it cost you to have that? What is it worth to have that?
This seems the spot where you might easily drop T.S. Eliot’s ‘the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’. T.S. Eliot wrote these Four Quartets during World War II and the air-raids on Great Britain. It is good to remember that these times ARE precedented. Pandemics have ravaged with worldwide impact before, as disease arrived on cruise ships, so too, it came with the First Fleet. People have lived through experiences wondering if the world would ever be the same again, wondering whether a safe world would exist for their children to grow up in. It is this line from Eliot that drew me today:
“last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
The new normal belongs to you.
It is yours to discover. It is yours to remember.
I invite you to gently and creatively engage with any/all of these questions through journaling, a vision board, mind map, or other mindfulness practice you enjoy, as you make your way onwards.
- Is there anything you have discovered a lockdown love for? Make a list… what did this teach you about yourself you didn’t know before? What needs did these meet?
- Make a list of things you have felt you’ve missed or lost in lockdown. What do you value about them?
- Are there things that you haven’t missed? What has putting these down, freed up capacity for?
Land, family, law, ceremony and language are five key interconnected elements of Indigenous culture – how have the interventions and new laws of the lockdown impacted how these elements in your life have looked over the past few months? Was there somewhere outside your 5kms you longed for? How were rituals different, such as birthdays, weddings or funerals? Have you been using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Discord… or silenced by in accessibility of software or skills?
Has this time brought up things from the past that have been painful or difficult? Honour that. Celebrate what you know about survival. Consider doing a compare and contrast of then and now as a way of seeing how far you’ve come and how much resiliency you have learned. If someone was absent – who is present? If someone harmed – who is healing?
Has this time brought attention to or caused areas of your life to become painful or difficult? Honour that. What is this telling you about what’s important to you? One way to enter into this conversation might be to map What Is/What Could Be. Know you are worthy of dignity and respect and a life that fulfills you and brings you joy. Are there any steps, however small, that might create movement between what is and what could be? Take them.
Did you take up new, or see changes in, the roles and relationships you have through COVID? As teacher, partner, parent, friend… acknowledge these shifts. What can you appreciate about them?
Photo by Talitha Fraser