I can’t take it.
Three and a half years have passed since lockdown and I can’t believe how many people seem blindly driven — almost in a panic — to get back to business as usual.
Recently, while walking through Sausalito, one of the sweetest little towns in Marin county, I witnessed people go about their business of drinking their favorite caffeinated elixirs, engaging in conversations about developing properties, and shopping in small boutiques selling peripheral items made in distant lands.
Meanwhile, a ferry ride away across the bay, accounts of desperate crimes are skyrocketing, abandoned buildings and unhoused people litter the neighborhoods, and an increase in microplastics in the water pose a serious threat to local marine ecosystems and human health.
Though the sun was shining in Sausalito and there was no immediate threat to my safety or wellbeing, feeling the undeniable dissonance present around me, a familiar heaviness descended upon me. Like thick sludge.
The reason I was in Sausalito was because there was an intentional power outage in Muir Beach where I live. I had traveled to where the power and internet were functioning in order to work.
Those of us who live in California are hyper aware of the relationship between power facilities and fire risks. So this concern was in my consciousness. Plus, the previous night I had attended a community meeting about fire preparedness in Marin county, given what happened in Lahaina.
What happened in Lahaina.
And there it is …
How long did you stop and allow yourself to deeply feel, to grieve, or to sincerely reflect on what happened in Lahaina?
When I heard about the devastating fire I experienced a moment of distress and a bit of fear as I gingerly — and briefly — dipped into some grief.
However, when it comes to such tragedies sometimes I don’t feel anything. Lately, I admit, I feel more and more numb. It’s as if my nervous system can’t metabolize another one of what feels like an incessant onslaught of disasters.
And so, I turn away.
I get on with my day.
Or, at least, I make an attempt.
I scan the shop windows, buy my fru fru coffee, and open my computer to get on with my to-do list.
Business as usual.
Then I wake up the next morning and head to my meditation cushion where I start each day.
It’s there where I’m unable to turn away. It’s in the quiet moments meditating, when I consciously choose to be present, to open my heart, to connect to life, to listen for guidance … where Lahaina shows up again, asking something else from me.
Asking me to not turn away.
To not go numb.
To resist the pull to get back to business as usual.
Asking me to lean in.
To pay attention.
To feel my heart break.
Covid lockdown forced each of us to stop. Billions of people in a shared crisis were given an opportunity to not scramble to figure out how to keep going in order to simply survive, but possibly how to reorient and potentially thrive.
We had an opening.
Then we lost the thread.
Airports opened up, masks got taken off and … business as usual tendencies crept back in.
That’s what I felt in Sausalito that day — people trying to get back to pre-pandemic business as usual. As if that were even possible. To go back.
I understand the sentiment.
It’s hard to let go of a job that feeds our children even if that job is destroying a natural ecosystem.
It’s hard to advocate for more pay or saner hours when there is a long line of desperate people waiting to take our job if we leave it.
It’s hard to say no to so much of what is wrong in the world, when saying no could jeopardize so much of what we have already worked hard for.
I sometimes wish I could sustain avoidance. I wish I could focus more on the positive and not see what’s falling apart. I wish the pandemic had not happened. I wish humans had not messed up the environment so radically.
I wish I lived in a different time when things were not so unfair, uncertain, and volatile.
But I don’t.
I am alive now.
Some say that we’ve been in trying times like these before in human history. These well-meaning folks plead with me to relax and enjoy my life — do what I can to help those less privileged and to clean up the environment if I wish, but not to allow the incessant dissonance I feel to overtake me.
But I do not agree.
We have not been here before.
We’ve never stood so close to the edge of our limits as a species. Natural resource limits. Financial growth limits. Psychological limits.
Somehow, this changes everything. It shifts the context of our predicament.
We’re not just facing challenges on if or how to allocate resources justly, if or how to include underprivileged people in the right to food, clothing and shelter, if or how to strategically direct the course of human progress from here.
We are facing the limit of growth itself.
We are up against the issue of not having enough natural resources to allocate. Period. We are up against the challenge of ensuring ongoing access to clean water and nutritious food to even the wealthiest. We are facing inevitable outpourings of climate refugees, many already fleeing devastation.
Such as in Lahaina.
Those same well-meaning folks will claim that Lahaina was not a symptom of epochal change on the planet. They will see it as simply another unfortunate catastrophe. They will view the devastation as a problem fixable via business as usual, such as claims filed in court for financial retribution — blame placed squarely on the municipality for negligence in fire protection or on white immigrants for planting the wrong grasses. There will be insurance companies struggling to stay afloat, while many will push through their grief and seek to build back better.
Business as usual.
I don’t buy it.
And here’s what I’m discovering …
The pivot to leaning in can be joyful. It does not have to be devastating.
What I mean is, I can carry my grief, my concern, and my uncertainty into facing the hard realities of being alive in these times. And while bringing my sorrow, I can also bring joy and even have fun.
I’ve discovered that my desire for a meaningful and fulfilling life is actually tethered to leaning in, and I don’t need to protect my breaking heart or reorient myself around some new version of business as usual cloaked in greenwashing or spiritual IG memes.
Leaning in is what brings more depth in my relationships, more joy in my life experiences, and more fulfillment in my work.
Leaning in is bringing more inner peace, even as the external turmoil continues.