The Pause as Portal: Reflections on Releasing and Renewing:  Opportunities in the Time of the Pandemic

The Pause as Portal:
Reflections on Releasing and Renewing:
Opportunities in the Time of the Pandemic
by Marysia Miernowska

“There's a song that wants to sing itself through us. We just got to be available. Maybe the song that is to be sung through us is the most beautiful requiem for an irreplaceable planet or maybe it's a song of joyous rebirth as we create a new culture that doesn't destroy its world.” - Joanna Macy

April 22, 2020

Weren’t we all moving so, so fast? Before all this happened - the quarantine, the pause, the staying at home, the canceling of travel, the simplifying of our social circles. It was just a few weeks ago that things changed, but what does it feel like now to imagine the pace of before - the full schedule, the multi tasking, the errands, sports practice and time in traffic, the emails and back to back work meetings?

It may feel exhilarating to imagine the stimulation of your “normal” life. Like the thrill of caffeine when it hits from your morning coffee. Or you may feel a relief in finally being able to slow down. Like your soul was longing to look at clouds and stars and your children sleeping.

It may be disorienting to feel disconnected from your routine, work or purpose. Where does your self worth come from when it’s not tied to your productivity or available as a reflection in the generous eyes of your peers? Or you may feel like for the first time in a long time you can actually get quiet enough to be with your own heart and ask: if I am not what I do, who am I? What deeply feeds the joy in my soul and awakens the song in my heart?

It is likely, and natural, that you are feeling the full spectrum of emotions: grief, relief, rage, joy, fear, love, anxiety and perhaps moments of a surrendering trust. We do not know how long this will last, but it is fair to assume that it will likely be over in a few months and that the deeply imbedded habits within us and the forces of our modern culture will eagerly push us back into “business as usual.”

It is equally likely that a pandemic like this will happen again in our lifetime. Scientists have been warning us loudly of this very thing and researchers have proven that more deadly viruses are trapped in the frozen glaciers that are rapidly melting due to climate change.

We were moving really, really fast, and in this moment, we can breathe and allow for compassion for ourselves and each other to fill our hearts.

In many ways, the pace was not of our own doing, we were just trying to keep up with the quick, syncopated, mechanical beat of our modern culture, and in doing so, we were perpetuating the loudening rhythm. Our lives as we have known them - our habits, our desires, our rent, our income - have been deeply woven into the machine of modernity that has kept us moving fast - with the promise that happiness, true satisfaction lies just beyond the next bend, the next acquisition, the next rung up the machine’s ladder.

That machine depends on us moving fast or it doesn’t work at all.

The machine is made so we cannot step away for fear of losing security and our place in it all. And since we could not pause, we could not listen - truly listen with more than our high speed minds - but with our ancient bones, earthen flesh and timeless, starlit soul.

All along the heartbeat of the Earth was there, slow and steady and woven from the same natural fibers as our flesh and bones, calling us home. The machine was neither necessary nor natural. But wrapped in its chaotic pace we could not hear the cry of the birds or the sea turtles choking on plastic. We were moving too fast to really feel the immensity of our times. The climate change research was too much to take in for most of us as we hustled to keep up - in our pace and modern culture, there was no place to process it, grieve it. There was no time to let the immensity of the Earth’s pain crack our hearts open so we could emerge transformed by our grief, renewed, humbled and more in love with life and the majestic Earth.

No, we could not afford to truly pause or allow our bodies and aching souls to soften into the natural pace of the Earth. Hers has been a constant deeper rhythm of primordial Mother heart beat.

As we step away from the maddening machine of modernity, with minds that realize that we were never in control anyways and vulnerable hearts that ache for reassurance and unconditional love - we can find the portal and gift of being shaken out of life as we knew it. We can be more courageous in our hearts and more humble in the face of the unknown. And in this slower state we can soften into the Earth’s embrace, harmonizing ourselves with her timeless, natural rhythm that sings through our human cells. “Earth pace” will keep us in sync with the regenerative cycles that renew us and all of life on Earth. Here, we can truly listen.

As we quiet and listen, what do we know?
Not much. That is okay and healthy to be with.

But we do know this:
The machine has been forced to pause.
We know that its pace was unnatural and destructive - causing harm to people and Nature, extracting the Earth’s resources, exploiting marginalized communities, giving many of us adrenal fatigue and burn out.

We know we could not stop it on our own.
We know that even in the solitude of a quarantine, we are not alone and never will be.
We are part of the natural world, healing herself. Dying and being reborn.
Our habits have been part of the machine of modernity but our bodies, souls and inspired love for life and creation are part of the living Earth.

We are part of the Earth exhaling a sigh of relief as her skies clear and the roads quiet. We are the Earth that needs rest, restoration. Healing, connection. Love and compassion.

As we slow down, we realize that life is possible without all of those appointments, errands, car trips, runs to the grocery store for one more ingredient. Perhaps you have found some liberation in the simplicity. Or perhaps in your anxiety you have feverishly been reaching for distractions and buying more, watching more, taking in more. Can you hold yourself and cry and know that you are vast and deep like a luminous ocean? Is there a part of you that can recognize how nourishing it is to get creative and do with what you have?

Of course, if you are reading this, you, like me, are likely among the immensely privileged to have a lot. To have a pantry of food, to be able to stay at home for the time being. To have the luxury of trying to find joy in “making do with what we have”. This is a luxury. Not all are so fortunate.

Before CoronaVirus, death, pain, suffering, displacement and devastation have all been occurring every day through the pandemic of climate change. We were just moving too fast to really be with it - to step out of the machine that was perpetuating it and let our hearts crack open, crying for healing and wholeness. It was happening “over there”. And we had rent to pay and our calendar was packed. 

The machine we were running to stay in track with was the very thing that was perpetuating the climate crisis.

The machine is temporarily pausing and the king’s best mechanics are all scratching their heads at how to get it running again. Remember, it only works when we are all running in sync with its unnatural pace. 

There is a pause. And we now have an opportunity.

Look up and out through your heart’s eyes.

Outside the machine track your feet have gotten to know, there is a blooming meadow of wildflowers, secret springs, honeycomb, dreaming seeds, composting logs with thriving mushrooms that sing songs underground to the roots of ancient pine trees.

In this pause, there is a possibility of shaking off the pace of the machine from our nervous system. There is an opportunity to embody the rhythm of nature - the song of sunrise and sunset, the pace of the winter Earth thawing. In the pause we can allow our bones and our guts and souls to show us what was not working before - for us, our families, relationships, businesses and the Earth.

We can release, we can reflect, and then maybe, just maybe - if we are wise, open and courageous enough in our hearts, and humble and quiet enough in our minds - well then just maybe we may be able to renew.

We can step in a different direction that will move us past the default assumption that it can all go back to “normal”. “Normal” was causing death and disease, “Normal” was melting the glaciers, “normal” was bringing us to exhaustion and adrenal fatigue, “normal” was consuming more than we needed, “normal” was a capitalistic machine that was feasting on suffering - an unsatiated beast that was made from and was perpetuating an extractive culture.

In this pause, we have the possibility of stepping into the wildflower meadow that will take us beyond “when this is over” and into “what is possible”. 

Here lies the possibility of co-creating a regenerative culture.

Part II

Understanding how far away the machine of modernity was taking us from the regenerative way of life on Earth is simple enough, its evidence all around us and within us too.

We idolized youth and supported countless industries that encourage us to erase all signs of aging. We feared death and had no time set aside to allow ourselves to grieve. We worked within the capitalistic economic model which states that perpetual growth is always needed. So we hurried to make the next best thing, taking shortcuts that hurt the earth, human and wildlife communities. We bought cheap things made of plastic. We took more than we needed, consuming more, more and more, and our landfills got bigger and bigger, spilling over into the ocean, making plastic islands the size of Texas. 

Captialism and the economic model of perpetual growth is unnatural and harmful. Nothing in nature grows forever. Nothing I know of with the exception of cancer. 

It is unnatural and destructive to push for endless growth. All things die. And they can either be pushed to their limit and then come crashing down, or we can be agents of transformation, midwives of death, and part of the great symphony of Nature regenerating herself.

If we choose regeneration, we give thanks for the harvest and then cut back the dead twigs when it is fall and the time of summer growth has passed. We reflect on our business practices and step back from constantly producing. We review our practices and make adjustments. We compost that which is ready to die - like the systems of oppression, extraction and exploitation that the machine thrives on.

Death is part of life. Death feeds life. Death allows for more life. For new life.

The garden rich in compost and decay is the place where new seeds effortlessly sprout to life.

Extractive - Sustainable - Regenerative:
It is a spectrum, and what does it mean?

“Extractive”, “Sustainable” and “Regenerative” are different models of working, living, creating, and having our part in the web of life. These different ways are part of a spectrum and becoming aware of their unique philosophies and how they influence relationship is enlightening on a personal level of self awareness and on a collective level of moving us away from the machine of modernity.

As you read about each one, see if you can think of examples in your own life of places where you experience the extractive way of relating, a sustainable relationship and a regenerative one.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at how these philosophies show up in our industries and therefore society and world:

Extractive industries extract resources from the Earth and sell them in the global market for a price that does not reflect the true value. Ex: Mining of metals, lumber & deforestation, fracking for oil. The extractive industries thrive thanks to their corrupt history of colonialism, exploitation, domination and oppression. The Earth, humanity, indigenous cultures, and our very future suffers at the benefit of a small group of individuals and corporations who seek quick profit. Think of the diamond industry that exploits slaves in Africa- it has a foothold abroad because of a brutal history of colonialism and slavery (*see the movie Blood Diamond or google it). Look at the oil industry - decades of war between governments to have access to oil, and generations of people suffering in war torn countries, for the benefit of cheap oil, which fuels the machine we have all been tied to. There are countless examples - it is devastating to realize our many comforts come at a huge expense of injustice and exploitation. Feel it. Learn about it. And know there is another way.

The Sustainability movement supports renewable energy, values well being over growth, and suggests making business and personal decisions that take into consideration their long term environmental impact. However, within it’s word is the idea of “sustaining” and some environmentalists point out that we cannot sustain the increase of CO2 or the rate at which the sea level is rising - sustaining is not enough - it too will lead to a crisis.

Regeneration implies bringing the living Earth back into health and vitality, with the goal of reversing climate change and creating right relationship. Regenerative agriculture grows food while also healing the soil - by building top soil, sequestering carbon, and improving the water cycle. Regenerative businesses seek to create equality among workers, give back to the community, source regenerative ingredients, and draw on the permaculture principles of: Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share. As in nature, our diversity makes us more resilient, interesting, healthy and most capable of thriving.

Regeneration is holistic and since the deepest caverns of our heart and psyche are part of the web of life and inform how we relate to the world around us, we are also invited to go within. Through self inquiry and healing ourselves, we can heal our relationships, our culture and society, our Earth.

And then there is FASHION…

Believe it or not “fast fashion” (aka mainstream fashion) is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. Unfortunately, most clothing companies are part of the extractive model of business - the fashion industry produces more carbon then all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Each time we wash synthetic textiles like polyester (which are derived from oil), more microplastics end up in the ocean, devastating the coral reef and ocean life. Furthermore, 85% of textiles that are produced end up in landfills each year - so much is wasted. The human justice issues are alarming as workers are often underpaid and work in dangerous conditions - companies like Zara have been charged with violating human rights. We can see what a high cost the Earth is paying for a low price of cheap clothes.

A sustainable fashion model has been beautifully illustrated by Christy Dawn. The garments made at Christy Dawn are created from “deadstock fabric”. Deadstock fabrics are the leftover fabrics of other fashion houses who overestimated their needs. Traditionally, brands would hold on to their excess fabrics for a few seasons and then send them to the landfills. Christy Dawn rescues these deadstock fabrics before they are thrown away and turns them into beautiful dresses.

Because they use deadstock, they rarely find large quantities of any one fabric. Small rolls mean small production runs. Oftentimes, Christy Dawn makes only 1 or 2 dresses in a specific fabric or print. Greater diversity is a natural result.

Then Christy Dawn began asking themselves how they can actually become a regenerative company. Aras, CEO and husband to Christy Dawn shares, “We worked hard to not be part of the problem, but we realized we could not look our children in the eyes and tell them we were part of the solution.” So, in 2019, Christy Dawn partnered with Oshadi, a textile company based in Erode, India. Together they began growing their own cotton on a 5 acre parcel , using organic and regenerative practices that bring back the health of the soil and create fair trade employment opportunities for people who have traditionally been connected with that land through farming.

When they began, many people looked at the land they had chosen to cultivate, tend and regenerate and warned them, “This land is dead. This soil is dead. It will be very hard to make anything of this.” However, Aras and Christy rooted themselves in their faith that from death can come new life, if we offer it our love, time, attention and care. And that is just what they did. They began learning about and employing regenerative farming practices, such as: cover crops, composting, worm tea, trap crops, and pollinator strips. When Eshwari, the matriarch on the farm, was asked if the land seemed happier, she responded,

“You don’t have to ask if the land is happy, you can look for yourself. The earth worms are back, the dragonflies have returned. Of course the Earth is happy.”

We want you to know that the people behind Christy Dawn are not farmers or experts in Regenerative Agriculture. Like you, they are people who care enough to learn new ways, to put in effort into moving away from convenience and into cultivating and tending greater intimacy. Indeed, as they reflect on what they have learned so far, they find that the important regenerative practice for them has been the deepening of relationships. 

Aras shares, “Healing happens through relationships and the more deeply we are willing to go, the greater our capacity to regenerate. As a first step of deepening with the Living Earth, there is no more intimate act than that of getting our hands in the soil. And if it is not our hands that are working with the soil, then we must deepen our relationships with the farmers and stewards of the land.” In the example of Christy Dawn, they have twice visited the farm in Erode. Spending a week with the farmers, having tea, sharing meals, getting to know each other. As Eshwari noted, “In 50 years of growing food and fiber on this land, never once did we meet the people or the companies who were buying it.” Now, she has a relationship with the people with whom we will be sharing this energy. “We will look after these crops with all of our hearts,” she continues, “knowing that we are connected to the people who will be receiving these gifts.” 

So how can this moment of pause become a portal for you, into regenerative living?

First, let us acknowledge that as the machine takes a forced pause, we have an opportunity.

Breaking us out of routines and habits allows for greater self awareness.

In the case of addiction, changing our social habits and circles, our environment, and routine, are essential to healing and changing behavior.

However, if we use this time to distract and numb ourselves, chances are when this is over, we will pick back up the shiny mechanics of the way of life that was hurting us all, and try to get the machine running again, only to have the next crisis stop us, likely with an even greater costs as we head towards the cliffs.

We can move our collective practices into harmony with nature and begin to regenerate life on this planet while regenerating our culture, habits and relationships to be more holistic, fair, healthy and natural.

To do so, we are invited to begin within.

This pause will change us all. By bringing awareness and intention to the inevitable process of change, this pause may become a portal for your personal transformation and regeneration.

But be careful! Do not approach your own journey from the capitalist perspective of trying to get the greatest amount of “healing” out of this window. Be mindful to not fill your schedule with the next best thing. Rather, as Mary Oliver says in her beautiful poem Wild Geese, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Soften and slow down. Lay down on the Earth and rest. Pray in whatever way you pray. Meditate on harmonizing yourself with the natural heart beat of the Earth.

We can use this time to reflect.

To grieve the loss of a life of quick conveniences and dark consequences.
To be gentle and kind with ourselves, recognizing we were born into this machine that is crumbling and that we have some unraveling to do within our own minds and habits.

To face the parts of ourselves that embody the extractive culture - and use meditation, prayer or whatever brings you into a state of love and forgiveness, so we can face our demons, give them compassion and love them so they soften into the hurt children they really are.

To be deeply compassionate with ourselves and each other and love each other through the transformations.

Spend time getting to know yourself more.
You may begin by rekindling your relationship with your inner child - your play can renew your sense of passion and purpose.

Find delight everyday. Be aware of what brings you joy. Write it down. Journal.
Give gratitude several times a day. Notice what you are grateful for. The warmth of your tea. The beauty of the light in your window. The sound of the birds. The time in the morning to remember your dreams.

Practice compassion. Notice where you are holding resentments. Forgive people from your past. Do some healing work. Cultivate inner peace.

Notice your triggers. Feel your feelings. Be kind to yourself and others. Ask for help. Offer help. Join a meal train for the elderly in your neighborhood, foster an animal, volunteer.

Speak to the Earth like to a long lost Mother. Go outside every day if you can. Listen to Nature within you and around you. Lay on the Earth and rest. Ask for forgiveness on behalf of all of us humans. Ask her to guide you in how to live in greater harmony, how to be more gentle on the Earth. How to create more life for those yet unborn. Be filled with gratitude and receive the love of the Earth, who continues to give us food, shelter, warmth, love and a place to live.

Get involved in social justice. Who are the disenfranchised in your community? Unpack your privilege. Feel the pain. Grieve. Learn how to be an ally. Decolonize your mind. Dismantle the patriarchy in yourself and your home first. Be humble. Read books. Learn history. Learn herstory. Listen to those voices who often go unheard.

Plant a garden. Create beauty. Make art. Make love. Cuddle. Giggle. Laugh. Delight. Cook good food. Slow down. Get inspired. Plan a community garden. Share resources. Build community. Play. Make music. Sing songs. Be silly. Read poetry. Take time to get to know the people closest to you. Don’t make assumptions. Take time to connect deeper with yourself.

Reflect on what you value. Reflect on what you need. What can you live without? What is the cost of a quick fix or convenient purchase? What is the satisfaction of knowing where your food comes from, where your clothes are made. Of knowing those who made your clothes and dinnerware were treated with integrity, were honored for their craft, touched something with satisfaction that touches you. 

Be in conversation with life. Be in wonder. Be in awe.
Ask life what you can do for Her.
How can you regenerate life on Earth?
You were never meant to do it all. You were never meant to do it alone.

“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.” “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”
- Joanna Macy

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