Another Systems View of This Virus and These Times

Each year at this time, I marvel at the first sight of Crocus. This photo above is from the weekend, near my front door — while other plants remain a few steps behind waking to spring, the Crocus burst forward with intoxicating purple. I marvel at the delicate flower that seems to act as a bold scout, the first to arrive, to signal to the others, it’s OK to start growing and blooming. Where I live, Crocuses are brave bad-asses of the flowering bulb world. 

So, these times…. Like many, I’ve been trying to make sense of things. I’m not a doctor or nurse (though I often consider my work with groups to be about health). I’m not an economist or political figure (though I often think of my work as about creating growth and sustainability). I’m a group process person, that comes from an orientation of living systems, and that has particular interest in how the humanity of things plays out in a world in which everything is connected to everything.

I’ve been afraid. Yup. Worried. Yup. Trying to offer clarity to those near me. Yup.

Here’s some of that clarity, a few headlines, from my systems brain and heart as I try to follow things.

The Biological View — this is a robust flu and cold. It’s not the first of history. It’s not the last either. Living systems adapt and mutate and insist on expression. That’s true for people and for a virus. CoVid doesn’t have a cure. No vaccine possible at this point. It’s novel. If left on it’s own (no social distancing and no systems shut down), I’ve heard estimates that 50-70% of people would become infected, perhaps over a 3 month – 1 year period (though with the infection pace of this virus, a year feels way to long). It’s a lot of illness, confusion, and death — and yet, some natural immunity that would likely grow too.

The Economical / Financial View — it seems that the powers that be, I think political leaders in conjunction with world health officials and infectious disease experts, have chosen, in a very difficult and gutsy way, the projected lesser painful impact of two very punishing economic realities. The strategy is social distancing, closure, etc. so that we might have a more fighting chance once this wave of virus, infection, and illness passes. The alternative strategy is to let it ride. Don’t shut down anything in this “flatten the curve way” that is currently implemented, surreally, at global scale. Strategically, “let it ride” would have resulted in mandatory shut down anyway.

In my mind the Biology and Economy / Finance are two circles of a Venn diagram. But rather that just slightly touching, they almost completely overlap. The biological has massive impact on the economical. That’s all in play right now.

I would suggest that a third circle in this diagram (and yes, it’s all oversimplified — these are just symbols to represent larger dynamics) is the Emotional / Psychological / Spiritual View. This is the one that requires us to come into relationship with fear, with death, etc. 

The EPS circle is the more neglected one here. Because it’s not something you just snap up at the grocery store. In the Emotional / Psychological / Spiritual, there isn’t a hand washing or social distancing that works. EPS requires a commitment to dive deeply with self and others into truths most often avoided or denied.

These three circles go together. Each is impacting the other — not in a just barely impacting way, but rather, in an almost entirely overlapping way. 

Here’s a few truths that grow out of this work to me, that matter now, today, with human beings everywhere:

  1. We are not in control, no matter how attractive the illusion has been for centuries, but particularly amplified in the industrial age. This is such an offense to so many of the western world and its traditions.
  2. Things are uncertain; they always have been. CoVid19 is not the first messenger to shock us. Uncertainty has always been part of reality — it’s just one of the favorites to deny. Again, offense to western world, yet at the heart of many spiritual traditions.
  3. There is much unknown; there always as been. See truth #2. I’m most fond of stating with groups that there is always “more unknown and unseen than known and seen.” It welcomes more truth telling.
  4. We are, and can be creative. That’s one of the things that defines us as humans. We have choices, some very bold, that can feed and nourish who we are in these CoVid times. Lots going online. I applaud the gumption to try things. Doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. We are, and can be, resilient. This is not the first human test of resiliency. This is one that has amplified scale and intensity. But human beings want to be resilient. Bad-assed, like Crocus.

* The above post is also available as a podcast (9 minutes).



The Healing Time

Some of us face immediate circumstances that require healing.

The paper cut that actually needs a bandage to contain a couple drops of blood and tighten the skin’s connection to re-seal. The sprained ankle that requires rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Some of us face cumulative life experience that benefits from deliberate healing attention. Loss of loved ones that you realize takes decades to integrate. Paths fulfilled that require a marker in time, and unfulfilled, that require ceremony and ritual.

Healing isn’t an event. It’s an attention. And, I want to believe, natural.

The body and the psyche are coded for wholeness. There’s just a few things that are readily available and try to convince us otherwise, and distract away from an inherent resilience.

Well, that’s good. And, healing isn’t about never being sick. Or never being wounded. Or never feeling loss. Life offers these. Sometimes imposes them.

Count it as a gift to have friends that lend support to our respective healing, be they personal and in the moment, or cumulative that come from life lived. Count it as gift to be witnessed, and encouraged to lean into the sorrow and the wound rather than protected from. The existential has always been as interesting to me as the psychological and the physical.

Yes, I would suggest that we can’t be human without knowing a time or two, even collapsing a time or two, in to the nicks, scrapes, cuts, bruises, wounds, and losses that come with this guest house that is human being (thanks Rumi).

Quanita Roberson, has been one of those friends for me, sharing a few key inspirations with me this week as I tend to the transition that is euthanizing my family dog, Shadow, and the galaxy of stories and memories that connect to such a time.

The poem is from Pesha Gertler, a Seattle area poet and teacher, that died a couple of years ago. She was known for bringing poetry to public places, like on buses and in city council.

The Healing Time
Pesha Gertler (Seattle Area Poet and Teacher)

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy

Revolution of Joy

Photo Credit — Kufunda Learning Village

I went to Zimbabwe in the early 2000s. Through Johannesburg and up to Harare. I remember feeling excited and a bit scared. It was my first time to Africa. I travelled with a group through The Berkana Institute and in support of our global leadership initiative, From the Four Directions. We were invited in particular to celebrate a friend and colleague, Maaianne Knuth’s 30th birthday, a beautiful human being, half Danish and half Zimbabwean. We were invited to witness what she was attempting to dream, establish, and grow in Zimbabwe, a learning village called Kufunda. Kufunda was about courage and wholeness. It was about daring to walk a path of awakening individually and as a local community. It was about reclaiming an inherent resourcefulness amidst towering inflation and access only to each other.

Maaianne’s birthday, which she referenced as a “celebration of life” was also about courage, wholeness and kind daring. It was not just for her but for all of us. There was life in being together, the group of about 40 of us over seven days. There was thoughtful and deliberate conversation and connection together. There was singing and dancing and food late into the night at her Grandmother’s remote village, where we all stayed in tents. There was wonder in visiting Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park. There was “aha” in realizing how easy it was for wild baboons and monkeys to get in to a few back packs that were left behind on the bus.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Maaianne. I’ve stayed in touch with the evolution of Kufunda, the learning village that was just beginning when I was there. I’ve wondered these last weeks in particular about how Maaianne is and how she is seeing the evolution of Zimbabwe now that Mugabe has stepped aside. This comes with awareness that there were years, including when I went in the early 2000s when political violence was enough to cancel trips, or at minimum proceed with much much caution. I’m happy to read Maaianne’s words this morning, “A Joy Revolution.”

“What was most remarkable was the absence of hatred and anger. The overwhelming feeling on the streets was joy. I don’t know that I have ever experienced such a collective well-spring of joy. Joy and love and unity that transcended decades of fear, division and hatred.”

There is much that is challenging in the world. Much that is drowning many of us in full despair. However, there is much that is joyful in the world also. Maaianne’s reflections and her commitment to growing life through life remind me of that.

Read her full reflection about Zimbabwe’s joy revolution here.