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Week of March 26th, 2020

Still Point


My neighbor Jim is spending the apocalypse sitting in his little rowboat on the creek and flying his 99-cent kite for hours upon end.

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Ira Byock writes: Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

But Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

"A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts," Mead said.

We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.

~ Ira Byock, The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life

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If you missed last week's message about the coronavirus, here it is again.

Throughout 2020, there is a rare confluence of three planets in Capricorn: Pluto, Saturn, and Jupiter. Right now that high-powered configuration has been getting supercharged by transiting Mars.

These potent energies are synergizing and compounding each other's impacts—interweaving in ways that confound us and rattle us.

In the best-case scenario, they will also activate us and motivate us to initiate brave transformations in our own personal lives as well as in our communities and nations.

We will use this crisis as an opportunity to deepen our understanding of how profoundly interconnected we all are. We'll respond to it by upgrading the way we take care of ourselves, the people we love, and our natural world.

Read more about the meaning of all this, plus horoscopes that suggest ways to respond.

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Jonathan Hadas Edwards & Julia Hartsell wrote the essay below: What if the Virus is the Medicine?

The emerging pandemic is already a watershed of the early 21st century: things won’t ever be the same. Yet for all that the havoc that the virus is wreaking, directly and indirectly, it may also be part of the bitter medicine the global body needs.

How could adding another crisis to an already crisis-ridden planet possibly be medicinal?

Before we explore that question, we want to be clear: our intent is not to downplay the severity or minimize the importance of lives lost to this disease. Behind the mortality figures lie very real pain and grief, and these numbers, often discussed so casually, are personal, representing the potential loss of our parents, elders, teachers, dance companions, grandmothers or immune-compromised friends.

Already, our hearts are breaking for the physical distance with our aging parents until we know if we’re infected. There’s not only a risk of losing beloveds in this time, but having to do so from afar. Our hearts are breaking for those who may die or suffer alone, without the touch of their loved ones. We honor death as a sacred passage, but we do not minimize death, suffering or sickness in the slightest.

We pray that each one who transitions from this virus (as from the many other deadly diseases, accidents, overdoses, murders, suicides, mass shootings, and on and on) be met with on the other side by unexpected blessing, connection, peace.

Neither are the economic implications to be taken lightly. Many in this country have already seen massive impact, and the recession has only begun. As always, those closest to the edge will be hit hardest. For some, a month sequestered in beauty could be a vacation.

Others have a few months before financial panic sets in. And for others living paycheck to paycheck or gig to gig, there is a great immediacy of struggle. The economic ‘side effects’ of this coronavirus could be catastrophic.

And yet.

For many in our world, the pre-coronavirus status quo was already catastrophic. Many are facing an imminent end to their world--indeed, for many species and many peoples, the world has already ended. We are in the midst of a crisis of unprecedented magnitude: the choice for humanity is change or die. No one said change would be easy. (Neither is dying.)

And incremental change is not enough. It will take radical change to shift our current, calamitous trajectory away from massive environmental devastation, famine, energy crises, war & refugee crises, increasingly authoritarian regimes and escalating inequalities.

The world we know is dying. What is unsustainable cannot persist, by definition, and we are starting to see this play out.

What hope is there, then? There is the hope that breakdown will become, or coexist with, breakthrough. There is the hope that what is dying is the caterpillar of immature humanity in order that the metamorphosis yields a stunning emergence. That whatever survives this collective initiation process will be truer, more heart-connected, resilient and generative.

We are entering the chrysalis. There’s no instruction manual for what happens next. But we can learn some things from observing nature (thank you Megan Toben for some of this biological info). For one thing, the chrysalis stage is preceded by a feeding frenzy in which the caterpillar massively overconsumes (sound familiar? We’ve been there for decades). Then its tissues melt into a virtually undifferentiated goo. What remain separate are so-called imaginal cells, which link together and become the template from which the goo reorganizes itself into a butterfly.

Does the caterpillar overconsume strategically, or out of blind instinct? Does it know what’s coming and trust in the process, or does it feel like it’s dying? We don’t know. It’s natural to resist radical, painful change. But ultimately there’s little choice but to surrender to it. We can practice welcoming the circumstances that force us away from dysfunctional old patterns, be they economic or personal. We have that opportunity now.

Let’s return to a crucial word, initiation. On an individual level, initiations are those processes or rituals by which one reaches a new state of being and corresponding social status: from girl to woman, from layperson to clergy, and so on. Initiations can be deliberate or spontaneous, as in the case of the archetypal shamanic initiation, which comes by way of a healing crisis.

To paraphrase Michael Meade, initiations are events that pull us deeper into life than we would otherwise go. They vary widely from culture to culture and individual to individual, but two characteristics they share are intensity and transformation. They bring us face to face with life and with death; they always involve an element of dying or shedding so that the new can be born.

Most all of us have undergone initiations of one sort of another, from the death of a parent to the birth of a child. Many have experienced initiation in the form of a crisis or trial by fire. Those of us who have gone through more deliberate, ritualized forms of initiation can state unequivocally: the process is not fun, comfortable or predictable.

You may well feel like you’re going nuts. You may not know who you are anymore. You don’t get to choose which parts of you die, or even to know ahead of time.

One of the overriding feelings is of uncertainty: you don’t know where you’re going, only that there’s no going back. And there’s no way of knowing how long the transformation will take. It can help to remember that the initiatory chrysalis phase is a sacred time, set apart from normal life.That it has its own demands and its own logic. That it cannot be rushed, only surrendered to. That it may be painful, but also, ultimately, healing.

Imagine what happens when an entire society finds itself in the midst of a critical initiation. Except you don’t have to imagine: it’s already happening, or starting to. It looks like chaos, a meltdown. We’re in a moment of collective, global-level crisis and uncertainty that has little precedent in living memory.

The economic machine--the source of our financial needs and also a system that profits from disease, divorce, crime and tragedy--is faced with a dramatic slow-down. We are all facing the cessation of non-essential activities. There is opportunity here, if we claim it.

This is a sacred time.

However, unlike a traditional rite of passage ceremony, there’s no priest or elder with wisdom born of experience holding the ritual container, tracking everything seen and unseen. Instead, all at once there are millions of personal quests inside one enormous initiatory chrysalis.

And yet, look closely: amid the goo, you may start to notice imaginal cells appearing. Pockets of people who are aligned with something they may not fully understand, in receipt of a vision or pieces of one, beaming out their signal to say: let’s try something different.

This is an opportunity to loosen our grip on old and familiar ways. Those ways worked for as long as they did, and they got us here, for better and for worse. They seem unlikely to carry us much further.

What if we’re instead being asked to feel our way forward, from the heart, without benefit of certainty--which, when concentrated, quickly becomes toxic? No one has all the answers in this or any other time. Right now the questions may be more valuable.

What if we honor this time with sacred respect?

What if we take the time to listen for the boundaries and limits of our Earth mother?

What is truly important?

How can we receive the bitter medicine of the moment deep into our cells and let it align us with latent possibility?

How can we, with the support of the unseen, serve as midwives to all that is dying here and all that is being born?

With these questions resounding, let us s l o w d o w n and listen. For echo back from the unseen, for whisperings from the depths of our souls and from the heart of the mystery that--no less so in times of crisis--embraces us all.

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by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Translation of this poem by Pablo Neruda is by Alistair Reed

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by Lynn Ungar

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down. And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch. Promise this world your love--

for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

--Lynn Ungar

More of Lynn's poetry

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Astrologer Chani Nicholas writes: We are each a strand of the impossibly intricate web of this world. Our care for one another is the glue. Our interdependence is non-negotiable. The myth of making it solely on our own is a fantastical tale with a bitter end.

Even when our privilege allows us the delusion of being self-made, we will eventually succumb to the insecurity of being in a body. Moments like this make us well aware of that.

The very real threat to our physical health that we are facing forces us to unpack emotions that live beneath the surface of our conscious awareness.

Living in a society that leaves the marginalized among us out to dry, condemned to suffer from the systems set up to have them fail, will plague us until we remedy it.

It’s time, past time, to live in a world where necessities are provided and excess is shared.

More from Chani Nicholas

More from Chani Nicholas

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Positive Updates on the COVID-19 Outbreaks From Around the World:

* Distilleries Across the United States Are Making Their Own Hand Sanitizers to Give Away for Free

* Air Pollution Plummets in Cities With High Rates of Quarantine

* Johns Hopkins Researcher Says That Antibodies From Recovered COVID Patients Could Help Protect People At Risk

* Uber Eats is Supporting the North American Restaurant Industry By Waiving Delivery Fees for 100,000 Restaurants

* Athletes and sports teams are pledging to pay the wages of arena employees during the shutdown.

* Utility companies, landlords, automakers, and internet providers are waiving a number of late fees and payments to ease the financial burden of the shutdown.

* School districts across the country are still opening their doors to serve meals to kids and families.

* Seattle-based author Ijeoma Oluo has launched a relief fund to help artists who have been severely affected by the outbreak.

* In the small town of Coos Bay, Oregon, coffee shop owner John Beane is hosting virtual story times for kids after shutting down his cafe.

* The supermarket chain Raley's started a special program offering a bag of groceries at a reduced price for seniors and people in need.

* The popular restaurant chain Puesto, which was forced to shut down because of the virus, gave away some 500 free care packages this week.


More Positive Updates on the COVID Outbreaks From Around the World:

* World Health Organization (WHO) Officials Say There Are Now 20 Coronavirus Vaccines in Development

* From Individuals to Countries and World Governments–Everybody is Sharing Face Masks

* As American Cities Close Up Amidst Outbreaks, Pollution Plummets

* As Physicians Worry About Potential Ventilator Shortages, Researchers Develop Several Low-Cost Solutions

* Communities and Countries Are Opening Up New Lanes of Free Entertainment for the Masses

* More Than 100,000 People Have Already Recovered From the Virus Worldwide

* Celebrities and Businesses Have Contributed Millions Towards Feeding and Caring for At-Risk People

* No Matter Where You Look, People Are Being Kind to Each Other



From a friend in Spain: "There was a call on social media in Spain to go to balconies and windows at 10 pm and give a huge ovation to thank and support hospital workers. It’s 10:05 and I can hear the roar of applause from everywhere."

Italians found a moment of joy in this time of Anxiety. Under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Italians broke out in song from rooftops, balconies, and windows.

My friend Johnny Dwork created a Facebook page with this theme: "I really do believe that this pandemic can also become a positive catalyst for our personal and planetary survival and evolution."Check out "Alchemizing Covid-19"