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COVID is Us

As the economic engines that propel civilization have reluctantly, suddenly, astonishingly been brought almost to a standstill, we find ourselves at a strange crossroads. This will all end, but when it does how will we move forward? At this point no one knows – but there can be no question that we are in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity to reassess. And it’s not just an opportunity – it comes upon us as a responsibility. If we are to honor the suffering and death the novel coronavirus has brought in its wake, we need to learn from it. We need to take stock. We need to newly assess what really matters in the long run. We need to open our eyes to what we have been devoted to as a culture and as individuals, and in the space of this strange pause, we need to consider what we will devote our energies to when it ends.

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As I settle into the enveloping peace of my neighbourhood – punctuated by birdsong and underpinned by the whispering of the breeze through the trees – it seems to me that collectively we’re emerging from a sort of fog. There’s a sense that for decades we’ve been caught up in a giant, self-glorifying house party that has been going non-stop. Celebrating our own bravura, we’ve been obsessed merely with satisfying our desire for more: more stuff, more distractions, more status, more busyness, more titillation, more whatever. And the party has been roaring on heedless of its effect on the neighbours – but they weren’t invited anyway, and who really cares how they’re affected by our self-serving frenzy? And even as we exhaust ourselves in the process, the main thing has been to keep the party going – because we no longer remember what ‘enough’ means, and we crave and demand and feel entitled to endless more.

But now the party has been brought to a grinding halt. And as its mad energy dissipates, we begin to notice the mess we’ve made. We take stock of how our ‘neighbours’ have been affected: the bees, the monarchs, the frogs and turtles, the elephants. The trees, lakes, grasses and oceans. They are all suffering. And it slowly dawns on us that somewhere along the line we committed to a system that mistakes damaging failures for stories of success. In our muddled frenzy we got it backwards. Insanely backwards. The overriding concern of politicians and economists and corporations has been to keep the party going and growing – bigger! more! better! But in our self-obsessed, drunken oblivion we didn’t really notice that when the party is rocking the most – when our economy is firing on all cylinders – our ‘neighbours’ most deeply suffer. Disguised as a triumph of our cleverness, the system is actually set up so there can only be losers: the better the economy does, the greater the suffering of nature. And ultimately nature is all we have.

We’ve noticed the suffering of nature before, but we’ve noticed it the way one might notice the scenery outside the window of a railway carriage. We ‘know’ about the insect holocaust, the death of coral reefs, the plastics in our water, the degradation of soil, the species extinction, the melting of the permafrost, and on and on. But today the view has changed. The locomotive has come to a halt, and as we step out of the carriage onto the earth, we notice how different the world feels now that the rushing has stopped. With the most toxic effects of human activity on pause, our global neighbourhood – like a recovering COVID patient – is breathing a little easier. The birds on my street can communicate without having to compete with the roar of jet engines overhead. The air is noticeably clearer. The residents of Jalandhar in Punjab can see the peaks of the Dhauladhar mountain range for the first time in almost thirty years. Wild goats are roaming though Welsh villages. Herds of elk are strolling through downtown Banff.

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As we witness these sporadic glimmerings of nature staging a tentative recovery, we are invited to see COVID-19 in a different light. When we look it in the eye, we find ourselves staring at our doppleganger. COVID is our looking glass. It is us. The chaotic disarray it is visiting upon human life precisely mirrors how we have been affecting the delicate harmonies of life on earth. It’s as though nature were asking us, “How does it feel?” Our way of being is nature’s corona virus. How does that feel?

The crossroads at which we now sit has no sign pointing the way forward. This much is clear, though: the shutdown of the economy cannot go on indefinitely; but neither can ‘business as usual’. We harbour an instinctive desire to get over COVID and fire up the virus of consumer culture as quickly and robustly as possible. But in this unplanned cessation of what we call normality, we need to clearly understand that our economic system is set up, like COVID-19, so that it can only thrive by seeding death. We also need to understand that no ‘new idea’ can save us from its death spiral. The ideas of the head have been in charge for too long, and the body of the world is bleeding out as a result.

What is needed from us is a return to the body’s deepest understanding: that it indissolubly belongs to the world. Our newly awakened, heartfelt, embodied compassion for the most vulnerable among us has led us to sacrifice major conveniences and shut down the global economy. What is being asked of us now, in the midst of our hardship, is that we open our newly kindled compassion to all living beings, and feel with as much sober honesty as we can muster how they have all been ravaged by the virus of our fevered grasping. If we can extend our compassion to these ‘neighbours’ to whom we have brought so much suffering and death, we can come together in the same spirit of empowered, self-sacrificing unity with which nations around the world have faced COVID-19. The virus that is our consumer culture must be healed. And for that to happen, we need a new version of success – a version in which a healthy economy is one that promotes the health of life on earth.


I speak to the importance of the body's knowing in The Embodiment Manifesto. I'd love you to have a look.

28 thoughts on “COVID is Us”

  1. Thank you Philip for you generous insights and forever embodied sharing, your words are well received. With love.

  2. Carole Leblanc

    Thank you Philip, for this wonderful direction you give in this message. Sending much love and gratitude

  3. How does it feel,indeed, like the man said a long time ago, how does it feel to be without a home like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone , I’m beginning to realise that I can’t eat money.

  4. Thank you Philip for this stunning analysis. I’ve been feeling into these questions myself, considering how we’ve hunted whales and other animals to the point of extinction. How we’ve plundered, destroyed and caused untold brutal deaths in order to “have more”. Now it’s our turn to experience the sense of not being the masters of our own destiny.

  5. Candace Hartzler

    Thank you dear Philip. What I have thought and seen for years but without ability to articulate clearly. Absolute truth. We must create change from bottom up, inside out. Looking forward to seeing you in the fall.

  6. I really love what you say, I personally always was aware of our doing and did my best to do what I can to minimize my impact on Global explotations , I did sign many petitions daily, for the environment the animals,
    what you did not take to account that those that exploited this world actually planned this to make even more money while we all going to be in lack, they are planning total enslavement, with the crushing of the economy. there is planty material on the net to see for those that ready to wake up from the deceiving lies we get from the news and the media, but yes i am exited at same time to see others like you saying similar things , the questions when are we going to take the power for the people , cause as we speak the 5G Network for spying and really getting us sick are being installed rapidly , so not all came to the stop, the devastating mines keep on and the 5G rapidly , did you know there are 42.000 setalites of 5g approved to go around the earth ,
    and lastly , as this is going on , all our human basic right been striped off completely , I am lucky here in Australia as theres lots of space and i am in the country side sort of , with a river and a vegie garden ,so doing well.
    yes i would love to see the people stand up and really take power so the Government works for us and not the corporations ,

  7. A eloquent parable of our “sick” measure of value (economy). We have an unbalanced view excluding other impacts which while not necessarily immediate are important to the whole system (environment!).

    1. Philip Shepherd

      Until our economy takes into account the true cost of our actions, our toxic influence will continue …

  8. Philip, your message articulates so much that I (and so many have been feeling).

    It also is undermined by an error. The picture of dolphins in the canals in Venice was, unfortunately, brought to you by Photoshop, not by the recovery of nature.I share this because in seeing a fact-check error in the midst of so much beautiful insight pulls me away from the power of your message.

    There are so many examples. Coyotes are roaming the streets of San Francisco. Bobcats are being seen in the suburbs. And those Welsh goats… well, they’re pretty adorable.

    1. Philip Shepherd

      Well, I’m usually pretty scrupulous about getting my facts right – but this one slipped past me. And there are so many other examples of nature making the most of this time the point isn’t weakened by a deletion of the dolphins at all. So thanks, Val, for pointing that out. The piece has gone out into the world, but I’ll do my best to amend it where I can.

      Warm regards,

      Philip

  9. Philip – Thank you for this clear message. It’s much of what I have been thinking and some of what I’ve been saying. I don’t want to go back to ‘how things were.’

    I am grateful for your clarity.

    Steve

      1. Very rarely do I respond,but in this instance I felt compelled. Since I first encountered your material several years ago, I have been faithfully working to integrate it into my life. During these challenging times, your insights are even more relevant.
        As you continue your journey of writing, teaching, and sharing, may you eventuality resonate with enough individuals to create a “critical mass”.
        Thank you for gently reminding me of what I already knew and for making a positive difference.

        1. Philip Shepherd

          Thanks, Bill. It always means a lot to hear that the work has touched someone in that way. And I too hope that the work finds a ‘critical mass’ – it really does seem to address some ‘missing blanks’ or blindspots that our culture is suffering from. In the meantime, my warmest regards.

  10. Philip, this reminds of the passion and power of our body. Thx for such good reminder at this vulnerable time. I am so grateful you brought to the world. Thank you…

    1. Philip Shepherd

      It means a lot to me, Tina, that this speaks to you of “the passion and power of our body.” If we could all remember that, what a different place the world would be!

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