Stephanie Dowrick: Connections in a time of Crisis

Re-thinking connection and communication – in this time of need?

Perhaps like you, I’ve been aware increasingly that this has become a time to consider with fresh interest and confidence how we can “feed” and support others. No less vital is how we can receive with grace and gratitude what others have to give. How do we summon up the necessary courage to meet our own individual losses, especially in a time of collective uncertainty and crisis?

In recent days,and again perhaps like many of you, I have been feeling particularly flat. (“Flat” is code for feeling somewhat low, anxious, sad, lacking vitality…foggy. I hardly need explain.) Yet I also know – how could I not? – that a part of me, just as with a part of you, is entirely well and can never be anything but well. Call that aspect of ourselves “soul”, “spirit”, the name doesn’t matter. It’s surely, though, that eternal light within us that allows us to receive the kindness of others, or the inspiration we need, even when much within us feels shut down? And, when we can, to share that.

So, as I write to you today, I am mindful of three acts of loving friendship that I have received in the last few days that have truly been “Rescue Remedies” to my soul and to the wholeness of my being. Why am I sharing these stories? Well, in large part hoping that you may also newly value what you have to give and can give. Also so that you may be even more open to receiving, even when what’s coming your way doesn’t quite fit your expectations or inhibiting judgements of how things should be. Any change in attitude asks some detachment of us so that we can see things anew; it also requires some stillness.

In the first of these gifts a dear friend emphasised this as she pointed out to me – in a general conversation – how the possibilities of conscious “receiving” depend also on NOT being constantly busy. Of course! Some of my own misery has been due to my frustration and sorrow that I can’t be out in the world, active, or nearly as active as I would like to be from my own home, and especially I can’t be supporting my family including my grandchildren, in the practical ways that I long for.

Before the global pandemic shut down, I was relatively shut in for four months with illness, including 10 weeks in hospital(s). I am not a patient patient! “Being busy” is for me a psychological defence; I am well aware of that. It’s also a source of positive stimulation, connection, inspiration. Yet didn’t I write a book called Intimacy & Solitude? Don’t I know that to be effective in the world, we also need time to resource ourselves inwardly and meaningfully? Don’t I sometimes long for more inwardness, not less?

The answer to all these questions is YES! So the issue of choice arises here. In illness, our world shrinks. In social isolation, our world shrinks. Paradoxically, it’s precisely now that our vision must enlarge, not only of who and what we are, but of how we are expressing that interdependence with others. Glimpsing the truths of interdependence is paramount – and, again paradoxically, is shown up as we become aware also of what we depend upon and where and how this may have to shift. Giving and receiving are inevitable expressions of interdependence.

Choosing to be the smallest bit more generous, perhaps more tolerant in both directions (giving and receiving), is itself an act of empowerment, an act of self-respect and even love – for ourselves and for all with whom we share this planet.

The second gift is simpler still: it’s honesty. In speaking by phone to a close friend in New Zealand, I was unable in that moment to put a “good spin” on how I was feeling. I felt raw, disarrayed – and somewhat ashamed. After all, despite those very real health challenges and ageing, I am hugely blessed with inner and outer resources. I am massively aware how many people are desperate about their bills, their most basic survival through this time. Many in our communities have no safe place to “hunker down” and certainly no funds to “stock up” amply on groceries. Many are in greater danger than ever before. And some are losing their loved ones or their lives. Nonetheless, my grief felt real and is real, as is my unceasing concern for members of our own family who are on the health front lines. (That I can hardly bear, particularly when hard-hearted irrationalists are champing at the bit to revive the economy whatever the cost to our precious health workers who are also sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, lovers of life.)

My friend received what I had to say with quiet, kind listening. And only later reminded me how essential it is that we make very conscious efforts to do what’s nourishing, lovely, uplifting – even in small ways. It’s true, isn’t it, that we often neglect what will help us even when we know what that is? This is where the choices of authentic compassion and self-care come in: not asking, “Do I feel like…?” (You may not…) But rather, “What’s happening?” And, “What’s needed?” There’s honesty in that, too.Will those thoughtful questions make everything better? Probably not.

“Everything” is a mighty big ask at a time of intense global and personal suffering. But we do actually live moment by moment, breath by breath, even if that’s a reality we frequently rush past. When we are down, our thoughts leap into a future that’s almost invariably frightening. When we slow down, by contrast, we can experience THIS moment and – where and when we can – infuse it with at least relatively greater vitality and hope. So, if at the forefront of our concerns is fear for the wellbeing of others, perhaps those we love most, or grief, or fear for ourselves, we can at least pause this from time to time to surround that situation with loving-kindness rather than terror: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I choose. 24 brand new hours are before me. I vow to bring to all beings (including myself) my gifts of loving kindness and compassion. Breathing in…etc”

As we give, we will receive.

The third act of loving friendship – given and received – is a poem, “The Layers”, written by Stanley Kunitz and sent out by a writer friend who is also a gifted meditation teacher. It tells its own story – but the lines that sang to me are:

‘“Live in the layers, not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations

is already written. I am not done with my changes.’

None of us is “done with the changes”, not now, not ever. Perhaps the inspiration here is how deeply wisely-chosen words – words – can reconnect us to ourselves. Another poet, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote many years ago, “Our true life lies at great depth within us.” (I used that quote in my novel, Tasting Salt and again in my more recent book, Seeking the Sacred.) As we connect to ourselves with greater kindness, our judgements of others will inevitably soften. Our wider world becomes more spacious. And who could resist that, in these so-called isolated times?

I leave you with a reminder that you can reach me at any time via my public FaceBook page. Blessings of health meanwhile.