I’ve received so many questions over this past month while we’ve adapted quickly to this time of isolation and approached our fears and anxieties about our life as a result of it.
Questions about how we could support our immune systems? Questions about what kind of meditation we should do? Questions about what happens to us when we die? Questions about how we could support our loved ones if they do die?
But the question I’ve received, more often than most, is what should we do when this is over? When we go back to our lives?
In this debate about the changes that this is thrusting upon the one question that we should be asking ourselves it is this: What kind of a life should we hope to lead if we get our freedom back?
This is the question we need to be pondering most deeply. And this is the question to which we absolutely must find the right answer. Because if we do not, then this inconvenience and the suffering that this virus has caused will be a mere blip in the greater cycle of things.
If we do not respond now, while we have the opportunity to reflect upon change, to embrace and open up to the idea of change and to actually start to make changes, then the suffering that this virus would have caused us will pale into comparison to the suffering we will experience if we do not make the changes that it is pointing towards.
Shortly before we were put into lockdown, I spent a Sunday with my mother. We’d been sent a document by the World Health Organization or friend of hers who worked there, explaining how we could do an inventory of the cost of our life. What it costs to have us here, put up against what the planet can actually afford to give us, or how much it would be sustainable for us to take out by being here.
It took about a couple of hours, it was about 50 questions I seem to remember. About various aspects of our lifestyle, all kinds of things. And when we had filled in all the questions, we did a calculation that showed both of us what the cost of us being here was. And it was put up against how much the planet could afford to give each one of us in terms of its abundance of renewable resources.
Now I live a relatively simple life. But my consumption level overall was 3.5 times more than what the planet could afford, over the long term, to offer up if everybody on the planet lived the way I did. I was really surprised because I thought, “Well, you know what Burgs you live a relatively simple life.” But when I looked back at it and I realized well no, perhaps it is not nearly as simple as I thought.
When I looked at the fact that I drive a not expensive, but a reasonably nice car, covering quite long distances. That I spend quite a lot of my time staying alone and thus not sharing the resources that heat and power my house. That I took three or four flights a year for my work, and one or two more for my holidays. All of these things put together added up to a total consumption that was quite unsustainable even though I was under the false view that I was living a sustainable and simple life.
Even down to the amount of time I spent streaming data when it translates back to all the carbon that it takes for those computers to run in the background and provide that extraordinarily fast service that we come to rely on. All of these factors that I hadn’t stopped to consider. That I took for granted, without any consideration whatsoever on the real cost of them. All of them added up to make a life that was completely unsustainable.
Previously when I had weighed up the cost of my life I was only thinking in terms of what can I afford? I was thinking, I live well within my means, this must be a simple life. I don’t earn much, and I live within those means, surely my life is simple. I hadn’t even begun to factor the real cost of providing those things that I took for granted. Not what I was paying, that’s not the cost, but the cost to the planet of taking them out. The unpaid cost, that becomes a debt to that limited, although plentiful resource, that our planet offers us. That was a shock. I was living a life that would cost three planets a year, if everybody did it.
And then we looked at my mother, my dear mother, bless her, who has done nothing more than stay on in our family home when my Dad died and when my brother and I left. Just living there alone. Living a life that was probably no more elaborate or ostentatious than mine. But her footprint, if you want to call it that, was seven times the sustainable average. We were both horrified. How could it be? We live a simple life. And that got me thinking. And I thought to myself, well, I don’t have children. And my mother doesn’t have grandchildren. But if she did, what would we be thinking now? When we think forward about their future?
What those figures effectively meant was that if everybody on the planet lived the life my Mother lived, we would use up seven times the renewable resources in one year that the planet can produce in one year. And I thought about my life, three times the sustainable level of consumption. What would that mean if I jump back in to the life I had before, when this Coronavirus outbreak is over, if I’m still here? What it would mean is that if I continue to live that life, and for the next 40 years do it, the only way that I could do it for another 40 years, and if I had children that they could do it for another 80, would be if there were two thirds less people on the planet. Which would either mean that the Coronavirus had killed two thirds of the population of the planet, or that two thirds of the planet would have to live on absolutely nothing. Just so that I could continue with my three planet lifestyle. That is the only way long term that my life was sustainable. I was horrified.
And so I made a commitment. When this outbreak came and we were told to go into lockdown, I made a commitment; for the period that this goes on I will live only upon what is long term sustainable. And I have done that I have, and what is more if feels like a relief to be living like that. And I’m delighting in it. You know, the little things that we had to give up., that at first looked like inconveniences actually became the things that not only I should and needed to give up to make my life sustainable, but actually by giving them up, I started to breathe a sigh of relief.
Now, I’m thinking about that and thinking about it really hard. Because I know that many people out there are probably already finding life hard. What I am doing certainly wont feel like a relief for everyone, but I have to admit that they wont be the folk who like me are living so unsustainably. There are many for whom the daily round is hardship, but equally there are many who like me are unknowingly living in a way that is costing all of us dearly in terms of long term security and sustainability. However we as the fortunate sector of humanity might wriggle and try to avoid taking account of this, the facts are there. The truth is our way of life has to yield.. And it is not something we can ignore because if we ignore it now, our grandchildren will not have a future, it is a certainty. It is simply not good enough to say “ Technology will find a way through this. We cannot put dust in our eyes or hoods over our heads and pretend we cannot see. What would be the karma of ignoring now what is right before our eyes?
That is what we must reflect upon. It is not convenient. It is certainly inconvenient. But one thing’s for sure, every one of us who does not die in this pandemic is going to feel profoundly grateful that we are still here and grateful that we have a life to go back to. Or at least we should. And if we are still here and we have looked in the face of our own frailty, and faced some of our deepest fears, then we should take out of this the courage to make the changes that are necessary for our children and our grandchildren to have a future because we have had what’s coming to us. I know I have. I look back upon my life, and I look at it and I reflect “You know what? You’ve had in this life, more good fortune than you could have hoped to have had in 10 or 20 lives.”
I did that same calculation with a friend of mine the other day. And he did it on account of his parents and realized that his parents were living 30 planet living and had no idea. Now, we cannot blame ourselves for this, because we come to these ways of life; they just accumulate on account of our good fortune, and we do not stop to think, “What does it mean to live a life that during that life I consumed what could have supported 30 people?”
Now in a time of great abundance, it doesn’t matter does it? Because there’s plenty. And perhaps reason that this has happened is on account of the fact that this planet is so boundlessly plentiful and generous in its giving. It has so much to give us that it took us a long time to realize that even though it had so much to give, we were taking more than that. In fact is seems to be our nature to take as much as we can make available to ourselves. Restraint rarely seems to be factored into our decision making process, until the lack of it has made us unwell.
But now we know. It is a certainty. We are making ourselves , our planet and every creature on it progressively more unwell just by being here. Such it way of our lives that is so galvanized around the pursuit of our desires. It is not a theory that some people have that we might be living unsustainably. It is an absolute certainty and every one of us who denies it or argues against it, is fooling ourselves.
So how should we change? Well, this lockdown has forced upon us a period of austerity. Now, that austerity could be considered to be a hardship. But we are probably much closer to living sustainably now than we were before. So when we get our freedom back, perhaps we could ask ourselves, what could I give up? What could I leave behind? What things have I not done over these past weeks? What things will I not do over these coming months that it would be okay if I never did them again.
Because what we feel within us to give up, what we feel within us to give back so it is there for the next generation, that is our legacy. What we take out that we could not afford to take out, that this planet could not afford to give us, what we take out that will not be there for our children and their children, that also will be our legacy. If anything is karma that is karma.
To be born of great good fortune is rare indeed, but to not reflect upon how rare it is, and thus to live appropriately on account of it, is negligence. It is negligence even in a time of ascending good fortune. But when our fortune is on the wane it is negligence that will cost us dearly. These are not convenient reflections but they are important. Please make them.
It remains a fact that however long the inconvenience of this pandemic goes on, however much suffering, whether we or the next person dies, many of us will still be here. Whether that is me, whether that is you, or whether it is not, we do not know. But if we are fortunate enough to still be here at the end of this, please please let us change. And change deeply and wholeheartedly and embrace that change lovingly. And see what we give up as an act of generosity that we could delight in as we let go our sense of entitlement.
Because if we feel entitled to the life that we shut ourselves off to when we went into lockdown, and if we rush back to it impatiently, not only will this virus spread again, but the future of our children and their children will be much harder than any hardship than this pandemic has brought upon us.
You might not have imagined that such a time would come in your life and on account of that feel it is appropriate to continue to live the way we do. But whether we believe in karma, or destiny, or whether we don’t believe in anything at all, it may not be us that suffers the effect of our choices now. But for generations to come, countless others will. It is time to breathe out and breathe out deeply. And in the breathing out, it is a time to put back what we have taken.
To continue to take now will only choke us. At every level. Just try yourself now. Take a big in breath, and then before you breath out try and take another. Ummm. Not pleasant is it. Life lives by cycles. That is how it keeps its balance. We have taken out and now it is time to give back. Time for a long our breath. So lets try to love the idea. Embrace the idea. Do not be afraid of the idea. Open up to the idea of giving back and it will be a huge relief. Much more than it might be a burden and inconvenience. To take the weight off our shoulders of knowing that the way we are living is swiftly bringing to an end the way of life we have known. To free that off our backs, to not carry that weight, will be a tremendous relief to every one of us who does it and it will be a gift to those to come.