Covid-19, Nature, Healing, Connection - and the Bigger Picture


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Posted on April 2, 2020


Another day of blue skies and sunshine, birds singing, getting on with finding mates and building nests. It is surreal that this carries on as normal, as predicted, when for everyone on of us across the planet, life has changed dramatically, and has lost any predictability.

It’s totally strange to wake up and see the sun shine on green fields and trees coming in to bud, and to know that in households and hospitals around the country, and the world, the scenario is so completely different. Hundreds of thousands of people are coping with illness, loss, grief, fear and pain caused by Covid-19, and this has been laid on top of existing problems.

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Emotional Turbulence, and finding stability

Rob and I consider ourselves so incredibly fortunate to live in a place that is surrounded by green, and in a community of people who are kind and loving and look out for one another. We have it easy. We are staying home, isolating ourselves, doing what we can to limit the spread of the disease. We are not on the front-line of healthcare experiencing levels of stress and distress we can’t even guess at; and so far we and our loved ones are physically well. Yet we are all experiencing some levels of distress, and so are all of the people we are in contact with (we seem to spend lots more time on the phone and messaging platforms than ever before!). Along with the physical illness, COVID-19 is causing a huge level of emotional distress across the planet.

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Back in 2017 as part of The Long View we produced an installation at the Little Asby Hawthorn bringing together almost 300 messages of love and dedication between people, and from people to the natural environment. In response to this we came up with the phrase ‘Data of the Heart’ as something that can never, and should never, be overlooked, and we’ve brought this into our thinking ever since: emotional feelings and mental health are fundamental to wellbeing and resilience, and to all the decisions we make. Covid-19 is shaking us all up: no-one is unaffected. The ground has been pulled out from under our feet, and I can’t imagine for one moment that there’s a single heart on the planet that isn’t feeling distressed. I for one find it overwhelming. But what to do about it?

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 ‘To-Do’ lists aren’t always helpful - we are all unique and there’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. But Rob and I are both finding that one very effective way to temporarily relieve the heart-pain and step away from the paralysis of a mind that’s consumed with fear/anxiety/panic is to be outside, and also to remind ourselves of times we have been outside and felt the healing power of the outdoors: in the presence of tiny flowers, old and familiar trees, open fells, flowing water, birds.

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Our work as ‘somewhere-nowhere’ has always taken the natural world as its focus and explored the value of connecting to the elements; not through high-level adventure, but through simple and often slow activity that can be calming and allow a kind of centring, and can offer some respite from emotional dis-ease. Most of our anticipated work for the next few months has disappeared (for now) and we don’t know what shape our future will take, but for now we’re going to continue to be outside in our vegetable patch as much as possible. We will also revisit our photographs and notes to keep the beauty and value of the natural world in our minds, to rekindle the sense of feeling earth under our feet, wind in our faces, rain on our backs, of seeing the stars reveal themselves at night, or watching birds trace patterns in the sky: things that ground us. But it’s not just experiencing such things that feels good: sharing is a part of it. So, in the new reality of physically distancing, a few times a week we will ‘bring the outdoors in’ through social media posts, and we hope it offers something refreshing or uplifting in these tough times. It’s just a little thing that we’ll add to wonderful contributions from so many people who are bringing much needed music, song, movement and social connections into this strange new way of life.

Environmental vulnerability, and future possibilities

I write about distress and anxiety, and the power of the natural world for human wellness and healing, but our emphasis is not only about ‘using’ nature to help us feel emotionally and physically better. We’re also keen to stay focused on the crisis that has been present for some time, and will persist after the worst of the Covid-19 impact has passed: the very pressing issue of a changing climate and a decline in biodiversity.

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In the first two weeks of UK’s shutdown we became concerned that individuals and governments would be overwhelmed by the impact of the virus, and actions for environmental protection might be downgraded in the list of priorities, or disregarded. This is still a possibility and there is some worrying stuff out there - one example that left us feeling saddened and frustrated is America’s EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) suspending enforcement of environmental laws and penalties for polluting water and earth (more here). And if you’ve been following our social media posts, you’ll know that we’re also extremely  angry - and flabbergasted really - that in England contractors are moving in to destroy ancient woodlands to make way for HS2, in spite of the fact that birds are now nesting in the trees. The project is ecologically damaging, and it will be a huge financial drain on a country that’s now in economic freefall (and a society that is finding new ways to connect that don’t rely on travel from place to place).

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Last May we walked through Broadwells Wood in Warwickshire with Jack Taylor of the Woodland Trust. This wood, along with four others on the HS2 route, has contractors working in them right now to remove the trees and dig up the ancient soils. They are doing this in spite of going against government guidelines on not removing trees during the nesting season and on social distancing during this pandemic.

However, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom and along with anxiety, panic and grief, other emotional drives are coming to the fore. Generosity and love are shining through as people support one another and show that the human inclination to care and to nurture others is extremely powerful. There are heartening examples of loving kindness around the world in a recent article by George Monbiot here. And passionate concern for the environment is continuing, along with a celebration of what is on our doorsteps. The slowing down of life for those in isolation who are well has opened up spaces for being outside, for noticing the budding of trees and hedges, the opening of spring flowers, the songs and dances of birds showing off to one another and claiming their nest sites. The value of feeling connected with the natural world, something that maybe we’ve distanced ourselves from in the midst of urban living and days overburdened with work, is becoming more and more obvious. And it’s beyond question: the need to protect wildlife and the habitats of the other species, and to limit our impact on climate change, is absolutely vital.

2020 was billed as the ‘Super Year’  with a string of multi-nation conferences lined up to focus on the health of the planet, including biodiversity, ocean health and the climate (this blog by WWF gives an overview of what was scheduled, prior to Covid-19). The urgency of minimising the impact of Covid-19 on people, and the task of picking up the pieces after the worst is over and rebuilding societies might well overshadow these meetings, and there will be postponements; but actions for the planet remain critical. There will be a continuing need to keep up the pressure on governments at local, national and global level to ensure they continue to attend to climate and nature. And it seems the EU is already thinking about this, by upping its expectations for carbon reduction targets

So while we’ll carry on celebrating the growth that comes with Spring, the song of curlews, the emergence of our vegetables, we’ll also be sharing news about positive actions for the climate, and actions of love, consideration and care.

There will be much to learn from this crisis - it prompts a rethink about the way we live and support one another, and about systems of governance. Wouldn’t it be ideal if compassion, rather than qualities such as the pursuit of monetary wealth, economic competitiveness and separation, became the driving force for living, with care for the environment and for one another as top priorities within this interconnected world? And after enforced self-isolation, can any of us really see any virtue in further isolation from one another, or from the natural world around us? What can happen when we acknowledge that everything is connected, when we come together, and when those with less are supported by those with more? What new systems can emerge, fuelled by compassion above all else, to work towards equity among humans and consideration for the wellbeing of the natural world of which we are a part, and on whose health we utterly depend? 

There are so many questions that will be asked over the coming weeks and months. Let us hope that the spirit of love and cooperation stays strong, and, together, we come up with the right answers.

Stay well, stay connected, keep the love flowing.

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