What Are You Dreaming About?
“These strange times with corona helps me to remember that I have to follow my dreams instead of keeping my dreams.”– From a recent email to our office.
It has been about 6 weeks since I, like most of you, have been in isolation and a new reality has started to settle in. I have a routine, beginning with an hour of stretching and exercise. Then I check my emails, eat breakfast, have a daily Skype meeting with our staff around the world, check more emails, work in the garden and go for a walk (which is still allowed) on the quiet streets. Often I can even walk in the middle of the street as there are almost no cars. I have the whole street to myself. I smile, and think, what a pleasure; no noise, no pollution, no worries that a car will speed out of nowhere and threaten me. Periodically, I see an adult with a child or two, each on their own bicycles, enjoying the solitude and joy of cycling without fear of being run down.
Then I start dreaming about a new world, when the coronavirus will either be history or just another disease which humanity has learned how to manage. I think, what will this new world be like? What will prevail a year, five or ten years from now? Will the streets be overrun again by cars, the most inefficient machine ever built to transport one individual, vehicles that pollute, are noisy and seem to need thousands of human sacrifices each year? Or will the crisis give us all a bit more wisdom, to slow down our pace of life and increase our respect for caretakers, cleaners, truckers, delivery men and women and farm workers. Will it result in better paycheques and better conditions for them?
Will many people follow their dreams? As one individual that wrote us a few days ago, “These strange times with corona helps me to remember that I have to follow my dreams instead of keeping my dreams. So I am now setting a goal for myself to join you in 2022”. Or will the disease have the opposite effect and people will become recluses, fearing the wider world? Will the virus enrich those that already have too much power and wealth, as the 2008 financial collapse did? Which governments will use the opportunity to create a better society and which will usurp more power for their own sakes?
In my blog, Lessons Learned From Another Emergency, I wrote that crisis is an opportunity. There are others who can describe it much better. The Indian writer, activist and journalist Arundhati Roy, best known for her book,The God of Small Things, that won her the Man Booker prize, recently wrote in The Financial Times, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
So what will we choose? What will we fight for? It will not just happen by itself. In a recent edition of the Economist, the former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the current governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, writes: “Once this war against an invisible enemy is over, our ambitions should be bolder—nothing less than to make “a fit planet for our grandchildren to live on.”
Some countries and cities have already started building this new planet. In New Zealand sidewalks are being expanded and new pop bike lanes added. The European Cycling Federation, in its latest newsletter, reports that “Cities’ initiatives promoting cycling are popping up everywhere in the world and it feels like it’s just the beginning”. In fact, the city of Milan, the epicentre of the Italian coronavirus outbreak, just announced a new plan to drastically transform its streets to be completed by the end of the summer. Peter Plesnik, our bike mechanic from Slovakia, reports that the bike shop he works in has never been busier. “Bike producers are not able to make as many bikes as we require. Even older models are selling for full price.” According to The Guardian newspaper in Australia, ‘Bicycles are the new toilet paper’ and bike sales are booming as coronavirus lockdown residents crave exercise.
Previously I had written about the work I did during the Ethiopian famine in the 1980’s. One of the things I did to recover from that period was to schedule a retreat with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. There, I learned the following meditation, one with which I always end my day – Inhale, Exhale; In, Out; Deep, Slow; Calm, Ease; Smile, Release; Present moment, Wonderful moment. And then I fall asleep.