COVID-19 as Fierce Grace
From issue 171 of Kindred Spirit magazine, Dr Serge Beddington-Behrens makes the case for the global pandemic being the harbinger of change
by Dr Serge Beddington-Behrens
I think one of the big challenges confronting us all today is to look at this pandemic not only as something tragic and negative and a bringer of death and destruction, but also as being a harbinger of rebirth and having a deep spiritual dimension to it.
I think we need to ask ourselves what this pandemic might mean for humanity and for our future, and if it has any purpose other than robbing many of us of our lives and livelihoods and turning our old world inside out and upside down. For me, it does have a deeper purpose and I believe it signifies a greater intelligence at work – God moves in mysterious ways – and that if creating turbulence and chaos may not be what our world wants, from a human collective perspective, it might be precisely what our world needs.
Why? Because it is challenging us all at many levels and thus opening us all up to new possibilities for change. Put simply, I think humanity needed a ginormous ‘wake-up call’ and this virus is just that. Crises like 9/11 or the financial debacle of 2008 didn’t hit us hard enough or touch enough people, so a state of ‘business as usual’ resumed afterwards. In a similar vein, we can avoid typhoons, tornadoes and tsunamis and besides, they are local. This crisis is global and every single one of us on the planet in one way or another is implicated. We can’t run away. It will never be business as usual anymore and for this I celebrate.
Also remember this: as with us individuals, so with societies. We can’t move to a next level until we’ve ‘died to’ or let go our attachments to our current stage, and I personally believe that our current phase of ‘civilisation’ is coming rapidly to an end. This means that if we as a species are to continue to survive, we need to evolve. Our politics and our economics and the way we deal with societal problems all need to go through a very radical re-structuring.
Spiritual Wake-up Call
For me, then, this pandemic is a profound spiritual wake up call, a tough global kick in the pants, reminding us of the above, telling us in no uncertain terms that unless we human beings change the direction we are going, that we will soon arrive right where we are headed – namely, over the cliff.
I think the real tragedy is that despite many of us, especially our world leaders, having known this for years – having been all too aware of the dangers posed by our ecological crises, climate change, inequality, nuclear weapons, hunger, refugees, etc – nothing ever seems to get done enough about these issues, despite at times, our good intentions. It is always the symptoms that get attacked, never the cause – and so decade after decade, our world problems remain at the bottom of the pile and steadily worsen. I think one of the gifts of this virus is that it is giving us all space to ponder on our condition and on the terrible state of our planet.
The power of tragedies is that they have the particular knack of forcing us out of our superficial mindsets and making us ask deeper questions. So yes, at one level, the Coronavirus is an agent of death but maybe, at a deeper level, it may also be regarded as a harbinger of new life. Maybe, just maybe, this human-collective dark night that has been enshrouding us for some years and which we are currently sinking into ever more deeply, is, by shaking us to our core, starting to bring us to our senses. I would like to think so.
Fear of Change
One thing we need to accept about ourselves is that we are not very good with change. We fear and we resist it and therefore often it needs to be imposed upon us from outside, like right now with our being whammed by a crisis bigger than the sum of our inertia and shocking us into certain realisations. As I said, many of us have known and our governments have known, what is ‘wrong’ with our world, but because of a mixture of inertia and vested interests, we’ve done nothing about it at a deep enough level.
I think that this is starting to shift, as more people are growing increasingly more aware of what is amiss. Among other things, what our lockdowns have achieved (quite apart from removing the pollution from big cities and enabling some of us to confront our workaholic inclinations) is that they have given us time to reflect on our lives and the condition of our planet. And if at one level, this is surfacing a lot of selfishness and nationalism and narcissism, more importantly, it is also bringing up a lot of altruism and good will. More people than ever are realising that we are all ‘in it together’ and that deep down, humanity is one big family. What I see resulting from these insights is a huge desire to ‘make a difference in the world’. Despite many people losing their livelihoods, the desire to help others burns strongly. This is a huge bonus and we are also seeing the stirrings of a profound desire within us to become more unified.
This is why I call this period a time of Fierce Grace, and why I see this virus as being an agent of grace. What it is dredging up is both the worst and the best of humanity, and I think we are beginning to see the tentative stirrings of the awakening of the Universal Heart of humanity, which absolutely thrills me.
“Suffering, if we can engage with it consciously and see it as a tool of purification, can really help us move forward”
I think we are at an important turning point. Some suggest that this virus will be ‘weaponised’ by those world leaders who wish to use it to their political and economic advantage. I admit this is a possibility, but in the long run, I am very positive. I don’t believe the ever-rising good-will of the people will allow it. I believe that a sufficient level of spiritual goodness has been awakened and will continue to awaken in the soul of humanity, and that a gateway leading to a transformed society has now been opened up so widely that it is not going to close down. Millions of people around the world are going to ensure that this is the case.
If we can talk about a struggle that has been going on for at least half a century between those who want to move forward and create a better world, and those who want to pull them back and keep the status quo alive (some refer to this as a battle between the forces of light and dark), I believe that all the power is increasingly with the emissaries of the light, epitomised by what I am seeing as a new spirit of compassion entering the world.
Suffering, if we can engage with it consciously and see it as a tool of purification, can really help us move forward. I will finish by quoting what a client of mine in therapy said to me last week.
‘I have seen my income visibly shrink before my eyes, and with it my capacity for outward movement, and yes at one level, I am aware of a whole host of new restrictions and deprivations entering my life. I can’t do a lot of the things that before I was able. I can’t afford to buy many of the things that previously I could easily afford. But at another level, I am asking myself if I really need all those things and if my consuming and busyness has really added to the quality of my life. The answer is I don’t think so. The truth is that I have actually never felt more abundant, more real, more grateful for being alive and more appreciative of the many blessings in my life. I have a roof over my head (many are not so lucky); I am privileged to have my health, the love of my family, and by the same token, I have never been more aware of how fortunate I am compared with the hardships of so many of my fellow human beings. Inside me, I feel a growing desire to get off my pedestal of self-centredness and to start leading a life where I can be of greater service to my brother and sister human beings who are less fortunate than me, and I have a sneaking sense that if I can achieve this, it will make me truly happy.’
I confess that when I heard those words, tears came into my eyes and I felt inspired to try in some small way to follow this man’s noble example. I hope that my new book called can play a tiny part in helping move humanity in this new direction.
I believe we all need to appreciate the silver lining that this dark cloud contains. I observe that one thing has particularily changed inside me. Three months ago, I felt upset at the injustices in the world. Now my heart feels deep outrage and I hope and pray that this more comprehensive understanding will propel me to take an even stronger and more loving stance in support of the emergence of a world that works not just for the privileged few, but for the many.