The coronavirus pandemic caught us all by surprise and completely changed our lives in a matter of days. We’re all going through a turmoil of emotions, thoughts, and insights about this unprecedented time we’re living.
Even though we frequently get in contact with people from all over the world in our weekly nature experiences, we’ve never felt more part of a global community than right now. In our lifetime, we’ve never experienced such a phenomenon that connected the whole globe in such a profound way.
Just as everyone, we share a deep concern for the health of our older and/or health compromised loved ones and for the inevitable economic aftermath. However, deep down, more than fear, we also feel a sense of hope for the future since now it’s more than obvious that some much needed collective change is about to come.
The one question that remains in our minds is: what can we learn from this?
All of us at Breathe are deeply interested in reflecting on the social, psychological and spiritual impact of this truly global phenomenon. We don’t have any answers, but we’d like to share with you the 8 key insights we’ve had so far on this coronavirus outbreak.
Our survival depends on our capacity for cooperation.
Humans have always been social animals. We’ve always relied on social networks and mutual trust, but the quality of our relations has changed throughout time. We live in a society that glorifies individualism, often forgetting that cooperation and interdependence are exactly what makes us civilized and allowed us to survive throughout millennia. This is a time in which we’re having to prove ourselves that we can and should establish cooperative measures on a global scale.
Our individualistic mindset is being challenged and we are being shown that this serious public health issue can only be solved with the active collaboration of everyone. Just like the harmonious subsistence of trees in the forest, we can only ease this outbreak if we are able to think beyond our personal needs and desires and take conscious and synchronized actions for the greater good of our community.
The Butterfly Effect is real. We are all connected.
It took only one person in Wuhan, China, to contract a virus and to make the whole world tremble. Because of this one isolated incident, a huge domino effect took place, and in around 120 days more than 10.000 others died and over 250.000 got infected. Borders closed, emergency states were declared, economies collapsed and the lifestyle of humanity on earth drastically changed. We hope that this event can make people stop underestimating the fact that we are all deeply connected in ways beyond our understanding, and that the Butterfly Effect is very much a real thing. In other words, small actions can result in big consequences and transformation.
So let’s not forget that, just like individual actions could potentially have tremendous large-scale effects, all of our daily life’s seemingly simple and isolated actions most probably have a much bigger impact than we could ever imagine. An impact on our planet, on other people, and of course, on our own individual lives.
The shared vulnerability is bringing us closer together.
This novel coronavirus is highly contagious but in the last days, it has been shown that so is Love, Empathy and Solidarity. At the edge of chaos, social panic, and widespread anxiety, millions have been showing truly heartening acts of altruism that make us restore our faith in humanity. In a 1975 publication, sociologists Russell Dynes and Enrico Quarantelli, both early pioneers in the field of disaster research, have shown that, rather than intensifying violence and conflict, great calamities seem to bring out the best in people. They said: “when danger, loss, and suffering become a public phenomenon, all those who share in the experience are brought together in a very powerful psychological sense.”. It looks like, after all, it is our shared vulnerability that connects us.
Science is important and can save lives. We can trust scientists.
Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, in a late-night show, that he sees this global COVID-19 outbreak as a “massive global experiment” which will reveal how much people are willing to listen to scientists. In this case, he is referring to medical professionals, virologists, immunologists, among others, that are sharing with us clear guidelines that we should follow, such as washing our hands and social distancing measures.
Also based on science, in 2014, Bill Gates predicted that we could have a pandemic at any moment and that we would not be ready for it. If you didn’t see, make sure you watch it because he described in a mindblowing way what is actually happening right now.
We’ve had enough evidence that, beyond contagious disease outbreaks, in virtually any area of our lives, we should listen and trust science, and its rigorous empirical methodology. We should check our priorities as a society. We ought not only to respect science but also the scientists themselves, making sure that they are able to get the resources they need to properly perform their work.
We’re having a glimpse of what can go wrong with climate change.
With the coronavirus global outbreak, we are having a glimpse of what the collapse of the globalized industrial economic system looks and feels like. We should face this challenge as an opportunity to prepare ourselves to deal with climate change with the seriousness it deserves. We should have in mind that, after reaching a tipping point, the rise in global temperature will most certainly lead to a cascade of terrible events that could shake humanity in more severe ways than this pandemic.
It’s not a surprise to anyone that the youth isn’t happy about the way humanity significant impact on Earth’s ecosystems. In the last years, younger populations all across the globe have increasingly raised their voices, asked for changes and demanded global leaders to take action on climate change. Even though it is something that will affect all walks of life, it has been the younger generations that have shown to take it more seriously. Now with the coronavirus, young people are also leading the way. Even though they are the least vulnerable group, they are setting an example of how to behave properly in terms of social isolation.
In a time where we are constantly being told about the real danger of Climate Change, we all really need to unite and respond creatively, wisely and effectively to these real challenges that are ahead of us.
This pandemic might be an Earth’s self-regulatory process.
Science is telling us that this virus pandemic was most certainly influenced by human activity. It is being shown that the more we invade and destroy pristine and wild natural areas, the more we expose ourselves to unknown viruses. David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, said “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”. This phenomenon suggests that Nature has her own ways of regulating herself.
In their “Gaia Theory”, chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis have hypothesized that Earth could be seen as a living organism that self-regulates. In this sense, severe virus outbreaks could be seen as a response from the ecosystems to our destructive behavior as a species. Rather than a conscious will of Mother Earth demanding revenge for the damage caused, this response would be more like a natural outcome of our actions, in which the planet’s systems as a whole adjust to restore the balance. This makes sense to us since it’s in line with what Physics tells us about the way the universe works – everything tends towards a state of equilibrium.
We’ve been hearing about some major wins Nature has had due to the refreshing break from our intense human pressures. Venice’s canals have become crystal clear, China’s massive drop on CO2 emissions and even dolphins coming back to the Tejo River in Lisbon are just some of the uplifting news from the last weeks.
This is a huge opportunity for big structural changes on our socioeconomic systems.
This unprecedented global challenge brought an unexpected interruption of the majority of the world’s economies, thus confirming their fragility. Hidden aspects of our society are being revealed and we’re seeing capitalism, welfare, and democracy in a new light. We are having to suspend the rules of the game of capitalism to give a response to individuals and corporations that were forced to ask for help.
It is becoming more and more obvious that, as we live on a planet with finite resources, it is impossible to continue living in abstract economic systems. For this reason, we have hope that this can bring major changes in our rigid and inadequate systems.
Let’s take a look into the past and see what History shows us. For example, in the XIV century, the Black Death contributed to the continual disintegration of the feudal system. In the XVIII century, Lisbon’s 1755 Earthquake profoundly challenged the belief in a merciful and almighty God and thus the unquestionable and authoritative power of the church in society.
Now, in 2020, we’re having an opportunity to reflect on our current socioeconomic systems and hopefully, many leaders will understand these issues and promote a more regenerative and collaborative economy in which health-care and other fundamental systems gain central importance, in balance with Nature’s preservation and people’s well being.
Mental Health is extremely important.
The present crisis is bringing much-needed attention to our mental health. Uncertainty and the fear of the unknown have always been deeply present within humans. This moment in time is showing us the existential themes that we all have desperately tried to avoid: the inevitable presence of death, and that control is, more often than not, an illusion. And to top it off, we are being told to stay at home, which can be challenging for many of us. Isolation is no joke, as much for those who are physically alone, as for those who feel lonely and misunderstood within their families and who now have to live every day in those circumstances, with nowhere else to go. These are definitely a harsh part of our reality as human beings and it is okay and completely natural to feel anxious and fearful. You are just being a human.
Also, be mindful that food shortages, isolation, fear of germs, the threat of illness and death, and abrupt changes to our routines are aspects that can bring up past generational, childhood, medical or adult trauma to many of us. For those of you with past traumas being triggered by the pandemic, remember that you are “responding in a very normal way to a very real threat of danger” (@the_queer_counselor). Remember you are not alone.
This is the time to take care of yourself. Spend time pursuing your hobbies or find new ones. Writing a journal about your feelings and current experience can be a wonderful way to connect with yourself. Books, drawing, learning a new language or a new musical instrument, talking and connecting to your loved ones, with distanced friends or family through video calls, online yoga or workout classes, are all things that are within your grasp and that can help you feel better. Exercise is also especially important – for our bodies and our minds, it is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety.
And most of all, remember to breathe. We cannot recommend enough the practice of mindfulness for which there are innumerable resources online (try apps like Calm, Insight Timer or Headspace). Take time to start meditating, even if just 5 minutes a day. Just allow yourself to find a quiet moment in which you give yourself a chance. Be kind to yourself. If you’d like to try a simple guided meditation, try this one by Dr. Nicole LePera, @the.holistic.psychologist at https://www.instagram.com/p/B991XTCgIOC/.
We have great challenges ahead of us, but we should never underestimate the human capacity for adaptation. For now, the future is unclear. Uncertainty is certain but there are extremely valuable lessons to be gained from this. More than ever, this is a time we should ask ourselves what our beliefs and values are, and how we should reorder our lives, individually and collectively.
There’s a huge potential for positive changes and perhaps even an upgrade in our human paradigms and systems. We must focus on actively making sense of it by building conscious and constructive narratives out of this situation. After all, in the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is made up of two characters: one representing danger and the other, opportunity.
Stay safe. We are in this together.