It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
My daughter’s 21st birthday was on the 28th of January. Being a party person, she used this milestone in her life to instigate a large gathering of all her nearest and dearest. Some way into the evening of feasting and merriment, she got up and read us all a poem. In it, she beautifully expressed both the cheeriness and turbulence of our family life, along with the underlying current of love, which anchored her throughout. She acknowledged “it takes a village to raise a child” thanking all those who have inspired, nurtured and supported her along the way to adulthood. Oh, it was a proud mum moment for sure!
Real Life, In-Person Celebration
It was also such a delight to have three generations of our huge crazy, mixed-up family in the same room, hugging, kissing, shouting, laughing, eating, smiling, and sharing their stories of the last two years. Being in community like this feels so much more precious these days. We still gather online for some things, that has its advantages and will always be an option. However, there is nothing in the virtual world that can match the full-on multi-sensory, somatic, atmospheric joy of a real-life, in-person celebration.
Soothing Our Nerves
One of the key ways we reassure, restore and rebalance ourselves is through physical contact. This ancient and deep-rooted way of communicating safety, care and love speaks directly to our nervous system. Pressure sensors in our connective tissues detect nuances of physical contact, and our nervous system gauges instantly whether the touch is soothing or sleazy; kind or combative. Within split seconds, we know in our bones whether we are being met with respect as an equal, or treated as an object or an enemy. Reassuring physical touch reduces stress and anxiety in us humans. This results in lowered blood pressure, a slower breath rate and reduced pain levels.
Intuition: an Inner Knowing
With each face to face, in-person encounter, we build up a sensory body of knowledge which is remembered at an unconscious level. Unless our nervous system is thrown off by a huge traumatic shock, we learn valuable lessons from each encounter. We gain a clearer understanding, an intuition if you like, about what is truly safe and what is not. We are guided by our inner knowing as to when to put our guard up, and when to let our hair down. This wisdom is held in our tissues (the creeping sensation under our skin); in our organs (“I just had a gut feeling”); in our skeletal structure (“I know it in my bones”).
The internet, our phones and TVs give us precious little of this rich sensory guidance. I wonder how much the increased screen time and restrictions most of us experienced during the pandemic have affected our intuitive sense of safety.
The messaging from the mass media over the last two years has been one of fearmongering and doom. We have been taught to be concerned about being in proximity to other people, to shun physical contact, to worry about the very safety of the very air we breathe. We have lived within a background noise of anxiety-inducing information about viral particles, superspreaders and dire health consequences.
We’ve been given a lot of information about the problem, and yet the main solutions we’ve been offered are necessarily (due to the circumstances) novel and experimental. As such, we do not yet know the long-term consequences and broader implications of the actions we have taken. Time, deep reflection and a great deal of number crunching, will tell if the measures that were imposed (and are still being imposed in many other countries) will have truly brought about the overall benefits to our health and wellbeing that we are all hoping for.
Emergence into an Uncertain World
In the meantime, as we emerge into this uncertain world, forever changed by our personal and collective experience, we would do well to tune in fully with all our senses to the world around us. To really ground ourselves in reality we might consciously choose to turn away from the perpetual scroll of the 2D screens, the never-ending news loop, the constant barrage of intrusive adverts selling us a better life. Weaving ourselves back into the fabric of society, Nature and “real life” with all its messy, glorious imperfection and nuance might be the way to finding the ground under our feet once more.
Unfurling Our Spine
When we turn inwards, we turn towards our physical, animal selves. Us humans are generally happier in a tribe. However much the online 2D world might emulate a tribal experience, the dopamine hits from likes and fans are not as grounding as the deep reassuring bear hugs of our friends’ camaraderie and community solidarity. Physical touch anchors us. We remember to feel our edges, our feet on the ground, our hand in another’s. And as we remember to unfurl the deepening curves of our spine, we might realise how tight we are holding ourselves against the algorithmic tidal wave of pixels and bytes capturing our attention for profit and gain.
Meeting the Real World
When we fully engage with our senses, we tune into our subtle communications on the levels of pheromones and hormones; of odours and flavours; and all that is microscopic, non-verbal and unseen. Consciously, or unconsciously, this is how we relate at a deeper level, with the people, plants and animals within our environment. As we develop trust in our senses we know instinctively when to take action and when to retreat. Relying on these gut feelings is like having an inner guide, which helps us discern how best to respond to Life. We get a sense of when it’s wise to speak up, and when all that is needed is a listening ear
Levelling Up from the Bottom Up
By truly being attentive to what is going on around us, in our families and in our neighbourhoods, we might be able to make inroads into standing up for a more equitable and just society. We need a true levelling up which comes from the bottom up (that’s us folks) as well as from the top-down (tackling the hoarding of the uber-rich). Such a plan would create more safety and support for people vulnerable to covid-19; as well as tackling the root cause of ill health, the vast inequalities in our societies.
Inequity Equals Ill Health
Is it a coincidence that the two countries that suffered the highest mortality with covid-19 also have the largest gap between the rich and poor citizens? Some academics are coming to the conclusion that inequitable economic and power structures are the true root causes of ill health. I remember a time when it was unusual to see people sleeping on the streets of London. These days severe poverty is commonplace. Nearly six million adults and 1.7 million children were struggling to get enough food between September 2020 and February 2021, according to a report from the DEFRA.
Be Part of the Solution
We might broaden that African proverb to say, it takes a village to raise a child, to look after the elders and all those who are struggling with disability, mental or physical illness. Due to the corruption and greed of our leaders, we cannot necessarily rely on our taxes to go to the right places these days. Most charities are still peddling a worn-out model of handouts rather than working to create deep and meaningful changes in policy and law. It is time for us to be a part of the solution. This takes being present in our communities, being connected to our neighbours and having a loving awareness of what is needed.
Venturing into Real Life
Getting away from our screens and the deluge of information, misinformation, disinformation, conflicting information and sheer propaganda is key. We can repurpose this time to take tea with a friend in need of a listening ear. Or we might take time to cook a little extra for dinner, to share with a neighbour who is too tired, skint or unwell to cook for themselves. Or make some space in our schedule to mentor a young person, struggling to make sense of life after the disorientating hiatus and isolation of the pandemic.
Build Solidarity Not Charity
There are many more small local and more ambitious national or global ways of finding our feet and being of service in this new world. Being part of the solution can help us to feel less mired in the problems and difficulties we face as a collective. We are all suffering, some people way more than others, from inequities in economics, privilege and power that had been escalating since the birth of the neoliberal agenda in the 1980s. Covid-19 has fully revealed the consequences of this economic smash and grab. Now we see a little more clearly, it is time to face our real-life problems and create some real-life solutions, rather than getting drawn into the slanted dramas and illusory fables of the 2D metaverse.