The Sky Between the Branches

In Taos, New Mexico Spring has sprung and the leaves are just beginning to foliate the trees, yet we can still see glimpses of the vast, blue sky through the space in between the branches, like portals into open possibility. The disruption to our regular routines by the coronavirus can also be likened to a window through which to envision a new reality.

Many of us are anxious to get back to business as usual, and why not, if our income has been interrupted, or if we have been touched by the disease through our own illness or experiencing a loss of a loved one, or as an essential worker who is on the front lines risking their health in service of others. Yes, of course we want things to get back to some sense of normalcy. But what is normal? We may color our view of what we want things to get back to through the lens of what once was, but are we limiting the outcome with a fixed view? If we have a mindful approach and take advantage of the pause to reflect on our personal and collective behavior and ways they could change, we would move forward with a wider scope and make room for big surprises.

In the relatively short time humans have been sequestered, we have heard the stories of cougar sightings in downtown Boulder, lions sunbathing on golf courses in South Africa, dolphins and fish swimming in the clear canals of Venice, endangered sea turtles frolicking in the oceans, while wales migrate easily without sonar disruptions from cargo ships. Have birds gotten louder, or have noise levels been reduced so much that their songs can finally be heard amongst deserted cityscapes? As we hold our breath waiting to see what will happen next, wildlife all over the planet finally has a chance to take a breath.

The sky between the branches has turned from brown to blue in even the most polluted cities around the world due to a decrease in nitrogen dioxide from exhaust of fossil fuel burning vehicles, watercraft, industrial equipment, refineries and power plants. In just a couple of months there has been a dramatic fall in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would cool the earth’s surface and regulate the climate if it lasted. How ironic that a virus that damages our respiratory system has made us stop producing harmful pollutants that damage our respiratory system. What would we see if this lockdown were to go on for another few months or a year? The longer we cease, or at least decrease our movement and consumption around the globe the longer lasting the positive effect on the environment will be. Though, to the disappointment of the other species we share the planet with, we will most likely be bustling about again before too long—at least until the next wave of the pandemic hits. We don’t know when or how this will be over, but pandemics do end, and every ending has potential for a new beginning.

Scientist and activists have been telling us for decades to slow down, to use less and conserve our resources before we tip the scales to irreparable measures, but now the proof is being shown to us. How can we ignore what is right in our face? As devastating as this virus has been, it is a powerful messenger. Journalist Pico Iyer states it beautifully:
In an age of constant acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow.
In an age of constant distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention.
In an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.

Will we heed the call? The only way to sustainably reduce emissions is not through painful lockdowns, but by putting the right energy and climate policies in place. If we wait for policy makers and leaders to come to the conclusion that short term economic gain cannot override long term ecological balance, it may be too late. We can’t wait to be lead; as the wakeful yogis that we are, we have to guide the way.

Since social distancing has been in place, as schools and businesses closed, and the cases of COVID-19 have risen around the world we have all been on edge and more alert than usual. Luckily, we have the tools of breath and awareness available through the ancient art of yoga we are privileged to have access to. This has helped us soften the edges, but maintain alertness. In our meditation practice when we rest in the natural gap between the end of the exhale and the beginning of the next inhale we rest in open awareness and are able to see the sky between the branches. Like an artist who pauses between brush strokes to be sure his or her intention is clear before the paint makes its mark, we have a golden opportunity to calculate how our next move might be depicted on the canvas of the world.

Inspired by a yoga student, I invite you, dear reader, to write down three to ten things that you have been doing in the past six weeks, intentionally or by default, that have reduced your impact on the environment, and ways that you could continue to lighten your footprint and spread your wings of wisdom and compassion when we are able to socialize and conduct business again. Even the smallest act can have a widespread effect.

Here is my partial list:

  • Only go to the grocery store once every two weeks—reduces emissions from driving, saves resources through intentional meal planning, promotes creativity by using what is available or doing without.
  • Continue teaching one or two yoga classes on line—reduces emissions as less people have to drive to and from the studio.
  • Deepen commitment to my meditation practice— even if the seas are calm prepare for the storm and be the whole ocean, including the waves.
  • Grow more food and water it with rainwater stored from the roof catchment system.
  • Stop coloring my hair = less plastic and pollutants in the ecosystem.
  • Reconsider airplane travel? I don’t travel often, but I consider it an essential part of maintaining sanity and perspective while living in a small town. It is also part of my livelihood. How about reduce airplane travel to once, maybe twice a year? Ouch, but OK.

My list goes on and beyond the environmental scope, like continuing to appreciate grocery clerks, postal employees, healthcare providers, and other public service workers, as if my privileged life depended on them—which it does—but now it is time, should you accept the call to action, for you to make your list. Share it with your friends, pin it on your fridge, post it on social media, and follow it. If you share it with me in the comments below, or an email, I will compile all the lists and share it again here so we can inspire each other.

What is the use, you may say, what difference will it make if I continue my austerities when the rest of the world will just go back to their gluttonous ways and ignore anything they may have learned from this time of introspection? In the words of Indigenous elder Elena Bernabé, “How others will react to this quarantine is none of your business. Make a commitment to change and not forget. Make sure this storm shakes you up so much that it completely revolutionizes your life.”

In a few weeks, the leaves will fill out the space between the branches and our view of the sky will be narrowed. Let’s not leave behind the imprint this pause has had on us. Hold sacred this liminal, magical realm of possibility.

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