Rain on branch

Winter Thoughts on Compassion and the Pandemic

I have three questions: How do we learn to rest in ever-present fear and uncertainty? What does resting even look like—especially in an ecovillage? How can we, as human beings, listen to, respect, empathize, and understand one another while acknowledging our differences?

Prairie here, with my characteristic curiosity, and a little update on the one and only Dancing Rabbit ecovillage.

Just as rain made its gradual and fluid transformation into snow in the last month, so too we are leaning into the curves of our own ever-evolving shape, as individuals, friends, neighbors, cultures, races, communities, and ultimately human beings—whether we are ready for it or not!

As I write, crisp, fat, fluffy snowflakes cascade in droves, collecting on the dull blue wheelbarrow outside, the shed roof, and, unfortunately, one of my poorly protected wood piles. As someone who hails from the north, this is beginning to feel like a real winter to me. The forecast is predicted to fall below zero degrees next week. Compared to the temperatures that my body acclimated to in my formative years, that sounds just balmy!

As we make our way deeper into 2021, I find myself reflecting on the events of the past year. 2020 was a blizzard akin to the one unfurling outside my window: bitter, blinding, intense, overwhelming, heartbreaking, and, I’m coming to believe, necessary. Sonya Renee Taylor, an author, poet and social justice activist, says: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, and lack. We are given an opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

I’ve heard statements from friends around the country such as, “I live by an airport in Texas. It is quiet, and I can see a blue sky.” And “I’m spending time with my family.” Personally, I can now empathize with the experience of being extraordinarily distant from my biological family. How I took closeness for granted before!

While I was cooking for a friend of mine at Thistledown, my previous eating co-op, I lamented the loss of normalcy behind the snug fabric of my mask, as I tucked away the urge to physically reach out to one of my friends over the kitchen counter. Ah, touch! Can we at least have that back? And travel?

There are aspects of our pre-corona existence that I would snatch back in a heartbeat. But are those simple pleasures worth returning to if we must swallow the barrage of systemic racism and overwork that burgeoned alongside them?

I think 2020 forced a national deep breath when we realized we were in the midst of not one, but several pandemics, namely COVID and racism. The least surprising of all? Everyone had different reactions to all of it. Am I saying that we are human? Yes.

As Ted mentioned in a recent article, the last half-dozen Sundays at Dancing Rabbit have consisted of Village Council Zoom meetings on the ongoing question of whether or not to open the village to visitors this year. You may be wondering why it has taken six weeks to yield… apparently nothing. 

Despite agreeing to contribute to a common mission at Dancing Rabbit, we are all in slightly different places in regards to the coronavirus. That equals many meetings in which we have the opportunity to share how we feel and what we want, in regards to visitor programs in 2021. I have loved these meetings. Getting to hear from people that are not in my contagion group, listening to laughter, and seeing everyone’s faces, even though they are tiny and often freeze on my computer screen. We are profoundly adaptable creatures.

Every single day, we have choices. Do I wear a mask or not? Do I book a flight, or stay put? Do I distance myself from people or not? Is what I am about to say going to perpetuate oppression explicitly or implicitly, even if I don’t mean it to? Am I discriminating right now? And even before we decide, we have a beautiful opportunity to ask ourselves why. Why would I do one thing or another? What is driving me forward, toward a particular action? And what, inevitably, am I foregoing with whatever choice I make? Who benefits? Who loses?

I do not believe that we are bad people with only bad answers. But I think that our actions can, and have had, more impact on the world than we realize. So, without shaming or blaming each other, how can we keep ourselves and those around us accountable? Without making negative assumptions or pointing fingers, can we pause, and rest for a moment in the fear and uncertainty that lies within all of us?

We are all in varying degrees of pain right now. We are living among people in a nation and a world that have been in pain for centuries; and we all hold care in our hearts for this planet and its inhabitants in our own ways

How do you make peace with difference? What does resting in discomfort look like for you?

Several people from the tri-communities, myself included, have come together this winter to read through and discuss Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Every Tuesday afternoon, we briefly share what we are each doing, feeling and thinking. Then we separate into breakout rooms of three or four people and go through an exercise from the workbook. We are currently on week three of the fourteen-week course.

So far, we have looked at giving and receiving from the heart, and the experience of offering something that was not from a place of heartfelt giving; language that can create disconnection versus enhance connection, and, the way I see it, the ways in which we invariably forget how powerful we are. 

This is the first study group for many of the participants; for some, their second and third. Each time, I learn something new.

I view nonviolent communication, or compassionate communication, as a lens through which we can see ourselves and other people more clearly as exquisite beings. We are all just bumbling around, trying to get what we want, and usually feel upset when we don’t get what we want. Putting it that way kind of makes us sound like young children, doesn’t it? The humbling truth is that we still are to some degree. We are continuously learning and unlearning our childhood patterns and beliefs. It can get messy!

As the forecast temperature continues to drop, the promise of snow twinkles in the future. It has piled up enough already that Eric and Ted went cross-country skiing numerous times over the last couple of weeks, not to mention the various sledding parties that took place down the road.

I doubt I’m the only one feeling grateful for wood-burning stoves this time of year. Stumbling over my snow-clad boots into a toasty house is what I live for these days.

I hope you’re all staying warm this winter. Keep diving into differences with compassion. Remember that curiosity fosters understanding. Let’s write our own stories and, as Brene Brown would say, a brave new ending.

Prairie Johnson helps with so many projects at Dancing Rabbit! Her energy fuels the DR furnace. We are so grateful to have her on the crew at SubHub, a strawbale community building project.

Comments are closed.