Reflecting on the sentiment of our counter-culture predecessors, we must ask ourselves: what are we striving for? Where are we trying to go? What’s the rush to get there? When will we celebrate “International Smell the Roses Day” on a global scale?
My memories are greeted by the kind-eyed, wide-smiled locals of Laos and Indonesia, who had little in terms of material possessions, but were the happiness and most generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. One night on Don Det, a small island in southern Laos, I dined alone at an open-air restaurant, humble in size, smelling of rich curries and made of weathered wood. The place was empty except for a pair of travelers sitting on the opposite of the restaurant speaking Dutch. While gazing at the last rays of sunlight over the Mekong River, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned to see a cherub-faced woman with long black hair motioning for me to join her and her family for dinner. The woman then walked over to the Dutch travelers and extended the same invitation. A moment later, out shuffled a woman who if I had to guess her age, I would say she was wise to the year of 80, carrying a tray of freshly grilled fish, sticky rice, lettuce leaves, and a wicked spicy sauce. There we all sat Laotian, Dutch, American, young, old, local and visitor. Through the common language of laughter, we conversed boisterously for hours as we pulled pieces of fish from the bone.
From this experience and many others in places that move at a relaxed pace, I realized social walls are not opaque. Days are filled with instances of delight through true human connection.
Coronavirus has managed to profoundly affect every social stratus of the global population in matters of health and values, flora, fauna, and atmospheric conditions essential to sustaining healthy life. The virus spread around the globe at an alarming rate, mimicking the pace of most of our tightly-wound world. With a ghastly finger, it pointed to current expressions of humanity that warrant greater attention. It is now obvious that our fast-paced world has created a disconnect from the earth and placed monumental strains on the environment.
It is time to reduce our dependency on material goods and learn from the earth’s steady seasonal shifts to cleanse ourselves of the need for instant gratification. Coronavirus is Mother Nature’s warning for humans to re-evaluate our personal criteria for achieving feelings of fulfillment through accumulation and constant “doingness.” Quarantine is an opportunity for us to focus on the slow and oftentimes more meaningful internal productivity.
It is easy, and convenient, to get caught up thinking one’s self is insignificant in the grand scheme or that we as humans are like dust flecks; we get occasionally stirred and momentarily observed before settling into oblivion. Coronavirus proves that no one is irrelevant. Each and every one of the thousands of actions we preform throughout the day carries an impact, positive or negative.
The titans of various industries led us to believe that global warming could not be changed. There was nothing us average folks could do to revitalize our planet. However, during quarantine we terraformed the Earth in record time. Venice’s canals are clearer, air pollution in China has dropped 40% and people in northern India can now see the Himalayas for the first time in thirty years because of smog reduction.
Coronavirus has shone a light on the environmental impacts of heavy fuel consumption and rampant industrial output through the ironic means of a real Catch-22. Due to Stay in Place measures, pollution has reduced and the sun is shining more brightly over some places than it has in years. The irony, which feels like an intentional pause on our actions set by Mother Nature, is that the clear skies can only be appreciated through closed windows.
We must curtail and eventually eradicate the human-constructed need that has forced mass production to run rampant like an 86’ Corvette with a cinder block strapped to the accelerator.
As a society we have become gluttons for instant gratification. It is time we move away from the current presto-manifesto and get back to appreciating that good things take time… and remember that good things can last a long time as well. We need to step away from our present state of being a disposable-based society, surviving on single use products and resist consumerism’s overt messages that quickly manufactured is better than slow-growth natural.
I think back to 2018 when me whirling dervish ways lead me to South Africa’s eastern shore, undoubtedly the most remote patch of Earth I have ever been. It was like something out of a Steve Martin movie how my two travel mates and I found our way to Winter Dodgers, a remote backpacker’s outpost in the middle of the Zululand kingdom. Every morning I’d cross the dewy yard in my bare feet to stand on a bench in the far corner of the property. This was the best vantage point for admiring the undisturbed land bathed in golden sun. There was no sign of humans or their intervention in any direction, just rolling hills of long grass dotted with water berry trees.
Our group often ventured to Nine Mile, a secluded beach that could be reached by taking a twenty-minute Lander Rover drive through the forest. Throughout our multiple beach trips, our group never saw another soul on the beach. This hidden gem of a beach was complete with gleaming white sand, serene blue waters, and… trash. Tiny bits of plastic and other rubbish could be found nestled in between shells while walking along the shore. My nature-loving heart was deflated to realize not even the most remote beaches on Earth are spared from the grotesque amount of trash floating around our oceans.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the nearly 18 billion pounds of plastic that annually ends up in the ocean. Mother Nature can only tolerate so much pollution. Can we not do something to adhere to the first of the three famed R’s, “reduce, reuse, recycle?”
It is time to reduce the toxins and take back our air quality in an effort to foster life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Ingenuity and product development will certainly continue. However, I am proposing that we slow our roll when it comes to consumerism and mindlessly spinning our wheels. This is the time for an awakening in consciousness and realignment in values.
We are in midst of a cultural renaissance. It is as if we are toys that had our batteries removed. From that removal we gained our imagination and the ability to take manual control. During this time of forced stop; books have been read, philosophies studied, sciences expanded, gardens cultivated, yogis reunited with mats, hobbies fostered, poems written, cookbooks thickened, skills gained, spiritual compasses reset, mind’s rested, bodies healed, families have grown more closely connected and nature is flourishing. People are concentrating their time and energy on internal productivity.
I find it appropriate that the first weekend of the California stay in place measure coincided with the first day of spring. This period of quarantine has been a time for cleansing, growth, rebirth of life, and a rejuvenation of spirit.
When we emerge from quarantine, humans will have a choice to make. We can either carry on with the same values humans have upheld for the decades leading up to this pandemic or we can more forward and forge a new historical era focused on greater connectivity. A greater connectivity between one another, as well as, between humans and the environment. If we take strides to become a slower-paced, more environmentally-thoughtful society, then we can simultaneously enjoy the benefits of clearer skies, cleaner beaches, less toxins, and increased global health. Let’s move forward with intentions of bringing about positive change and a reinvigorated sense of community.