Not so long-ago experts and specialists were out of fashion. They were rejected as part of the ‘establishment’ and replaced by ‘the people’, the ordinary people who wanted their views heard. Now in a full-blown global health crisis that is changing the world as neither the establishment nor the people could have done, experts have become the ones we trust. We trust them because, unlike those leaders who are preaching denial and false hope, these medical experts, statisticians and epidemiologists, admit to a large mix of uncertainty in their opinions. They don’t claim to have all the answers and generally they recognise this is not the time to point the finger of blame.
Living with uncertainty is a right brain function. It is part of the contemplative path through life, including all life’s crises. In an un-contemplative lifestyle, where everything is done to excess and at unnecessary speed, we leap from one false certainty to another. The sudden slowdown and shutdown affects us all – from people working alone from their computers in the suburbs, to those who have lost their jobs and cannot afford to feed themselves or their families, to the millions of migrants workers in India forced at four hours’ notice to walk hundreds of kilometres to their home villages. Suffering and fear can isolate us, but they can also become a bridge when we see how we are feeling the same things as everyone else. The shock is to find how radical uncertainty is. So, how necessary it is that we know how to live with it wisely. The shock, too, is a suddenly altered sense of time.
One good source of wisdom is the 6th century monastic rule of life written by St Benedict that we adapt to our life here at Bonnevaux. Benedict knew about uncertainty: one community he founded tried to poison him, the great city of Rome (the Washington DC of its day) was invaded and sacked by barbarians and he lived with a group of people of greatly differing temperaments who could fly off in different directions any day – or several times a day. His main solution to uncertainty was to make a daily schedule and – with reasonable flexibility of course – stick to it.
Maybe that’s a first step for many people isolated at home with others or alone: make a realistic timetable including the things you need and want to do and post it on your fridge door. Look at it and see if it feels balanced. Does it represent ordinary common humanity – physical needs, mental needs and spiritual needs?
Adjusting it to reflect basic human needs is a first step to getting a handle on the feeling of fear and panic that uncertainty and slow-down. It is step to curing the virus of fear and panic. It helps us to see health differently even in the midst of a pandemic. When we have re-connected to the sense of the present we will find that peace – the peace we lost in all that stress – is closer to us, deeper within us, than we had ever imagined.