They say a change is as good as a holiday. Well, we’re going through some radical change now! So what’s so good about a change? What so good about a holiday? Well, when we are no longer locked into our ordinary patterns reinforced by our daily routines, we find we feel free. We feel open. It’s like we’re looking around for the first time. We’re adventuring and discovering rather than stuck in routine dullness and habit. There is a kind of lightness, playfulness and creativity that can begin emerging. Although we attribute it on the change of place in the case of a holiday, really the main change is that we are free from the confines of our habitual mental and behavioural structures. That is actually almost entirely an internal freedom – it is a freedom from what you think you know.
Several people in the last few weeks have told me that in the midst of all the challenges and difficulties brought by the coronavirus, they have discovered a freshness, an openness, some curiosity and creativity. All the things we think we know have been turned upside down: what to do, how to live, in just about every area of life. And suddenly everything is new. The loss of the familiar and the unknown might bring fear, anxiety, loss, disorientation. But if we can go through those feelings and not shy away from the radical newness, at some point there is aliveness, freedom from the imprisoning habits of thought and behaviour, from autopilot routines, and assumptions of normality.
Sure, functional knowledge is useful, vital for living our lives. But when we assume there is nothing else to learn or discover, we keep reinforcing the same grooves and life becomes dull and imprisoning. The assumptions and habits obscure the mystery and the wonder of life. And we lose our natural, inherent response to that mystery – our curiosity and wonder.
A big shock like coronavirus throws it all up into the air. Suddenly most of the assumptions are invalid, and we’re forced into discovering afresh how things work now, what needs to be done now, what matters now.
Neuroscience is revealing that one of the neural correlates of happiness and joy is the creation of new connections in the brain, and especially neurogenesis – the birthing of new neurons. This can go on throughout life. When our brain is creating new neurons, we are most open to learning, to creating new patterns, and having fresh experience. It brings joy, a feeling of freedom and possibility. We are available to be shaped anew. New experience – escape from the familiar – tends to activate this process.
Then we are creative. Look around at all the creativity going on! Who’d ever have imagined a global lockdown a year ago. It sounds like science fiction! Who’d have imagined that the governments would be handing out money for people not to work. Who could have imagined the scale of inventiveness at play in re-engineering stadiums into hospitals, the flood of research into vaccines and tests and treatments, in exploring different kinds of social and political and communication interventions to find out what will work. In the number of people experimenting with their businesses and services online, in new forms of social interaction online. Human nature is engaged in the pure creative play of discovery and learning.
OK, maybe not entirely pure. We are trying to survive! We are trying to find ways to earn our money in these bizarre times. We are finding political and social and healthcare responses to an emergency. We are trying to satisfy our instinctual needs for social connection and even sexual connection when we can’t leave our homes. But the play of creativity and exploration and discovery is breathtaking!
None of that detracts an iota from the immensity of the suffering, and difficulty and tragedy that is unfolding for some people too. Curiosity is not all that is needed. We need our compassion, our groundedness, our courage and all sorts of other qualities too. But our lightness, our curiosity and creativity can touch anything that we encounter – hah, how is this, what can I do here, what will really help? It can alleviate the heaviness of the situation.
This creativity has been engaged for the two Diamond Approach groups that are starting in South Africa and London. DASA and DHUK have been completely upended and re-designed into weekend formats than can take place in person or online. Details about those groups will be posted in the coming days.
And this human capacity for wonder, curiosity and playful discovery will be the topic of a DHUK Zoom afternoon on 2 May, and of the first DASA Zoom weekend up on 25-27 April.
It turns out that we do not need to wait for a catastrophe to upend our world. We can enter into each moment open, fascinated, willing to be surprised, and then every moment of life can be an unfolding of this wonder and discovery. The very nature of our consciousness is pure curiosity, discovery and limitless freedom.