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Growing in Place

Our Walk in the World

"And though I wish this siege of disease wasn’t upon us, I am already grateful. For this is a forced time of root-dwelling and a renewal of all we know to be true."

Months ago, under all the noise and crisscross of commerce and traffic and endless buzz in the human hive, as we were all trying to keep up and get ahead, somewhere in the middle of China, in the silent microscopic fabric that no one could see, a minuscule atom shifted under all our noise to link in a dark way with its surrounding atoms—and a new strain of coronavirus was born. And now, the silent germ is infecting the world and challenging us to spread our care and goodwill as quickly and freely as possible in order to survive.

This is the hard-to-grasp lesson—at least one of them—that light must move as quickly as dark, that care must move as quickly as disease, that give must move as quickly as take. And nothing less than everything depends on this giving in all directions without hesitation.

No question, it is hard and yet imperative to feed more than the fear. We must become intimate with uncertainty and water our common roots with care. For equally powerful moments in human history have begun with a similar shift of minuscule efforts. Consider Gandhi’s first steps alone on his march to the sea, and Rosa Parks quietly and steadfastly keeping her seat on that bus, and Nelson Mandela singing while being beaten on Robben Island where no one could hear, and Clara Barton stitching the wounds of a Civil War soldier into the night long before she was visited with the vision of the Red Cross.

Since the beginning, light has met dark, not in a battle of good and evil, but in the torque of life-force that keeps the Universe going. And so, love must move as quickly as fear. It is no accident that we are being forced to be still, as there has never been anywhere to run, though we have run for centuries.

And of course, in order to give freely, we have be still and dive deeply. We have to bring up what matters in order to affect what is. This is the kinship between renewal and resilience.

It seems that at the same time as we are sheltering in place, we need to keep growing in place. One way to do this is to try to remove everything between us and life. This is a lifelong practice. All the traditions speak to this and have for centuries. We need to do this so we can refresh our sense of how rare it is to be alive at all. And so we can feel the strength of our kinship—that we are more together than alone. So, while our caregivers are in need of masks to protect themselves as they care for us, we are being called—inwardly and personally—to put down our masks so we can stay current and real and have access to our heart. So we can meet the outer world with our inner life. This is what we can do inwardly to help strengthen humanity.

And though I wish this siege of disease wasn’t upon us, I am already grateful. For this is a forced time of root-dwelling and a renewal of all we know to be true. And the reason this work is so important is that as a tree needs to deepen its roots and widen its trunk to endure the force of unexpected storms, we need to know our true self so we can deepen our roots and solidify our connection to all Spirit and all life, so we too can endure the force of unexpected storms.

In the daily quiet, I’m rediscovering that silence is the aura that lets the simplest things shine: the morning light cascading slowly across my wife’s face as she sleeps, the stretch of our dog in between us, the slight quiver of the bare branches south of the house, the deep-throated gurgle of the coffee perking.

I’m coming to see that when we’re afraid, we take more than we need. When we accept that love is the sea we move through, we give freely. For no fish owns the water it swims through, though it can’t live without it. And no bird owns the sky it glides through, though it can’t fly without it. And none of us own the care that builds within us. If we keep it to ourselves, we drown. It only brings us alive when we give it away.

The times are hard and unexpected. They always are. But the river of being that carries us is always life-giving, if we can reach it. But this, as ever, requires diving where we are, not running from what is. We must be brave and must beware, mostly of ourselves. For the mind is like a spider. It will weave many webs. But the heart is like an arrow of light. It will pierce a hole in the dark that life will fill. Along the way, we stumble in the dark. Our fierce and tender honesty and love, the lamp we swing between us.

Questions to Walk With

  • In your journal, describe your fear as it presents itself today. Then, breathe your way below the agitation and describe one way you are being called to grow in place.
  • In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss both the impact that sheltering in place is having on you and one way you are being challenged to grow.

Mark’s new book, The Book of Soul: 52 Paths to Living What Matters, is being published this month by St. Martin’s Essentials.