If we look at the original Greek root of the word “crisis,” we learn it means to “sift and separate” — what if we are being called on to sift through and look at our lives, and let fall all that is not important? What does not get sifted, what remains with us, is where our energy should go.
Many people are speculating about the “future” and what our new world order will look like once we’ve moved through the current global health crisis; especially amongst sustainability thought leaders, there is suddenly a wide-open space everyone is running into, to eagerly predict what happens next. There’s also an immense pressure to take on new behaviours and suddenly become newly proficient at certain things, because — now that we are all individuals in isolation — there’s an expectation to achieve a novel set of goals. There is, what I’m calling, a “futurism frenzy” and a “hustle harder” mentality happening. I am deliberately opting out of both.
If we look at this current crisis through the lens of top trending google searches, we see we are all busy seeking out sourdough bread recipes, home workouts and Netflix recommendations; not to mention ways to keep children busy and have toilet paper delivered. If we step back, though, to look at the original Greek root of the word “crisis,” we learn it means to “sift and separate” — what if we use this as our lens, instead? What if we are being called on to sift through and look at our lives? What if this is the work we should be doing? Deep work — not ‘doing-focused,’ but instead ‘being-focused.’ Not hustling to achieve outward markers of success. Not racing away from this precise moment, to dream up and share out our future visions. We are instead being asked to sit still and listen. To think. To sift through.
Just like children at the beach with their sand sieves, we let fall all that is not important. What does not get sifted, what remains with us, is where our energy should go.
While we stay away from one another, we are encouraged to rethink how we spend our time and what is important to us. This new lifestyle shifts us out of some habits we might like to change anyway. We find we are not buying more than we need; we disconnect from our over-reliance on global supply chains, we reconnect with our local economy. We buy less and save even more; saving our money, but also our planet. We are more focused than ever before on the community we live in. While we may have family members far away who love us, now we see our individual health as dependent on the health of the other person who is in the same aisle at the grocery store; and we need them to love and care about us, too. Those physically nearest have become, quite literally, our dearest. We realize that we are all interconnected, interdependent; and that we belong to each other. This is the focus sifting can bring.
The word “virus” first appeared as a word in the ancient Proto-Indo-European language (PIE); its original meaning was “potent juice.” The power this virus has is profound: It can move like liquid through all of our established systems and change us — not just physically, but at a societal and cultural level, too.
It’s well documented that times of crisis can bring change, in rapid and previously unexpected or unimagined ways, for the better. “Better” denotes improvement, and can be traced back to the Sanskrit “bhadra,” meaning “blessed, fortunate, happy.” How happy and fortunate we can feel to be resourceful and courageous in this moment, to be a community united by a shared goal and common purpose.
What does it say about how disconnected we must have been before, that we now find joy in acts of overt altruism? What does it say about the profound and restorative power of music, and of storytelling, that we have come together in our shared love of the arts in our time of collective crisis? What does it say about us that our greatest balm is being out in nature, on a simple walk? What were we missing before the great sifting, that we are so drawn to now?
Perhaps realizing that what pushes us apart can also pull us together, perhaps moving from the individually focused ego system to recognizing that we are one united eco-system is the equivalent of the rock in the child’s sand sifter. Perhaps this solace for our souls is what we will choose to hold onto and build from. Perhaps sifting and separating while in inner silence, instead of looking for outward answers, is how the very best answers will actually find us.
A version of this post first appeared in the Voice of the River Valley on March 31, 2020.