Inspired by our recent post by Rob Hopkins, Sebastian Gahan of Transition Town West Kirby shares some reflections on what lockdown looks like for him. “Build positively and be ready for the next challenge!” he writes.
Being lucky enough to live in close proximity to natural woodlands and beaches, I was about to set off on my ‘daily exercise’, the event formerly known as my daily walk. In these strange times of the Coronavirus a walk is something we can look forward to even more, assuming it is safe to do so. The skies are bluer, the air somehow clearer. People seem different, not so far away despite their two metre (or even digital) distance.
This is already a fairly quiet area as it is and many of the people who usually fill the streets with loud chatter and distraction were nowhere to be seen. Similarly to myself they have taken to staying in as much as possible. As I write this it’s been eight weeks since I started my own proper distancing measure, with announcements of changes imminent and probably kick in in by the time this piece sees the light.
Perhaps, and this made me laugh initially, I have been self-isolating and social distancing all along? Certainly, my lifestyle is very close to what the world is experiencing now. Staying at home is something I do as much as I can anyway, because most of my activities are done there! Of course, I’m not a hermit. I could never be a hermit, it’s difficult to get good coffee. And if you know me, you know that I love coffee shops, cafes too. I am fussy, it must be said. The ambience has to be right. Most importantly, the coffee has to taste not just of coffee but of love. Since I can remember, it has been my habit to perch in the corner of a coffee shop with a notebook, pens, perhaps a book to read too and, in recent times, an academic textbook. I truly believe that it is the best place to work, with its infrasound and some good music on my device.
[According to Wikipedia, ‘infrasound’ refers to “sound waves with a frequency below the lower limit of audibility (generally 20 Hz). Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure must be sufficiently high. The ear is the primary organ for sensing infrasound, but at higher intensities it is possible to feel infrasound vibrations in various parts of the body”].
In the context of my connection to the Transition movement, coffee shops play a big role. Once a month Transition Town West Kirby holds a gathering in a community space, usually a local independent cafe. We are lucky that we have so many independent venues in our area, it makes it easy to make things happen, sometimes on short notice. Taking on the format of a community based open stage session, participants share music, poetry, spoken word pieces and over the last seven years it has been a vital part of many people’s routine.
It is a part of mine too, and the whole team behind the events. Fittingly, our last session in the pre-pandemic model was a busy one, with much talent and imagination displayed. It feels rather strange to not be holding these events at the moment, but it was an important decision to postpone. The safety of the community is as important as the routine of doing things we enjoy. The creativity will happen anyway. The simple joy of enjoying music in a community space is one that is being forgotten, in some ways, I think. But these past weeks of lockdown have surely created a need for music and arts to survive, and I don’t doubt that they will thrive once this is all past.
For now the town is quiet, the small cafes where we gather closed for now. My daily exercise is often a solitary path, with few faces around. But occasionally I meet a fellow participant in one of Transition Town West Kirby’s many community activities that keep the community hive buzzing. From a two metre distance, we exchange a few words, often just a simple hello. This routine has become the norm and I can live with it, for now. It would be nice to think that when we get to the oft-quoted ‘other side’ there will be a profound change in the atmosphere. Maybe there will be, it’s hard to say with any certainty. Change creeps up on most of us slowly, like a strange kind of stalker in the night, it has to be said. Rarely is it so sudden, although it is not impossible. Indeed, this lockdown is one of those rare examples.
The skies have become clearer, crystal blue scenes worthy of a Bob Ross painting and there is hardly a soul anywhere. I miss catching the train to go to my favourite bookshop, finding out of the way coffee shops in urban settings and locally, discovering new street art, visiting hidden pockets of nature. On a personal level, I miss going to meetings and seeing people, but the use of conferencing apps has made life so much easier in that respect. I have a new, albeit temporary, routine and it’s a nice change of pace. Still busy and engaged with society but measured by the clock of nature.
There are news reports of the government being worried that people have settled too easily into such routines. Arguably, it is a great thing that society has embraced a slower pace, at least temporarily. It feels like a holiday from reality, whatever reality actually is. What is important is the version of reality that comes though, and we can all make our own part in that. In that spirit, I hope some of these stand out moments for me from the last few weeks carry forward. They are simple, but often forgotten, things.
Stopping to look up at crystal blue skies: Arguably, the skies have never been clearer. The shade of blue we see now may last have been seen by our ancestors a century or so ago. Appreciate it for what it is, put any politics or campaigning (although they are both important, and connected to the sky, to some degree) aside for a moment and just observe with a clear mind. It feels good.
Listening to the noise of the urban infrasound: Nowhere is truly quiet, but this is the quietest it is likely to be in my lifetime. Such moments are rare, but perhaps they should be more frequent. Stopping just to listen to what is going on around you. Forget mindfulness or the myriad complications of spirituality that can cloud and complicate such moments,in their inherent hypocrisy, and just listen. It is a rare thing to just stop and listen. Infrasound is something I enjoy, the sound of being truly alive.
Renegotiating Social Media and technology: Although social media plays a big part in my life I don’t always consider it a useful tool. On a personal level, I’m happy to disengage from it. On another level, it is a vital tool to connect with people. Especially in these times of lockdown and social distancing, it has proved invaluable in getting things done. It always bothers me when people believe the conspiracy theories about social media, choosing the negative over the positive. Indeed, it can make it even more difficult to reach people. We should be secure but we should also be social. It is worth considering your social media set up regularly to ensure you are getting what you need from it. In these strange days, I have been sharing positive news stories, inspiring ideas and art. It is our tool, we should use it to create good.
The Lockdown Experience
I won’t go on too much into the minutiae of my experience, as it doesn’t really matter too much on a grand level. But I will say that this period has allowed me to renew and refresh my relationship to the world. I’m sure that many have done so too. In that process, you realise that it’s very often the things you don’t notice that make the real difference. It’s how you relate to those small things that makes the difference. A simple life can sometimes be quite complicated to achieve. Just as a complicated life can sometimes be easier than facing up to the smaller things, but that’s another article!
Putting it into context, there are many ways to ‘do’ Transition. Although I am not a gardener, I have no clue when it comes to more practical things like building physical structures or tools and have a low threshold for sitting down for more than half an hour without a good reason, I can do other things and still make a difference. The little things can make the biggest connections. A love of music, poetry, the arts in general. Supporting a local venue by patronising them and hiring them for events. Sitting in nature and enjoying the arts. The arts are so important and will make a big difference in the post-pandemic world. For without art, what is our existence?
Environmentalism is, of course, important and a love of nature and community is routed in the activities of any initiative. But it is creativity and imagination that are the glue that binds the whole movement. As I type this, at my desk, coffee to hand, a view of the clear blue skies in front of me, it seems clearer than ever! We CAN work from home, it has become clear, but we should also live from home to.
Although we are only at the beginning of this strange period of history, it’s important to use the time positively and that should be the message going forward. Build positively and be ready for the next challenge!
All photos by Sebastian Gahan.