Covid-19 has brought on an existential crisis for some people. These crises, as hard as they are at the time, can be portals to new ways of understanding our place in the world. So I thought I’d share one such experience from few years ago, which brought new freedom and joy to my life.
Six years ago I had the good fortune to go on a wilderness solo in Spain, in the stunning landscape of the Pyrenean foothills of Catalunya. I had recently attended a Sustainability Leadership module at the university, an experiential learning week that had left me rather undone and grappling with what climate change could mean for us and our planet. I stuck with a question that I could not reconcile in myself. Wasn’t I just another burden on the earth?
On my 24 hours alone on that mountainside I decided to face this agonising dilemma head on. I chose a spot on a ridge. To the south the mountain rolled down through dry, stunted oak woodland. To the north, a sheer 100m drop down to a cool, shaded beach and chestnut forest.
I sat on the edge of that cliff and cried. I didn’t know what to do, so I asked a questions and awaited answers. They took their time, but steadily they came, like lightbulbs illuminating within me. The first question, I asked of mother earth, “Should I just throw myself off this cliff and no longer be a burden to you?” Please understand, I had no actual intention of doing this, but it felt incredibly powerful to ask the question on the edge of such a potential. The first answer took me by surprise “You may not be afraid to die but you are afraid to live.” I knew there was truth in this and contemplated this the rest of that day, at the end of which another answer came “All you can do in this life is share your gifts.”
Comforted I went to sleep in my hammock beneath the oak trees. In the morning I awoke to the sun rising over the mountains at the end of the ridge. It was beautiful. And there came another answer as clear as a bell. “You have a choice. Either all life is sacred or no life is sacred. But if you should choose all life to be sacred, then that must include yours, as well all others.” In that moment I had clear sight that the veil between these two options was not just thin, but actually none existent. Whether all life is sacred or not is not an actuality it is a choice, my choice, our choice.
I spent the rest of my time on that mountainside in contemplation of this and a new question that had arisen in me. “If I choose all life to be sacred then what of rocks and water and all things supposedly none living.” In my contemplation I picked up a small rock that lay next to me and look at it closely. To my amazement it was made up of hundreds of tinny fossilised shells. Life, now past, lying still in this rocky form. In that moment the veil between inanimate and animate also faded away. And I could see, if I am to choose life as sacred, I must choose all other things too.