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Growth in Lockdown (Part 1: An Introduction)
I haven’t written anything longer than a tweet in almost a year. I’ve been writing Daily Zen as a hobby for nearly ten years, and at a certain point last year I felt like I had exhausted all my reserves. The well had run dry. I accepted this; I have lots of other things to stay busy with anyway.
I also took a break for meditation after practicing daily for close to a decade. I felt the sort of lucidity after stopping meditation that I had felt back when I first started. This was almost baffling to me; it had an effect akin to exercising every day and getting fatter, or becoming better at running by smoking cigarettes. Why would pausing my mindfulness practice after so long make me feel more mindful than ever?
The answer, as this ongoing state of lockdown we’ve been living in has taught me, was simple: growth comes from upending routine. Growth comes from change. It’s not enough to cultivate healthy habits. This is sold to people as some sort of antidote for the modern age; people think if they just find the right habits and commit to them ad infinitum, the rest will follow.
Nature teaches us that this couldn’t be further from the truth. To exist in perpetual stasis is not the essence of life, it’s the essence of death. You can’t simply find a framework that “works” and do it forever. There is no destination.
A massive number of people learned this the hard way a couple months ago. Some are just learning it now. Theoretically, you can build a “perfect life”; you can build up habits and routines that bring you joy and stability, but theory is very different from reality. The world cannot be what people wish it was. You cannot expect anything to last forever. You must be prepared for change. You must be flexible.
People speak of “building a life”, but every building is a future ruin. This isn’t a reason to despair; it’s simply a fact of nature. Every single building that has ever been erected eventually becomes rubble. Dust to dust! Even the most beautiful churches and monasteries are subject to the same laws of decay as everything else in the natural world. If there is a God, change is the engine by which God operates. It’s the most powerful force in the world.
Having to restructure the very essence of everyday life around a freak phenomenon that’s outside everyone’s control, in this sense, has the potential to be a blessing. It’s a massive lesson. Granted, it’s a privilege to be able to view it as a blessing; I fully acknowledge this. For some, this period in history is an unrelenting daily hell, much like wartime. But it would be foolish to write off the silver linings of periods of crisis just to be polite. Without chaos there is no peace.
The first lesson is that everything from an individual human life to the vast majority of human history is defined by crisis. In the same way death is the root of life, struggle and suffering are what propel growth and change. The conquering of challenges is what defines human history. Triumph over suffering, through suffering, is what makes life so beautiful.
Now that I’m back to writing a bit, I’d like to introduce this as the first part of a series called Growth In Lockdown. It’s a good time to explore some difficult questions that are easy to ignore when things are, well, easy to ignore. But this is an exciting time, in a way, if people can learn how to better cope with change and uncertainty the way every preceding generation has. It’s a chance to strengthen our collective resolve. See this as an opportunity to upend stale routines, to learn, and to question all assumptions.
Part 2: Time, will be published next.