6629D74F-82A4-4089-96C3-41CB749BBB02I woke up feeling quite out of sorts today: restless and cooped up indoors but too tired and flat to go out; totally indecisive as to where I would want to go anyway, not wanting to be on my own but even less wanting to meet anyone or speak to any friends on the phone; not wanting to write this blogpost or anything, or read any of the interesting books and articles I’ve come across, or listen to any of the available podcasts etc.. I went to the kitchen just now and was completely unable to decide whether I wanted to drink tea or coffee or Wake-Cup or anything at all … argh, in a completely messy soup of a state of mind!

71EAD29B-5F1F-47F6-A055-F5218F109865I’m glad I write this down as I can laugh at myself now in disbelief – I couldn’t actually objectively speaking wish for better conditions to weather this confounding world situation, and could fill several notebooks with my blessings – but still I periodically end up in the mood described above. I just remembered early on in the full lockdown phase reading something along the lines of ‘our ancestors were asked to go and fight on the frontline; you’ve been asked to stay sitting on your sofa – are you up to the challenge?’ Clearly not, as it shows so starkly how we truly create our world with our minds, doesn’t it? It’s not really so much something or someone out there being difficult, the bigger problem most definitely lies ‘in here’.

B57E85A1-055B-47B1-9665-30FF9F5572A1One helpful take on the situation I randomly came across in my frustrated spin this morning was a shamanic teacher likening this phase to the chrysalis stage of the butterfly’s life cycle –  where the insides of the small being literally turn into a messy liquid soup – and this state of affairs can apparently last up to two years for some species! But as the wise woman said, although at the time it looks as if it’s game over for the heedless little caterpillar which has grown fatter and fatter and finally gorged on itself with no regard for the consequences, instead it’s the formless phase of a deep transformation process, where ‘imaginal cells’ gradually build up what will eventually emerge as a graceful butterfly. If the soupy formless stage can be used wisely I suppose, feeding our unruly imaginations with helpful and nourishing things rather than the toxic and maddening variety of content out there, especially in cyberspace. For in the case of us self- reflective human beings, ‘what we contemplate, we become’, as an ancient buddhist teaching would put it.

60D242DB-8B98-4A03-9FCB-2A59F560AEA5I feel relieved now about having made myself sit down to write – it turns out that there might be more coherent substance in the soup of my mind than expected. The best and most thought-provoking thing I’ve seen these past few weeks was the James Baldwin Arena programme ‘I am not your negro’: via @bbciplayer. What struck me most – alongside the sheer courage and bright wisdom of the man – was something he said towards the end of the programme:


‘Everything that is faced can be changed, But nothing can be changed unless it is faced.’ (James Baldwin)

To my mind that’s a good two line summary of psychoanalytic thinking too, which I have been very grateful for as one of my guiding lights to try to steer through the encroaching chaos by – that and the buddhist teachings as my bedrock. My colleagues and I are becoming increasingly concerned that because of that radical and uncompromising stance, psychodynamic work and thinking is increasingly attacked and sidelined in our workplaces – the issues needing to be faced feel too painful and frightening, so the preferred option for most is not to look too closely or deeply, to stay safely on the surface of crisis management instead; fretting about tick box checklists and red, amber and green risk ratings etc, rather than really listening to and delving into the meaning and significance of our young people’s fragile states of mind – and our own. But if we do listen closely and can bear to sit with moods like the one described above for a while, talking ourselves and others through them in a spirit of friendly enquiry – ‘What’s happening, what’s the matter?’ – this can be of great help, and yield surprising insights into the complex connections between our internal worlds and how we perceive life and the world out there. 

0EA9BB58-7E9D-4527-8E75-FD9520C5495EBut that method takes courage and patience – not the most valued qualities right now, when everything is about keeping our environment and our bodies 100% safe and sterile; where moving around freely and interacting with others in real, shared space has become a dangerous threat to our health – and the urge is to quickly fix this with a magic vaccine, inoculating us against our vulnerability to illness and death; where world-beating tracking and tracing systems have become a most desirable thing, rather than something to be quite wary of, due to their obvious implications for our individual freedom. Quite apart from the fact that there is no cure on the level of the rational mind for our vulnerability to illness and death – it’s a non-negotiable part of being alive, and we need to learn to live with that, to face the knowledge that one day we will die, and we don’t know when or how that will be. I remember a buddhist teacher a few years back suggesting that instead of admonishing each other to ‘stay safe’ which was not possible, we should encourage each other to ‘take a risk’. That sounds like sacrilege of course in the middle of a pandemic; and I’m not dismissing the need to look after ourselves and each other as best we can right now, especially with those in mind who are especially vulnerable to suffering serious illness or death from this particular virus. But I also think we do need to keep a balance; not to allow fear to erode the very quality of our lives. On gradually emerging from the collective shock of our lockdown withdrawal, it’s only by engaging creatively and sensitively with each other and the world again that we can find new, as yet undiscovered ways forward together – probably not one right magic answer, but many different, unique paths?

I quite like how chrysalis sounds a bit like crisis; an anxiety-provoking but necessary step along the way of humanity turning from the very greedy caterpillar stage to developing into wise and compassionate, responsible adults? If only things were that linear…to be continued. E169D469-D70C-4BC2-8DD4-BCC28C5EE0FC

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Community Dreaming


‘Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my past mistakes.’ (Antonio Machado)

I went to bed very late last night and then found it unusually hard to get to sleep, after taking in too many good but troubling articles and podcasts about the complicated world situation. So this morning I tuned into my buddhist Order’s regular early Sunday morning Zoom guided Compassion Meditation without camera from my bed, letting it wash over me, still half asleep. My body and mind completely relaxed and became blissfully still, so I stayed like this for a while afterwards, reluctant to break the spell by getting up – and of course promptly fell asleep again. The bustling family noises of my downstairs neighbours getting up blended into a dream of their little boy repeatedly running up the stairs and coming right into my bedroom, and his father chasing him and apologising to me. In the dream too I was so drowsily relaxed that I couldn’t even open my eyes to acknowledge or respond to this situation. The dream continued with more situations of my wandering about half asleep, leaving all my doors and windows open unguarded, unperturbed by people coming right in, just allowing whatever happened to happen – there seemed to be many children and teenagers milking about, curious about me and my living space. I wandered around my flat trying to see it with their fresh eyes and noticed for the first time some beautiful lace curtains left as a secret present – I knew instantly which friend had put them up – my last visitor before lockdown – and stood for a long time enjoying their texture, and the way the light fell through them in intricate moving patterns.F6DF62CE-6F6D-4E74-A9B2-4D8DFF2878A8I woke up thinking about this dream for ages – it’s a long time since I’ve so vividly remembered a whole dream, and it felt good and somehow important – as if it’s ushering in a new phase, or something like that. I’m still feeling slow and dreamy as I’m writing this after a leisurely breakfast, by now late morning. I’m very grateful that it’s Sunday and I have no plans for the day, so I have the luxury of just going with the flow of my moods and thoughts. My first association was to the wabisabi retreat I took part in last month, with its evocative central image of a house in a field with all its doors and windows open, and the wind blowing through it – an image for our allowing life to live through us, not closing off to any aspect of our experience, whether painful or pleasurable – and how this makes everything more vivid and filled with beauty, through the realisation of the fragility and fluidity of everything – of nothing being fixed or solid. 

582E1EB3-EE40-4455-ACD9-9F6B4A81AA53Which is also true of my experience of this strange time: first there was the sudden and shocking plunging over the lockdown event horizon, then the weird dream-likeness, slowing down and simplifying of life for a couple of months to staying home and going for one walk a day in a landscape emptied of people; coming to really value and appreciate my immediate local surroundings, discovering all the footpaths, communing with the birds and insects and blossoming plant life, and the steadying tidal rhythms of the sea. And since then the gradual joyful re-emergence into direct contact with friends outdoors, one encounter at a time; greeting the summer with exhilarating swims in the sea, and more recently some tentative experiments with outdoor therapeutic working, alongside the interminable phone calls and  Zoom meetings. My immune system so far has been holding up, so for me personally, the pandemic has not felt traumatic or threatening yet, but actually quite interesting in the questions it raises as to what is essential for a human life to be meaningful and worth living – unsurprisingly, this doesn’t seem to include unlimited shopping or compulsive flying to far-flung places, but it does include genuine live and direct connection to all that lives, wherever we find ourselves. I witnessed a toddler having a prolonged conversation with a swan the other day, with the swan apparently listening with full attention. That is what it’s all about – please let that child not lose that openness. 

0CE3A033-F811-458D-ADAF-BBA6C7326C12What stopped me from going to sleep last night was worrying about the puzzled anxiety and depression I can see my parents and some of my friends and colleagues falling into as it’s now dawning on us all that this pandemic is not only a serious but specific crisis which will pass, but the beginning of a great unravelling of life as we know it, into territory as yet unknown but definitely very challenging and difficult. I have heard people say that they just want to close their eyes and stay under their duvet until it’s all over and better again. Or worse, to give up altogether as they can see no good way forward any longer. I’m currently reading Philip Pullman’s excellent latest book in his second ‘His dark materials’ trilogy, ‘The secret commonwealth’, which I highly recommend to anyone falling into despair – how to keep finding the courage to move forward during times of great difficulty and not lose faith in truth, goodness and beauty is what that book is all about. How to face and not deny the pain, but to keep trusting the mystery of life, that on the deepest level…


All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ (Julian of Norwich, 1373)

It will need all the patience and courage and love we can muster to move forward from here in a thoughtful and creative way, rather than descend into nihilistic chaos and unprocessed rage, in the face of the larger systemic failures this pandemic is revealing so starkly all around the world – racism and social inequality being the issues which have exploded to the surface right now. After the stark but reassuring simplicity of  ‘Wash your hands, stay at home, save lives’, we now have to be ready for the frightening and confounding complexity of re-engaging with the wider context of our broken, dysfunctional systems again. Will enough of us be able to think outside the box, from the ground up, acting locally in a continuing spirit of mutual aid – whatever lies we are continuing to be fed from those currently in power? As Dougald Hine and Ed Gillespie asked in their brilliant podcast series ‘The Great Humbling’: If your familiar but inadequate house burns to the ground, will you want to build the same house again? Surely not, surely you would want to take the opportunity to build the house of your dreams instead? Many small-scale and different  but genuine and truthful houses of our dreams connecting up with each other creatively, in a spirit of openness and generosity – that’s what I will try to join in with and encourage wherever I can find and sow some promising-looking wild seeds. 3AEEC2C4-00D1-44E9-875C-C75026E0669F

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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 9

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

Of death and birth.”

(T.S Eliot, from 4 Quartets)

This was quoted a few weeks back in my still favourite podcast series about our current global predicament, ‘The Great Humbling’, by Ed Gillespie and Dougald Hine ( I’ve been feeling the tragedy that poem expresses over these past two weeks, ie feeling quite stuck and unable to think of or see a creative way forward any more. Which led to great restlessness and bouts of indecision about the simplest everyday things like whether to go out for a walk and in which direction – and sudden eruptions of fear and irritability. Not easy or comfortable at all, but probably fruitful and necessary as a stage in the process of walking through this fire, which does indeed as Dougald put it feel like ‘initiation on a cultural scale’. At this point in time I feel right in the midst of it, quite unable to see the wood for the trees. Actually, the trees and the sea have been of immense help as the larger, mysterious and unperturbed living and breathing habitats this human tragedy is taking place in. Now that this is allowed again, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in fields and on the rocky local beaches, just listening to the wind and the waves, trying to accept that I’m not ready for thought, that it’s okay to feel lost and confused and quite incoherent and distressed for a while – that it might eventually all fall into a new, more recognisable and bearable pattern again – or not, in which case I will have to learn to live with this greater chaos, internally and externally.

8F1D47E6-F5B7-4CA8-9D28-32B2D2331994I’m really looking forward to meditating, reading and reflecting more and spending more time outside this week, some of it with one friend at a time at a suitable distance, and to pause my new online work contexts, so as to return to them rested and refreshed in June.

DE52E2DB-D173-4E2F-AC81-1E3D8BCCB51DI’ve realised how exhausting and confounding I’m finding what seems to me a profound difference in the quality of connection with others virtually / simulated in two dimensions, rather than really in a shared, fully embodied multidimensional space. It’s not that I don’t think a genuine connection is possible on the phone or on Zoom – I’m really grateful for the internet of things enabling us to stay connected to some extent, and surprised at time how much depth is possible in that medium, both when connecting with friends and in my work. However, I also feel the profound loss and lack of all the vital subtleties and nuances which are by necessity filtered out and just not available, because what we connect with is a pixelated technological simulation, not the fully alive person. I get really concerned about the excitement of some of my friends and colleagues about the unlimited possibilities of global connections, of geography no longer being an obstacle etc.. I do hope that we can retain a balanced and realistic perspective of what is and is not possible digitally, and that we don’t lose sight of the profound value of real, embodied meeting, which is bounded by real-time and space, which is precisely what makes it unique and gives it depth. Limits are important and good for us humans, they protect us from hubris and confusion; when we start to think we can do anything at any time everywhere at once without obstacles, we are deluding ourselves and will drive ourselves and each other insane – that’s my fear. That process has already started to happen of course, with our lives manically speeding up with technological progress, and our imperceptibly losing our depth connection with place and nature, and with each other. Causing the containing fabric of space-time to unravel as we push for more and more illusory human control. I think this pandemic and our manic response of trying to transfer the whole of our lives onto Zoom is speeding this process up exponentially, and I’m really scared of the implications of that. The shocking scenario of ‘The Matrix’ comes to mind, each of us plugged into their own bubble, ‘feeding the machine’ rather than living. 

David Abrams gave a really illuminating talk sometime last year about the danger of all of us like hungry ghosts seeking intimate connection in entirely the wrong place – the internet can’t give that to us, it’s the web of nature of which we are a part that we need to reconnect to, most urgently, if we want to retain our sanity and protect rather than destroy what matters most: 

31A14DAF-BBD8-48CE-8C47-E42040FAA7A6I’ve started experimenting with socially distanced outdoor therapy sessions with one of my families and would like to make that method more widely available as an alternative to the screen. Fortunately I live in a quite sparsely populated place, with a park and a beach where that might be possible – something I wanted to experiment with for years, and now there’s an extra impetus. Our local contexts are our sphere of influence and where we can have a real impact and learn to live together more closely and simply and uniquely again – that’s where I want to focus my energy.

It’s sunset, and the Atlantic Ocean at my feet is rosy-pink and as still as a lake – wondrous. On Sunday morning some of us are going to try and find oak trees and meditate by and under them, to celebrate passing through the doorway from the dark half into the light half of the year. To ask for protection and shelter from these ancient ones who can live for a thousand years, and have witnessed much tragedy, but maybe also much joy during those centuries.

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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 8

08676F93-8E9F-468D-8557-47BD01675C6DI’ve been thinking about breathing a lot this week – the mystery and profoundness of the process of our exchanging oxygen from the trees for the carbon dioxide they breathe in, the natural cycle of that. Probably because I found some woodlands much closer to my home than I thought, so have been roaming amongst the fresh green shoots and leaves quite a lot, in between my excursions to the sea. I’ve also been meditating and deliberately reflecting more than usual, as I’ve signed up for a one month online buddhist ‘retreat’ with one of my favourite teachers, looking at the ‘marks of conditioned existence’ – suffering, impermanence and insubstantiality – and the ‘doorways to freedom’ which all involve opening to the beauty of our interconnectedness with the elements of earth, water, fire and air, basically. It feels good to prioritise my buddhist practice during this stripped down to essentials time, and to try to integrate it more with my everyday life through this retreat – or maybe ‘course’ is a better word, as I’m dipping in and out of the exercises and reflections alongside increasingly busy working days again. I’m experimenting with trying to offer some interim online therapy to children, young people and families while face to face sessions are not possible – I’ll come back to that topic another time. C89FF7F0-1201-4403-88C9-BA9316C5C154
Anyway, back to breathing: one inevitable current association is of course the frightening effect of this virus on our airways and sometimes lungs – and on the oxygen levels in our blood. I read an article earlier this week about the strange phenomenon of ‘happy hypoxia’ in some people, where their oxygen levels crash to dangerous levels without their noticing, and then they suddenly collapse and often die. Ordinarily they should have been gasping for air, in distress much earlier, which would have given the medics time to help them, but something goes wrong, as if the body’s warning system of serious danger to life has been disabled. Nobody can explain as yet what’s happening there and why. 58F0E739-6E5B-4187-9345-197C1C04B180

What flashed into my mind was the parallel between this tragic individual process and outcome in some Covid patients, and our collective human blindness to the worsening effects of air pollution on the planet and our lives. We sort of ignored it and learnt to live with the new normal of breathing in a toxic cocktail of pollutants in many cities – or died of it in our thousands if unlucky enough to be sensitive to such things. This has gone on invisibly, hardly commented upon before this crisis, which highlighted the sudden dramatic drop in air pollution through our shutting down our toxic economies for a while – suddenly we can see it so clearly, through this window of unexpected opportunity. I remember being stunned by the tentative statistic back in February that in China, less lives may have been lost to the virus than had been saved by the dramatic improvement in air quality! And now new research indicates that polluting particles in the air increase transmission of the virus dramatically, which makes common sense. And yet we are desperate to restart all the engines as fast as we dare… 81FE5EB7-01C9-44B2-926D-D6F2E31BAD61

Now I’m not into magic thinking along the lines of ‘this virus has a message for us’ etc., but this parallel between the individual and collective human predicament really struck me this week. Many articles have compared our relatively quick and radical global response to this sudden pandemic to our complete floundering as a species in the face of the (only slightly) longer term threat of the climate crisis and related ongoing collapse of our entire ecosystem. We have basically noted it in passing and carried on regardless, so far; with some of our children frantically pointing out to us that our house is on fire and urging us to radically change our behaviour; this was met with the equivalent of a shrug and patronising smile at best, cruel and vitriolic attack at worst. Another parallel: Greta Thunberg urging the world’s leaders to ‘listen to the science’ about the effects of climate change; this has become the latest Corona Virus mantra: we must follow the science. But beyond the advice to wash our hands obsessively and stay away from each other, it hasn’t yielded much conclusive guidance yet, and it keeps sounding disconcertingly uncertain and pessimistic, with no quick and easy blue sky thinking solution in sight.

9BA6BB70-2E04-4413-80AD-27E920FDF0F8And so we’re starting to get a bit fed up with the effort and boredom of staying at home now, and are longing to refocus our attention on something we can vigorously tackle instead: ah yes, here it is, we must get the economy going again, before it expires altogether. We’ve spent a few weeks saving lives now and feeling very virtuous about it, so let’s get quickly back to making money, which is so much less depressing. We could call it the green economy this time, that sounds new and positive, and in line with the season of Spring, and rapid growth. And so the wheel goes round and round, with most of our political leaders functioning intellectually, emotionally and ethically on the level of two-year-olds, or goldfishes. A68B7A10-AFA9-4F56-8363-8E9A80AE39BE

So those of us who think it’s a great tragedy that we seem collectively as a species unable to decisively change course away from self-destruction even now, gasping for air, where do we position ourselves? True to form, Dougald Hine and Ed Gillespie in the latest episode of their brilliant ‘The great humbling’ podcast ( suggested to take note of the magpie – which seems at first glance to be an entirely black and white bird – suddenly revealing a startling flash of blue in in its middle, in flight. So to keep imagining possibilities beyond the polarisation of the prevalent war metaphor, to keep deeply reflecting and communicating each step of this unprecedented way seems crucial – and to notice moments of fleeting beauty. To be humble enough to admit that we simply do not know, do not have, and do not understand. But alongside the painfulness of that, sometimes something will unexpectedly make our hearts leap.


‘…suddenly this dream you are having matches everyone’s dream, And the result is the world. If a different call came, there would not be any world, Or you, or the river, or the owls calling. How you stand here is important. How you listen for the next thing to happen. How you breathe.’ (William Stafford, from ‘’Being a person’)


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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 7


I’ve been quite interested in the different qualities of our senses this week, and how individual it is whether for example we prefer to connect just on the phone through our familiar voices – quite a few of my friends do – or prefer (like me) to also see each other at least on the screen, to have two out of the many dimensions present. Which then feels exhausting maybe because it creates a more successful illusion of ‘meeting’ when that’s not what’s happening – the actual physical distance between us cannot be bridged by a picture any more than by the sound of each others’ voices through a mechanical device – we’re not in a shared space but in entirely different places, pretending to ourselves and each other that we’re not. ‘Can you hear me? Can you see me? You’re breaking up!’ becoming our mantra. Hearing comes first, developmentally too. My favourite story-teller has an interesting observation about that, which I want to explore and ponder more deeply as we traverse through this strange time: 


Our eyes alert us to the wider situation, but it’s our ears that alert us to the personal, the particular, the micro in the macro. This tends to be when the heart is alerted.’(Dr. Martin Shaw)

As I keep saying, I worry most about our human ability to make coherent sense of what’s happening breaking up, fragmenting more and more as this situation continues, without us even fully realising – fragmentation is becoming the new normal. I worry about our broken and partial communication across unbridgeable distances affecting our collective ability to think straight and take into account the details and the wider context simultaneously, at depth any longer; to consider the situation from all angles and make coordinated decisions accordingly. My own continuity of purpose and focus are definitely seriously affected – and I am usually quite a well organised person by temperament. But when there is no firm ground to stand on, I do lose my bearings.


‘Things are gonna slide in all directions, ain’t gonna be nothing, nothing you can hold onto any more’ (Leonard Cohen)

Quite a lot of time in my Zoom meetings is spent trying to establish who is and isn’t in the conversation – have they arrived yet, are they still there, has their WiFi failed, are they going to return? Then we continue ‘meeting’ as if the answer to these questions is neither here nor there – whatever it is we think we’re doing just continues regardless. Except we often lose track of what exactly we’re discussing and to what purpose, and then the meeting just fizzles out, or comes to an abrupt end in mid-flow because the time is up, and it’s unclear when or even whether this particular conversation will continue. This presumably is a re-enactment of the unexpected sudden-ness with which this pandemic struck, and the magnitude with which it has interrupted all of our taken for granted ways of being and doing things in mid-flow. I had this happening several times with friends this week too: calls being interrupted in mid-sentence because something else more urgent was suddenly demanding immediate attention elsewhere. With the effect of being left hanging mid-air, so to speak, flummoxed. As we all are just now, wondering and wanting someone to tell us what’s going to happen next, and when exactly? Dougald Hine in the latest episode of ‘The great humbling’ conversation mentions the random musings of a guy called David Fell on a blog called ‘The economics of enough’, who has a very astute yet disconcerting answer to that question:


‘In complex systems, there is the notion of ‘path dependency’. The economy is not a machine that will or even can return to some previous abstract state of ‘equilibrium’. It is a complex, open, evolving system. What happens ‘next’ is a function of what has been going on recently. The path of its evolution determines its future path. It is ‘path dependent’. Which means: only when you have a good idea of what has been going on can you have any idea at all about what might happen next. And since we don’t know what’s going on, we have no idea of the nature of the path on which we shall at some point be dependent.’ (David Fell)

Which makes me very grateful again for both my psychoanalytic and my buddhist training, the combination of which equips me to some extent at least to bear radical uncertainty relatively calmly – on a good day, which has included joyful encounters with  exuberant birdsong on my essential walk, ‘bringing me back to my senses’. I’m embarking on a month long ‘virtual retreat’ during this month of May, aptly focussing on appreciating the beauty and sheer mystery of the three marks of conditioned existence: suffering, impermanence and insubstantiality.


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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 6


The night-world is where we are. I say it. I say it till we may hear it. And in that darkness, we remember what we love the most. That itself is the candle.’ (Martin Shaw)

So the gradual slowing down of my mind and lessening of activities has continued quite naturally this week, and I can begin to feel a deepening in response to that; I’m allowing thoughts, feelings, conversations, the things I read and watch to sink in more and affect me – noticing the ripples in my heart. Or sometimes great big waves too, of fear and sadness mostly, but also shocks of inexplicable joy. No longer warding the full intensity of inner experience off with so much manic rushing about. Without consciously trying, my buddhist practice of meditation and reflection is finally moving more to the centre of my daily life, which has by necessity become almost as simple and constrained as a solitary retreat.

Almost, save for the myriad zoom meetings and phone consultations necessary for my work to continue in its new hybrid shape. But strangely that has not really interfered with my overall slowing down this week but felt quite seamless and less stressful than usual. Maybe it’s to do with Tonglen having naturally become my main meditation method: breathing through the suffering and distress of the world into a kind of surrender, a heart’s release. Working towards less defensive holding on, towards an openness and acceptance of whatever is happening, internally and externally, just allowing it all in and through, like waves. Communing with the sea and its steady tidal rhythms each day is hugely helping with that – like a reminder each day that things do flow and change and don’t need to get stuck, unless I tense up in fear and anger, blocking the flow. I can immediately feel the difference, viscerally. I wonder whether it’s clearer than ever to most of us just now that the important thing to do is to keep our bodies healthy and connected to the natural world, and to preserve and develop positive and creative states of mind and relationships with each other, within this seriously challenging situation, so that we can help ourselves and each other. The veil of most of our other distractions has been taken away. 


‘Candles only shine within darkness. As more candles are lit, so we can see each other anew. We can connect with what is burning inside our hearts and live from that truth more fully than before.’ (Jem Bendell)

Most distractions except of course that biggest one of all which is threatening to swallow us up altogether, the internet! Such a blessing as a means for us still to connect with each other at this crisis time, yet at the same time such an exhausting and emotionally draining trap and hamster’s wheel, literally keeping us spinning in futile circles. I was quite shocked to hear this phrase in an advert for a digital platform the other day: We live in ‘Teams’ – literally.’ It conjured up images of that shocking scene in ‘The Matrix’, revealing humans plugged into the machine, deprived of actual embodied LIFE.  David Abrams gave an amazing talk sometime last year ( where he wondered whether the main source of the extreme compelling addictiveness of social media and the internet was our deep longing for the interconnectedness we had lost so profoundly with the natural world; so now we are looking for that vital connection in entirely the wrong place, in cyberspace rather than in the particular and unique place where we actually find ourselves, right here on the earth. 

My sense is that we urgently need to remember what we love the most – to encounter each other and the world in a fully embodied way, in a natural space shared with other life forms. That’s why the feel of grass on the soles of our feet, making and briefly sustaining eye contact with a wild animal, or plunging naked into the sea brings such a profound thrill of joy – because these encounters make life worth living, and without them we are lost and will die of loneliness and lack of love. Which brings me back to my horror of currently not being allowed to simply BE in nature for no particular reason other than that’s where we belong – surely it needs no justification?! Being outside, feeling the wind and sun and rain on our skin keeps us sane and healthy, and deprivation of that freedom will surely be catastrophic in every way imaginable…people still knew that in 1918, hence those pictures of flu epidemic patients convalescing in the open air; but we are losing our mental balance and physical anchor so profoundly that only hermetically sealed and clinically sterile places are thought to be safe environments now. A stance from which the ‘batshit-crazy’ suggestion of our injecting disinfectant as a cure by a seriously deluded US President becomes almost plausible…D53D91A9-0C4D-4186-ABC6-4113C4E2AFF9

Something Dougald Hine suggested in the latest episode of that ‘The great humbling’ conversation ( really struck me in the context of the above: he wondered whether we need a new iconic image or metaphor now – no longer the triumphant and distant one of the blue green planet seen from space, but a humbler and more intimate one of ‘the earth seen from the earth’? Or maybe it’s not one iconic image we need, but rather each of us looking for and re-finding our limited yet unique and therefore beautiful ‘place in the family of things’, as Marianne Moore put it in one of her poems. It’s something the controversial philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote about a long time ago, in his 1951 essay ‘Building, dwelling, thinking’, and later James Lovelock with his concept of Gaia. Something about the importance of recognising and responding to the vulnerability and delicate sensitivity of the earth as a living system of which we are but a small but nevertheless significant and meaningful part, for good or ill. What if we included in our aspiration of saving lives ALL that lives? 


Come home. Honour life. Protect the earth.

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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 5

My mind seems to have gone very slow under the impact of this situation; it takes me ages to catch up with the latest turn of events, and then it happens in sharp shocking bursts. Sitting on a rock with the tide coming in earlier this afternoon it suddenly hit me that the picture and trajectory have entirely changed: maybe we’re managing to flatten that curve a little bit, the NHS seems to be just about coping, toilet paper is back on the shelves, and media attention is finally turning to the forgotten about and chronically neglected social care sector. But hang on, now it turns out we’re not talking about one single tsunami, after which our lives will return to ‘normal’ – or when as the optimistic among us hope global governments will relent and start looking after our planet better – no, the scientists now tell us that the virus is likely to move around the globe in successive and unpredictable waves of repeated outbreaks, and that even a vaccine may provide no lasting cure for it, as it remains uncertain whether the antibodies produced will reliably prevent reinfection, especially as the virus mutates. So we ‘will need to learn to live with it’. What exactly this means is unclear, and having just watched chaotic protests against lockdown in the US on the news, with Trump declaring these were ‘very responsible people expressing their legitimate views’, I fear that in many countries it will mean having to learn to live with increasing societal breakdown, and scores of people dying per day becoming the ‘new normal’. Alarmingly, by the look of things that may soon include this country, as it’s increasingly unclear who is in charge and whether a system for coordinated and considered forward planning is actually still functioning at all. A paralysis of any decision making whatsoever seems to have set in just now, even down to the detail of whether or not we should now all wear face masks in public.
EE4E0FDE-C4E5-4BCC-BD48-4F2A19863F95Writing this I realise that my own mind’s paralysis probably mirrors that of everyone in the world, as the unresolvable seriousness of our human predicament slowly sinks in: This is not a single catastrophic event to get through courageously, with an endpoint in sight and followed by a period of recovery – this is our new reality, full stop. I think I heard a scientist say the other day that pandemics don’t tend to pass quickly, and that the bubonic plague carried on recurring for 200 years. So will it maybe just eventually get a bit boring to keep going on about Corona Virus, and we’ll stop paying attention to it? Will we decide like those crazed american protesters that nothing is going to stop us from exercising our freedom to do what we want regardless of the consequences, and that anyway the most important thing is to reboot the global economy, come what may? That would be the same set of deluded  responses most of our political leaders have chosen to employ in the face of climate change for the past 50 years – so sadly it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility: that instead of applying the humbling lessons learnt from this sudden crisis to that other more all-encompassing climate emergency situation, we pervert the thinking to: if we can ignore the big bad climate monster and carry on regardless, surely some tiny virus isn’t going to derail us?C5B33FD3-FE82-4AE3-A4F1-2299E5A01A1DI’m getting scared as I’m writing this, and am once again relieved that I no longer live in the city. Dougald Hine and Ed Gillespie in their latest episode of ‘The great humbling’ podcast ( said that historically, truly radical change has always been sudden, painful and chaotic – that we were witnessing the weaving together of the timeless and the time bound into a gordic knot. I’m not entirely sure what they mean by that and need to listen again to understand it better, but I found being tangled up in a gordic knot an evocative and potentially helpful image. The question then follows of how to proceed: do we violently and self-destructively cut the knot by declaring there is after all no problem and ‘going back to normal’ as described above, or do we accept that there are no shortcuts, that maybe we need to slowly and patiently disentangle our wants from our needs instead, and find our way back to a much simpler and more modest way of living our lives on this earth – and tragically for us as a species, probably in much smaller numbers? Simpler in the sense of ‘elegant simplicity’, of restraint and kindness and humility in the service of all that lives, accepting our radical and mysterious interconnectedness. Which would be the buddhist way of looking at life and the world. To take what we need and give what we can. Trying to live like that right now and connect up with likeminded others, maybe that’s the best we can do, and maybe that’s actually quite a lot and crucial – those of us who have not yet lost our moral compass making sure we don’t, as it’s a very precious thing to preserve through what’s to come, however it will further unfold and unravel.B862581E-94E3-46FA-9A39-C8CEF35932CB


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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 4

3C2EBBD9-48E4-457E-8C17-7ADA4B04D8A8I still haven’t been able to face reading Rachel Carson’s prescient 1950’s book actually, but its ominous, evocative title ‘Silent Spring’ kept going round my mind all week as I headed in all directions through the eerily empty local landscape, on my daily essential walks. Fortunately not at all without birdsong, but instead empty of the bustle and noise of joyful human activity – it’s us humans, deservedly, who have been rendered silent and still this Spring. I also keep sensing that the animals are noticing that something is wrong and are curious, observing our strange absence and suddenly furtive behaviour with concern. The news reports of daily UK deaths are strangely muted, I don’t think anyone can really take the numbers in, around 800-900 people dying each  day over these past few days. And there is such a disconnect between that reality, which has health workers and carers rushing around exhausting themselves on 16 hour shifts, and the slowing down and quietness all around, away from the hospital wards; the rest of us shielded.

AEAFFF02-5E8B-4549-9CED-63EA12C9DB08Meanwhile, our rogue Prime Minister has survived the virus and emerged from hospital gushing gratitude for the NHS he has been complicit in dismantling over the last decade. Maybe his brush with death will have a genuinely humbling impact on him? I’m a bit pessimistic, but willing to keep an open mind. Dougald Hine’s and Ed Gillespie’s conversation ‘The great humbling’ ( has been the deepest take on the situation I have come across – they wonder whether there might be a chance of a genuine global shift in policy away from growth and towards a ‘steady state economy’ if the crisis continues for long enough to make a simple ‘return to normal’ impossible – I don’t dare hope for that, but Amsterdam apparently is going to give the ‘Doughnut Model’ ( a try, which does seem to be a small encouraging start…

BC2C3061-E89F-4226-B124-1C4A03B54180I have felt subdued mostly this week, with an uncomfortable sense of disconnect internally too: aware of my personal privilege of living in a small, beautiful, community-spirited place, healthy and continuing to be able to make a living – just about – while others are fighting for their lives and / or losing their livelihoods, and going stir crazy in crowded city flats etc – or worse, if you happen to be unlucky enough to be an Indian migrant worker, or a refugee trapped in an overcrowded camp somewhere. I want to be able to do more to help. Sometimes I’d quite like to go and rush around an emergency ward and feel useful and indispensable, on the frontline. I have to remind myself that the next concentric circle of containment is also important, and probably as difficult a position to hold, though in a different, less dramatic way: the continued offering of a reflective space, a listening ear to whatever unfolds, however harrowing it gets. To turn towards whatever is happening and not to emotionally shut down or turn away. Or when I do, to notice and come back and try again to bear a bit more grim reality than what I had bargained for. To stay calm and creative in the face of it. I’m so grateful for my double psychoanalytic and buddhist training which gives me such a rich and complex framework for trying to find meaning and perspective in the midst of it all. 

There were two instances this past week where I was fully in touch with the left-field but nevertheless real value of what I can potentially offer when I’m in a good enough frame of mind: one was my NHS Team’s first online clinical work discussion group, which I had felt very pessimistic about. However, to my surprise six colleagues tuned in, and we ended up having a surprisingly deep and frank discussion about the personal and professional impact of home and virtual working in the context of existential anxiety about illness and death. The other was gathering some buddhist friends together in our imaginations on Wednesday evening, to celebrate the full pink blossom super-moon, with a meditation and ritual. To my amazement, many images and evocative accounts of how and where people had done this and how much they had appreciated it poured into my inbox over the next few days, and I now very much look forward to our next full moon celebration in May, which will also mark the Buddha’s enlightenment. My sense was that simply naming a time and providing an optional text and suggested simple programme ignited people’s imagination in a fuller, more multidimensional way than an interactive zoom meeting ever could. I had friends going for night time walks to look for the moon, forgetting the words and making up their own instead, falling asleep and dreaming of the moon instead – it was wonderful to receive the rich diversity of everyone’s experience, and feeling connected with each friend individually through that. F29FB8FD-053D-4515-B181-5DA90C66251CSo yes, staying calm, slowing down, not falling into manic busyness in new, virtual ways feels crucial as part of that. On my vigorous daily walks I keep finding myself wanting to stop and just sit – which at this stage earns you some frowning looks by tense passers-by, and the risk of a stern talking-to by the community police. I would try to explain to them that playing peekaboo with a sandpiper whilst both of us for different reasons are gazing into a rock-pool is definitely most essential to my health right now. Stay well my friends reading this, and to quote another one of my favourite people, mythic storyteller Martin Shaw: ‘courage, and lots and lots of love.’As Dougald Hine observed in that inspired ‘The great humbling’ conversation: ‘It’s difficult to recognise a paradigm shift when you’re in the middle of it’. He used the evocative metaphor of the burning house – also the central image of my favourite buddhist parable from the White Lotus Sutra. He said the house (meaning our ecological habitat and now also our economy) has not only been slightly damaged first by our deluded human actions and now by this virus, but has burnt entirely to the ground. So what do you do in that situation, do you rebuild the exact same house? No, if you’re in your right mind you’d obviously start afresh and build the house of your dreams. Will we dare to do that, will enough of us muster enough global sanity and unity to accept our limits and rethink what’s of value after the shock of this pandemic? To look after each other and our beautiful blue house of a planet? Probably not, but it can’t hurt to dream while we’ve got the time and space, and maybe the dreaming will sow some good seeds for the future.5CD6A167-FFB1-4353-8112-E4C401197D23

So yes, staying calm, slowing down, not falling into manic busyness in new, virtual ways feels crucial as part of that. On my vigorous daily walks I keep finding myself wanting to stop and just sit – which at this stage earns you some frowning looks by tense passers-by, and the risk of a stern talking-to by the community police. I would try to explain to them that playing peekaboo with a sandpiper whilst both of us for different reasons are gazing into a rock-pool is definitely most essential to my health right now. Stay well my friends reading this, and to quote another one of my favourite people, mythic storyteller Martin Shaw: ‘courage, and lots and lots of love.’


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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 3


‘The past few weeks have exposed the fact that the biggest things can always change, at any minute. This simple truth, both destabilising and liberating, is easy to forget. We’re not watching a movie: we’re writing one, together, until the end. (Peter C Baker in ‘We can’t go back to normal: how will Coronavirus change the world?’)

This week there has been a gradual quieting in my being, my way of going about my (virtual) work, my local walks – slightly expanded in range at times by combining them with essential shopping. I can feel myself slowly accepting the immediate situation, the need to hunker down and minimise movement, to be socially responsible to help flatten that viral curve. This is helped by the indications that it does indeed seem to be beginning to flatten in response to the as yet moderate lockdown, and my direct connection to the NHS, albeit not at the very frontline. I’ve felt frustrated about the slow bureaucracy of it, how long it takes to actually put something helpful into practice – like a video-link with our young patients – but was helpfully encouraged by a colleague to be patient, to trust the good intentions of the unwieldy huge national system to protect patient confidentiality, even in these unprecedented conditions. It feels reassuring to be part of a team for at least part of my work – even if we all are at very different stages in regard to facing the reality that this is a very bad situation indeed, from which there will definitely not be a simple ‘return to normal’. 

DCB24B09-C437-443D-855A-0EF1937E11DCWhich for me is a relief, as ‘normal’ was speeding headlong towards a brick-wall of ecological collapse, and this forced stopping and slowing of our destructive behaviour at least gives the planet a fighting chance to begin to recover, with humanity sent to our rooms for a spell. It’s up to each of us how fruitfully we use that time – the mythic story teller Martin Shaw called it evocatively ‘standing before the goddess of limit’. A perhaps long overdue experience for the privileged among us not to be able to do and have what we want for a while, to restrain ourselves, to learn self-discipline. And maybe in the process to notice the beauty and intrinsic value of the earth, sky, forest and sea – to directly experience the sheer pain and dread of fresh air and green space not being freely available any longer, whenever and wherever we want it.


‘It’s the end of the world as we know it, and everything does feel fine—not fine like chill, but fine like china, like glass, like thread. Everything feels so fine, and so fragile, and so shockingly worth saving.’ (Laurie Penny in ‘This is not the apocalypse you were looking for’)

Walking around in the empty landscape around me yesterday afternoon I felt like on solitary retreat – noticing my immediate surroundings more vividly, the colours, sounds, smells and textures – delighting in encounters with small birds and a couple of horses seemingly actively curious and puzzled what had happened to us humans for us to have diminished so drastically, and to be acting so strangely. I felt so sad about not being able to touch the horses and the dogs I encountered, and again weirdly worried that I probably shouldn’t even be touching the trees and stones, or be walking around? And again feeling a great alarm at the madness of that feeling, the madness of policing nature, the profound wrongness of doing that. A sense that the opposite initial move was the right one: once the peak has passed, please let’s encourage free movement in the open air wherever possible – as locally as possible – as a means of strengthening our immune systems and preserving our sanity.

C09A7E7C-6CCF-4872-A730-9987CA7898B5I completely share Charles Eisenstein’s worry ( that we will go too far as a species in the direction of putting safety and survival above all other values, deluding ourselves that absolute protection from contagion – and from death – is even possible or desirable, rather than a natural part of life, and necessary to our individual and collective development. We are living creatures, we need bacteria in our biome to help our immune system stay strong and resilient. I remember the advice when I went to live in Nepal, alongside taking reasonable precautions around clean drinking water, was to accept that I would be bound to catch an infection sooner or later, and therefore not to be too obsessive, and to eat plenty of local yoghurt and honey, in order to get my gut used to the local bacteria. This definitely worked: I did catch quite a few things over time, but always relatively mildly. 

D1309765-F1D1-4761-9483-A39467C2E879Charles Eisenstein’s essay also talks very challengingly about the truth that sometimes letting go, ‘dying well’ with your loved ones around you is much preferable to being kept artificially alive by a machine, alone in the anonymous, sterile manufactured space of a hospital. Which is important for all of us to think about, as we listen to the harrowing accounts of intensive care nurses holding the hands of countless unknown dying people, crying and I think rightly perceiving this as ‘all wrong’. We need to ask ourselves what we’re sacrificing in the name of perfect personal protection and shielding – our deep human connectedness to each other within our families, friendship groups and communities. Is that worth it? What’s more valuable? Nothing is entirely safe, and we are all eventually going to die, not knowing how or when; that is the natural and tragic but also exquisitely mysterious and beautiful predicament of all that lives. Each action we take in our lives poses a risk because we’re vulnerable, all of us; there’s no cure or vaccine for that, and there never will be, and that’s paradoxically a good thing, because death is part of life, and a rite of passage which needs to be accepted with difficulty, and traversed with love and care – whatever form that takes when the time comes.


‘They will ask you how to traverse life. Answer: like crossing an abyss on a taut string: beautifully, carefully and fleetingly.’ (Helena Roehrich, 1924)

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Cornwall Corona Chronicles 2

4F78CC4E-A78C-4416-94F5-D114B158196BWhere to start? Summer Time is starting tomorrow according to the calendar, but here I am sitting on my sofa just now with two jumpers on and the central heating turned up (grateful it’s still working), while a bitter cold northeasterly wind is howling outside, getting in through all the many cracks in the windows and doors. The weather feels eerily wrong, everything feels ominously strange and out of kilter and surreal. ‘It’s like living in a dystopian B-movie’ was a recurring line in several conversations with friends and colleagues this week. I found myself trying to hold on to the reassuring normality of blossoms and trees and birdsong, and the equanimity of that vast sea with its steady tidal rhythms, like the slow heartbeat of the earth, supporting all, accepting all … trying to breathe in that equanimity in the face of the rapid unravelling of all I’ve taken for granted. Riding my moods which very much resemble the choppy waves: frightened – calm – fascinated – despairing – astonished – confounded – scared – that cycle repeated with variations, amidst the occasional bout of collective manic exhilaration along the lines of ‘this is a historically significant event and we’re living right through it!’

On Monday morning I thought I was finding a new strange rhythm now – stopping off at Sainsbury’s for the NHS staff early shopping hour on my way to work – where the supermarket staff handed each of us a free bunch of fresh flowers on exiting the store! This was followed by the daily Skype staff briefing where we were put on a rota, alternating working at home with working ‘in base’, ready to step into extra clinic based slots as and when needed as colleagues fell ill. Two home-based colleagues on the screen were coughing fairly continuously during the briefing and reassured us that they were indeed self-isolating and would keep us posted on how they were. For logistical reasons, we had to make our long clinical phonecalls from our open-plan office hot-desks, which felt bizarre, but had to be accepted as the new normal. People coped in different, idiosyncratic ways, including a colleague who took to riding her scooter along the corridor to make sure everyone gave her a wide berth. Much chocolate and hand gel was consumed and surfaces continuously wiped down. An avalanche of potentially helpful resources was emailed from various sources to our inbox, but most of us felt too overwhelmed to even look at them. We decided to bring the fridge and kettle into our office from the communal kitchen to feel more contained – then by the end of the day the whole plan had changed again to closing that particular office altogether for the time being. Luckily for me, as this meant that the one base remaining open for now is the one on my doorstep which I can walk to in ten minutes!A1EEFDC2-7EC9-4A82-92E8-B55D4F24F068That evening our bewildered Prime Minister declared a nation-wide lockdown, as many people had behaved irresponsibly at the weekend, ignoring all social distancing and ‘stay home’ advice. I felt relieved to be given a clearer and stronger message at last to take this thing seriously, whilst simultaneously feeling quite patronised and alarmed about the implications: basically an increasing loss of individual choice and control, and a tightening sense of constriction and confinement for us all, for an unknown length of time. Three weeks initially, but looking at the global picture, nobody is under the illusion that this will be over in three weeks’ time. The next day I had a huge longing for green trees, so for my daily exercise outing drove out to my nearest little woodland near Loy’s Cove and went for a long, solitary walk. But I suddenly was no longer sure I was allowed to do this, and spent the whole time feeling guilty for having gone to a beautiful place. I worried about touching any trees or stones and thus contaminating them for others. I reminded myself that I felt perfectly healthy – but this was no guarantee, I could still be an asymptomatic carrier. I berated myself for behaving in an entirely socially irresponsible way by not staying at home, then berated myself for being ridiculous, as all I was doing was going for a solitary walk through the woods, to keep myself sane and healthy. I tried to enjoy the green, the sunshine, the birdsong and flowers, but couldn’t. When I got to the cove, I was unsure whether I was allowed to sit on a rock and look at the sea. I felt I was going mad. I met a few furtive-looking people on my way back up – we quickly veered away from each other to the safe 2m distance. I think we all felt similar, nervously greeting each other, half expecting to be shouted at for being there. That evening I cried my eyes out on hearing that they were closing the national parks, that they had closed the London Parks and my friends would have no green, natural spaces to go to. Millions of people trapped in a crowded city, blocked from entering their green spaces – I feel scared about that. A self-isolating friend in the vulnerable category wondered the other day whether she was allowed in her communal garden – she had been told that she was to stay in her house, though she could have the windows open! It’s as if the whole world is becoming a prison somehow – I know we need to take the infection risk seriously, but fresh air, keeping our bodies and minds healthy through movement in nature – at a safe distance from each other – surely is a helpful thing to be encouraged? I fear that something is going very wrong here in our thinking and decision making – it’s definitely the aspect that’s upset and disturbed me the most this week, but I haven’t quite thought through it properly yet, so will come back to it in a later post.

7B1D0963-D432-425C-8F57-55094E54578EI had planned to lead some friends in a spacious solidarity walking meditation for the sake of the the earth and all that lives tomorrow. The idea was to gather under a huge blossom tree, do some Chi Kung, then walk silently, then sit and share our experiences – all 2 metres apart of course. I’m really sad we can’t do that now, though I do accept that physical gatherings have to be stopped for a while. The loss of all real, full, live contact with others feels huge to me though, and the somewhat manic proliferation of online replacements stressful and overwhelming. My sense is that the more fruitful way forward for me at least might be to limit my time online as much as possible, to hunker down and accept my relative solitude, to just stop for a while and turn inward, to reflect, to reawaken my imagination. To see it less as isolation and more as retreat perhaps, a potentially fruitful restorative resting time away from so much busy interaction all the time. So that instead of just impatiently wanting to ‘get back to normal’, new ideas might arise of how to be in this deeply wounded world. Yes, to reawaken our full multidimensional, inner imagination rather than flattening everything out onto a tablet screen, wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment? She says typing this onto a tablet screen … tomorrow afternoon I will sit by my window and read a good book, gaze at the sea and just allow my mind to drift…

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