In the last few entries, I’ve been focusing on meditation and mindfulness as a means of staying sane during the current crisis. That does not mean, however, that we should never admit that we are scared. An important part of any recovery or self-discovery process is to bring our fears into the open. In examining our fears, we defuse them so that they can no longer block us from spiritual growth. With this theme in mind, I’ve chosen Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney as today’s poem. The text of the poem is not available online for copyright reasons, but it belongs to the collection ‘Death of a Naturalist’ (1966) which is available on Amazon.
We Listed Our Fears
This is a fundamental part of the AA recovery process, for example; however it is a useful practice for anyone seeking to release themselves from self-destructive behaviours and emotional pain. How many of us would add ‘coronavirus’ or ‘covid-19’ to that list now? And what exactly is it that are we are afraid of?
‘We are prepared: we build our houses squat,’ Heaney begins in the opening line of Storm on the Island. In the Western world at least, we think we have the technology and resources to overcome any crisis. ‘We are prepared, we clear the supermarket shelves’ and then the fear sets in: ‘What if the supply chain breaks down?’ ‘What if we haven’t managed to grab enough for ourselves?’ Sadly ‘What if I am leaving nothing for vulnerable people who may need it?’ appears to be a less pertinent question.
How will I be affected?
In lines 7-10, Heaney describes how we can become distracted by the sound of what we fear, and imagine we are immune to it. How much like so many of us who watched the Covid-19 crisis unfolding on TV, somewhere far away, fascinated? The fascination was soon replaced by fear when the infection reached our shores. One way or another, everyone will be affected, even those who remain uninfected. Somebody we know and love will succumb; may have to suffer alone; is suffering now, isolation and fear.
How to calm our fears?
Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.
In the concluding lines of the poem, Heaney points out the irony that we are afraid of ’empty air’: in this case the ‘huge nothing’ is a storm, but of course the extended metaphor is clear: we are afraid of death, oblivion; of no longer existing. Such fears are both groundless and fruitless: the likelihood is, even if we belong to an at-risk group, we will not die from Covid-19. The certainty is that one day, we will die from something. If that leads to oblivion, there is literally nothing to be afraid of: in some religions this is called Nirvana, and represents a blissful release. We will continue to exist in the hearts and memories of those we love, if nowhere else. But for the sake of those we love, we need to take all necessary precautions against the spread of this disease, stay home, self-isolate, practice social distancing, abandon selfishness. Immerse ourselves in positive, creative activities: offer whatever help we can to those who are lonely, isolated and vulnerable. In coming together for good in times of crisis we can overcome our fears and discover courage that we never knew we had.