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“We feel the virus already — it’s in the wind, it’s in the rain” Segundo explains to me, swirling his finger in the air in circles around his head as if he’s manipulating the weather, stirring a cosmic cauldron. “We’re taking care of it.”

What I propose here is that silence and stillness are necessary prerequisites to tempered, attuned action geared towards building a more beautiful, sustainable human experience on Earth. For hundreds if not thousands of years, Amazonian communities have intentionally architected periods of isolation and reflection into their social structures. By appreciating these sanctioned approaches, I suggest the quarantine we are now observing is a unique opportunity to recognize the vital personal and ecological value of silence and solitude…

Swedish anthropologist Kaj Århem notes that illness and disease are perceived of as “punishment for failed reciprocity in the cosmo-ecological environment” amongst indigenous Makuna communities in Brazil. “The notions of health and curing are focused, not narrowly on the individual person, but on the natural and social whole of which the human patient is a part.” — Sophia Rokhlin

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. — J. Krishnamurti

We specifically need silence and isolation right now, even though we don’t know how to use them. We don’t have traditions which could carry that wisdom, but the teachings are still possible if we are alert to the nature of silence. It can still speak to us, silence. Isolation too can bring forth insights if we can calm our panic enough to watch and listen to our inner world.

We think we can only live in the world as it is, as crazy as it is, as anti-life as it is. We need to think again. We are living on the surface of ourselves and don’t know it. We don’t suspect the deeper layers of humanity that our way of life has no use for. It’s going to be a challenge for such superficial and ingrained ways of thinking and feeling to collapse, harder even than the external structures that just gave way.

If we can only operate on the surface of things, though, we’ll only be capable of constructing another house of cards. My hope for this moment is that something fundamental will change inside us, in our relating to the world. It’s not humanly impossible. Other humans are already there, living it. We could learn something from them if we weren’t so arrogant.

Maybe this extreme global event will soften our resistance a bit. The cacophony of cries from the slaves who are calling for their chains notwithstanding, there are repositories of understanding gathered by our own scientists from people living a so-called primitive lifestyle in the forests and steppes of our planet.

There are humans who have sensitivities we don’t normally have. They know how to keep a balance between themselves and the natural world. Our culture long ago lost that essential ability. We only know how to create a giant machine that eats nature and spits out dollars. That machine is suddenly useless, although we remember it fondly and wish for the days when it was still operating.

But no, it has suddenly become useless. We’re presented with the problem of what to do now, how to live better. More than a well honed sense of utility, we need imagination, but not just any imagination. We need an imagination of the heart. We need to be capable of creating a relational world.

If we can see how we have created suffering and ugliness, we might be able to go on to create a culture of beauty and kindness. We ourselves might become kinder, more attractive people. We might find our true roles in this creative process, that of helpers and contributors. Maybe we’ll find that silence really is golden.

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