Systemic Upheaval and the Fertility of the Times
Anna Lloyd | Friday, February 19th, 2021
| Addiction | Family Support |
Rarely has it seemed truer that every human being on earth is connected to all the others, and that the choices that each of us make do not only impact us, or even just those in our proximate orbit, but flow far beyond us to shape the human family, the environment and life on earth in ways that few of us could have truly appreciated pre-2020.
Even as climate change and other looming environmental catastrophes became central organising concerns for the world’s citizens over the past decade or so, the concept of our interconnectedness still seemed far more abstract, more benign, and less apocalyptic than it became in 2020.
A year of profound and unprecedented systemic upheaval, the likes of which many of us had heretofore never experienced, 2020 reshaped humanity so thoroughly that few of us will understand to what extent for decades to come, when we will be able to look back with the type of perspective that some distance and time elapsed allows.
‘Death to 2020’ became the collective catch cry of the final months of last year, humanity largely united in the desire to burn rubber out of 2020 and have it fade into distant memory as quickly as possible. A desperate optimism and hope that 2021 be significantly more wonderful than its predecessor has been almost universally longed for around the world. But are we trying to skip over the gravity and weight of the times prematurely, and in so doing, missing some of the gold?
Of course, there is a wildly important place for hope, and we are nothing without hope, but it is probably magical thinking to imagine that we could somehow depart one of the most challenging years in living memory and arrive in a fresh nirvana of a year where all is well, and the ghosts of that hell year not be everywhere?
We have survived a ‘once in a century’ event that has killed millions and brought formally robust superpowers to their knees. The fears, insecurities, tensions, injustices and general division that exploded around the globe in 2020 have not gone away. The fundamental fragilities of human life on earth that had so much light shone on them in 2020 will live on in 2021. Human resilience and survival will continue to exist in uncomfortable counterpoint to our inescapable vulnerability, as individuals and as a species, a reality that we wake up to violently at particular moments in history and one that will no doubt linger in our collective conscious long after this dark moment passes. Families, economies and countries devastated by the conditions of 2020, will take time to recover, years for many, decades for some. For these people, and maybe for the rest of us also, the fantasy that 2021 is going to be a wildly better undertaking to 2020 may even represent plain denial and insensitivity.
Healing mirrors life in an abundance of ways, and in healing, when we try and skip over something very painful or difficult too quickly, before it has been deeply felt and honoured, we miss the growth that’s possible in challenging and testing conditions, and it makes for more pain. If we try and impose our own time schedule and hurry things along, rather than surrendering to healing’s own slower timing, we end up even more bruised and full of despair.
There is value then not in erring away from the emotional weight and truth of where we all find ourselves, and instead leaning into the sobering realities that still exist. Leaning in allows for an openness to and curiosity about what these ‘less than ideal’ conditions have to teach us and what they have to grow in us. Very much of the ilk of Leonard Cohen’s oft-quoted “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”, systemic upheaval has an extraordinary capacity to invite and even demand change. The seeds of change are laying in quiet waiting deep in the mud of every crack that appears. All we need do is be willing to tend them.
The evidence of 2020’s change offerings are scattered across the globe right now in a proliferation of individual, local and grassroots projects, movements and change efforts that got off the ground precisely because of the cracks that emerged systemically in 2020.
Amidst these conditions, things that were previously fixed are loosened. Things that were once solid are destabilised. We are forced out of our comfort zones and we have to get uncomfortable and adapt, whether we feel like it or not, which really is the seat of all change and a critical underpinning of increasing our neuro-flexibility.
In this sense, 2020 had an incredible fertility to it and 2021, hot on its heels, is similarly fertile. But denial, prematurely skipping over and glossing over the gravity of the times won’t serve us. We must be willing to sit in the mud a little longer. We have inherited a world that is sorely in need of healing and we are all inextricably tied up together in that, so may each of us make the most of 2021’s fertility and water its seeds of change.
In 2021, despite the pull to despair that many of us are vulnerable to in these troubled times, new year or not, a conscious choice can be made to lean into possibility, curiosity, and openness, which are the counterpoints to despair. Despair has things to teach us, so when she comes to visit, there is value in sitting with her for a while and listening, and letting our hearts heart break for a minute, or an hour or a day if needs be, but then making a conscious choice to not dwell too long with her. Despair is fruitless if we stay there too long. The hope for each of us, and for humanity as a whole as I see it, lies in letting despair touch us deeply and then working out how to actualise it. Despair can be alchemised into productivity, and despair that is made productive lights a fire in us that can spark a wildfire of growth and change, in an individual, a family, a community, a nation. The more people can hold themselves accountable to alchemising their despair, in their own personal and local way, the more hope truly exists for every single one of us in 2021 and beyond.
Anna Lloyd is a Family Therapist at Byron Private and a Clinical Psychotherapist in Private Practice in Sydney’s Inner West, working with individuals, couples, families and groups. Trained in Gestalt Psychotherapy, Bowen Family Systems Theory and Systemic Family Constellation work, Anna is passionate about family systems and the power of systemic approaches to recovery and wellness.
Specialising in Addiction Recovery/Addictive Family Systems, Anna brings 15 years of experience living and practicing the work. She is strongly committed to trauma-informed therapeutic approaches, and values warm, holistic, body-inclusive, life-affirming therapy grounded in mindfulness, practical wisdom, and the science of relationship systems and the brain.
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