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What will we save as a global community?

With the spring bloom of 2020 comes a new mantra of survival that many of us find subconsciously woven into every breath, every bright morning, and every baby step we take towards the future. All over the world, the children paint rainbows on the window to signify that even after the wildest storms, great beauty is born. Mythology tells us that it's always darkest just before the dawn, and in every corner of the corona wrenched world we see glimmers of hope pop up through the cracks of community. The pandemic has stopped us in our tracks. Unable to cross borders, go to work, peruse the aisles, see our friends, and indulge in the cultural joys of society we are forced to step into The Great Pause.

While it has been a tragic time that has ripped through the fabric of some communities more than others, it has also shone a spotlight on our vulnerability as a species, how perhaps there have been moments where we took our presence here for granted, and how our comfort zones and safety nets are perhaps a little more fabricated and flimsy than we may have thought. While, this can feel discomforting, it is also an opportunity to weigh up what happens to the status quo.

It Starts With Truth…

Some have called the pandemic the great equalizer, a virus that doesn’t discriminate and one that unites us in our vulnerability as it does in our humanity. The statistics prove that this isn’t true, that poorer communities have suffered more loss of life than their wealthier counterparts, that BAME communities have lost more lives. That this disease, far from uniting us under a world banner, has cracked open the chasms of privilege in our society. We have to recognize that no longer can we turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world. As we enter a new dawn, we have to force ourselves to gaze into the eyes of these hard questions and to decide, when it’s time to rebuild – what should be razed to the ground? What should be saved? And how can we better protect and nurture our world and our communities to ensure a better future for all?

It Follows With a Shift…

It has been eye-popping to witness certain behaviors from large conglomerates as capitalism fights for its own sense of survival. Multi-billionaires like Branson asking for government bailouts rather than sell off even a smidge of their assets to pay their hard-working staff. It’s not a pretty look and it’s certainly not going to fortune favor and earn its stripes in the new world if there was any justice.

While millions face employment and smaller independent industries run the risk of bleeding out, this article from GQ points out that America’s billionaires have been increasing their net-worth by tens of millions of dollars. Jeff Bezos’s Amazon stock has skyrocketed a staggering 30 percent already this year, whereas the company itself has earned just criticism for its lack of safeguarding for warehouse staff, many of whom are expected to work at an impossible speed.

Even ethical choices aside, we start to dabble in new possibilities when it comes to the choices of where and how we spend our money. We suddenly see that it is our purses that hold the power. Those who have struggled with supermarket queues may find themselves loosening their grip on the multinationals in favor of the local vegetable box delivery service. Instead of battling it out for the last bottle of milk – society has seen the return of the doorstep milkman, and with these simple everyday shifts on our baseline products, we start to apply the same method of thinking to our larger heart-felt purchases.

It Means Recognizing We Can Never Go Back…

Even pre-pandemic, we were starting to see a bigger shift towards more sustainable and ethical consumer choices. As we tired of seeing high-rise Hilton’s pop up along virginal coastline, as our skies choked on the fumes, as the Amazon burned, and as factories in Bangladesh collapsed, there seemed to be a growing sense of unease – a slow ticking timebomb beneath all of our beds – the knowledge that things can’t go on like this. Then there were children taking up arms – angry and on world platforms telling us how much we were screwing up. Forest fires raged through Australia. And then before we could take a breath; a new virus swept in like a tsunami.

But before that last wave, we were starting to see new language pop up to call out imperialist capitalism. Eco travel was on the rise, the beauty of boutique was overtaking traditional five-star style, we were seeing a pattern of experiential over the material. But along with these positive tweaks, it wasn’t all roses - we were already seeing the rise in fractured politics and a growing distrust of politicians and media. We were becoming an even more broken and fragmented world of opposing forces.

As countries start to emerge from lockdown, blinking into the sun, it seems many governments are keen to ‘get back to business’ and of course, we crave the comfort of familiarity in unfamiliar times. We long for those shopping trips, the hourly grind of the working day, and the chance to see and spend. But what are we seeking really? It isn’t the cogs of the machine we crave, but the ache for seemingly simpler days and to feel connected. If we stripped back to our authentic selves, do we genuinely want to return to those Wolf on Wall Street ethics?

Now is not the time to get sidetracked by longing for this sense of normalcy, as I mentioned in my last piece Stillness as an Act of Messy Unravelling, we can never go back, there is no great return, there is a sidestep or there is forward. And as this pandemic has proven, community is truly what matters most of all.

It Means Reclaiming Self-Sufficient Power…

Moving forward, now more than ever, it’s time for that revolution and it starts – not with sword or shield but with the simple power of spending habits and taking the economy back for ourselves. This starts with etching out our own value systems and finding companies that echo that sentiment, not in a gauzy thinly veiled marketing way, but in a way that is authentic and true.

Luxury companies have been hailed for their efforts to help fight corona – we have heard the gushing around Louis Vuitton stitching facemasks and Tiffany & Co pledging a million to help the fight. Of course, every bit matters but for a company with an equity in the billions, and for another company whose unpaid workforce is truly doing the labor – is it a case of credit where credits due or is my cynicism simply seeping through?

Our hearts may be more warmed by tales of the local small-scale deli bringing beautiful packed lunches to keyworkers children who still have to go to school. Or perhaps we are more likely to feel that soft lump in our throat from tiny Hackney sewing studios staying up around the clock to curate protective gowns for nurses and doctors.

For the former example, it’s easy to throw money at a problem when you are sitting on a gold mine – especially if it makes for great marketing. For the latter, its actually getting your own hands dirty and risking a loss for the good of society – even while your government fails.

When we rise like a phoenix from the ashes, whose pockets do we fill? Do we want to give those conglomerates the cash to buy another tax haven island and flick pennies at the next global crisis? Or do we want to pump resources and our support into family owned businesses and ethical endeavors so we can be reminded that we have the power to be self-sufficient communities, because when it comes to the crunch, we cannot rely on those conglomerates to reach out their hand and help us. Because, simply put, that chasm is too big and too wide.

And With a Pair of Shears We Have the Skill…

Small is strong, community is courage, and togetherness is making choices that pull each other up. Through our commerce choices we can honor family legacy at a time when so many families are being pulled apart. Through our decision-making process we can finally forget the dirty feeling that accompanies fast cheap consumerism and replace it with the simmer of slow luxury because this time has taught us the pleasure that comes with patience and how joyous things can feel after a pause. Through our support, we can celebrate the creativity and heartfelt commitment of the artisan. Those who derive deep joyous pleasure from creating the things we love and need.

We can fall in love with the things we choose to place in our world because they are no longer marred with the stains and subconscious guilt that comes with sweatshops, mass warehouses and exploited workers. We can know that our things have been made from choice, pleasure, and a marrying of the heart and the hands.

There’s been another parasitic virus running rampant all this time. The root of capitalism has grown rotten, the fruit withering on the vine. The money tree is sick with corruption, exploitation, and zero hesitation to throw the vulnerable under the bus while the rich get richer. What do you do with a sick tree? Do you pull it up by its root and stem? Do you set it alight and watch it burn?

Or do you start gently to prune the branches and pour nutrient rich goodness into its soul. Our world is one worth saving, we have been letting it rot and burn, but we all have our own pair of shears and we can all take responsibility for one tiny stem or one small branch.

We may not be arborists but we know that sick things need nourishment in the right places. Find the source, start to nourish, and decide which part of the tree you want to nurture – the hollow branch that strangles the tree until it crashes down to the ground? Or the branch that will bloom sweetly and give apples that will feed a whole community.


Picture: Third Millenial Alliance - To'ak Chocolate: Saving Heirloom Nacional Cacao from extinction, one of the last pure source of cacao in the world...

oxy Genier luxury consultant

Stillness as an Art of Messy Unravelling

A few weeks ago I stepped off an exhausting repatriation flight that carried me from the Mississippi Delta back to home turf in Manchester. A friend texted me immediately and said - ‘Maybe this time will teach you a lesson in stillness’, his words stung. Irked I wanted to yell, I know how to be still. But it wasn’t so much this that bothered me. It was the romanticized notion of stillness that suddenly we seem so keen to gobble up. Stay home, be still, be present, enjoy the little things, take time for your family. These messages are flooding in thick and fast. From your next-door neighbor to the prime minister, this is the advice of now. And of course, we need to stay home, that’s not up for debate. But how we perceive stillness is still catching like a bone in my throat.

Stillness as a Sentimental Notion

There has been a long-forced hand history of busyness. Busyness is power, its social status, it’s a million phone calls, an entrepreneurial spirit, a jam-packed calendar, a quick text, and a promise of a longer catch up next time. For centuries we have learned to be ‘good cogs in the machine’, productive members of society, and experiential existence has become the new currency. Suddenly when all this is stripped away, we find ourselves clinging to a ledge and at a loss as to what to do with all this newfound time.

We find ourselves caught between two narratives; one that whispers words of self-care and romantic notions as to how we should stay in PJ’s all day and fall in love with long stirring mornings and take hours for meditation.

Then there’s the other angle intersecting, this desperate desire for normal, and a clinging to the promise of productivity. Lockdown has inspired many people to turn to all those grandiose ideas of learning new languages, taking up baking, watercolor painting, rebranding their business, and getting a hot yoga bod - which is awesome but also makes me worry we are heading for mass burnout.

I’ve lost count of the number of well-intentioned friends and family members who have suggested that ‘now is the time for me to write that novel’. I don’t have the heart to tell them that right now I can barely focus on writing my own name. We can’t loosen our grip on productivity, and this shows that we are still confounded about the idea of what it means to be still.

Stillness as Stripping Down to the Skin

As someone who has spent the last decade marking her life in airmiles and collecting countries and experiences, I find myself thrashing against the idea of stillness. It seemed so much easier to be still at a Balinese retreat, or with morning coffee watching hummingbirds in Nicaragua. Now, in my shared house in Manchester where the sky is lead and there’s nowhere to go but from the kitchen to the bed, stillness takes a different meaning. It’s not a neatly packaged picture book of deep breaths, birdsong, and practiced gratitude. It's messy, it's hard, and it makes me feel like a spoilt brat when I spit out the fact that ‘I don’t want it’.

Stillness, I am learning, is not as passive as it sounds. It is active unraveling. It is putting down the baggage of busyness as a boast. It is stripping away the layers I built around my heart, unpeeling labels I slapped on my own back. Right now, I cannot be a solo female traveler, a vanlifer, a surfer, a friend to share wine with, a dutiful daughter, a successful self-employed writer. All these things have been stripped away and I have been left facing what sits beneath the surface – the question of – who am I really?

Stillness as Time and Memory

For many of us travelers who have been fortunate and privileged enough to make it home, we are faced with another notion – our relationship to home. Previously I had always used Manchester as ‘a base’, it was never home for me, more a dumping ground spot for the stuff I couldn’t fit in a suitcase. A place to return to and then flee again as soon as I got a chance. As I sit here I realize that I measured success in the distance between myself and my parents' front door, and that to be far from the place I had known as home, was to have made it.

As Thomas Wolfe says; “You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake, back home to aestheticism, to one's youthful idea of 'the artist' and the all-sufficiency of 'art' and 'beauty' and 'love,' back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

This resonates so powerfully with me; the combined nature of returning home and staying still, it’s not peaceful but I recognize that it is on the pathway to peace. It's letting the idea seep in, that there’s no such thing as a return. We talk about ‘when things return to normal’, but as a world, we have collectively had the rug snatched from beneath our feet and even in measuring our future comfort levels, for many generations, there is no coming back from that. That’s OK, its not as heavy a blow as it sounds. It means that rather than lamenting our loss, we can get to a place where we navigate our future. This year I had huge far-flung plans, now my only prayer is that I can get to the beach in Wales just once before the end of summer. My horizon has narrowed significantly, and it’s not that I mourn that – but that I mourn not recognizing how wide it was before all this.

Gratitude and grief are close companions and to sit at the table with one, sometimes means to dine alongside the other. I can be grateful for my ability to breathe but I can also grieve for a simpler time when I took that for granted. Time and travel have always enjoyed and endured an interesting relationship. Whenever I was lost on the road, stressed at a situation, or lonely as hell watching sunsets on tropical beaches, I would remind myself that ‘travel is retrospective fun’. When you are in the midst of it, it can be hard to drink it all in, to sear it in your memory. This comes later. I wonder now if it’s the same for the art of stillness. Whether all the lessons I have to learn from this forced standstill will seep in later and for now, I just have to go through the motion.

Stillness as a Language I Understand

To help me perceive what stillness means to me right now I have to think back to surfing. In surfing, you have to get over the whitewater surge first. You battle with messy peaks and endless chop, the threat of being battered by saltwater and dragged under. You gasp, you are terrified, and every second is a fight for both the body and mind. But when you make it out back, out past the breakers, there is where some form of stillness sits.  Some surfers will sit out there for hours, you wait for your heart to steady and the longer you sit the more you are able to tune in to the cry of the gulls. You get bored and you shiver, your lips can turn blue, and you almost always paddle to try and catch a false promise.

You watch others catching waves and a voice inside says paddle for that one, paddle for that one, you aren’t doing enough, you are just sitting there, why did you let that wave pass. Self-doubt creeps in and then flows away. The messy unraveling is happening with every passing second. You sit and you sit and finally, you catch a wave and you ride it and the joy that rises is wild and unbridled and earnt. This feeling didn’t just come from a place of pure stillness, it came from all those messy layers of fighting and frustration and exhaustion and healing and waiting and wondering and then finally finding a second of stillness in all the commotion, and with that stillness learning to tap into your gut and to let the body and intuition lead the way.

Now is not the time to wonder if we are doing a good job of stillness in our own hearts. It’s also not the time to be smug about how great we are doing under the weight of stillness. For me, it’s a time to let the simple existence of being heal my relationship with home, to unravel all those layers and labels, and see that the face that sits beneath is still the same. To trust that the body knows how to ride this, and to let myself grieve and show gratitude for the times that are behind us and for the wave that comes next.