I’m looking out of Ankur’s window in Kashipur, India. The sun is going down, spreading rays of pink and golden light across green fields. I keep watching. Nothing happens…
Sitara’s window opens onto a patio in Chennai, India, where a hanging chair swings idly. In front of Kristens’ window in Shawnee, Kansas, USA, a black cat is washing itself, while Andrea’s window in Lucerne, Switzerland opens onto lake and mountain scenery. The website is window-swap.com and it comes with an invitation to upload video of the scene through my own window.
This quarantine project by Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam aims to give us a fresh view while we are unable to travel. With a second wave of Covid-19 beginning all around the world, perhaps this project has legs for a little while longer. Or perhaps, in this new normal, people will stop travelling so much and stay home more? What do you think? How do you feel about travelling these days? How do you feel about staying home?
Hiraeth Book – Our Longing for Belonging
In my book Hiraeth – Our Longing for Belonging, I talk about how we love to travel but how, over the years, we seem to have forgotten how to build community. We know how to travel, but do we know how to come home?
There is something poignant about these images from people’s homes. At a time when we are largely unable to visit each other, we are invited to enter, settle and stay a while, listening to the sounds of everyday lives. We are asked to linger without speaking or interacting. Without doing anything. We are simply hanging out together.
From Simone’s window in Villongo, Italy, we hear the call of a cuckoo. From Sebastian’s window in Shanghai, China, we watch a neighbour hanging their washing. From a window in New York we hear traffic. Rain washes down the window pane. These homes tell a surprising amount about their residents, but perhaps even more about me. My reactions, the length of time I spend in each window tells me whether I enjoy that view, that lifestyle. I find myself making judgements. “Great view!” “Boring!” “Amazing”. “Why would anyone choose to live there?” In some windows, I spend the full ten minutes of video. Some I scroll past right away.
Forty Days of Quarantine
Where we have been quarantined this year reveals so much about us. About our choices (or lack of them), our work (or lack of it), our family demands and responsibilities. The period of forty days of quarantine holds significance as a length of time that supports change to happen. Christ wandered for 40 days in the desert. Babies in some cultures are quarantined for 40 days after birth. 40 days speaks to a state of purification and transition. Historically, quarantines signify change and following mass quarantines, such as during a pandemic, there have been mass uprisings – revolutions reflecting a shift in consciousness.
Emerging from their first period of confinement and preparing for the next, many people affected by both private and public events are are putting in the work to make changes in their lives. This might be a change in views, for example with regard to racism; or a change in daily habits, such as diet or exercise. Many of us have been reflecting on our impact on the world and on our situation in life. This crisis has made us think more about where and how we live, our resilience or lack of it, our good fortune or lack of it. Consider how, in early April, there was a shortage of seeds dues to so many people wanting to grow food. Was this because many people had more time, or was it a direct result of seeing the fragility in our food systems?
One friend, who was locked down alone, is re-thinking how he wants to live. Would he prefer to have his loved ones around him?
Friends confined with children are wishing they had more space for them to play. More support with day-to-day childcare. More time for them to just be children.
Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support? A child of your imagination?
Is this the right time to make a move towards into the kind of community you have craved for so long? Or is your desired change more related to an internal shift? Is there a creative project for which you’d like some support?
Woolgathering as an imaginative practice
This practice of staring out of the window – anybody’s window – resonates with me as something of value. In one of the weekly meditation groups I facilitate, we honour the practice of woolgathering, defined by Patti Smith in her book of the same name as :
“one of those inexplicable things…Where one, lost in thought, may feel a tap upon the shoudler and find oneself far flung, in a swirl of dust, swung about and brought to a sudden halt.”
Patti describes how, in childhood, she would ‘wander’ through her window at night :
“And the wind caught the edges of the cloth that covered my window. There I kept vigil, alert to the small, easily becoming, through an open eye, monstrous and beautiful.” Is it possible, engaged as we have been in physical travel, that we have forgotten how to travel in our minds? Neglected the skill required to “rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind.” In short, have we lost the art of imagining?
In his book What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want, Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins explores the need to unbind ourselves from what we know and to unleash the power of ‘what if…?’ What if there are more choices than we know of? What if we allow ourselves NOT to know, but enter into a state of not-knowing? Not with our usual companions of fear and dread, but with curiosity and surrender?
During the Covid-19 quarantine, I’ve been running writing workshops based on the narrative form known as The Heroine’s Journey. On this path, we learn that meeting our unknowing takes courage. In the stillness of non-doing, we are tested by all the dragons and monsters we try hard to avoid. Instead of doing battle, how might we befriend them? How might we come face-to-face with these parts of ourselves and integrate them into our journey?
Ready to Change your View?
If you are ready to look through your own window, hear your own story and perhaps weave a new one, you may be interested in my new creative co-mentorship programme. The Heroines Alliance offers a co-creative space where you get to explore what’s next for you. Whether literally or metaphorically, if you feel ready to change the view from your window, maybe you’ll join us?
Next Heroines Alliance group begins September 2020. Click here for details and sign-up.
In the meantime, please join us for an online discussion of Hiraeth book and a wee writing workshop on Thursday 13th August 2020 courtesy of October Books, Southampton, UK.