The late Maya Angelou said: “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” Those sentiments are particularly apt during the first half of 2020. As we experience waves of uncertainty—from the pandemic to social unrest—opportunities to turn inward abound. From this place, we can ask important questions, such as: “what really matters now?” and “what can I learn from this historic time?”
We turned to several Esalen faculty who share insights they have gained over the last three months. They include: UC San Francisco professor Jen Hastings, who also started the Transgender Health Care Program at Planned Parenthood, Mar Monte, in Santa Cruz, Calif.; author-musician-speaker Justin Michael Williams; award-winning author and leader in the field of self-development and personal transformation Christian de la Huerta; artist Rebecca Anders; somatic therapist Joseph Machado; and Dacher Keltner, an author and founder of the Greater Good Science Center.
What lesson is this moment in history attempting to teach us?
"Black Lives Matter is calling forth the deepest part of my soul and spirit to reflect on my own contribution to and perpetuation of racism. We are part of this killing if we are not fighting, thinking and figuring out how to end this. We can no longer sit back and say it will get better. We must act. The intersection of COVID-19 and this unmasking of structural racism in our country is extraordinary. COVID-19 brought us the awareness that stopping what seemed permanent in our lives—planes flying overhead, factories churning—could result in a dramatic and relatively rapid healing of our planet, with blue skies in places that had not seen blue in over a decade. It feels as improbable that we could eradicate the systemic racism and inequities we have grown up with and yet we are beginning to see that we have power—power to step up and right these wrongs and to be part of the healing of this country and of the world."—Jen Hastings
"I've been thinking a lot about the story of Noah's Ark. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, we’re all likely familiar with the story. We either get to stand in denial and watch the flood or we can face reality, get on the ark and then choose what stays and what goes. This is a moment for all of us to take an honest look at our lives—both personally and collectively—and ask: what's coming? And what gets left behind? A new dawn of society is calling us forward. The world as we knew it will never be the same. And we don't have to be afraid of it. The time is now."—Justin Michael Williams
"I am struck by the confluence of the dueling pandemics we are facing. COVID-19 attacks our lungs and 'I can’t breathe' has become the symbol and battle cry for the global protests against systemic oppression, injustice and racism. In the United States, the country most impacted by both pandemics, we are in the midst of a dramatic reality check and wake-up call: who are we—really? And do we truly stand for the values of liberty, equality and justice for all?"—Christian de la Huerta
"We are currently learning that our patterns of short-term planning are projections of our intent, not concrete things. One of the lessons is that our sense of fulfillment and progress is not created by scheduled milestones, and our disappointments are often due to unmet expectations rather than lack of success. Time dysphoria and emotional paralysis may be immediate reactions, however recognition of the difference between dashed hopes and actual daily achievement is the more lasting reward."—Rebecca Anders
"This point in history is revealing some of the most peculiar, inspiring and troubling features of society. It has encouraged a deep and profound social reckoning, and conversations about the roots and consequences of social inequalities are at the foreground. It's a time where we're given another opportunity to disassemble the social constructs that keep us from connecting and seeing our fellow humans. May we all deconstruct the social habits we participate in that continue to disenfranchise others."—Joseph Machado
"One of the lessons we are learning is that we have reached our limit in terms of thinking we are separate from others; that it is time to shift to deal with the central U.S. social problems, racism and inequality. And that when we slow down, stop buying and driving, the skies are so beautiful and the light is so clear. There are so many lessons we all can be learning now. We are all be given this special time to learn them."—Dacher Keltner
What are you learning about yourself now?
"I am grieving, I am scared and I am in rage."—Jen Hastings
"I remember growing up in a home with gunshot holes on the outside of my house. And I remember thinking that if I just 'got out' then I would finally be happy and free. But when I got to college, that’s not what happened. I was still miserable. Even though my life looked 'successful' on the outside, all the trauma was still living inside of me. And I think we all have these experiences. We try to change our external circumstances, hoping that it will eventually change something within. But we learn, over and over, that that’s not how it works. And that’s not how it’s going to work in this movement toward equality either."—Justin Michael Williams
"'When the going gets tough, the tough go within' is one of my mottos and the mandatory global time-out has reaffirmed my belief in those words. As I took a deep dive within these past couple of months, I rediscovered that I am in fact resilient and adaptable. I was able to pivot quickly and begin to develop online programming, while at the same time finishing a book I’ve been working on for years. I also got to see how firmly I am established in trust. Not once have I had a moment of doubt, even when my income trickled to almost nothing after having to cancel all live programming. Knowing that is priceless."—Christian de la Huerta
"During this time I have rediscovered my ability to treasure my people through even the most distant connection, and how useful and strengthening it is to give nourishing, simple and thoughtful gifts. Delivering a bag of fresh greens, mailing a shirt and singing over the phone are more important to do than I remembered. And to receive even a tiny effort of love and value is immeasurably sweet."—Rebecca Anders
"I feel a renewed appreciation for the variety of relationships in my life—from the bodies and faces that are strangers to those where intimacy is our natural language. I can feel a shift of focus moving toward the quality of time I spend with other people as well as the quantity of time I dedicate to the humans I love. I believe this will support me in coming out of this time much stronger in my human connections than before it all started."—Joseph Machado
"I have learned that I am nothing without the physical presence of the people I care about and their touch and proximity; that I love cleaning floors and counters obsessively; that I'm an unimaginative cook and can get pretty irritable; and that I am committed to bringing the enduring and life-giving magic of Esalen to healthcare in America."—Dacher Keltner
Photo: Kyle Evans