No vaccination for a spiritual crisis

June 2021

As the take up of vaccinations goes over 50% in the UK and includes more of my relatives and friends, I have been noticing a growing sense of uncertainty and resistance in myself—in an effort to understand it, I sat with it. My respect for the work on the vaccine is certainly present, and I’ll come to that later, though something else in me was unmet and the need to understand that has been growing over this last year.I sat, as I do with unmet emotions, quietly and let myself just feel what was happening inside. When I sat in the silence, I noticed I wasn’t breathing that easily—a kind of shallow breathing —and I asked myself “what are you feeling?”. The answer that came was that “I am grieving”. It might seem unsurprising in 18 months where the world has collectively witnessed 3.2 million deaths—though it wasn’t that alone; there was something that for me has been deeply present every day since the unfolding of the pandemic, and in no mainstream way has seemed to find acknowledgement, and that is a sense of human responsibility.

On the premise of interconnection of our lives to the natural world, we must have a role in this, and this is something that I don’t believe can ever be cured with a vaccine. The concept of interconnection is based on the idea of our planet being a contained ecosystem. I like the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “You are the Earth, the Earth is in you”. In a Guardian article from last year this idea is explored in terms of the direct relationship to the pandemic. According to UN’s environment chief Inger Andersen, the article reported, nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis. Andersen said humanity was placing too many pressures on the natural world with damaging consequences and warned that failing to take care of the planet meant not taking care of ourselves. London’s Zoological Society Professor Andrew Cunning was also interviewed for the article and is quoted assaying:“It’s almost always a human behaviour that causes it (pandemics) and there will be more in the future unless we change.”

So, what does this change look like?

The article refers to our exploitation of the Earth and the insistence humans have had to push further into nature driven by a seemingly constant need to own land and natural resources. The result, the article suggests, is stress on natural balance and the mixing of resulting animal pathogens with humans.It seems simple enough, to stop and reflect, though it doesn’t seem it is happening. The climate emergency protests have shown us what it takes to bring an agenda to parliament. Laying myself in Trafalgar Square two years ago with others joining the dots between Climate Science and Government policy, I’m aware that this process of change takes time. Climate Emergency, and the responsibility of Governments, is now much more on the agenda —though battling, it seems to me, with where attention previously was on economic growth. Developmental projects such as HS2 and Heathrow airport, for example, are continuing despite many respected scientists and environmentalists disagreeing with these projects.

Vaccines, for all their scientific brilliance, I see as the same—they can’t be the whole answer I feel if we wish to lead healthy balanced lives in harmony with our planet. I asked a friend, Dr Angela Wilson, present in London these last 18 months, for her thoughts. “I am fully supportive of the vaccination programme but also think that it is a temporary bandage over a much deeper wound. Fellow environmentally aware doctors have already had meetings about how to promote protection of the environment as a means of preventing further pandemics… we are not looking enough ‘upstream’ at pandemic prevention,”she comments. Further to the above she also sent this link from The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: https://ipbes.net/pandemics.

I’m an aspiring Chaplain, and while I haven’t been involved in any hospital work this last year, I know from other Chaplain friends that access has been limited and requests have been high. One friend told me that they Zoomed into one person’s bedside, and they asked for silence, saying something like: “Everybody seems stressed I just want some silence with someone.” I feel there is so much in that sentence, the want for non-judgemental quiet.We are suffering greatly, having collectively contracted a virus; families are grieving, many people are in transit, stuck and ill in temporary accommodation, isolation centres and some in camps, millions are alone with the prospect of mental health downturns ahead, and the list of fall-out issues goes on.So how to respond?An important conversation I had during my writing of this piece related to the HIV virus in the 80s. A friend witnessed many of their friends becoming unwell and some passing away where treatment was not available and some surviving where it was.I realised in their retelling of this period of their life that as someone in my 30s, the pandemic is touching my life personally for the first time. My friend’s appreciation for vaccines has certainly influenced mine and I have come to a place where I feel I will take one to continue working safely with others as I wish to do.Saying this though, I’ll take it with the clarity that we cannot vaccinate ourselves against a spiritual crisis. A cure for that must come, I believe, from a slowing down, time in silence, acknowledgement of responsibility and a turning toward one another with all our opinions and listening.7preventing further pandemics… we are not looking enough ‘upstream’ at pandemic prevention,”shecomments. Further to the above shealso sent this link from The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services:https://ipbes.net/pandemicsI’m an aspiring Chaplain, and while I haven’t been involved in any hospital work this last year, I know from other Chaplain friends that access has been limited and requests have been high. One friend told me that they Zoomed into one person’s bedside,and they asked for silence, saying something like:“Everybody seems stressed I just want some silence with someone.” I feel there is so much in that sentence,the want for non-judgemental quiet.We are suffering greatly, having collectively contracted a virus; families are grieving, many people are in transit, stuck and ill in temporary accommodation, isolation centres and some in camps, millions are alone with the prospect of mental health downturns ahead, and the list of fall-out issues goes on.So how to respond?An important conversation I had during my writing of this piece related to the HIV virus in the 80s. A friend witnessed many of their friends becoming unwell and some passing away where treatment was not available and some surviving where it was.I realised in their retelling of this period of their life that as someone in my 30s,thepandemic is touching my life personally for the first time. My friend’sappreciation for vaccines has certainly influenced mine and I have come to a place where I feel Iwill take one to continue working safely with others as I wish to do.Saying this though, I’ll take it with the clarity that we cannotvaccinate ourselves against a spiritual crisis. A cure for that must come, I believe, from a slowing down, time in silence, acknowledgement of responsibility and a turning toward one another with all our opinions and listening.

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