I recently watched a wonderful-difficult film called Honeyland, about Hatidže Muratova, a woman practicing ancient beekeeping traditions to cultivate honey in the mountains of North Macedonia.
The film follows Muratova in her long treks across the desert landscape, up a harrowing cliffside, where she pulls back heavy slate slabs, behind which the hives are hidden. Only ever harvesting half of the honeycombs to sustain her and her ailing mother, she lives in a quiet and humble harmony with the bees. Until one day, a raucous, nomadic family moves in next door.
Despite Muratova’s many kind gestures, like looking after the wild children, sharing her traditional wisdom, the patriarch of the family has his eye on profit. Before anyone knows what’s happening, he’s bought a huge number of commercial hives to produce honey. Ignoring Muratova’s warnings, he over-harvests the hives, forcing the bees to attack his neighbours honey to survive. This fateful act of greed causes the hives to collapse, leaving both families without resources for the bitter winter ahead.
While the film intended to be a documentary of life in that region, it ended up being a poignant allegory for the clash between two ideologies: a symbiotic and sustainable relationship with nature, versus the wanton depletion of resources driven by capitalism.
On this equinox, COVID-19 has sent the world into an understandable panic. In the effort to slow the disease’s spread, folks are being quarantined worldwide, schools and gatherings have been cancelled, travel has ground to a halt, borders are closing, and the stock market has crashed in drops we’ve not seen for 80 years.
Whether we are worried about how the outbreak will affect our employment and money-flow, access to supplies, child and elder care, or if we (or our loved ones) will contract the disease, our foundational needs for stability, security, and belonging are shaking with vulnerability.
Of course we think of this virus as an enemy that must be stopped. But it has reproduced in humans because we have encroached upon its typical host’s habitat, forcing it to take up residence in a species that haven’t co-evolved with it.
If we fail to understand and care for nature, it can rear up in devastating and unpredictable ways. Most epidemics, including COVID-19, are the direct result of humans disrupting ecosystems. As Jim Robbins wrote in the Ecology of Disease, “Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic — they originate in wildlife.”
“Any emerging disease in the last 30 or 40 years has come about as a result of encroachment into wild lands,” says disease ecologist Peter Daszak. The deadly cocktail of air travel, deforestation, and wildlife trafficking has quadrupled infectious diseases in the last 50 years.
To give you an example of how this works, a 4% deforestation in the Amazon increased the incidence of malaria by 50% mostly because mosquitoes thrive in sunlight.
So as we try to make meaning of this pandemic, it’s worth asking ourselves if when we build, produce, and grow without limit it is, in the long run, self-destructive? When does development turn from being productive to catastrophic? From sustainable to greedy? I believe, though corporations are often the worst offenders, each of us can ask these questions of ourselves.
Beyond the practical measures to keep each other safe, there is nothing we can do about the uncertainty of our situation. But resistance to that uncertainty is what creates regression into fear, anxiety, and panic. What if, once we’ve done all we can to mitigate danger, we turn willingly into the unknown to meet our next becoming. Can we make this transition meaningful?
The equinox is a time of reconciliation between night and day, winter and spring. It is when forces that have been dormant begin to stir with new life, as old ways fall and crumble away. And in this exchange, Nature finds balance between the extremes.
In just a few days since folks have been forced into isolation, the famously murky canals in Venice have become unusually bright and clear, the air quality in China has significantly improved, and greenhouse gases are plummeting in Italy.
Perhaps this clarifying and regenerative effect is also possible in our personal lives. For those of us privileged enough to have the resources to weather this storm, let’s consider ways to improve the ecology of our lifestyle, increasing our generosity. While those of us with less, or at high risk of infection, can reach out and ask for help from our communities.
Whatever our personal circumstances, we all have a chance at clearing out the collective pollution from our thoughts. For a few weeks, maybe we can allow a different rhythm to temper us from within, replenishing our devotion to our true nature. Maybe then, we will hear the voice of originality, who has a gift for the world to assuage the uncertainty and loss.