As “I have a dream” is Martin Luther King’s immortal phrase, so “I can’t breathe” is George Floyd’s. Both are gifts to the world. The first speaks to the aspiration of the human spirit, the second to its crushing.
“I can’t breathe” has become the rallying cry against racial injustice. But its relevance is wider and deeper than that. It addresses the multiple sets of fundamental crossroads at which humanity has recently arrived. It addresses the briar patch of predicaments that have ensnared us prior to and during 2020, this pandemic year of clearing skies and symbolically perfect vision.
“I can’t breathe” pertains to COVID-19. Ventilators that give some of the infected a chance of surviving are a primary symbol of the virus. “I can’t breathe” pertains as well to inequality. The disadvantaged receive limited access to life’s necessities and opportunities. And “I can’t breathe” pertains to pollution, smog, and climate change, to the chokehold we have put on the spinning, blue planet that sustains us.
Our myopia and baser instincts have imperilled us. They have brought us to a standstill at some crossroads while we cautiously make our way forward at others.
Science and technology will undoubtedly have to play an important part if we are to save ourselves. Happily, a vaccine for COVID-19 may only be months rather than years away.
Equally encouraging is the unprecedented clarity, consensus, and political will, and the consequent steps toward racial justice, sparked by George Floyd’s very public and up-close lynching. But similar movement, let alone momentum, has yet to emerge on the social inequality and climate change fronts.
While it is unnerving to remain stuck when the implications are so dire, and it is counter-intuitive to embrace contemplation in the face of urgency, that is what we are being called to do during the profound pregnant pause the pandemic has imposed upon us. Circumstances are inviting us to gestate, as consciously as we can, the world we want for ourselves and for future generations.
What we need even more than science and technology is a holistic and unifying vision developed through the magnification of spirit, as in humanity’s willingness to take a knee for what is best for Mother Earth and all its inhabitants. We need a rebirth of reverence. Life is sacred, and despite all its messy complexity, it needs to be treated as such.
We need, individually and collectively—meaning our institutions, and especially our governments—to enable emergence by fostering internal and external conversations on both our preferred future and the big issues it must encompass.
Age-old wisdom to “sleep on it”—to go within—to see what inspiration might arise during the metaphoric night is, paradoxically, calling us to action. We are challenged to “dream big” and to follow-through with discernment and all due deliberation lest we find ourselves facing increasingly nightmarish scenarios.
Put another way, we need to tap into our creative inner selves, to make the inner journey of heart and soul, and to transmute what we find into a decidedly better world. In his 1978 bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote that “the unconscious manifests itself and speaks to us” in a variety of ways. He maintained “our unconscious is wiser than we are about everything.”
Leonard Cohen understood this. As he used to say, in an observation worthy of innumerable creatives and expressed in different ways by many of them: “If I knew where the good poems and songs came from, I’d go there more often.”
Although our circumstances look a lot like humanity’s dark night of the soul, the crossroads confronting us are also a great opportunity. It is an invitation to partner with spirit or the Muse or whatever you wish to call the Generative Mystery of life. Given our deeply pregnant times, it behooves us to seek the best that is within us. How else are we going to find the cracks that let the light in?
An historian in Victoria, he has an abiding interest in grace and the mystic. He is the author of “Etty Hillesum’s spiritual transformation during the Holocaust,” available on his web site: https://patrickswolfe.com/
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
 M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, Simon & Schuster, Touchstone, 1978, 248, 251.