In the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, it’s hard not to be reactionary. This feels like an assault on all of us: our feelings of safety, our trust in the world as a kind and just place, protected by the systems of law and governance. It follows close in the wake of the broader post-George Floyd uprising of consciousness around systemic racial inequality. All against the backdrop of a global pandemic, post-Trump, post-Brexit, post-austerity… a series of destabilizing events that have been simultaneously divisive and unifying.
I’m working my way through Adam Curtis’s sprawling and intense Can’t Get You Out of my Head: An Emotional History of The World (Feb 2021, BBC iPlayer) which weaves a narrative through topics such as populism, the rise of individualism, collectivism, conspiracy theories and the corruption of money and power across the globe, from Nazi Germany through to Communist China. The outlook is unsurprisingly bleak and cringe-worthy for white liberals and radicals, shown throughout history to have little effect on the larger powers. It documents too the rise of surveillance technologies and the abuse of power, the layers of which are mind achingly labyrinthine.
Watching the series unfold offers a lens through which to try and make sense of our feelings about Sarah Everard. Illy Morrison writes insightfully at @mixing.up.motherhood (and she writes this compassionately, with the utmost care for Sarah’s grieving family, as do I) that this is how women of colour feel all the time. Under threat. Their children in danger from rather than protected by the police. We might all know Breonna Taylor’s name now but we have not all experienced how this is to exist in a constant state of adrenal arousal, the fear of real harm from the systems allegedly in place for our safety and wellbeing.
Illy explains: ‘Sarah was a cis white middle-class woman and I send all of my condolences to her family because this should never have happened to her, but I have to make it clear that for many Black women, we know that we couldn’t be Sarah because not even a year ago, police stood over the bodies of women like us and took photos to send to their friends, not even a year ago police ignored the suspicious death of a girl found dead on a beach that looked just like us
For many of us, this is why all of this cuts deeper.’
The UK government’s reaction to this is to impose tighter controls, following on from the heavy-handed policing of peaceful (and socially-distancing) women on vigils for Sarah around the country, BLM marches and Extinction Rebellion protests preceding and throughout lockdown. The news this morning includes plans for increased surveillance to ‘increase women’s safety’. What this means, in reality, is greater control, the demise of our civil rights and our ability to protest or defend them publicly.
In yogic terms, rooted in Buddhist philosophy, division is a cause of suffering. Identifying with a self or even a group, characterized by and separated from others, keeps us in a state of fear, anxiety and confusion. We cannot find peace when we are in this aroused state. Biologically the brain resorts to simplified mechanisms, primed for survival. We become more knee-jerk, reactionary.
We feel attacked by, suspicious of and fearful of others. We can feel lost in a sea of information, unable to find or trust any truth. This is characterised by the rise of individualism at the expense of collectivism that Curtis documents.
“The great big shift, which is the root of our age, is that somewhere in the late 1960s, the radical left who talked in terms of power, society, overthrowing the power structure – all that rhetoric – gave up. And instead, encouraged by radical psychotherapy, they went for an alternative idea which said, ‘Okay, if you can’t change the world, in terms of power structure, what you do is change yourself.’”
This reflects Carl Jung’s belief that world change would evolve through individual journeys of self-reflection and improvement. But surely we have to bring the individual experience back to the collective? We all have glimpses of this. From the murders of Sarah Evarard or Diamond ‘Kyree’ Sanders, the 23-year-old black trans woman murdered in Cincinnati on March 3, we are reminded of our collective field, we feel empathy. The same ripples of shock, horror, grief, sadness resonate through us all. When we witness emotion, the same signals fire within our own brains, we feel each other’s experience.
We can feel the same with positive emotions. The collective exhale when we are told we will be able to see our loved ones again after lockdown. The feeling we get when we practise yoga together as a group. Mudita is sympathetic joy, one of the Brahmaviharas, qualities to develop that lead to enlightenment on the Buddhist path.
John Stirk writes in Deeper Still: ‘A group with a unitive focus creates a local field of consciousness… Individual minds contribute to a group mind and collective mentality.’
In practice, the seeds of light – self-improvement, calming of the mind, relaxation, the care and acceptance of the body, the strengthening of the physical and emotional aspects of our being that we may experience on the mat – need to be brought to fruition through attitude and action. Bringing attention to our potential, our power to effect real-world change. This is the message from Curtis’s docu too – that rather than operating like a Google search, simply amassing and reacting to random date, that we take time to listen deeply and respond intelligently.
The documentary ends with a quote from anarchist anthropologist David Graeber: “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make and could just as easily make differently”.
The stories we construct, or are constructed for us through our conditioning, are just that: stories. We can observe their narratives unfold without attaching to them as absolute truth, knowing that there are innumerable intersecting truths at any one moment. Coming back, again and again, to the heart, the breath, a calmer, less dualistic state, through our meditative practises, that allow us to be more reponsive.
Right to Protest Action:
The government’s new Police Crime Bill will criminalise nearly all forms of effective protest. The second reading of the Bill is happening today.
The RIGHT TO PROTEST is the backbone of British democracy and it needs ? protecting ? now ?
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:
? Contact/ email/ tweet your MP today and ask them to speak out and vote against the bill.
– Find your MP here: https://www.parliament.uk/…/contact-an…/contact-your-mp/
– Example template letter: http://bit.ly/EmailTemplatePCSCBill
– If emailing, ensure to include your name and postcode so you can demonstrate you are one of their constituents
? You may also want to share Liberty’s briefing on the bill and its implications: https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/…/protest…/
? Sign this petition to protect your freedom to protest: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/…/protect-the-freedom-to…
? Educate yourself about what is happening. More information is available here:
– Government website: https://www.gov.uk/…/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts…
– Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/…/new-anti-protest-bill…David Graeber