Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

Ring the Bells That You Can Ring ~ The Trouble with Normal

Posted by on Apr 1, 2020 in Articles by Shayla, Lifeletters & Articles | 10 comments

Ring the Bells That You Can Ring ~ The Trouble with Normal

In our time of disturbance and radical change, we are crossing a threshold, a portal, or an unseen bridge from one world to another. It could be said that the bridge is either collapsing beneath us, or being made as we walk together, in the long twilight hours when one civilization gives way to another.”

~Geneen Marie Haugen

Every evening at seven pm I go out onto my balcony with a golden bell and shout, stomp, whistle, clap and holler my gratitude for the doctors, nurses, clinicians, and paramedics who are risking their lives for ours. When I first did it, about six days ago, my shouts echoed through a silent neighbourhood. I felt a bit foolish, a little lonely. On the second evening, someone joined me, beating loudly against a pan or a pot. I couldn’t see that fellow bell ringer, and my heart was shot right through by the sound of his raucous accompaniment. With each night, more and more people come out to join the ‘shout out.’

A few nights ago a younger man was walking along our street, smoking a cigarette. He stopped and looked up at me and waved. I stopped shouting for a moment and leaned out towards him. “What is the racket all about?” he asked. “Why is everyone shouting?”

“The racket is about gratitude,” I told him. “We are thanking our health care workers.”

I never felt so glad to answer a question in my life. “Oh!” he said, looking a bit stunned. He took a few more steps, and then threw down his cigarette and started clapping.

The next evening, another neighbour appeared: a white man in his sixties who lives across the back fence. He came out on his porch with some cymbals. After our shout out was done, he called out to me, and asked me how I was. This has never happened before. I have talked to his wife quite a few times over the back fence-women have been doing this for thousands of years. To have an older white man make a thankful racket on his porch and then call out to me—this is a whole new story. This, thank God, is not normal.

We are leaving normal a long way behind us right now. Normal is drowning in a deep sea of chaos. Many people are desperately hoping that normal will return. This is understandable. Much has been lost, more will be lost, the suffering is great. We are living and dying inside a global trauma field. But there are others, millions of others, myself included, who are praying that our normal way of life does not rise up from the ashes. We know, from a place deep inside us, that our predatory, exploitive, fragmented civilization does not have a real future. Perhaps it would be better if it is really shredded, so that it cannot be put back together again, even with all the king’s horses and all the kings’ men. A return to normal is so tempting, and from this perspective, it would be a tragic thing, a failure to cross this unseen bridge and enter a new world. Normal will not suffice, at this point. Bruce Cockburn said it well: The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

I want to go on ringing these bells of gratitude for a long time. This is what our ancestors did every evening in their villages. They were not huddled around their TV’s or computers or phones. They were together. Malidoma Some speaks about this gathering time in his African village. Everyone came together at the end of each day to be with each other, to listen to each other, to build fires, to make food, to laugh, to cry, and to give thanks for the gift of life. To acknowledge how fragile and how immeasurably valuable it is, this gift of life.

I think of our history, when I am ringing my gratitude bell. Historically, humans have always been subject to plagues and pandemics. It’s only the advent, in modernity, of much higher standards of living, less crowding, more sanitation, that has allowed us to live for so long without a major pandemic. And most of the time  we have not behaved well during them. Our generosity was frozen, captured by the amygdala, by the agendas of our very early ancestors, like the lizards. Our higher capacities tend to emerge much more easily in the face of sudden disasters like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and fires. These kinds of emergencies draw people together in miraculous ways. I witnessed this many times in India, where such events are more common.

Plagues and pandemics tend to have the opposite effect, because it is our fellow humans that carry what might harm or kill us. We don’t have very much data on what happened in communities from 1917 to 1920, during the Spanish flu. It seems that once it was over, most people wanted to forget about it. They didn’t know how to process their grief in relation to the immensity of the losses; and they were not proud of how they had behaved. Except for the health care workers. Down through the ages, our health care workers have demonstrated amazing courage, compassion, selflessness and resilience, just as they are right now. One doctor, speaking online tonight said, “We all took a vow, didn’t we? Now is the time to stand behind that vow.” Their nobility of spirt shines clear as the light of day.

And not just theirs. All over our city, children and young people have covered the sidewalks with chalk drawings and messages that say: “Kindness is cool. Breathe. Today is OK. We can do this. We are in this together. You are not alone.” This is the sound of our global heartbeat, of a higher coherent field of love and compassion, emerging, revealing itself, day after day. We have been waiting for this for so long. Let’s not go back to normal. Let’s not miss this chance we have been given. To feel how much we need each other. To open to a level of humility, of vulnerability, that we usually avoid. To discover a whole new meaning of what it is to be strong, to be powerful. To live with this knowing in our bones:

“With friends you grow wings.
With them you master the wind,
but alone,
you’re blown in all directions.”


How will be cross this bridge, pass through this threshold? We don’t know. Nobody knows how we will do this. Something in the core of our whole civilization, our collective DNA, has to go through a metamorphosis. We have more unravelling, more chaos to pass through, before we can allow this unfathomable change. We might have to crawl through this portal on our hands and knees. One thing is clear though-we will never cross this bridge alone. It will be together or not at all. The crumbling foundations of our old way of life were built from the sense of separation, disconnection, isolation. Inside the cauldron of this pandemic, seeds of non-separation, of interconnection, of intimacy, are sprouting, little seeds that can take the heat. There are seeds like this in Nature too, that sprout in a forest fire. The fever of corona is a fire garden, sprouting some long buried, long forgotten seeds. Can we water and nourish and care for these seeds, so they take root and begin to grow strong? Can we find ways to touch places in our hearts and bodies that have never been touched before? In what feels like a dangerous world, can we support each other to embody our vulnerability, to feel our shared humanity?  Can we stretch open our global heart, find a real coherence, learn to include all that we have excluded?  In his brilliant essay, The Coronation, Charles Eisenstein brings our awareness to the five million children on our planet who die of hunger each year. In our normal way of life, we just let that happen. We don’t declare any kind of global emergency about this, even though it happens every year. Nor have we come together and declared an emergency about what is happening to our earth. The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

We don’t know how we will move together into a new future. The space of not knowing is our home right now. To struggle out of it before we fully inhabit it is to be like a caterpillar who somehow breaks out of the cocoon before its time.

Perhaps, in a time far from now, the ancestors who inhabit our future will tell stories to their children and grandchildren about this time. I can hear them now, echoing those famous lines from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …”

What if the choices you make each day, each hour, the way you relate to all the beings in your world, will deeply impact how this story of our time unfolds, how the legend of the corona virus unfurls our unknown future?

with love,


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Stanton Hunter

    Really nice, very human. Thank you.

  2. JayaLynda Cole

    Difficulty reading your letter, Shayla, with tears streaming from my eyes. The words of wisdom and inspiration reach deep into the belly of truth. Thank you for ringing the bell of interconnection for us all. The Great Change is upon us. We can meet the challenge, together, in our unknown future. with much gratitude.

  3. Julien Andrey

    Thank you Shayla!

  4. Sandra

    Thank you old friend nice to read this after a long day of front line work at Nelson’s homeless shelter. Take care and keep your wisdom and open heart!

  5. Lilli Ruth Rosenberg

    Thank you thank you thank you. I am moved to tears… of gratitude from my heart…

  6. Brielle Raye

    Brilliant and heartfelt wisdom in this sharing Shayla. Thankyou.

  7. Carol Stewart

    Oh my goddess, how often have your words thrown my heart into fits of ecstasy? I cannot count them but deeply this is one of them. When I ring my bell, I am ringing for you as one of our courageous care providers. Quantum gratitude for the endless courage of your words.

  8. Josephine Lawless

    Thank you Shayla
    Beautiful words of Truth, Wisdom and Love !!!

  9. Maureen Geddes

    Thank you, Shayla. May more of this beauty, grace, and possibility emerge for us all.

  10. Regis

    Dearest Shayla;

    Your words rise forth from the bottomless Ground of Being that your beautiful heart is abiding in. The Unknowable Silence that each of us are now been broken and returned into!

    Oh, our bleeding humanity

    How terribly blessed

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