phase zero and phase one

“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”
– Joan Didion

On Monday, some of the restrictions related to the coronavirus confinement were lifted in half of Spain. The process is called deescalation.

00shadow_fenceI live in the other half of the country that remains in Phase Zero. The local government spent all weekend arguing with Madrid about the decision and some friends, after nearly two months of isolation, are extremely disappointed we haven’t moved ahead.

In Phase One, up to ten people can gather socially; bars, restaurants and cafes are allowed to open, although at only 50% capacity and with outdoor seating; places of worship, museums, outdoor markets, funerals and other business may resume activity, but again with limitations and social distancing precautions.

Otherwise we are still suppose to stay at home, although, now in Phase Zero we can go out for an hour of exercise, which has been organized around age-groups to prevent overcrowding and protect vulnerable people. Permission has also been given to people who garden to visit their plots for an hour a week.

10shadow_waveSo how do I feel? What do I think about all this?

I don’t know. So I here I am writing about it, hoping I’ll figure it out.

when this all started …

Two months or so ago when this all started, I felt gratitude to be at home in our comfy, spacious flat with a terrace; for good health; for the dog, a source of joy and the perfect excuse to get out of the house; and for the easy relationship with my partner. We can be together 24-7 without feeling weary of each other. Also a reason to rejoice is that we have paid this month’s bills, phew!

Re-connecting with friends across the globe and reassuring ourselves we were fine, or we weren’t but we were there for each other, was also in its own way up-lifting. The odd circumstances also facilitated getting to know some neighbors and people in the neighborhood a bit better – through text messaging and shouted conversations from windows.


I have also felt my share of rage and frustration as I watched some friends being forced to carry on with their work as if it were business as usual and little accommodation or acknowledgment made by employers of the wholly irregular and stressful situation we are living through. There was sadness and weariness too when I read about vigilante neighbors scolding and harassing people in the street, but not surprising. It is a legacy of the dictatorship: assuming you know best and trying to control and dominate others.


There’s been tension and unpleasant discord in my circle of friends too, with some viewing the lock-down as a worrying trend towards authoritarianism and encouraging others to break the confinement and others arguing that the rules are for the public’s safety. I wholly understand the concern about the limits on civil liberties, yet I believe the politicians really didn’t want to make this choice, to order us all to stay home, to shutter businesses and public life. In fact I am impressed and surprised that public health in Spain has been prioritized and I wonder about the future. As a society, can we release our tight grip on old ways and move towards building a new order that values people over profit and understands humans as part of nature?


Certainly in some places in the world it is business as usual as repressive regimes and actors in armed conflicts use the pandemic as a curtain to commit human rights violations with even greater impunity. And indigenous communities and brothers and sisters from the majority world reminded us that our “new normal” is their “old normal”. Suffering and surviving diseases brought to their communities, restrictions on their movement and what they can and cannot do in their own territories all imposed on them by outsiders (colonial or neo-colonial) have long been forces shaping their reality.

ambivalence is a dead end

sameoldsameoldSo this is the landscape I inhabit and the big picture worries me and I worry me. Where is the rage, fire in the belly, yet hopeful woman of some weeks ago who thought this shared global experience had the potential for profound social change?

I don’t feel hopeful in the same way anymore, but I don’t feel hopeless either. I am in that dead zone which is ambivalence, protecting myself from some fearful end that sits in the corner of my mind, blocking me from taking action. Ambivalence ultimately upholds the status quo, and that’s not where I want us to be.

My hope is that as this situation continues to evolve and change that we grow our understanding of ourselves as collective beings, accepting the differences amongst ourselves, our social identities, while recognizing our shared humanity.

river of life

So the other day I used one of my favorite teaching tools to help me make sense of my situation and feel my way forward. The River of Life, or in this instance my River of Life during the coronavirus confinement.

What did I see?small_sunshinejuba

I have taken self-care seriously during the past few months, perhaps to a point of being overly self-protective and avoiding the full range of emotions that were within and around me. While I have no regrets and I enjoyed immensely all the meditation, art-making and time spent with my clown during the past weeks, I also see now that I did not allow myself time and space to deal with the uncomfortable feelings. I used meditation and self-care to by-pass fully feeling pain and sadness. Transformation can’t happen without the old being released to make space for the new.

spiral_twtr2smallFor the past few years I have been trying to bring gratitude to my work and way of being in the world, which is empowering and comforting. But to be useful for powering social change, gratitude needs to be accompanied by feeling the pain that exists in the world, so it can be released, making space for new things to take root. It’s the spiral of the work that reconnects by Joanna Macy. Gratitude strengthens us so we can go through the pain and discomfort while we heal our personal and collective trauma to transform our reality.

I saw in my River of Life, that I have been avoiding these unpleasant feelings. I have focused on the practicalities and feelings of the day-to-day and day-dreamed about the sort of world I want to see in five, ten years time. I have put effort into leaning into my imagination but not towards the steps I need to take to get there while consciously holding the pain of the moment and that process.

not good, not bad, just is

caballo_rojo_questionAwareness is the first step towards action. As I looked over my River of Life, I said to myself this is simply where I am on my journey. Ambivalence is just a place, it is not good, not bad. It just is. But do I want to stay here? What we don’t change, we choose.

I don’t. So what I need to do is become intentional while embracing uncertainty and flowing with all the emotions present within me and around me. If we want global political and economic systems to change, we need to start with ourselves while simultaneously working collectively.

Day-dreaming is a form of planning but now is the time for me to actually write some things down and start taking action. What are the steps I need to take?


What about you? Have you reflected and reviewed what the past few months have meant for you and how you hope the world and your world will be different as time passes on? We’re all different, so different tools and techniques appeal to us, but I recommend giving the River of Life a go to see what you discover.


Reflection, planning, action, evaluation, and repeat as necessary is essential for change to happen. Hope for change without a plan is really just hopelessness in action.

Thanks for reading and best wishes in your journey.

how to do the river of life (in brief)

‘The River of Life’ is a way of reflecting on and telling your life story, or an aspect of your life through the metaphor of a river.

Imagine a river, what’s it like? Most rivers are quite variable. They have twists, turns, they are wide at times, then narrow. The current might be gentle with calm spots, with rapids and waterfalls just around the bend. Bridges are common features and some rivers have island and boats. All rivers have river banks and hopefully a thriving ecosystem, including wildlife.

The invitation here is to take about 15 minutes or as long as you like(*) to reflect on your experience during the coronavirus pandemic and draw that as a river, using images as much as possible. We have great word and number literacy, but for some of us, our image literacy is weak and by exercising it we may open ourselves up to new worlds, which is exactly what we need right now!

This process works best if you can then show your river to someone, who ideally has a river of life to share as well. After telling your story, make time for comments and questions.

Can’t find anyone to do this with? Share it with me, I love working with this tool.

(*) I went back to my river of coronavirus life three times to add details and additional thoughts.




4 thoughts on “deescalation

  1. I feel the same different ambivalent feelings Denise
    thanks for your words
    I was already confineted in my personal journey before

    • Hello Maite, yes and there are probably more of us out there: ambivalent yet hopeful for change but really really wondering “but where do I start?” Asking that question is a good start, isn’t it? Watch this space and let’s keep in touch as our journeys unfold before us. I know we’ll have a lot to share. big love and thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Hi Denise! I just read this and enjoyed it very much. The river of life thing- your calendar of May at the top and bottom of your blog. You made that, right? As usual, I like the art that accompanies the words. Good job !

    • thanks Tara, sweet of you to read and I appreciate that you appreciate my art. We could start a club! Or maybe we already belong to one. the life-long friendship club. 😎 (-: Big hugs and see you round these and other parts.

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