As the Covid-19 crisis has escalated, much of our world has increasingly shifted online. Although our organization, Black Mountain Circle, exists online, we haven’t previously invested a lot of energy into building that presence. Our entire organization is, in fact, based around gathering people together. This meant that when the pandemic hit, we were faced with a choice that many organizations and small businesses had to grapple with: “Do we pivot online… or not?”
The idea of pivoting online is not new; in the digital age, most have strategically made that leap. It seems irresponsible in some ways not to, and yet here we were, an organization that had some technological infrastructure and no clear path toward economical longevity without transitioning online. The answer seemed obvious. Go online.
In the first week of the shelter-in-place order it was more than alluring. The internet is the only place any of us were allowed to be. At first, the thinking was over-simplified: Now that many people don’t have work, they will have time that will need to be filled. We mulled over taking some of our in-person spring events and turning them into webinars. We thought, “Our network needs to hear a response from us.” Didn’t we owe them that? We had a dedicated community after all, and wanted to show up for them.
It became apparent though that our community, although homegrown and geographically specific, was being pulled in every direction, as were we. Even though the chaos had yet to settle around the major transitions, including the emotional and psychological impacts of going through a global crisis, we were already being asked to respond. We noted this, realizing that not only were people emotionally full, but also that our small nonprofit had suddenly entered the global online market. Our organization was now vying for screen time with every yoga studio, restaurant, place of prayer and even our local government.
The myth of our time-impoverished society being granted “more time” because of shelter-in-place was wearing thin. Here we were being duped back into the story that a life integrated with technology equals more time. Our small staff started having hard conversations in which we borrowed the language of “essential and non-essential.” If we shifted online, we could in many ways mimic the idea of being essential, but were we really? Did we warrant another ask to keep someone at their screen?
Now seems like a good moment to share a little about the work and mission to which we remain dedicated.
Black Mountain Circle, founded by Steve Costa and Kate Levinson in 2015, believes that powerful stories, strong community and connection to nature and spirit can help us reclaim our relationship to earth and to each other. Our living dedication is one of uplifting and sharing the work of those who are providing language to this moment of the Great Unraveling as described by Joanna Macy. In more than one way, our mission and work is ripe for this moment. Might we remain essential and out on the public market? When we turned to our organizational values, though, the answer was not as clear. In order for the type of deep connection we aim to bring to our four pillars—story, community, nature and spirit—people need time and spaciousness. As the Nap Ministry has stated, “The current moment actually calls for silence but we are too addicted to technology for this truth.”
We arrived at the conclusion that our work and energy would be better utilized in supporting the building of what it is to follow this moment of response. As part of this, we realized that our organization also needs time and space. That if we are to actually deem ourselves essential beyond the pandemic that we will need to first rest, dream and then pivot—and not from in-person to screen, but on a foundational level.
We need less. Our spirits need less. These values of time and spaciousness had become, in part, lost for us in our need to produce—and, in all honesty, compete. The economic shutdown is devastating, yet we can’t help but be curious about what this moment is really asking of all of us. Is it asking us to create more content? Is it asking us as a society to integrate completely online? Is it asking us to keep things running at all costs? The birth of the world so many of us have been asking for is here, alongside the death howls of business-as-usual. We will need to be steadfast in continuing to usher old models out while caretaking those who are most vulnerable, all while enacting and building the world we wish to see. This might be the task of our lifetime and beyond.
Although the challenges ahead will continue to be unveiled, our biggest obstacle yet might be taking the time to pause, quiet, and reimagine our new world, and that which is truly needed now.
Kailea Frederick is a co-director of Black Mountain Circle, an editor of Loam magazine and a climate commissioner for the City of Petaluma, where she lives.