Farewells are tough. Change is tough. And if tough times make tough people, well, we’re getting to be a pretty tough bunch. Not tough as in hard and dried up—tough as in strong and adaptable. Wiser. The world is coming into focus in new ways.
People planning weddings have chafed at gathering limits and then realized that they can include loved ones thousands of miles away without travel expenses. Educational offerings have blossomed in cyberspace and legacy businesses have met new customers there. Like the mycorrhizal network connecting plants and fungi, our consciousness is invisibly interwoven; unlike plants and fungi, we’re still learning to make this work for us and not against. But our interconnectedness has never been more obvious than in this viral age. We all breathe the same air.
What do we do with this knowledge? How do we navigate the moment? Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota, activist, speaker, and teacher who founded, produces, and hosts First Voices Indigenous Radio, says it helps to step back and take a long, deep, wide look. “People tend to consider the earth just as an economic resource, like a storehouse,” he says. “But everything is sentient and has consciousness; we can’t extract and gouge and bomb and expect an endless reset button. Anthropocentrism is done.”
Talk of a big change coming began in late 2019 among Indigenous elders. In March, he was asked to host a series of 33 fires in Stone Ridge, gathering quietly with those who felt drawn, seeking to listen for the microtones of creation itself. “The earth has come back,” he says. “Animals, gardens, people paying attention. We need to listen for the original deep instructions—consciousness, not conscience. The virus is not something to treat with hatred and fear. It’s a being, a part of the consciousness that forms us and holds us.”
“In the midst of this big bad experience, we’ve actually had a really wonderful experience,” says Cornelia Wathen, co-founder of the Holistic Health Community in Stone Ridge. “When COVID first came along, everything stopped for a minute—we couldn’t get people together for free health care days anymore.”
But what could they do? Beginning to drill down, the group realized that a surprising number of the types of healing their practitioners deliver could be practiced remotely. “Energy-based modalities work fine on Zoom or phone,” she says. “We went from offering a day of free care each week to offering a week each month. That allowed practitioners to choose from more available time, and we’ve had about 20 offering free sessions each month.” Treatments, such as sound healing, that were impracticable in a bricks-and-mortar setting have been added to the lineup.
The programs have been extremely popular, drawing in clients who might never have showed up in person. “We’ve even started getting people from Ohio or Louisiana,” Wathen says. Locals are offered first chance at reserving care sessions, with reservation opened to the wider world as the week approaches. New practitioners have joined the team.
“COVID has pushed us not just to adapt but to expand,” Wathen says. “It’s taught us to realize and learn so much that might not have come any other way. When it subsides, we will find a way to keep the virtual side going too.”
Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, executive director of The Art Effect in Poughkeepsie, says the pause in their in-person and school-based programming called for a rapid pivot. “The first thing we did was set up bilingual daily prompts for our ‘Art at Home’ program; ways to make rainbows and mandalas and beauty with ordinary household items,” she says. “Virtual art therapy for all. Then we got busy revising our curriculum; our instructors made downloadable courses. We got some COVID funding, new equipment, and made new policies so we could loan it out.
“We had summer camp for parents and kids, downloadable video kits, and in-person classes when the state said we could,” she says, noting that they’ve had no cases. “Some need their space protected and others to be engaged, and empowering the creator in all those different learners is what we’re about.”
The Annual Gala was a joyful revelation. “We had a choose-your-own-adventure experience to explore the party, and it led you to the live ceremony with this year’s honorees and 100 people together on Zoom,” says Fenichel-Hewitt. “We had so much fun! So we have a whole new thing: event services, helping others plan virtual celebrations, and some of our young film people have paid gigs helping with that.”
Seasoned Delicious Foods opened a bricks-and-mortar store and cafe in midtown Kingston, mid-pandemic. “We opened in September in a food desert, with a lot of families in great need around us. We have the Support Your Neighbor pay-it-forward program and the donation shelf up and running, and watching people care for one another has been so joyous. We have homeless people who come in; we’ve called in people who were dumpster diving and sent them away with a bag of food. People like the food and hospitality, we get a lot of return business, and things feel good and solid. We have literally been there, done that—I’ve lived in a condemned building—so how could I feel any other way but joyous and grateful?”
The company’s next project is a capital campaign that will launch a makerspace for the community at the north edge of the city, facilitating the community’s entrepreneurs. “Kingston is an amazing place to be right now,” Dunkley says. We have incredible companies and organizations—Harambee, My Kingston Kids, Midtown Rising, Hudson Valley Current, Center for Creative Education—with high, like-minded energy and missions. It is such an uplifting experience, being part of this kind of a change. We’re strengthening the strands of the web of connection.”
Ghosthorse notes that maybe the enemy is not the virus, but our thinking. “We need peace with—not just on—the earth. And when the human world goes faster, slow down, and see how silly it is.”