Live ! in an unpredictable world

“Crises, upheavals, illness do not arise by chance. They serve us as indicators to rectify a trajectory, explore new directions, experience another life path. "

Carl-Gustav JUNG


Who would have imagined at the start of 2020 that, two months later, half of the world's population would be confined, that there would be no more planes in the sky, no more tourists in Venice and that are we going through a historic global economic recession? The Covid-19 pandemic, which is not the most serious that humanity has known, reveals the extreme vulnerability of the globalized world. When the Black Death decimated more than a third of Europeans (or about 25 million people) in the middle of the 14th century, the Chinese or the Indians were not concerned, and they were probably not even informed. For better or for worse, we are all connected today, and a single virus, popping up in any corner of the globe, can bring the global economy down and impact the lives of nearly 8 billion people. people. Because it is all the dimensions of our existence that are upset by this pandemic: our family and professional life, like our relationship to the world, to space and to time. We are touched or distressed - for ourselves and for our loved ones - by illness and death. But also by material insecurity, by the loss of our freedom of movement, by the impossibility of projecting ourselves into the future.


Faced with such upheavals, we can grit our teeth and hope that everything will go back to how it was as soon as possible. It seems illusory to me. Not only because we cannot get out of such chaos in a few months, but above all because the root causes that led to this situation will persist after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. As I already explained at length in 2012 in my book La Guérison du monde , the contemporary crisis is systemic: all the crises we are experiencing in our globalized world – economic, health, ecological, migratory, social, etc. – are interconnected by the same consumerist and profit-maximizing logic, in the context of unregulated globalization. The pressure exerted on the planet and on human societies is unsustainable in the long term. If we seek to start again “as before”, we will go from economic crisis to economic crisis, from ecological crisis to ecological crisis, from social crisis to social crisis and from health crisis to health crisis. The real solution consists in changing the logic, getting out of the consumerist frenzy, relocating whole sections of economic activities, regulating finance, moving from “always more” to well-being, from competition to collaboration.


These big questions, capital for the future of humanity and the planet, are the subject of another book on which I have been working for more than a year with Nicolas Hulot (which will probably be published in the second half of 2020). For now, the question I want to address in this little book is quite another: how to live as well as possible in times of crisis? While waiting for the hypothetical change of paradigm to which more and more of us are aspiring, what internal solution can we find to face the health crisis, the upheavals in our lifestyles and the resulting anxieties? How to try to remain serene, even happy, in an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world? Or, to put it another way: while waiting for the world to change, how do we change ourselves or transform our outlook to adapt as positively as possible to a reality that destabilizes us?


So I designed this book as a manual of survival and inner growth, that is, a manual of resilience, providing readers with advice on how to live better in this painful and destabilizing time in many ways. I drew a lot of inspiration from philosophers of the past - like the Stoics, Montaigne or Spinoza - who lived and thought during periods of deep crisis and who bring us essential reflections to get through adversity as well as possible. But I am also inspired by more contemporary considerations, stemming in particular from neurosciences and psychology, which offer us invaluable keys to face the disturbances of our fundamental biological, psychic and emotional needs.


May this little book, written in the urgency of the present time, bring lasting light and comfort to all who read it.



To feel safe


As I began to write this book, I had a telephone conversation with a dear Canadian friend, a master in yoga and qigong: Nicole Bordeleau. She asked me what, in my opinion, was our most basic need: that of connection or that of security? I answered him without hesitation: that of security. The link is capital, and even vital, because, precisely, it brings us above all what we need the most: security, both interior (psychic) ​​and material and social.


To better understand it, let's talk about two great theories: that of the conatus , of the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and that of the pyramid of needs, of the psychologist Abraham Maslow. In the 17th century, in his major work, Ethics , Spinoza affirmed that “every thing, according to its power of being, strives to persevere in its being”. This effort ( conatus in Latin) is a universal law of life, as confirmed by the famous Portuguese neurologist Antonio Damasio, a fervent disciple of Spinoza: "The living organism is built in such a way that it preserves the coherence of its structures and of its functions against the many vagaries of life(1). Spinoza then observes that, in an equally natural way, each living organism tries to progress, to grow, to achieve greater perfection. Finally, he observes that, each time he succeeds, his vital power increases, he is inhabited by a feeling of joy, whereas each time he encounters an obstacle, that he feels threatened in his being or that his vital power diminishes, he is invaded by a feeling of sadness. The entire Spinozist ethic therefore consists in organizing our life thanks to reason, in order to preserve the integrity of our being and increase our power to act and the joy that accompanies it. Spinoza brings to light two mechanisms of life: to preserve itself and to increase its vital power and action. In other words, he tells us that security and growth are our two most fundamental needs.


Between 1943 and 1970, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed and refined a theory of motivation which is embodied in a universal hierarchy of human needs, and which is not unrelated to Spinozist theory. At the base of the pyramid, we first find our basic physiological needs: to breathe, drink, eat, sleep, eliminate… Then the security needs arise: to be in good health and to live in a stable and predictable environment. Then come the need for belonging and love. Finally, the needs for esteem and recognition appear and, at the top of the pyramid, the need for self-fulfillment. The idea developed by Maslow, very well illustrated by the pyramid shape, is that a new motivation arises when a more fundamental need is satisfied: I will not seek to fulfill myself until all my other needs have been taken into account. .


As much as the typology of needs developed by Maslow seems relevant to me, their hierarchization can lend itself to criticism. Many authors have found that certain needs, such as belonging or recognition, are just as fundamental to living as physiological or security needs. We know, for example, that a baby who does not receive love will be unable to develop psychically in a harmonious way, or even to survive. We can also see that some people do everything to satisfy a need for recognition, while their primary needs are not fully satisfied: a teenager from a poor family will sometimes prefer to have the same smartphone or the same expensive sneakers as his friends rather than eating well or living under a decent roof. Likewise, the need for self-fulfillment, which includes the spiritual dimension and faith, can be expressed in those whose other needs have not been fully met. I have met very poor people all over the world, inhabited by an intense faith which helps them to endure their miserable condition.


So we should not make an absolute of the prioritization of Maslow's needs. Nevertheless, we can see that in a period of deep crisis, like the one we are currently experiencing, it seems to regain a certain relevance. Survival suddenly became the main motivation for humans again. We saw it at the first signs of the spread of the virus: food stores were robbed. I ran into people at the supermarket downstairs who had a Caddy filled to the brim with pasta, mineral water, flour and toilet paper, and who didn't care about the sarcasm or criticism of other customers. The first instinct in a survival context is to make sure that our physiological needs can be met, and it doesn't matter whether we appear selfish or ridiculous. In the event of a major crisis, primary needs come first, and security needs will come right after: once the fridge is full, you confine yourself to your home to escape contamination. And it is only once in safety that we will be able to express our need for belonging, by calling our relatives and friends, by tightening - in a protective distance - our emotional and social ties. The needs for recognition and fulfillment will come next, when all others have been met.


In the relatively stable and affluent western world in which we have lived since the end of World War II, most of us had escaped the fear of not being able to meet our most basic living and security needs. We could also group the first three needs and motivations (physiological, security, belonging) in the same category: that of security. While the following two (recognition, accomplishment) would come under another order: that of our growth (in society, but also spiritual). The first three are essential for survival. The next two allow the unfolding of life, both socially and personally. We therefore find the two great needs demonstrated by Spinoza: to preserve oneself (security) and to grow. And we can globally say that when our security needs are met we can focus more on our growth needs, which bring us the deepest joys: joy of love that blossoms, of our professional achievements that allow us to fulfill ourselves and to be recognized, creative, intellectual and spiritual joys of our progressing spirit, etc. But when we feel a deep sense of insecurity, the need for protection outweighs the need for growth, and the search for serenity, for emotional appeasement, over that of joy.


There is, however, an important interaction between the base and the top of the pyramid, between our need for security (through its various dimensions) and our spiritual dimension: the strength of our spirit can help us strengthen our sense of security or, more precisely, to live better in times of insecurity. I have already mentioned this in connection with religious faith, which helps many poor people to live better, even to be happy. The same is true today in the West for people who have a deep faith, but also for non-believers who have developed their human potential or a form of secular spirituality. Those who cultivate their minds by reading books of philosophy or poetry, those who regularly practice yoga or meditation, those who have a creative activity, those who develop love and compassion by engaging in society, those who who seek to make sense of their existence are undoubtedly better equipped to get through difficult periods in life. Indeed, they deploy spiritual qualities which come to support the body and stabilize the emotions (in particular the fear), to improve the quality of the emotional and social bonds, to reinforce the confidence and the love of the life. So many precious qualities that promote, after a shock or a deep destabilization like the one we have just experienced, the possibility of a rebound, of a work on oneself, of an entry into resilience.


(1) Antonio Damasio, Spinoza was right. Joy and sadness. The Brain of Emotions , Paris, Odile Jacob, 2013, p. 40.