By Tammy T. Stone
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the world order is changing right now.
I think many of us feel we’re at a crossroads, or maybe an impasse. Things are shifting, uncomfortably so, and crumbling, yet we still wake up in the morning, have lives to lead and choices to make.
How big should these choices be? How do we dip into the doing of effecting grand-scale change while also trying to take care of ourselves and responsibilities? How do we determine what is beyond our control and what we can or should devote our time to, when there is so much to be done?
We might be feeling skeptical about our capacity to create the world we want to live in when we look around and find ourselves living smack in the middle of one we probably never would have chosen.
We want to be both here and there, doing what we can to right wrongs, to be part of a necessary revolution. Meanwhile, before we’ve taken a single step, we’re feeling scattered in a million directions; present moment awareness, our ground, without which we cannot act at all, is lost.
But we still want to believe in the—in our—power to change. We want to believe that we are the driving force behind our manifested reality; this belief underpins various political and spiritual ideologies. At the same time, it can seem naïve and highly disrespectful to regard the devastating number of disenfranchised, suffering people in the world as having chosen to live in such misery.
We cannot make simplified, reductionist claims about human agency without conceiving of the human journey and the greater world as arguably complex beyond the scope of our understanding. There is so much we cannot grasp, despite our noble and important work of contemplating the machinations of our existence within this vast universe.
So what do we do? There is philosophy, metaphysics and spiritual practice, and there is the world we share with 7 billion people enmeshed in numerous crises, right here and now. We don’t want to deny or dismiss the calamity in our midst, and we also don’t want to dissolve into complete despair.
We need balance. We need to be allowed to grieve and be confused, and also to be okay with our inability to shoulder all the world’s problems on our own. We never want to turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world, but we also need to be able to function if there is a hope of taking action.
We need compassion. We can’t just talk about having compassion, or decide to be compassionate. In Buddhism, for example, spiritual development is highly focused on serious and methodological practices designed to cultivate compassion, and it can be a life’s work to get even partway there. Compassion isn’t an ornament we can decorate the world with. It cannot be achieved unless we work tremendously hard to peel back the layers of ego and conditioning that prevent us from truly understanding that others’ suffering and our own are one and the same.
One thing I believe in all this is that the good is always there and it is our job to find it and grow it. We must do what we can, when we can, to bring as much good as we can into the world for all of us—especially for those who are struggling more than we are.
We don’t want to run away or hide. We can’t; what we are avoiding will always come back in one form or another, until we have learned its lessons.
But we can take breaks from what is plaguing us. We can choose where to put our energy, when we need to take a pause so that we will be ready to tackle the problems again.
We can breathe. We can fiercely love what we love. We can try to understand what we don’t.
We can honour our existence and make art and try to find pieces of ourselves in it that we’ve never seen before.
We can witness and absorb, and we can figure out how to use our voices to change the conversation. Turning toward a world we want to live in does not have to mean running away from the world we don’t, not if our intention is to carry the awareness of the world’s problems within us as we take steps to act in bold new directions.
How can we turn the page and take new first steps while remaining deeply engaged in the world as it is today? Maybe we can:
Draw a picture.
Feel our pain.
Write a poem.
Take a walk.
Touch a tree.
Breathe in again.
Breathe out again.
I don’t write these things standing in silhouette on a mountain peak at sunset, and I’m not writing them as though they are the one-stop cure for what ails us. I write them because at this very moment, gutted from what I’m seeing spewing forth into the world via my newsfeed and the like, I’m feeling on a very visceral level that if I don’t do these things, I won’t be able to do anything else that matters.
I don’t write this because I have the answers, but to express some of the confusion, in hopes of starting a dialogue.
I would love to hear from you, and know how you are doing, and feeling, from a place of love.
Editor: Dana Gornall