I was connecting with a good friend a few weeks ago about how slightly tuned out we’d both recently been regarding the current political state of affairs: kind of like averting one’s eyes when witnessing a car crash. We were clear that we didn’t want to be putting our heads in the sand, but at the same time – there are lots of reasons to not want to be fully engaged these days.
First: when the discourse feels so crazy making that you just don’t want to be a part of that reality. It’s the reason I stopped watching television when I was in high school: the reality it was presenting and inculcating was so opposite to my values. This was even more true when ‘reality shows’ became the norm: there was a lot of ugliness that was being portrayed as ‘reality,’ and that was just not the version of reality I would choose to be immersed in.
More pressing, though, was a sense of powerlessness to do anything about what we were seeing happening in the world. In the midst of trauma we can often dissociate, and for one main reason: to maintain the health and integrity of our spirits when there is more trauma than we can handle or process. Unfortunately, there are no selective filters: when we check out from one sphere, we tend to check out more generally from life.
So – the importance of both being selective about what we take in (Thich Nhat Hanh talks about media, information, and even conversations as ‘nutriments’ that we take in. Just as we try to be mindful of the foods we consume because they impact our health – we can also practice a healthy, mindful diet of what information we consume so that we’re not taking in a whole lot of junk and toxicity – we are, after all, what we consume).
And, balancing that with bringing enough resource to our engagement with the world so that we don’t need to check out/ dissociate in order to be ok. For me, this had to do with how powerless I felt to do anything about the harm I was seeing around me. That is, of course, the reality of life: we do not have control over anything, ultimately – and that can be extremely painful to be with.
But – we are also co-creators, and are not completely powerless, either.
There are many aspects of power, and one that helped me to remember is spiritual power.
Around this same time, I went to Point Reyes to see the wildflowers with another friend, and it just happened to be the day before Earth Day. In addition to wildflowers, we saw elephant seals and seals, turkeys and turkey vultures, whales, elk – all manner of creatures. This was at a time that missiles were being tested in the Pacific, and I just felt a huge swell of love and the wish for protection for all of the beings we saw, the land we were standing on, the ocean surrounding us. Every thing in nature I encountered, I blessed, blessed, blessed – and felt like that IS, actually, the power I have. To love. And this is no small or insignificant power.
In every meditation practice I’ve done, we end the meditation by dedicating the merits of our practice, whatever we’ve cultivated through our practice, to the benefit of all beings. Often that’s done by sending metta, or loving kindness, to ourselves, our loved ones, people we don’t know, people we have difficulty with, and ultimately, all sentient beings.
I’ve experienced the power of meditating in groups, and specifically of sending out loving and healing intentions to people while meditating in a group. The first time I ever did tonglen (the Tibetan practice of taking in another’s suffering and sending them relief) with a group of people, it was for my father who has been a difficult person in my life, and within a couple of days he made a big shift that none of us expected. I’m not saying I caused it. But it certainly made me wonder. And by now I’ve had enough such experiences to feel like group meditation/ prayer does make a difference. There’s research showing that when large groups of people meditate for peace, violence in the community goes down.
We never engage in such practices with the expectation that anyone will change or that we will cause them to change. We do it from a place of genuinely wanting them to find relief from their suffering. (We ‘take in their suffering’ in order to provide them some space, and then send them the relief we wish for them.) It’s possible that the only shift we make is within our own energy field, opening our hearts more to love – but because we are all energetically connected – that in itself makes a difference.
In these times when the collective insanity seems to have reached epic proportions – when our collective shadow is no longer hidden but very much rearing its ugly head – I have found it extremely beneficial to come together in community, both to unburden our hearts of fear and sorrow; but also to generate love and healing through shared practice, to be the change we wish to see in the world. I wish for you too to not feel isolated, and to use the situation (“compost”) that we find ourselves in to heal as much as we can (grow a beautiful garden). To dig deep and find that at the root of our anger, fear, and despair about the state of the world, is a profound love and desire to bless and protect. May we attune to this deep love, and may it serve to transform ourselves, our communities, and the world.