I have been hearing from a lot of people lately that something has broken open and it’s harder to ignore the suffering around us. One friend wrote to me: “Signing petitions, giving money to campaigns doesn’t feel like enough right now. I want to lend my voice, back, and heart to healing the wounds that keep us apart.” It reminds me of a Hebrew word, hineni, that means “here I am” in a spiritual sense - as in, “Okay, something has woken me up! I am here.”
When our “way things are” gets shaken up so that the normal way we explain things to ourselves doesn’t work, one tendency is to try to grab very quickly onto the next story: “Okay, here’s what is happening and here is what we have to do.” The other main tendency is to feel so overwhelmed that we go into a kind of paralysis, closing our hearts and numbing ourselves out with distractions.
There’s a real wisdom in, instead, pausing before we leap into either of these fixes and being willing to be uncertain, because that’s when we can take in more information, listen more carefully, and respond from a deeper, really more powerful place. It is essential both for ourselves and for our world that we stay present to our ongoing connection and engage from that.
A misconception about pausing in the midst of reactivity says that if we take time in these situations to “be with what is” and feel things deep down, a self-absorbed complacency will take over and rob us of the energy to act. I’m convinced that it’s not that way at all. Rather, if we really courageously open to what’s inside us, we get to the caring that makes action the most natural thing in the world. Even more importantly, the actions we take will be planting seeds for true transformation rather than reinforcing old patterns of division and conflict.
We have to change consciousness. The same stuff will keep on happening so long as we don’t live from more presence, more heart. I often use the phrase, “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.” Anger does serve an important role of alerting us to suffering and getting us to stand up; but we need to find, underneath the anger, what we are really caring about - and let that be what powers and guides our action.
How do we actually do it? You might try using a practical, applied meditation I recently created for this very purpose: Meditation: Awakening Compassion.
Understanding and compassion are very powerful sources of energy. They are the opposite of stupidity and passivity. If you think that compassion is passive, weak, or cowardly, then you don't know what real understanding or compassion is. If you think that compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong. They are warriors, heroes and heroines who have gained many victories. — from the book Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master and social activist described by an American abbot as “a cross between a cloud, a snail, and a piece of heavy machinery."
Adapted from a talk by Tara Brach on November 23, 2016 - “Play a Greater Part” - Bodhisattva for our Times - Part 2
Enjoy more talks and meditations from Tara at www.tarabrach.com.