This week was a bit of a struggle
Suppose you could get to a place where nothing bothered you. Where no matter how much pain you saw, you could still remain calm, centered. What would that be like? How would you react to the tragedies that we see unfolding around us? Friends dying, children being pulled away from their families not for any good purpose, but simply because someone in power sees an opportunity to signal something?
This is something I've been struggling with this week. For better or worse, I am not there yet. I was not able to remain entirely calm and centered this week. My work was affected. There was a uselessness to the way that I responded to what was going on. I spent a lot of time on twitter, and reading articles in the Washington Post. Why?
It's because I wanted to do something, but there wasn't an action for me to take that was going to make the discomfort stop.
At the same time, I have friends who are in that place where they can be calm no matter what. And I got into a discussion with some of them about this. In my former Buddhist sangha, there was this idea that trying to engage with the pain of the world is pointless, because there will always be pain. So better to just figure out how to get out of pain, and then share that knowledge widely.
But I just don't feel satisfied by that. I think that being in a place of calm when bad things are happening is important, but it can't be just a refuge. That isn't enough. What is powerful about being in that place of calm is that we can clearly see what we can do, and do that, and not go casting about aimlessly, trying to satisfy the pain of seeing the world's pain.
I think it's important to seek out that place of calm because when I'm there, I know I am able to be effective and make a difference: the difference I can make, not some difference I imagine I should make, but can't. And I see so many people flailing around trying to make a difference somehow, some way, but they don't have a way to make a difference, and so they lash out at their allies and say hurtful things that make the situation worse, not better. This is painful to see.
I am just thinking aloud here, but what seems to be coming from this process is two things: there are things we can do, and we should do them. They are the things that we see to do. When we don't see anything to do, we need to learn to be satisfied and ready, and not be consumed by that restless energy that demands that we take some action, even if it's not the right action.
So in other words, that idea that they taught in my Buddhist sangha wasn't quite wrong. It was pointing to something true. Engaging in the world without patience and acceptance is a path that's likely to create a lot of trouble. If we really want to heal the world, it has to start from a place of love, not a place of need.