During these times of great uncertainty and radical change, people everywhere are struggling. The shifting landscape demands that we remain centered and balanced, all the while embracing what we need to change within ourselves. When faced with great challenges, we must stretch ourselves beyond previous boundaries and self-doubt. This is precisely when the potential for inner growth is greatest. While the inclination is to hold tight and fast to the past, we no longer have that option and are forced to dig deep within ourselves and live ever more consciously.
While it’s impossible to change others, looking within for the opportunities to affect change will empower ourselves and others to do the same. Left to our own devices, it’s far easier to rest on our past success and dream of the future. However comforting that may sound, this is not the reality we face. Complacency is not an option for any of us. And for those that have reached the age of maturity, it’s also impossible to pretend that the answers lie with the behavior of others. Each one of us must navigate the twisted corridors of our culture by relying on our well-honed instincts. Muster all of your courage and put your best foot forward for the good of all you hold dear.
“It’s called The American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Comedian George Carlin
The beloved Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron reminds us that this dynamic process called ‘the life we lead’ is never predictable or stable. She asks:
“How can we relax and have a genuine, passionate relationship with the fundamental uncertainty, the groundlessness of being human?”
Pema often talks about shifting sands, the unpredictability of stability, and the uncertainty of what is to come. And that it is our resistance to it all, even though change is the only constant. Lean in dear friends. Embrace and expect that just when you think you’ve got everything under control, one block shifts and the castle is on the ground once again. The expectation that we’re in control is the cause of our suffering. We are very attached to wanting life a certain way. The more we resist, the more we struggle. Before we know it, we’re stuck.
But if we were to look at these moments as opportunities to grow and change, perhaps we can begin to relax a bit with all of this uncertainty. At first, maybe it’s just a ‘noticing’ how often we are comfortably leading our life and oops…didn’t see that one coming. Or we’re enjoying an afternoon in the hammock and oops….. really? The neighbor must use her noisy blower again? Take these opportunities to catch yourself creating your suffering by resisting reality. Soon you will move to the next step beyond awareness and begin the letting go of annoyance. The practice of opening your mind and heart to these experiences is without judgement will begin to set you free.
Another great teacher, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, offers the following about safety:
- To find some safety in the world, you first have to give safety to the entire world. If you’re determined to observe the precepts (moral guidelines) in all situations, you’re giving a gift of safety to everyone, in that all beings, universally, will be protected from any harm you might do. In return, you get a share in the universal safety coming from your present actions. If, however, you follow the precepts only in some cases and not in others—if, for instance, you can rationalize lying … in certain situations, for whatever the end—it’s like building a fence around your property but leaving a huge gap in the back. Anyone, with any motive, can walk right in through the gap.
- You can protect yourself from the results of your past unskillful actions by training the mind. The fact that we’re born in the human realm means that we all have some past bad karma, so simply avoiding unskillful karma in the present isn’t enough to protect you from suffering. Fortunately, though, while we can’t go back to change our past actions, we can weaken the effect of any past bad actions by training the mind.
- The primary danger from other people lies not so much in what they do to you but in what they can get you to do. Their karma is their karma; your karma is yours. Even when you’re mistreated by others, their karma doesn’t become your karma—unless you start mistreating them in return.
In Gandhi’s words “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. If I want the world to be different, I have to participate. Stop hating my neighbor for using fossil fuels to micro-manage the leaves in the neighborhood. Stop shutting down every time overbearing opinions displease me. Stop it already!! Hating on the bitch in the car next to me isn’t the path to a more peaceful world. Spewing garbage at those professing ignorant ideas I’m certain will bring us to ruin is divisive and there is never a good time to draw lines in the sand and cut off communication. Nor is it a good time to go back into your room and close the door and hope the world improves while you nap. Hope will only contribute to suffering. There is only action now.
Shore up your support groups and gather your friends and family. Do whatever you’re good at – cook for the hungry, call your elected officials, donate socks to the homeless, publish articles, comfort the dying, rock cranky newborns at local hospitals, write letters to those in power, volunteer. Inaction breeds fear and panic. This is a time when we need boots on the ground and voices that won’t be silenced. There is strength in numbers and there is peace in knowing you are doing all you can to affect positive change in the world. Go forward and prosper, Vulcan or not.