Last time we introduced the idea of Active Hope and the stories that shape our society. The old myths are failing and the new ones are still being shaped, so we find ourselves poised between worlds – lost, confused, and a little freaked out. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of change or make sense of what’s happening.
The temptation is to turn away, but our problems will only get worse if we refuse to look at them. So what can we do?
The chances are, if you’re reading this, then you’re doing okay. Relatively speaking. You’re privileged to live in relative safety and peace. You can walk down the street without worrying (too much) about being attacked. Your house won’t be bombed. You won’t starve. You won’t have to watch your family being massacred. You haven’t been forced to leave your country to walk thousands of miles to start a new life in a place you don’t feel welcome.
And if you don’t like what you see on the news, you can switch off the TV and do something else.
But can you forget what you’ve seen? The broken bodies and desperation and rage – it can leave you feeling helpless. Is making a donation or signing a petition really enough? I feel like I should be doing something. But what?
I’m not a doctor, or a structural engineer, or a bomb disposal expert, or even a journalist. I have enormous respect for the individuals who risk their lives saving others, and we’ll meet one below. But I know my limits.
I couldn’t visit any of the places ripped apart by our greed and clamour for oil and dominance. The rage and grief would be overwhelming and I’d be worse than useless.
If I want to help, I must be stronger. It simply isn’t good enough to use my empathy as an excuse to hide behind. I may be a psychic sponge but that doesn’t mean I have to be a basket case too. So what can I do?
Spiral of Transformation
We have to become more resilient so we can focus on what needs to be done. It’s too easy to look away, distract yourself with trivia and fantasy, or drown your true feelings with food, booze or drugs. If you want to respond to the crisis in a way that makes a difference, you need practices that encourage you to dig deep into hidden resources and strengths you might not even realise you have.
In Active Hope they describe a practice called the Work That Reconnects. This is a process of empowerment and transformation that moves in a spiral and can be used to build inner strength and resilience. The spiral moves through four positions which loop round and round…
- Coming from Gratitude
- Honouring Our Pain for the World
- Seeing with New Eyes
- Going Forth
You begin with gratitude for the many gifts you have and what you love in the world. This leads naturally into honouring your pain as you become aware of how this beautiful world is being destroyed. The fact that you feel pain over what’s happening reveals how much you care, which in turn reveals your interconnectedness with all of life. If you weren’t connected to others, you wouldn’t feel the way you do.
Recognising and honouring this pain reveals that you belong to life and are part of a vast web from which you draw nourishment. This allows you to see with new eyes. Insights will arise, solutions may present themselves and possibilities will open up. Now you can see what you need to do and can move into going forth. Here you clarify your new vision and begin to take steps towards healing the world.
You can use this method whenever you feel the need. It’s a great way to keep in touch with what’s real and can be practiced in minutes, hours or even over days or weeks – whatever you need in order to process the deeper dimensions of your experience. If you want to transform this spiral into a truly liberating practice, you can combine it with self-enquiry. This takes you into the true nature of your being as One with All.
At it’s simplest, self-enquiry means asking: who is…? Who is thinking? Who is breathing? And so on. It’s a way of penetrating beyond identification with the personal self into a larger view and the recognition that there’s no inherent self.
As an example, let’s start with an image: a scramble of desperate people hauling themselves into a helicopter packed with aid. They’re fleeing the 73rd genocide of the Yazidi people. Chaos swirls with the dust kicked up by the helicopter. The crush of bodies, trembling with fear. What if they don’t make it out? What if the chopper is shot down?
I take a deep breath and step into gratitude. Not: thank goodness that isn’t happening to me, but gratitude for what I have. I’m alive, breathing, free. I have food, shelter, and hope. I have these things because of others. I’m held in a protective embrace that nourishes me.
I’m here now because of every tiny act that occurred before this moment. I wouldn’t be where I am now without countless others, many unknown and unseen. I feel strengthened by this realisation. I’m rooted into the ground. The breath that passes through my lungs, moves through every person. We’re bound together, indivisible and whole as one.
I turn back to the image. The panic and fear rise up but now they’re held within a larger space.
I am clambering on board the helicopter.
I am piloting the helicopter.
I am running towards the open door, dust in my eyes, cradling my child, myself, in my arms.
I am firing rockets and dropping bombs.
I am persecuting innocent people.
I am killing, abducting and raping.
I am destroying myself in an orgy of death.
I am condemning the violence on TV, dressed in an expensive suit.
I am flicking past the news item on my phone, shrugging and moving on.
I see the utter insanity of our world. I see the brutalising illusions. I see how the refusal to look is really fear of the pain. I see how that fear is covering heartbreak, and the heartbreak is covering the void – the yawning chasm into which I cannot fall because I will never make it out.
I see that I am the void. Whatever I believe I am, whatever stories I tell, they’re lies against the truth of the glory of Being. Would I rather be destroyed by the illusion of control than surrender to the mystery?
This is what drives the desperate madness of our world. We would rather destroy ourselves than surrender our pride.
Now it’s clear what I must do. Can I do it?
To finish, here’s the person I promised – a real human angel: David Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers. In 2017 footage of him rescuing a child in Mosul, under heavy fire from IS snipers, went viral. This is the report from Channel 4:
In the extraordinary interview that followed, he explained his motives:
“What motivates me is love. I look at that kid that we needed to help, and that could be my kid. And we can’t do everything in the world, none of us can, but we can do our best to what’s in front of us. So for me, I’m motivated by faith in God, this is our place. I’m motivated by love for other people. I’m motivated by intellect… and as an ex-soldier, this is something I can do to help.”
We all have a particular set of skills, talents, and strengths that are needed in the world today. You don’t have to risk your life to save others. It might be something simple and seemingly small, like donating a few tins to a local food bank or helping to clean up your neighbourhood. Whatever you do, never underestimate how powerful a small action can be. As one of the characters in The Shining Ones explains:
“It sounds a small matter – to be kind – but imagine the whole world doing such a simple thing. Not just occasionally. Not just when it is convenient. But every day, in every moment, and with all people.”
A tall order, perhaps. Not many of us are capable of being saints. But you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be willing to help.
Next time we’ll explore the benefits of gratitude