We live in a world of extremes. Extreme wealth, extreme poverty. Extreme hedonism and joy, and extreme fear and pain. Extreme religious devotion, and extreme hatred. And as with everything, the microcosm and the macrocosm are reflections of each other. In each one of us there resides these extremes, or at least a presence of these realities -- though maybe not in the extreme.
With one person we may be extravagant with our love and our attention, and with another we are miserly. One day or one moment we may be exuberant, while the next we may be feeling the deepest despair. We feel great love for someone, while at the same time carry great hurts and resentments towards others (or sometimes even the same person). What we see in the world "out there", if we look closely, we can find within our own selves.
Yet, it is sometimes easier to point the finger at someone else's, or at the world's, failings than at our own. It is easier to blame and judge others for their "wrong doings" and character flaws, and somehow overlook our own. Ah, yes, the world would be a better place if "________" (fill in the blanks) was ________________. We look at other's problems, at the problems of nations, or races, and it's easy for us to see the solutions to their challenges.
But it's not always so easy when we're embroiled in the mess ourselves. We get caught up in our egos, our emotions, our needs and wants, our cravings, our fears, our beliefs, our projections, our mind. As the saying goes, it's hard to see the forest for the trees -- and sometimes it's hard to see the trees for the forest. When we are caught up in paying the bills, making ends meet, rushing to work, stressing out to get the job done on time, meeting the needs of our children, family, and friends, we sometimes can't see the whole picture.
Whatever is taking place in our homes, in our workplace, in our neighborhoods, cities, countries, and in the world is part of the big picture, and we are part of it too. I remember reading that when a tree is hurt anywhere in the world, all trees feel the pain. In the same way, when someone is hurt or in pain anywhere on the planet, their pain affects us -- not consciously perhaps, but the energy that is released in the universe by their cries reverberates and reaches the heart of each and every one of us. Our hearts are all connected as part of the Oneness that is the Universe. We are all cells in the body of life and when one part of our body hurts, all the others parts are affected.
You may be familiar with the acronym, WWJD? "What would Jesus do?" I've seen it on T-shirts and on bumper stickers. Perhaps, we need to start asking ourselves that question but by using its more universal meaning: What would Love do? What would my loving heart want me to do? If I chose to act from Love, what would I do? This is a question that we must ask ourselves, not only each and every day, but each and every moment. This question must be come our "mantra", our daily meditation, our daily practice, our daily focus. What would my loving heart do? What can I do?
Anytime we find ourselves with a choice (which is each and every moment) we need to at least ask ourselves the question. We always have the choice to follow the path of Love, kindness, and compassion or not, but at the very least we need to start asking: What would my loving self suggest I do?
When you are at the grocery store and hear a child crying, what would your heart do? Perhaps silently send the child a reassuring thought: "It's OK, you're safe. Everything's OK." Perhaps smile at the child as you pass by, and send her love. Or when you reach the check-out counter and the clerk seems tired and very impatient: What would Love do? Perhaps there again, a kind thought, a smile, a gentle world, a soothing attitude.
Everything in our world "belongs" to us. Many of the world's religions teach that "man" was given "dominion" over the world. Now, without going into whether that is true or not, let's simply look as what it could mean. The dictionary defines dominion as "a sphere of influence". Then in that sense, yes we have dominion. We have influence on the world around us. Sometimes a kind word and a smile can change someone else's attitude and brighten up their day, and in extreme cases it can even keep someone from committing suicide.
We do have influence. Not only on the people we touch directly, but we can also have a greater influence worldwide by the actions we take and the actions we let others take in our name.
Many of us have spent a lot of time complaining about "the system", about the environment, global warming, pollution, child abuse, poverty, governmental policies, exploitation, wars, etc. Yet, we complain and act as if it is all out of our dominion, out of our control. Yet nothing is further from the truth. We can make a difference -- with our actions, our words, and our goals. Many of us gave up on our government and our politicians a long time ago. We stopped voting, or if we did, we did so with an attitude of hopelessness -- after all what difference can one person make?
Every time I think of one person making a difference I remember the story of the hundredth monkey. When 100 monkeys on one island started washing their potatoes, monkeys on neighboring islands, without any contact between islands, also started washing their potatoes. In other words, when one of us, then another, then another, start taking actions with a goal of making a difference, after a while it can become an "epidemic" movement.
Someone who used to work as campaign manager for a politician remarked that even when they received as few as 10 or fifteen letters or calls about an issue they took it seriously. Why? Because they knew that if 10 or fifteen people took the time to write or call, there were many others who felt the same yet did not take the time to contact them. Just imagine if we all started taking responsibility for what we want to see in the world, and deluged our city councils, our governmental officials, our congress and president, the United Nations, world leaders, with calls and letters saying "this is what we want", "this is what we see as the Highest good for all".
Politicians are human, and more than that, they are dependent on people supporting their policies if they want to be re-elected. We must stop "bitching" and start doing something. We are not powerless... unless we refuse to take up our power of speech and action.
Now, if you're completely happy with the way things are going in the world then you need do nothing. But, I'm sure there's at least one thing (just one?) that you would like to be improved -- whether it's the status of education, or the situation of the homeless, or abused children and women, or the desecration of our national forests, or the pollution on our lovely planet, or the waste of human and natural resources, or the senseless killing of humans to satisfy egos and human greed, or, or, or...
It is our planet, it is our earth, it is our life. We are not "nothing". We are not powerless. We need to let our voices be heard. We need to let everyone know what we would like the future (and the present) to be. Sitting around our TVs and complaining, or not even complaining because we've given up, is actually contributing to the problem. If we know there is something wrong and do nothing, we are as responsible as those who are doing the raping and pillaging of the sacredness of life.
We are it. Nobody is going to come along on a white horse and rescue us. If you're waiting for Jesus to come down (or aliens, or whoever) and rescue you, then you've given up. Even Jesus said (and I paraphrase) "these things that I do, you also can do". He did not say, hey, don't worry, if it gets real bad I'll take care of it and fix it for you. No, he said, these things that I do, you also can do. And he also said that if we had the faith of a mustard seed we could move mountains.
Many of us have lost our faith -- in ourselves and in humankind. We hang our head in despair and shake our heads at how bad it's become and have another beer (or another diet soda), or switch to another TV channel. We look at the world at ask ourselves what it's all come to?
Well, it's come to what we (and I include myself in this as well) have let it become. The greed, the hatred, the despair have increased because we have not done anything to stop it. This is a harsh realization for us to all come to. But, we must be willing to accept it, to face the fact that we are just as responsible for the state of the world as the perpetrators of the crimes (whether ecological, political, religious, etc.). We have let it happen because we have not stood up and said "we want it done differently".
But this is not about placing blame and saying "mea culpa" (it's my fault). It's simply about acknowledging that in the same way we have contributed to the problem by our inaction, we can contribute to the solutions by our actions.
Marianne Williamson wrote (this is widely attributed to Nelson Mandela):
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." -- A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (from Chapter 7, Section 3)
It's time to acknowledge that we are powerful, that we can make a difference. We need to stop taking our imagined powerlessness as an excuse to sit back and do nothing. If we want the world to change, for ourselves and for our children, we have to stand up and be counted. We have to participate in this experiment called Life on Earth, in whatever we can best participate.
"It's time to be cynical about cynicism. Let's rise to this evolutionary challenge to our creativity, and start to freshly imagine, and then build, a society that works. We've spent millions of years getting to this point of human evolution, and this is one of the most exciting and important times to be alive on the planet. So let's embrace the challenge. Let's acknowledge how difficult and depressing it can be -- and then move beyond that depression and despair, into action." -- Duane Elgin, author of "Voluntary Simplicity" and "Promise Ahead"
Violence and Compassion: Dialogues on life today
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Addressing the problems our world currently faces, including terrorism, environmental dangers, and overpopulation, the Dalai Lama offers direct guidance and gentle wisdom on how to overcome such major issues.
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Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.
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