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Transforming Despair

Transforming Despair

HOW DO WE BEAR the constant barrage of news about the suffering, deaths and crises in all parts of the world without becoming immobilized with grief and despair? How can we witness man’s inhumanity to man—and other species and the planet—and stay positive? How can we bear the suffering and pain of loved ones close to us without being overwhelmed with sorrow?

I struggle mightily with this and would like to share what has helped me over the years. Well-known activist and teacher, Joanna Macy, (author of Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age and Coming Back to Life and others) calls us to the first, and hardest, step—acknowledging and expressing “our pain for the world;” anger, fear, guilt, grief, confusion, helplessness. Allowing our hearts to break open connects us with compassion for all who are suffering, which paradoxically brings us more inner peace and energy for doing something to alleviate suffering. I invite you to read this brief interview with her for more understanding of her teaching.

Another wise teacher, Pema Chodron, offers the practice of Tonglen for “overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of the heart.” Here is a short description of Tonglen.

Ram Dass once said, “Does knowing the sorrow of the world mean that we don't throw the Frisbee on the beach?”

I always need to remind myself that in spite of the world’s suffering—or maybe because of it—I need to be open to the joys, beauty, and love that are always a part of my daily life. These are some practices that help me keep that balance:
• I tell myself not to feed the forces of negativity and darkness by dwelling on bad news or problems. “Don’t go there,” I say to myself when I’m drawn to think of upsetting situations, but I do my best to release painful emotions.
• I meditate every day, and my dog makes sure I get energetic outdoor exercise. It’s good to get out in a natural place as much as possible. This poem by Wendell Berry speaks to the healing power of nature.

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

• I subscribe to daily email messages of inspiration and guidance for keeping an open mind, an open heart and a vision for creating a positive future for all. Conscious Connections and The Center for Action and Contemplation are favorites.
• I also have to look at my own thoughts and beliefs to see if they are adding to or creating suffering.
• I look for stories, films, online sources, books, magazines (like Yes!), for good news of positive stuff happening all over the world.
• I choose to watch daily news but don’t look at images that I know will upset me.
• When I find myself feeling unable to bear some suffering in myself or others, I pray. I pray that God, the Universe, the Indwelling Presence and Divine Source of Love, will help me bear the unbearable.
• I join with others—sometimes even in an online forum—for mutual emotional and spiritual support.

So let's not forget to throw the Frisbee, and take in the beauty, love and joy that is with us every moment.


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