So much has been written lately, that only the ardent pursuit of information by the already converted seems to be what so many people are engaged in.
Countless individuals saying more or less the same thing but in a variety of different ways. Yes, I listen and I read. And yes, I am occasionally inspired by the clarity and intelligence of those far wiser than me, but I also recognise where the buck stops.
What to do with all that information and how do we forge a path, within the jungle of pain and hatred and righteousness, that still has the power to lead us towards cherished moments and sharing bursts of kindness and gentleness.
Families have come forward with different perspectives, sometimes voiced with passion and anger and fear. Alliances formed through years of friendship are suddenly unravelling because there is an existential truth that is as old as time immemorial.
The existential reality of I,me and my.
My reality, my truth, my perspective, cannot be wholly and completely understood by another. We were born alone and we will die alone. The world has been in existential crisis many times before. Each individual finds meaning or not, through their personal life education, and culture ethnicity, community and family. And of course it goes far beyond that, where each person finds that which is easier or more practical or more reasonable or more convincing, to believe. Nowadays, our predilection towards emotionally believing what we hear far outweighs a concerted investment in truth seeking, and from engaging in critical thinking.
But I digress. What do we do with all these words and feelings and emotions? How do we find the space between the grief and the pain, the tears and the vengeance, the side-taking and the confusion, to hold softly to our colleagues and friends and families. Is there still space to break bread and sit in commune and respond gently and kindly when the person in front of us says things that we cannot relate to?
Recently I listened to Arthur Brooks, co- author of Build The Life You Want. And he talks about happiness. One of the things he says is that happiness is not a feeling. Happiness is not a destination. In fact the one way to find happiness is to totally accept the unhappiness that comes up. Happiness and Unhappiness he says are the emotional responses to outside stimuli. Many of us think, if it feels bad make it stop. But that’s not a path to happiness. Today we are told if you are in a lot of pain there is something wrong. But according to Brooks that’s not right.
Suffering is ubiquitous to the human condition and there certainly is a great deal of suffering in the world right now. Finding the suffering that is close to home, in your family, neighborhood, community, in the street or in the moment, and doing something about that is a path to genuine satisfaction and this makes a difference to the world as a whole. Believe it or no,t what we each do, say, think, believe is not confined to the person with whom we are directly engaged.
American author James Gleik in his 1987 book, Chaos, wrote the title of his first chapter called The Butterfly Effect. The butterfly effect rests on the notion that the world is deeply interconnected, such that one small occurrence can influence a much larger complex system. The effect is named after an allegory for chaos theory; it evokes the idea that a small butterfly flapping its wings could, hypothetically, cause a typhoon.
Of course that is not possible, but what is possible is that small changes can have large consequences.
My late husband was a wise non-Buddhist Lama who always said, ‘Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” He believed that by chipping away at his wants and appreciating what he had he could attain that gentle inner hum of joy in life. That is not to say that grief, pain, disillusion, disappointment and sorrow would ever be eliminated, but he knew these were not only inevitable, but have the potential to create opportunities to grow and make a difference in some small yet meaningful way.
Every phone call I receive leaves me feeling thought of and thankful. Every message from a friend checking-in warms my heart. My mother was a great person that kept in touch. Her words were often the same. “I was just thinking of you and you don’t know that so I’m calling to let you know.” She was a good friend to many people.
So what do we do with all this verbal, visual, visceral, verbose vocabulary that is swarming around us all?
Address the issues close to us. Gently. Softly. Kindly. And even if you don’t like what you hear don’t hang up. Hang in there. It costs nothing and every small act like that, makes the world of difference.