We live in an age where we have the opportunity to know what’s going on, not only in our communities or the cities where we live, but all around the world. We know when there are disasters taking place, human rights violations happening, or where there is political unrest or species nearing extinction – not only that but we can predict many of these things. We can know as much or as little as we want about our world nowadays. What an incredible time in human history to be alive! Never before have we had this opportunity for such connection and understanding of other cultures and struggles all around the world.
Even in extremely remote areas cut off from modern-day communications, we have the ability to zoom in via satellite cameras and actually see what has taken place there. With the recent earthquakes in Nepal, there were many regions that had zero communications with the outside world following the rock avalanches and loss of power. But using our technology we were able to zoom in to these villages using satellite cameras that we could view with the internet and actually calculate the losses and damages before sending in help. In fact, here in Colorado we had a company (Digital Globe) that was pioneering this groundbreaking method!
And yet, with all of this information and awareness at our very fingertips, why is our response to tragedy so minimal and short-lived? In a matter of a week, we are on to the next thing. Why do so many people look the other way? How can we not know about what is happening in Syria? Or about what has been happening in Tibet for nearly 70 years? Even closer to home, how about the nuclear waste dumping site that lives just down the street from you? Or how about the family that simply moved out one day in your very own neighborhood with no heads up whatsoever? How do we “not know” or especially how do we turn our heads the other way in the face of news but most especially in the face of others’ suffering?
I hold this inquiry in mind because I think that this is an important difference to understand. As a social activist, it can be easy to feel judgmental of those who don’t respond to the world’s trauma like you do. And as a busy mother, wife and/or professional, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless by the state of the world as well as guilty or ashamed for simply wanting to go home at the end of the work day, eat a nourishing meal with your family, watch some television, and go to bed.
I have always been someone who wants to be “in the know” but I also find that I need breaks, too. Once in my years as an animal rights activist I went to see a naturopathic doctor because I was “depressed” and it just felt so incongruent with who I was at the time. The fire I had in my fight to bring awareness to humanity of the horrors of our food industry was burning so strong at the time and it made me feel alive to work so hard for something so important. But the moment the doctor began inquiring about this work that I was fully immersed in, I crumpled.
The truth was, the work was taking over my life. I hadn’t taken more than a day off in months. I had lost my sense of self in the stories and the outrage of the suffering of animals and was no longer enjoying any aspects of my life if it wasn’t to help the animals and to educate others. Lo and behold, that was the first time I realized that not every one wants to know what has happened to the animals that they are consequently putting in their bodies but it was at that very moment that I realized I was not happy. I had to find a way to live in both worlds without denying that these things were happening to our four-leggeds. Plus, if I push my agenda, not only do people look the other way, but I myself get burned out.
So, how exactly do we do this? How do we reconcile the parts of us that care so much about what is happening in our world, want to be available, to serve, and to act on behalf of a cause with the parts of us that want to have a family, want to own things like houses and cars, that want to watch silly non-life-changing movies, that want to gobble up croissants and drink fancy lattes, and take beach vacations? How do we live them both? Can’t we have it all?
Of course we can.
Caring about the world is not about deprivation. And serving the world is not about putting one hat on while taking the other off. It’s not about stepping outside of ourselves in order to make room for something or someone else. And it’s not about shaming ourselves for being privileged. It’s also not about blaming: not blaming ourselves and not blaming others for the mess we may find we are in.
Caring about the world means we are willing to see its complexity and yet to let the messiness in anyway, to let it impact us, as much as we are able to. It means we are willing to look at all its colors, and taste all its flavors with as little to no judgment as possible. And to be of service is a state of mind that we cultivate over time. It is not a 9 to 5. It is a diminishing of the hard and fear-based boundary between “you” and “me” and a relaxation into not only, “YOU are not alone,” but also, “neither am I”. We can learn to share not only our struggles, but our joys and victories as well.
Caring for and serving our world means we receive an invitation to step more fully into ourselves. We learn to let others in, but we also learn to let all those pieces and parts of ourselves in as well. This includes the boundaries (I can’t think about Syria right now) and the anger (I can’t believe we let this happen) and the sadness (what are we supposed to do now?). And we let these thoughts and feelings move through us like the life-giving water we drink every day. We absorb the nutrients, the minerals in the water, we let it hydrate us and nourish and shape each cell, and then we let it go.
When we can make room for caring and serving our world, we are actually making more room for ourselves, believe it or not. It means that we are acknowledging being a part of something BIGGER and that we have actually have a role to play and can make an impact in this world. It means we no longer have to avoid or deny that part of us that wants to be In-The-Know but we also don’t have to enter into that degree of suffering in order to understand it.
To me, this is how we begin to bridge the desire to make a difference with the desire to not be consumed by the suffering in our world. Without it, we deny our own place in the constellation of this giant web of life. And our place is valuable, important, and completely unique to us! And if we completely hand over our lives in honor of service, we will deplete our very selves of un-renewable resources: our time, our energy, our attention. And yet if we hoard these things, then we deny the world our very imprint and flavor.
So I ask you, can you make some room for YOU and YOUR WORLD? Can you drop more deeply into yourself today? Can you make room for all of your pieces and parts that feel this way and that way about your life, the lives around you, and the lives you only hear about in the news? And with that, can you listen to yourself more deeply? Can you feel the emotions that come from participation – in whatever way you are able – and make room for them? Can you not judge them? Can you let them shape you, nourish you, and then let them go?
Please feel free to leave your comments down below. This is tricky territory, I get it. If you find you need some support in this arena, don’t hesitate to reach out. (720) 441-2392.
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