A majestic buck stands outside my studio window, taut, muscular, sniffing the air. The bucks come down from the hills to the fallow fields when the days turn cool, as precise a movement as the flock of geese swinging a compass high overhead. I find comfort in the returning cycles of sun and season. They offer balance when much of the old order I’ve taken for granted is in grave disrepair.
How to maintain balance when it seems that all we’ve relied on is unraveling? Along with many others, it is a question I ask myself. In a thoughtful letter, a reader from another country writes that in his profession, he counsels others to develop the capacity to bridge differences; that ‘seeing every point of view is an essential starting point.’ This man has made a lifelong effort to live according to his highest values, and despairs as he sees his country being vandalized by a government which has hijacked our democratic system and which shows no interest in the dialogue essential to maintaining it. He concludes: ‘I must confess, I have my work cut out for me when it comes to maintaining equanimity in the face of the ongoing savaging of this planet.’
This is the work. When all around us people are polarized by fear and anger, we need not lend energy to the battle. We can stand in the fires of social confusion and choose a more radical way: to take no enemies. A mind set against something is not conscious in the best sense of the word. It is operating at a more primitive level. Real consciousness requires us to live with an open heart, made fierce by anger and softened by the grief we feel for our own shortcomings and those of the world. Hearts filled with compassion know what it is to feel helpless before what Whitman called ‘life’s fierce enigmas.’ But I think when we’ve accepted the truth of our own profound vulnerability, we can begin to surrender the many ways we’ve tried to guarantee the outcomes we want, and learn to trust Life’s own unfolding, however uncertain it may be. It leads to a quiet mind, one that’s learned to how to hold all kinds of inner and outer contradictions and not expect to solve them. From this kind of consciousness, we can serve what we value most, and at the same time, refuse to be co-opted by the hostilities swirling about us. Perhaps then, we can work for the good of all together, and breathe new life into a suffering world.
We belong to life, and we can trust that life knows how to engage us creatively. Our work is to be present, to listen, and to step forward when it taps the potential deep within us. Then, whatever social, global, or environmental changes lie ahead, we will be participants in life’s creative unfolding and the gradual awakening of Love.
From Awakening the Energies of Love: Discovering Fire for the Second Time
In these early days of December, as a soft rain falls in California, I remember the first snowfall in New England; how it blanketed the earth and muffled sound—and silence became a spacious and holy presence. As the winters progressed, however, and we shoveled snow and pulled soggy socks from our children’s feet, that dark stillness often brought depression. We forgot that it held promise, hid something deeper: new life gathering itself to be born. We live in a dark time. Many of us have sought to help solve some of the immense difficulties confronting us, to learn the truth of each situation, and to grow in understanding. We’ve taken stands on countless issues and made the best decisions we knew how. But we are beginning to see that the kinds of solutions our cultures have to offer are blunt instruments—and we begin to realize we need more refined means of resolving our dilemmas.
Even as conflicts escalate the world over, we can lend the weight of our presence to a different kind of action. We are learning that it is possible to integrate a more subtle form of activism with social action, and that one can flow quite naturally out of the other. We’re discovering in groups of all kinds around the world that our lives are deeply joined; that we can participate at a level of sensibility that is complementary to problem solving and does not seek to make one side right and the other wrong. Entire groups are awakening to this truth as they dare to take the position that they do not know the answer. Instead, they choose to embrace opposing views, give focused attention to the silence, and trust. Then a common voice may arise.
This week, the Indigenous Peoples of the World are gathering in Fort Collins and Carbondale, CO at the same time the UN Climate Change Conference takes place in Copenhagen, the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, and the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded President Obama in Oslo. In any group in which you have more than a casual membership, I invite you to set aside conversation for a short time, postpone closure in your own mind, and listen in the silence for something new. After all, it is that time of year, and as nature has always shown us, it is out of darkness that light is born again.