In the Northern Hemisphere, in late November, we have entered the time of the long dark nights. At the same time, the world us filled with chaos, conflict and danger. There is the threat of nuclear conflict with North Korea and a rising tide of discrimination–against Muslims around the world and immigrants to the U.S. These burdens have been added onto ongoing suffering for centuries on this planet.
In the midst of all this, do you find yourself feeling stressed, worried and heavy of heart? Has your faith in humanity been rocked by the recent shootings in Texas and Egypt and by increasing allegations of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men?
I, too, find myself feeling overwhelmed and grief-stricken in the face of all this. As I shared in my blog about the white supremacist rallies and the violence in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, I also have moments when I feel afraid–even panicky.
Despite these appearances of suffering in every quarter of the world, I believe fervently that inner and outer darkness can be conquered through practices of gratitude and radical compassion.
Thanksgiving and the holiday season are a time to reflect deeply on what is good for ourselves and the world. Gratitude nurtures the the heart of deep connection to yourself and others. Sending aspirations of love, kindness and caring to oneself and others activates empathy, understanding and sweetness. As simple as it sounds, these practices are a gateway to soul-inspired action for change in yourself and the world. All suffering, appearing as heavy emotions, thoughts, words and sensations in your own heart and mind, naturally move towards greater lightness. The courage and inspiration to seek emboldened transformation in the world is nourished. I do not believe this is airy-fairy stuff. Nor am I trying to avoid the truth of things as they are in the world–the real pain and suffering every human being, bar none, has experienced or continues to. Indeed, in the Great Medicine Wheel of the New Earth, a map for walking the transformational journey of awakened heart and mind which I offer to students, tells us that there are always two truths: the first, as the Buddha said, that we will feel pain. There is injustice. The other truth is that there is a way out of suffering. We can each find that way.
In my work as a healer and spiritual teacher, I continue to be inspired by the words of the Dalai Lama who says that we will end violence in the world when we unwind the conflict in our own minds and hearts. Every spiritual wisdom tradition says inner and outer darkness can be conquered and will be so in times to come. As we seek to dismantle suffering, some of us are called to the work in the inner world, some in the outer, and some in both.
Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, Native American teacher, puts it this way in her book, Voices of our Ancestors: Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire:
“And there is the person who understands the wisdom of the heart one who is devoted to the ideal, to bringing forth for the benefit of all beings what is good. This one is concerned, not with science, not with the how, but just with being and doing, complete devotion for the benefit of all the people….Each one of us at some point in our life is radiating and resonating according to…different rays. As we come to complete integration we make a decision: Will we continue our work just for our own enlightenment alone, or will we continue to work for the benefit of all beings?…remember that we are all in process and unfolding, and let yourself know freedom from the suffering of doubt….We are human beings. We can live in harmony and dignity. We can make peace, we empower ourselves to be peaceful. That is an affirmation, that is a hope, that is a vision.”
What does this mean in practical terms? You need to keep alive the spirit of hope and a vision for reconciliation, concord and love, no matter how dark things seem in your personal life or in the world. Practices to cleanse and clear your mind, heart and body of heavy energies will prevent you from staying in the pit of despair. Prayers of aspiration for loving kindness for yourself, friends, strangers, and even those who appear to be your enemies will transmute hurt and anger. Ceremonies of fire, flowers and water nurtures beauty and activates the heart of deep connection to yourself and all beings. The spirit of interconnection felt in the body and mind gives courage and inspires powerful insight and vision for life.
Out of these deep soul-inspired actions for change in yourself and the world, all suffering, appearing as heavy emotions, thoughts, words and sensations naturally move towards greater lightness. You can think of them, as Venerable Dhyani says, as baskets of love left along the roads of daily life. Believe that there will be someone who will stumble upon one of them, open it up, and have their heart and mind opened.
This is the great work of radical compassion. You do not need to be a spiritual activist out in the world. You can hold this space of radical compassion and gratitude for the benefit of all beings. And, you can also take the vital energy fostered by these practices to cultivate work in the world which will alleviate suffering, bring joy, health and wholeness to others.
Both ways are good. Both ways are needed. Believe in yourself and the vision you hold for life. As Venerable Dhyani puts it: “By the power of its sound it is a reality.”