“How can we justify being focused on spiritual and philosophical pursuits when there is so much pain and suffering in the world?“
This is a question asked by my Teacher, Essence Ka tha’ras.
I love her questions. They usually come when I’ve just got up in the morning and am still stumbling around trying to sort out my first cup of coffee. I swear, I am not human until after two cups of coffee, so when Essence greets me with questions such as this, it can be a bit of a shock to the system! This question arrived at a more civilised time, so I was able to crank up the brain cells….
This is the lesson I learned when I had my first mental breakdown in the early 1980’s Life had always been stressful; I was a young mum who was also suffering from PTSD although it was another 20 years before that was diagnosed. My husband watched the BBC News all day, and the only topic of conversation on the TV station was the various wars, famine, murders, IRA, Cold War and all the other terrors of that era. It was too much.
At that time there was really only two methods of treating a breakdown – hospitalisation with electric-shock therapy or some really vicious drugs. Either way, I would not be in a position to look after my baby and seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist was only for rich folk. I was incredibly lucky in that my doctor was very forward thinking; and he was a neighbour. What actually happened was that for about a year, he gave up his lunch time for an off-the-books appointment with me. What he taught me, not only saved my sanity, but probably my life.
He asked me if I was going to physically do something about the world problems that were causing me such distress. Was I planning to travel to Cambodia to assist the people who were struggling after surviving the Pol Pot regime? Was I going to actually take food to the places around the world where children were starving? Could I, personally, do anything about the IRA presence in my home town?
My answer was no. I had a baby and a family to look after, and I could barely find the energy to leave my own house.
This doctor was the first person to teach me Compassion with Detachment, although he didn’t use those words. In more recent years, Essence reminded me of this – during the time I was recovering from my 2nd breakdown – and my Dark Night Of The Soul.
He made a recommendation. He suggested that I think about the world 150 years ago. It would have been the 1830’s and most people had no idea what was happening in the next village, and certainly no knowledge of what was happening on the other side of the world. My choice was to actually leave everything I knew and loved and go DO something – take Physical Action Steps – to rectify the world problems as I saw them, or I could focus on my local area, physically and emotionally, where I COULD, actually, do something to help.
This was the place I dwelled for the next 40 years – until Covid. Many people, me included at times, would have considered my choice as hiding my head in the sand. Many would think me very ignorant because I had no idea what was going on in the world. I had no idea who was Prime Minister or even which political party was holding sway. My quiet, small, voice was not going to make a difference, so my worrying myself sick over these things would only result in my being physically, emotionally and mentally even more hurt.
Thich Nhat Hanh summed it up beautifully
I am aware of what is going on in the world, but if I allow it within me, I will become sick. If I am sick I am of no assistance to others.Thich Nhat Hanh
What I now know is that my choice was an Energy choice. I could devote a whole heap of Energy into fields where I had no ability to make a difference – and in the course of that, I would drain myself of any ability to do anything helpful in any arena. Or I could focus my Energy on where I COULD make a difference. In my case, it was my local community and my own physical and mental health.
At that time, I was in my Dark Night of the Soul. Now, today, the entire Collective Consciousness of Humanity is in its Dark Night of the Soul– and we are heading towards a peak in those Energies.
I am now realistic – and, hopefully, wiser. There are things I can do, and things I can’t. I, as an individual cannot fix the world any more now than I could in the 1980’s. But I can work in my local community, I can focus on my spiritual, physical and mental health. I can, as an individual, stand in the Energy of being aware, of bearing witness, of doing what I AM able to do, where I am able to do it. I choose not to make lots of public noise on social media, not because I think it’s wrong to make a noise, but because it’s simply not something – at this point in time – that I, as an individual, can do much about.
We have to grow, we have to come together and we have to be absolutely sure of our Collective way forward. Right now we are none of those things.
Right now we are in a cycle that has been repeated for as long as humans hold memory.
Is this going to be the last time we pass through this cycle? I don’t know – but I doubt it.