In the wake of adversity, from an act of terrorism to a devastating tsunami or earthquake, some journalist somewhere in the world asks the revered spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, what are we to do?
How do people cope? How should they respond in the face of such enormous catastrophe?
And, each time, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatzo usually replies: This is why we practice.
In other words, this is why we’ve been bothering to make ourselves better in the first place. The difficult moments are the exact reasons why we’ve bothered to pursue inner peace and contentment, practice patience and gratitude, and give compassion and kindness to others.
We practice our inner search for peace, contentment, and strength for the exact moments when suffering descends.
When life feels as though it has gone utterly sideways, the poise, perseverance and perspective that we’ve been nurturing is what we have to fully lean on. We’re mentally leaner. We’re emotionally-fitter. The practice has prepared us and made us stronger.
All the practice that we put in comes back to us tenfold in moments when we need them the most.
Besides. In life, the losses and heartbreaks we suffer are not meant to break us. They exist to prompt our strength — heart-open, loving strength. But it’s the pain that we feel the most when we’re suffering, and pain is hard to rationalize.
It’s hard enough to suffer through loss and heartbreak, and harder still to try to find some silver lining.
According to the Dalai Lama, this is why we practice. It’s why we’ve been practicing all along. Suffering is what we’ve been preparing for. So that we can survive it.
And maybe, so we can do something more than just survive it.
Maybe, just maybe, some good can actually come from it.
One Way or Another, The Majority Will Rule
All but one or two of thousands of my friends, peers, students and connections have been in a state of abject grief or mourning in the wake of this week’s presidential election.
The circumstances of this election pushed me out of hiding from taking a political side publicly, but I feared the worst: that the candidate who has since become president should have been taken at his word. Now, that worst-case scenario has become true, and I hold in my heart hope for the best, but fear the worst still.
In its wake, a message — especially to those who feel disillusioned, heartbroken, let down, lied to, jaded, cynical, or like they want to immigrate away from the United States in the face of this black-eye upon our democracy:
This is why we’re here.
As the Dalai Lama reminds us, this is why we’ve been practicing, all along.
The day before the elections took place, I wrote on Facebook: One vote every four years is a function of the system, and that matters.
But it’s what happens after that matters more: how and in what ways you use your thousands of minute-to-minute choices about how to live, what to embody, and whether you cower or rise.
- One vote is small — even in a democracy — when compared to the plenitude of words, thoughts, and deeds you always have at your disposal, your choosing, right now, without anyone’s required permission.
- One vote every four years, it pales in comparison to the hundred million thought-votes, word-votes, and deed-votes you cast every single day of your life.
No matter which single candidate would have been elected, the fact remains that there can only be one viable solution to the unheard of distrust, dis-ease, fear, and anger that plagues our era.
A majority of us will have to treat it. To heal it.
In a true sense of democracy, the only healing that may come is what a majority of us feel, say, and do in its wake. One way or the other, the majority will rule.
Will you be one of the majority of those in our communities who spends the majority of her words, stories, thoughts, beliefs and actions in healing, togetherness, small step, starting points, giving, and leading by example?
Will you do your soul work to examine your shadows, come into relationship to your lower self, and practice diminishing your own self-righteousness — to encourage your best self to shine?
Now is a moment of reckoning. Which side will you stand on?
Don’t Run. Don’t Hide. This Is Why We’re Here.
If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now that our country, our states, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, are suffering. Stubbed toe or something deeper, the pain is real and taking form in anger, division, distrust and dis-ease.
You want to “be the change you wish to see in the world”? Here’s where you begin.
Want to be a healer, a giver, a servant? This is how they see the world.
Have you longed for purpose, for meaning? Have you desired a significant mission that matters?
Look around you now. The opportunities are aplenty. This is your chance.
In the face of darkness, adversity, sadness, pain, you can be one of the many who will decide that now is the time for their work to truly begin. Defeat, surrender, running and hiding, they’re options available to you, too. But, will you regret that? When you look back, won’t you have wished to have seized the opportunity — even in grief, in pain, in confusion — to not cower, but instead stand taller, and bite down on your pride, and live out the very stuff you’ve carried in your heart and soul all along?
Let us acknowledge and relish the opportunity before us: that we have clear sight of the wounds that exist, that we can help heal them.
It’s time to work, now.
It’s time to do better.
It’s time to be more, give more tenaciously, bear the pain with greater strength, and love louder.
It’s now or never to take what you believe in your heart, and start to make it known and real in the small corner of the world that whirls in pain, all around you.
- Consider just how many millions of souls have never had the chance to respond in the face of adversity: their voices silenced, their rights stripped, their very lives taken.
- Consider how many across history have suffered worse defeats than a democratic election in which an abhorrent, self-aggrandizing, populist thug won by a slim majority.
- Think of how few across history have ever had the opportunity to respond with their voice, words, deeds, rallies, petitions, books, services, offerings, classes, organizations, and future votes.
My life has seen so many spoils of advances in the name of equal rights, equality, peace, and justice — in spite of all the shortcomings, the failures, the downfalls. We must remember that times have never been better for humanity, even with how much work is left to do.
Can you bear to hold those two seemingly opposite ideas in your heart at the same time, and still march onward?
It’s easy to take for granted the slow march of progress across human civilization. We forget how much the emotion of fear can override the human experience, and how susceptible the mind can be to manipulation.
History’s molasses-climb from archaic, backwards norms into today’s better-and-better reality has been tilled not by a precious few, but by tenacious millions whose names you don’t know and will never learn — because it wasn’t about their glory, or their vote being the winning one.
They chose the path that was right because it was the path that was good, and for the betterment of all.
There’s more left to do. A lot left to do. So let’s get to work.
Of course it’s easy to say. Of course it’s harder to do. So what?
What in life that’s worth it, isn’t?
If we’re lucky, you and I will be fighting this fight towards equality, peace and justice for the lot of our lives — because if there’s no striving to be done, then it’s because we have surrendered; because we will have chosen our own defeat.
So long as the opportunity is there for them, they will require the likes of our tenacity, grit, and dedication to keep going.
This isn’t the time to run away.
It’s the exact moment of our rising.
For the rank and file, for self-defeating inner narrators, for the perennial-avoiders, for the rather-hiders, now is the moment to affirm what we know to be true in our heart of hearts.
Now is a rare chance to whole-heartily to take up the mantle of spiritual knowledge, and self-determination, and begin to counter-act the division and anger and hatred by shedding literal acts of loving kindness in every corner of earth upon which they tread.
This is our collective opportunity to rise up, again — and shine ever brighter.
If you want to save the world, or change it; if you want to make a difference, help a life, or do something that matters with yours; if you’ve always wanted to be a healer, or a transformer, or a teacher, you must be in the circumstances, hardship, suffering, wounds and pains that facilitate your chance to heal them.
Look around. There you have it. Here is your curriculum.
Will you run? Or will you rise?