So much of what I write in this journal is about the deep and heavy challenges facing our world. I want to share a few thoughts about what keeps me going through all this, in hopes that they will be helpful to you, my dear readers.
First, there is a thought from Buddhist psychology that if there is too much of one thing, deliberately add in the opposite. Now consider the word discouragement. That’s easy to feel these days, and it’s a hindrance to getting stuff done. Within that word is its own opposite, courage. That’s a quality we think too little about nowadays. But it is vital. We need a certain moral courage to confront the realities of the day. That is the balancing element that overcomes discouragement.
Next is the importance of each one of us finding our own center, which requires a certain application of moral courage. We live in a world of distractions and messages about what is important, what deserves our attention. In our media-saturated universe, we are constantly drawn away from the place we are to this or that abstraction. Indeed, we do live in a large and complex world, and it is easy to lose ourselves. Sometimes, we just have to know where we plant our feet, and be present in the moment. Know our coordinates in space and time. Be here now, as they say.
Civilization is inherently hierarchical, and has been since the start something like 5,000 years ago. So there is a constant call to authority, and in organized societies that is inevitable. In finding our own center, we find a place to challenge illegitimate authorities, ones which are self-serving and producing bad outcomes. That is where more decentralized indigenous societies have something to teach us. The native practice of the four directions has long been an inspiration to me. It says we each stand at the center of a sacred circle, that the winds come from north, south, east and west to each one of us. That says a lot about how nature itself centers us, and how even in urban places we can find natural reality.
Another thought from native traditions is that the real leaders are those who have the next seven generations at the center of their considerations, and exert foresight to ensure the survival of the people. That is the test I apply to the institutions of the world, to discern whether they indeed reflect a legitimate authority, or are at their root illegitimate. The obvious facts staring us in the face say we are not leaving a good world for the next generation, let alone seven. The climate crisis, the general deterioration of ecological fundamentals – soils, forests, waters, biodiversity, the turn to increased militarism, the failure of systems to meet basic human needs, are just some of the signs the generations are not being considered. So it is up to us, as people, to be the leaders, to stand in the center where we live and infuse the thought of coming generations into as many venues as we can.
A final thought, everything is about relations. Humanity has all sorts of philosophical, religious and spiritual traditions prescribing and suggesting behavior. But in the end, it all comes down to how we treat each other and the world in which we live. Every tradition worth its salt has something like the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is a balance against our natural human egotism, to value ourselves about others, and a call to kindness. The root of that word tells us all we need to know. Kindness speaks to treating others with compassion, because in a fundamental sense, we recognize they are our fellows, our kind. We can have complex visions of the human societies we would like to build. But fundamentally, a world in which kindness is the rule is what we seek, whatever label we put on it.
Life gives us many reasons for anxieties and depression. You can’t turn on the news or scroll through social media without it. I have my own struggles, as I think most of us do. We can find answers in summoning moral courage, finding our center and being present in it, confronting the realities of the world from that center, keeping future generations in focus and living as much as possible in a sense of kindness to others. These might seem like lofty and idealistic goals, but they are as down-to-earth practical reality as it gets. At least for me, because they are what gets me through the day.
Teaser photo credit: An image of a lantern used in the Vesak Festival; which celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of the Buddha. By Mithila Wijekoon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26294827