The news headlines these days are ripe to leave us feeling uncertain about the future and sorrowful for the suffering of others across the world. This is a normal feeling when affairs are out of our control. Across the world, an entire country is fighting for their right to peaceful lives and democracy. Many countries are still combatting endemic waves of Covid-19 breakouts. Global warming and deforestation are ever-present, riots are happening in the streets of America, Wall Street numbers spike and crash daily, politicians align with agendas for power – there is chaos all around us. Nothing of the last two years seems to make any sense.
A natural response may be to constrict, withdraw, tense against the surrounding angst. This is what we’re taught – sense danger, then self-protect, self-preserve and run away or defend. Retreat or fight. When the chaos isn’t directly in our backyard, it’s easier to retreat and leave the resolutions to ‘them,’ the ‘others,’ the people who are ‘responsible for that.’ In many ways, we can be thankful that we are not facing these challenges personally. However, as a global collective, we all feel the impacts of events happening hundreds to thousands of miles away. Retreating minimizes the suffering of others.
What, then, is our recourse? When living in a heightened state of uncertainty, piloted by anxiety and fear, we may feel like birds being tossed around in the wind. A sense of lacking control can leave us feeling emotionally hijacked by everything happening around us. Yet, when watching birds in a strong wind, at second glance, we realize they are not in fact blown about. Instead, they redirect their course, flying into the wind, leaning into the natural forces, and persisting to find their course. We also have the power to do this through the chaos.
We need not feel we are at the whim of our emotions. By acknowledging our feelings of unease, we may act as the bird and recognize when we are in the storm. From there, we may redirect our course and challenge the feeling that we are at whimsy’s mercy. In choosing this, we strengthen our emotional response. We shift to living mindfully, aware of how we feel and choosing how we respond. In activating this skill, we begin living with more intention and we manage to find calm in the storm. Within the calm, we can then transmute the crazed energy of the world and alternately respond with kindness and a loving heart, a defensive strategy, instead of retreating.
Buddhist practices call upon Tonglen in these moments of global frenzy. By breathing IN the feelings of unease, fear, anger, worry, anxiety, negativity, and then breathing OUT loving kindness, wishes for peace, positive thoughts and images of happiness and joy, we can alchemize suffering and return the volley with lightness. Across the world, when humans collectively fly into the wind and refuse to allow themselves to be tossed about, we strengthen our will, and we evoke calm during times of distress. This quiet strength is a super-power we all possess; the ability to shine our light into the moments of darkness, and then electively respond with hope against feelings of despair.
As you engage with your personal world and relate with the affairs across the planet, know that you have the power to shift your response, at any moment. We can all be brave and transform fear with love, changing the way we react and emanating calm to combat angst. Hope, faith and positivity have great power to support those who are unable to find calm. From ten thousand miles away, we may shift the collective mood of the world by refusing to allow dread in our hearts and actively choosing to embrace and return goodness. In your everyday life, you have this power. We may not win wars, we may not heal the planet with our collective spirit, but we will break the chain of negativity and fear. This is how momentum builds to inspire belief for a more positive future.