It is easy to feel that with so much going on today, both on the world stage and in the realm of the ‘personal’, that it is hard to know where to put our attention. Deeply held values of a spiritual kind influence this choice and define our involvement with the fate of people everywhere. Yet, for many of us, despite our caring and despite our desire for a broader outlook, we live our lives within a small sphere of perception, often trying to minimize the influence of dramatic world events upon our everyday consciousness, just so that we can get by.
Nevertheless, we can ask if it is really possible at this time to have a ‘personal’ life – one that is not influenced by the ‘global’? Perhaps for some, though America’s state of ‘war’ and the threat of imminent terrorist activity makes this unlikely for most. We can try to redirect our focus away from world events so that we feel separate. But are we really separate, or just choosing to be unaware of the looming difficulties that are writ large on the world scene?
To consider the question of what is ‘personal’ and what is ‘global’, what is ‘in here’ and what is ‘out there’, is to reflect on the subject of identity – to scrutinize who we perceive ourselves to be and what we hold to be most important to us in terms of values. In doing this, it may be useful to ask ourselves: What, among the many things that we are aware of during a given day, do we feel is most important for us to pay attention to? The answer to this forms the shape of our identity, not our deepest identity which is of the soul and spirit, but our conscious experience of ourselves.
Our sense of identity changes and matures through time and history, changing the view we have regarding our ‘self’. As part of this movement, spiritual identification with the common lot of mankind naturally develops, creating an understanding of the oneness of life and the unity of souls. Such perception, over time, comes to be held less as idea or belief, than as experienced reality, not needing to be proven, but given. Today, we are each somewhere along the path of growth and learning regarding the relationship between self and others. Yet fear can cloud our willingness to identify with others, especially with their suffering – fear of being overwhelmed by too much feeling, fear of helplessness in relation to all that needs to be done to help – fear that there isn’t enough of us (meaning, enough of love) to be shared with so large a group as the ‘human family’.
Despite our fear and in the presence of it, we are called, today, to become larger, not only in our thinking, but in our feeling. Not only in our caring, but in our capacity to hold suffering and pain as well. Indeed, we each have the capacity to ‘become larger’ because it is part of who we are as souls – we are each ‘larger’ than we believe ourselves to be. If we have become disillusioned with the world and have sought to separate from it, it is time, now, for us to reexamine the premises for hope – premises that our soul holds for us as part of our own inner nature. We do this, knowing that we cannot help anyone, including ourselves, if we do not have hope. We do it also because our hearts tell us that hope is needed if the world is to heal.
Helplessness and hopelessness are not the same thing. Helplessness is a state of frozen action or feeling. It is related to an inability to directly alter a situation that we would wish to alter, whether personal or global. Hopelessness, by contrast, involves a belief that the situation can never be altered. It links to our own helplessness, God’s presumed helplessness or absence, and affirms that things will not get better, they will only get worse.
In order to maintain hope, we need to distinguish between the perception of helplessness and the perception of hopelessness and to examine them with care. Though corrective physical action may not be possible for us right now in many of the troubling world situations we hear about daily, spiritual action in the way of prayer and alignment with light is always possible. It is always possible through heart, mind, and alignment with God, to link our consciousness with others and in this way to convey hope. For the rest, for the situation to change on the outer level as well, we must learn to wait in trust.
If we perceive obstacles within ourselves to the striving for unity with others anywhere, everywhere – including those whom we dislike who may be our immediate peers and neighbors – we can choose to make of this a spiritual practice so that greater unity becomes possible. This spiritual practice focuses attention and energy in the direction of our heart’s caring and in the direction of our desire for healing. In practice, we ask that Divine light and love move through us on all levels so that the world may be helped and healed by our being here. To engage with this kind of practice requires an absence of exclusion, for all exclusiveness limits the ability of the heart to grow in love. It also requires that we look reality full in the face – that we see what’s happening ‘out there’ and question what the relationship is between ‘out there’ and what is within us.
Greater consciousness will not make us weaker, it will make us stronger. It will not interfere with ‘our’ life more than the fearful prospect of hidden things that we don’t want to face. For denial does not prevent our consciousness from being aware of something. It only prevents our consciousness from being aware of the content of something. The underlying sense of needing to avoid it, the fear involved, remains, often more potently than what would arise if we were to face what we would rather not face.
At this time of great human distress and fear in so many places – Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Russia and also within the United States, let us bear witness to the suffering of humanity wherever and however it touches our hearts. For ‘they’ are ‘us’, and ‘their’ pain has a direct effect on the life of the world.