What do we need to create sustainable long-term changes around us?
This is a question I often ponder. Whenever I encounter distress, pain, brutality, ignorance and injustice, my mind starts going over different understandings, different causes, different ways of action, different solutions and their possible consequences. Witnessing distress and injustice can be triggering; first of all I feel the pain of it deep inside. I feel sad and powerless and I grieve.
Anger and the power to act.
I also feel anger; sometimes because the grief and powerlessness is too unbearable and anger gives me a sense of fire and power. Sometimes anger burns inside me, drives me and helps me not to get stuck in the pain. Sometimes the anger is just anger; a boundary I consider sacred has been crossed and I want to clearly express this to the offenders; that there are places that I believe you cannot trespass, whether they be physical or immaterial.
But beyond the anger, the powerlessness and the grief there is a deep yearning; not just to impose on others what I consider right and wrong but more-so to raise awareness and create sustainable changes. I don’t want superficial change – I don’t want this never ending battle of wills where, what is wrong and right is decided by those who know how to make the most noise, have the hardest arguments or the force of majority or legal power.
What kind of changes is it that we want?
The world does change constantly. Even if the whole of the human race did nothing but sit and daydream, things would change, the world would change. This is in some ways a relief to me. But when I look at the mentality of western society it appears to me as if there is a stuckness and a repeating of patterns. It is as if we are mentally caught in a dualistic dance between the righteous and powerful and the wrongdoers who need to be punished and change their ways. I think it happens on all levels of society and in all circles; it happens in families in subtle ways when children are raised to fit in to a certain idea of “normality”. It happens in schools and institutions where the theatre of “the survival of the fittest” is played out. It happens in organisations where hierarchical structures keep a few people in power and responsible for the lives and well-being of many. It happens in politics where fear-based decisions seem to be being made daily.
And again I wonder how can we change these collective habits and ways of thinking. How can we create deep change, true change – change that comes out of love for life rather than out of anger against wrongdoers. Change that comes from a place of trust rather than a place of fear and resentment. Change that will last and not just be a tokenistic gestures to makes us feel better…
The amount of things in the world that I would like to see change is overwhelming. Writing this piece has given me the idea to write a list of those things but as I am probing around my mind to come up with items my insides start screaming: “No, no! No, we do not want to see it all, face it all, feel it all. Please, do not make us remember! Please do not go there. Please don’t look!” And I hesitate…
Human littleness and complexity.
Trying to look at the whole picture of pain and injustice will have to wait a bit as I have started to think about our human littleness instead. I am remembering how it feels to be walking alone on the moors, moving away from all artificial light and at some point looking in to the pitch black darkness of night. No outlines, no sense of direction and feeling blind and lost. On a clear night though, the night will not envelope me in complete darkness and looking upwards and into the skies, the endless amount of shining stars tells a story of limitless space and of our human littleness. Our insignificance and powerlessness in the face of the entire universe. Sometimes experiences like this can invigorate and inspire people; make them decide to make their mark on the world in the short time they have here. Sometimes at can throw people into despair and existential distress. Deeply feeling ones own powerlessness is scary. We are such vulnerable and limited creatures in our little bodies made of soft flesh and fragile bones. No matter how much knowledge we put into our heads, our minds cannot understand much of the complexity of life. And as the wonders of technology are making the world smaller, the amount of information we receive every day about anything and everything has become ginormous – enough to break anyone’s mind if they tried to grasp it all at once.
The complexity of human life is intriguing to me and I struggle to understand how we continue to exist. Here on earth we are approximately 7 billion people and each of us live in our own unique little universe created by all the experiences we have had – whether they are conscious to us or not. All that has been happening around us, all that has been said and done – all of it has shaped our present way of thinking, our subjective way of perceiving the world. I sometimes do this thing where I imagine every person as a sphere and the world full of billions of spheres, of personal universes moving about, weaving in and out and between each other. Colliding, moving apart, changing directions and paces, transforming as they glide through time and space. All of these unique little universes are moving about, trying to figure out how to live and in doing that they sometimes cause pain. Some more than others, some deliberately, others semi-intentionally and unintentionally.
I think pain is a natural human condition and I am not sure that the way forwards lies in minimising pain, stopping people who cause pain or seeking retribution for pain caused. I think we all cause pain one way or another, to ourselves and others. Should we all be punished? Should we be at loggerheads with each other about whose pain is more deserving of acknowledgement or about when causing pain is justified? I believe it is good at times to give attention to pain, try and understand it but it is interesting to me that in trying to relieve pain we sometimes end up causing pain… Some times it is accidental, sometimes the wider social norms justify it and sometimes individuals and groups are completely aware that they cause pain to relieve their own.
None of us know the full extent of the consequences of our actions. Most of the time we do not know whether the stone we throw into the water will cause a tsunami somewhere far away or if it will bring life-full movements into stagnant waters. We cannot know and maybe that is good – we might be paralysed with fear or go mad with the sense of power if we knew. What we can do is look to the past; we can look into our own life experiences to try and extract what felt meaningful, what felt deeply honouring of all life and then consider how we can support the creation of more of that, more of those moments. We can also try and pinpoint personal and collective patterns that seemed to limit the amount of life-full moments we ourselves and others experience.
I want to go back to the list of things I find it painful to think of so I will pluck up my courage and write on. In this moment I feel pain when I think of:
The continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine
The fear of terrorism
The racism and discrimination billions of people face every day
The beating and raping of children, women and men all over the world, every day.
The intensive farming of animals so that humans can eat stressed out, medication-filled meat.
The demolition of ancient forests
The abuse and neglect of animals that are dependent on human kindness because we have domesticated them
The exploitation of the land; for gas, oil, minerals, metals and other assumed essentials.
The injustice to all native people in the world who have been and continue to be colonised
The plight of the aboriginal people in Australia
The extreme unequal distribution of resources and food globally
The industrialisation of food. We do not need processed food…
The loss of human connectedness with the spiritual world – forgetting that there is more in this world and to life than us
The dumping of endless amounts of non-degradable waste in the underground, in the oceans and in space
The perceived need for weapons and warfare
People feeling more safe with things and objects than with other people
The pornofication of sex and the fear of sexuality and physical intimacy
The hunger for money and fame that drives some young people
The “them and us” thinking that creates divides and justifies injustice
The millions and millions of people isolated and restrained in prisons and mental health institutions and that they are considered by some to be beyond help and second rate human beings
The growing amount of asphalt and concrete sealing us off from the earth beneath us
The architectural demonstrations of power and exclusivity that is deemed appropriate and even necessary for administrative, governing and financial buildings
People being forced out of their homes
Man-made pollution of the air that we need to breathe
People who don’t know how to connect meaningfully with others
TV-shows and advertising that manipulates and distracts us from living. And all the money spent on those…
The justification and celebration of violence in mainstream media
Many of the above items are just headings or titles for long, long lists of more specific incidents. Writing abstract titles seemed to be the only way my mind could handle the awareness of all of this. The things that need our attention and consideration in the world are innumerable and we can only do so much; both as individuals and as groups, communities and societies. Chosing what to do and how to do it is a daunting task.
Knowing when to wait…
I am presently reading “Runes of the Earth” by Stephen Donaldson (7th book of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever). In this book the reader is told the story about an old man, Anele, who feels he is solely responsible for the grim state of affairs in “The Land”. Different forces are causing havoc and Lord Foul, The Despiser, is once again trying to find a way to break the Arch of Time to destroy the earth. Thousands of years ago, Anele’s parents had been given The Staff of Law and they spent their lives healing damage that had been done to The Land after Lord Fouls previous attacks. They taught Anele everything they knew and when they died, they left The Staff of Law in his care so that he could continue their work. Anele however had always felt too astonished with the Earthpower and the wonders of The Land and therefore unworthy of wielding the powers of the Staff of Law. He decided to go live in a cave and spend his time learning to listen deeply to all parts of The Land in the hope that he would then better understand how to meet its needs. Consequently he did nothing and carried out no healing for many many years. He just listened; “Trying to determine the form of service that was right for him” (p.460)
One day he feels a great unease in The Land and ventures out to have a look at it but leaves The Staff of Law behind him intending to come back for it when he has seen and understood what is causing the unease. He is then caught in a Fall – a great moving aura inside which time breaks – and he is transported thousands of years into the future and thereby separated from The Staff of Law. He is so distraught with his own failure to act and to heal as he was destined to do that now where he has lost The Staff, he goes mad. His mind becomes fragmented, trying to protect him from his unbearable guilt and shame. Initially he thought himself unworthy to take on the task of healing. He has tried to find a way to approach his birthright, his responsibilities and powers but is torn away from his life and thrown into a world in distress. He judges himself harshly and believes he is witnessing the future consequences of his own inadequacy – his hesitance, which he sees as cowardice, is the cause of the approaching ruin of The Land.
I can relate to Anele’s story in several ways; for a good half of my life I have judged myself too afraid of responsibilities, too weak, too lazy, too unworthy and to unskilled to be able to have an impact on the world. I told myself I was fleeing, pacified and petrified by my fears of failure. But in moments I would experience thoughts such as:
“I am learning to live with pain”
“I am trying to listen and understand what is needed here”
“I need to see a fuller picture, have more pieces of the jigsaw-puzzle in place”
In seemingly clearer phases I would see myself as waiting rather than fleeing. And I was waiting because I had to; to gain more experience, to receive more information and to get to know myself better and learn to play myself like an instrument. Rather than willing myself forwards, waiting seemed to be a way of honouring something deeper in me, something I could not and still cannot articulate or understand. I had to start trusting that in all my insignificance, ignorance and powerlessness I was also part of something bigger, much wiser than me. A moving energy or consciousness that had intention and direction that lay beyond my limited mind. I had to try and accept the slowliness of my living and trust that I had to keep living – however painful and pointless it seemed at times.
– and when to act…
Urgency and emergency, the sense of crisis and the unbearable pains and injustices we have to face over and over again, make us want to rush. Understandably; we want to change things as quickly as possible, relieve hurts, mend what has been broken, set wrongs right and make sure that injustices are not repeated over and over. We want the solutions to be clear and simple, we want to find the causes, point out the offenders and ensure ourselves that we have made the world a better place – whatever that means to us as individuals. It is only natural when we feel deeply and care deeply that we look for ways to change things within our own lifetime.
But if we do not believe we can make a difference we might chose numbness and distractions and live to meet our own basic needs and leave the fate of the earth in the hands of others. Again an understandable response to the overwhelming amount of pain.
When I rush or when I close my self off, I do it to protect myself from various things and I forget to trust.
It is probably unlikely that there is ever a perfect time to take action, but I believe it is good to keep an eye on timing. Try to get a sense of the bigger picture, listen to what is going on around you, get a sense of the atmosphere in a room or a conversation before deciding what to say or do. Tuning in on the space and the people we want to have a meaningful conversations with can at times be worth much more than the actual words we use.
Our collective intelligence.
In my front yard there is a lovely little apple-tree in a large container. It is only a few years old and has started to bear fruit. But the young branches need training in order for them to carry the weight of the growing apples without breaking off from the trunk. So I need to find a way to help them grow more horizontally which will make them stronger and able to fulfill their function as fruit carriers.
I wonder if the collective consciousness or intelligence of humanity needs some kind of gentle training so that it can bear its fruits without breaking off from the trunk; the core, the earth, the life source… A sustainable training that will enable branches to grow stronger, a deeper fundamental change in how we grow and expand, moving towards a way of living that honours the earth that sustains us. I don’t know what this gentle training would look like but in my own life I have found that I benefit greatly from slowing down, listening deeply and allowing things to unfold in their own time. When I am caught in the sense of crisis I feel like I have to do as much as humanly possible and not stop till all is done – or I break… But if I am able to step back, I might find that less is more. That my full intervention is not needed but maybe just my witnessing is enough to change the course of events. It is hard work to balance the sense of power and powerlessness. To be aware that I am powerless and powerful at the same time and that my actions can have unforeseen consequences, that something done with best intentions may cause harm and something done out of frustration might be helpful for someone…
Inspirations and aspirations.
I began to listen to popular music quite late – when I was around 13 years old in 1995 – and the first pop-artist I got excited about was Michael Jackson. Not knowing anything about him or the media attention he had had for more than 15 years I dived into his music without any preconceptions. Not only did his lyrics speak to my struggles at the time, they also seemed to weave themselves into my deeper values and already forming beliefs about myself and the world. “Man in the mirror” is a good example of this. Whenever I hear or read outcries about all that is wrong with the world, this song starts playing in my mind. In the words of Gandhi the song basically tells us to be the change we want to see. If we think the world needs more kindness, more consideration, more listening, more dialogue, more shared decision-making and more awareness we need to nurture these things ourselves; in ourselves and in our own lives.
I have found a lot of inspiration in the practices and ideas called “The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that matter”. The name itself strikes a cord in me and I like the values beneath the different practices. I have chosen to believe that if we can slow down, put aside our ideas of right and wrong and remember our sameness as well as our uniqueness, we might be able to connect in a way that enables deep, fundamental training of our collective consciousness and intelligence. We may be able to have conversations that raise our awareness and help us make sustainable changes within and around us.
Another concept that speaks to me is “facilitating” – making possible. My partner asked me recently: “What do you think are the circumstances under which love can grow?” I talked for a bit, sharing fragmented ideas. Then I was quiet for a bit, trying to listen deeper into myself and go beyond the words of love, growing and circumstances… I tried to remember times of love and then a thought formed in me that I then shared: “I don’t think it is love that grows. To me love is an eternal force; to me it love is not much to do with our emotions and attachments, love is life itself and divine energy. Love is everywhere all the time. Love doesn’t grow but our awareness of it can grow – or be diminished. Love is there to sustain us, very willingly.”
It is a very cliché idea that love is all we need but I can’t help thinking that love is exactly what we need to create change. We need to connect with that energy, life-force, sensation or whatever you want to call it – we need to allow ourselves to be aware of the love that is available to us, around us and within us. To me love is the fabric of our souls and it is in every cell of my body and in the living material world around me. Being aware of love is not a complacent state, there is still discernment and urgency but there is no moral higher ground and no rush to dampen fears.
I would love to spend my life facilitating spaces and conversations where our personal and collective awareness of love can grow. I am not sure what it looks like, whether there is a right way or a good manual. But I want to try – one little, slow and trusting step at a time.