May 6, 2014

That Which Keeps Us Going. ~ Peter D. Schaller

Photo: luisVilanova

Some days are just gray or blue—whatever shade the shadows happen to be, at any given time.

After all, even optimism runs out of steam every now and then. I have been walking around in a bit of a funk for the past three days, for everything and nothing at all. I suppose it probably has to do with the moon or some cosmic vibe I should have read about.

And then I see the old woman, sleeping by the curb in the gas station parking lot. I have seen her there before, asking for money, but this is the first time I have seen her lying on the ground. I stop to think for a minute, trying to figure out what I could do for her and then it strikes me.

I look around for a minute and see that I am surrounded by asphalt, traffic, pollution, poverty, apathy.

How can we live in a world where elderly women sleep in parking lots?

And here, in the middle of Managua, this is just one tiny dot in the universe. Yes, there is a lot of good in the world and we try to stay focused on that. But let’s face it, we live in a world driven by greed, violence, destruction, discrimination and oppression. Quite frankly we are paving a ten lane, mega expressway to human extinction.

The thing that really gets me, as I am standing dazed and confused in the parking lot, is that I started working for social change some 25  years ago. For two and a half decades, I have worked on critical issues, spanning climate change, gay rights, women’s rights, homelessness, poverty, disability and probably a few things I have forgotten along the way.

And that is just me—one grain of sand getting pounded by the waves on this besieged beach of life. There are millions of other particles of sand all over the world, working tirelessly for peace, justice and equality.

But it occurs to me that in all likelihood, scientifically speaking, the world is probably in worse shape today than it was when I knocked on my first door as a canvasser for a citizen’s action group in Connecticut, with my silly 19 year old grin.

The implications of this realization can be devastating. It’s like working for 25 years to build an enormous house, and all of the sudden you realize the walls are made out of tissue paper and it’s starting to rain.

Our world is terribly out of balance. We are plagued by gluttony, conflict, violence in every marketable form, compulsive consumption and discrimination against people of different gender-doctrine-color-preference. All of this work that we do for social change is like we’re trying to fill an ocean with a teaspoon and someone is on the other side bailing out with a bucket. That all probably sounds quite fatalistic, but it is brutally realistic.

So the next question that enters into my mind in random succession is: Why do we keep going?

In a world that has become disgustingly perverted with greed and poised on the edge of a universal implosion, why not just “get our kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames,” as Jim Morrison once said.

Why continue to make personal sacrifices and complicate our own lives when annihilation is probably inevitable?

The simple truth is—we can’t. Deep down, we know that we must keep going. We must keep teaching, learning, changing, transforming, shining, and being. It may be confusing, trying to understand where the energy  comes from that keeps us in perpetual action, but the answer is actually fairly simple.

There is a part of the divine in each one of us, which is the ultimate source of our strength. It really doesn’t matter what we want to call it—God, Krishna, Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, Jah, Great Spirit—it is simply the divine presence that forms a part of the web of life. People, animals, plants, insects, earth, wind, air and fire are all a part of this.

When we are able to identify that presence inside of us and let it guide our thoughts, actions and intentions, there is no question that we will be driven to suppress the ego and our individual desires and work vigorously for the common good.

This is the force that will not allow us to resign to the precarious state of humanity.

This is the force that requires us to use our voices, our hands, legs, minds and the light of compassion to work for peace, truth, justice and equality in all forms.

As I was contemplating these chaotic thoughts about action, responsibility, hope and the divine, I picked up my ragged copy of the Tao Te Ching (which, not so accidentally, happened to be lying on the table in front of me).

I opened it randomly and this is what I found:


The sage

dwells in affairs of nonaction,

carries out a doctrine without words.

S/He lets the myriad creatures rise up

but he does not instigate them;

S/He acts

but does not presume;

S/He completes his work

but does not dwell on it.


Simply because s/he does not dwell on them

her/his accomplishments never leave her/him.

I honestly do not know if there are enough of us to revert the damage that has already been done, much less the damage that will be done today and tomorrow.

I do know that, even when I am exhausted, distraught or discouraged, I will keep going.


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Apprentice Editor: Dana Gornall/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo credit: Luis Vilanova/Flickr

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