As spiritual people, we do not turn away from suffering.
We embrace it. We use it to transform us, and we distill it into something that then motivates us for good.
I went out walking by the ocean yesterday, and I was staring out to a view that, for me, is utterly sacred—the landscape of our planet. The air was brisk and clean around me, and the sun was peaking out through a dusting of clouds, making the ocean sparkle. It was a beautiful day, but a piece of my heart was aching.
I was thinking about the Dakota Access Pipeline proposal at Standing Rock, the U.S. election results, and the possibility that the climate change work we have done—and the legislation around it—may begin to slide backwards.
I felt a deep panic.
How could a thing that we know in our souls to be of the utmost importance, be one that we disregard so greatly? Is this because we have slowly been forgetting who and what we are?
We are meant to be stewards of this earth, and every spiritual path will tell us this.
Through my own sadness yesterday, I came upon a call-to-action from Thich Nhat Hahn, a zen master and peace activist. The man who was called “an apostle of peace and non-violence” by Martin Luther King.
The words of Thich Nhat Hanht sparked something in me—a recollection that it is our job to acknowledge the suffering in our world, and it is also our responsibility to rise up out of it. These are his encouraging words:
“We have to start learning how to live in a way so that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren. We need a kind of collective awakening. We have the dharma; we have the means; we have enough wisdom. We do not have to sink into despair…we can act.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I thought about this, and it occurred to me that “being spiritual” means we confront the tough things in life, because we understand that it through our own action (karma) that we affect change—and when things get tough, we realize that each of us has the power to be an activist, and that we must do so.
I believe we are all spiritual beings, no matter if we attach to a faith to ourselves or not—and so, it is our responsibility to act positively for the greater good.
As we walk the path of spirit, we must acknowledge it comes with the special duty to protect what is sacred. Thich Nhat Hanh gave this call-to-action, because it is necessary. All life is interconnected, and if we do not protect what is wild in our environment, we will also be ignoring our future.
The first precept of Buddhism is to protect all life. We do not see a tree, an animal, the sky or an ocean as being less alive than ourselves. It is through this understanding that—as we kill our oceans and water supply, frack our earth and poison our soils—we are also killing ourselves. This is the dharma (lesson) that Thich Nhat Hanh was talking about, because we already have the wisdom for protecting our planet right here.
When we pause and become mindful, we allow ourselves to feel the current state of things. We must be brave enough to awaken to our reaction to the world, so we can then do something good about it.
Every morning when I sit and meditate, I think about what connects us all, and it is this one, shared planet we live on.
So let’s get still for a moment, and notice how our hearts feel when we think about Standing Rock, about our climate’s rapid heating up, and about those around us who are suffering from poverty, sickness and pain. And can we also acknowledge our reaction to our current political state?
It is okay for us to feel sickened by the seriousness of things, but we also need to find our voice to begin creating peace. There is a time for silent reflection, but there is also a time for action.
Saving our planet means beginning to turn away from our current model of economics which focuses on private profit, because the ones who will suffer the most will be our children—and our children’s children—who will inherit a broken world.
I must mention the admirable people of the Sioux Tribe, who—in their protest against the devastation of their land at Standing Rock—have reminded me that we are peaceful warriors who need to keep fighting for the light.
It is understandable to get overwhelmed and become stunned by all the recent chaos, but the world desperately needs healing, and it is going to take each of us to mend her.
Thich Nhat Hanh knows that we have what it takes to heal the world—and I believe, in our hearts, we know this too.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Image: Instagram @maxthegreat8
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina