April 21, 2022

When Challenges Overwhelm Us, What do we Do?

Helplessness. Frustration. Disenfranchisement. Disempowerment.

It’s all energy moving through me this afternoon as I watch the horrors unfold in Mariupol, Ukraine. I have been obsessing over whether or not we, as a free democracy, are going to match energy with energy and help Ukrainians against a barbarian aggressor looking to control the world.

Millions are going to be affected by Putin’s actions, according to watchers of happenings in the larger world. Shipments of wheat normally scheduled from the Black Sea will be blocked, bringing food shortages, famine, political unrest, and instability to parts of Lebanon, Syria, Africa, and Tunisia. They are already fighting over bread in bakeries in Tunisia. So many are being affected by the actions of one person driving a vehicle over a cliff, bringing everyone along with him.

Even more immediate is the fact that Colorado is now in fire season. Over the past two weeks, at least five fires have broken out within a 30-mile radius. We now have to think about emergency preparedness, again, watering our ancestral ponderosa pine trees, and packing what’s lovingly referred to by locals up here as a “Go Bag.”

I think of what the late Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about the Buddha. To paraphrase, the Buddha had found a way to not be overcome by helplessness, frustration, or despair.

How I envy him. I’m so not there.

It’s challenging this afternoon, as I write from the rude environment of my barn office without running water, to feel empowered, hopeful, or capable of helping any one aspect of humanity or animals at this time. Or capable of controlling any one catastrophe that may affect our entire existence, animals included.

I bet millions are feeling as helpless as I do right now, watching the unfolding of the invasion in Ukraine, followed on the heels of a global pandemic and considering the drastic life challenges of climate change. In my own lifetime, I cannot recall such large-scale, dramatic, and catastrophic life-changing events, happening in rapid succession.


It makes me turn back toward the celebratory energy fueled by a win gained yesterday, that of receiving my first award as a grant writer, for a small Texas-based rescue dog nonprofit. Together, we cocreated a program I titled The Marmadook Project, a program which will save the lives of 24 large-breed, mature dogs in harm’s way in Southern rural Texas shelters. In harm’s way, meaning they would be euthanized for want of space.

I helped get them sufficient funding to run the program for six months, and with the grant money, they will be pulling those dogs out of the shelters, vetting, spaying, neutering, and transporting them to forever homes in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast.

Twenty-four dogs saved in Texas. That, I am holding on to.

I will celebrate that as a win because in my elation and relief of Tuesday, my Wednesday is replete with helplessness and anger over this invasion in Ukraine. There are animals there dying alongside their people, about which I can do nothing. Watching and knowing about it feels like inner torture.



Life feels like a seesaw, most days.

Last month, I gave up my personal care funds to send to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is helping on the ground in Poland. When I saw a request from our Ukrainian-born friend who had flown to Poland to help bring supplies to those in Kyiv, my husband and I held our breath and sent funds over on Venmo.

Thankfully, he returned home to California safely. I have to count that as another win. The fact that he was willing to leave the safety and comfort of his home here in the States shocked me to my core. His bravery was selfless; his courage manifested large. He inspired us to paint our barn doors with the Ukrainian flag and send an image over to him to show our further support.

That’s a really big flag! He texted.

In the messy, mosaic phase of life we now find ourselves in, what do you consider to be a win? We all have a little something, and it is my strong feeling that we all need to be celebrating the small wins when we get them, to honor them and let others know. To not dismiss our innate tendency to brush them aside and take them for granted. To share with others so they can feel as though our efforts do indeed have rewards and positive outcomes.

Without these pauses to acknowledge a win when they happen, we can feel as though we are slogging through our days, confronted with one dramatic, life-changing catastrophe at a time.

Or is that just me?

It makes me think of my very favorite activist, Paul Rogat Loeb. We studied him at Naropa Institute in my Ecopsychology Program, as part of our service learning.

He shares:

“It’s best to tend to the journey and fret less about the destination.”

I think about how in activism–whichever cause grabs your heart–we need to redirect energy to the moment at hand. To tending to the journey, and to, as another favorite late Buddhist spiritual leader, Ram Dass, used to say:

“Work as worship. Release the outcome.”

For the remainder of this afternoon, I will release the outcome and tend to the journey of helping a small, under-funded shelter in Sterling City, Texas, get a little bit more love for a group of brand-new mama dogs, all born in the shelter with eight puppies each. People in this rural area in the heart of Texas all dumped them on the shelter. They are expected to care for them, on a two-person facility funded at a mere $3,000 annually.

That, I feel equipped to help with. What is it you feel moved to help with today?


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