Shortly after my very first hospice assignment, I remember being struck by the “issue” of bereavement: how would this family receive support as they grieved the death of their loved one?
Before I ever walked out alone into the desert on my first four-day wilderness fast, I remember being struck by the “issue” of incorporation: how would a soul who had undergone such a powerful experience cope with their life in the “developed world”?
During my intensive training in graduate school, I remember being “struck” by the issue of professional pressures after graduation: how would someone apply the scholarly insights and depth of knowledge in a change-agent sort of way?
In the years I was waking up to environmentalism, I remember being “struck” by the issue of genuine eco-friendly lifestyles: how could a person use as few resources as possible while still being engaged in modern society?
As a youth very involved in spiritual retreats in the mountains, I remember being “struck” by the issue of “bearing witness”: how would I ever be able to be a living example of my deep inner convictions in the midst of the vagaries of daily life at home?
When I volunteered on the city’s crisis hotline in my twenties, I remember being “struck” by the issue of post-tragedy resolution: how would the suicidal, homicidal, abused, homeless, starving, jobless, or imprisoned find sustaining well-being?
At the conclusion of mediation sessions I’ve done with youth and families, I remember being “struck” by the issue of peace: how would they navigate relationship with one another once the dust settled?
Whenever I hear sirens, news of wars, famines, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, I remember how “struck” I continue to be by the issue of survival: how will the communities recover and rebuild, how will they find equilibrium, how will they commemorate lost lives, how will they release the fear of recurrence, how will they ever learn to celebrate again in the face of their potent experience of the thin thread that holds our vulnerable lives together?
(There are countless more examples…)
It was only this morning, in my private contemplations that I was able to see that this is a compelling theme in my life. I have given myself over, and over again, to this query and to the world: journeying this question of how. And then figuring out how to serve that need.
How? And so yesterday, I found myself sitting with people who are struggling with current circumstances all over the planet. I’ve announced several times recently on this blog that I would be offering a free opportunity for callers to learn about and engage some very simple practices for coping…possible only through the generous hospitality of the Charter for Compassion; that video conference occurred yesterday. There were people from all over the globe in attendance. And I was just delighted to be of service in my very small way…the only way I know how to be – which is – simply – to be present with them. It takes guts to show up to strangers: all those callers to me - and introverted me to all of them. And yet, our common experience of being humans in difficult times, our honest vulnerability and intrepid willingness to look in the face of one another and ourselves, our shared desire to find peaceable and loving paths forward led us to convene in the geography-free, timeless, bias-neutral space of the online call.
For this one small step deeper into the knowing of how to I am so deeply grateful. For I don’t see any breaking of the pattern above: my apparently lifelong pursuit of how we cope with and live through the “afterward” of our powerful life experiences. And not just how we cope and live. But also, how we thrive in the immediacy of difficult circumstances, how we move in balance, how we empathetically breathe in the pain of “the other” and breathe out the blessing of compassion. How we reach within, and how we reach out.
(Originally posted in Dec 2016.)