by Lynne Westmoreland
I awoke this morning with the realization of how much is right with the world.
My mind and heart were filled with gratitude for the heron that flew over us yesterday and landed in a tree in our back field. I looked out the window and saw a doe feeding in our front field as I went in to make coffee. Ah, coffee!! A whole world of gratitude right there in that cup.
I was remembering the deep, honest, and vulnerable conversation I had the other night about compassion with members in my reading group. I am anticipating the Occupy Canandaigua witness that our Unitarian Church is hosting here on Saturday. I have a date with my partner tonight to hear poetry by Native Americans at our community college. The house is quiet right now with the three dogs sleeping and the cats not yet demanding their breakfast.
I’ve seen a huge healthy fox and a magnificent coyote in the past week. Sunday is dedicated to an outdoor fundraiser for a spiritual, physical, emotional, and environmental renewal center that is taking shape in the minds of many here in the Finger Lakes.
Too many times I awake thinking of all of the complicated issues of our times.
War, poverty, hunger, animal exploitation, slavery, environmental degradation — you get the picture. I begin my day under the weight of those issues and sometimes even forget to appreciate my amazing partner, or become impatient with our dogs because I perceive them as being in my way, or feel the compassion fatigue set in before I’ve even begun.
I still work for justice, peace, animal protection, and environmental responsibility on those days, but my work is informed from a place of despair and cynicism. Not very inspiring to others and certainly not very inspiring to me.
This morning I became fully aware again of how important hope is to doing good work.
When we approach our challenges from an open heart, a belief that change is possible, a certainty that good is always more powerful than evil — and the kind of softness (not weakness) that comes from living with a compassionate view of our most entrenched problems and attitudes — we are then able to open a space for dialogue, action, introspection, and renewed energy.
I once read an article asking what would be different if Martin Luther King, Jr., had titled his most famous speech “I Have a Nightmare.” The author of the article was examining the difference between framing our vision from a place of fear, despair, and cynicism, versus viewing our future through the lens of possibility, hope, and optimism.
I am not referring to the kind of head-in-the-sand cheerfulness that is so often marketed in our society as the way we should be in a world that has serious problems now, and even more serious consequences if we don’t address them today.
I’m talking about approaching our problems from an attitude of gentle strength, realistic optimism, and the kind of dogged tenacity required to approach each day as the day that a permanent shift will occur. In my sangha (Buddhist community) we always begin with a song (prayer, if you like) that is intended to send loving kindness out to all other beings in the world.
Imagine if we began each meditative sitting with a rant against all that is wrong in the world and tried to repair all those wounds from that attitude? Instead, we prepare our hearts to open and expand, and as the heart opens, so does the mind. We are then able to see endless possibility where before we saw only limitations.
Susan Werner reminds us in her song “May I Suggest” that if we “just turn your head and you’ll begin to see the thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight” that it only takes a slight shift in our perspective to create a world of possibility that we were blind to only a moment before. In our sangha we sing:
May all beings be peaceful,
May all beings be happy,
May all beings be safe,
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature,
May all beings be free.
May it be so today!