How do we keep our cool right now? How do we stay connected to who we are and yet also deal with the s**t that goes on in the world? It’s a very pertinent question in a world going seemingly mad. It’s a question many ask and struggle to come up with answers. Do we sit and meditate and gaze on the world in a non-attached way like the all-knowing guru or do we beat our hearts out trying to change it all and end up harming ourselves? After all, some say, it’s going to carry on like this, so give yourself a break. Humans are always like this; it’s human nature. But, comes the reply, it’s not right and something surely must be done.
It’s a question still worth asking, if we feel at all uneasy with what’s going on. How do we remain true to ourselves, keep our cool and yet be engaged in the world?
Cultivating a deeper, aware sense of self
In my own experience, I’ve been a very busy teacher and manager of teachers, I’ve consulted with big businesses, coached execs, run courses all over the place, travelled massively, very often at very unsociable hours, and yet somehow found a way to maintain an equilibrium. Personally, my saving grace was a 40 minute meditation each morning upon arrival, somewhere, before things started. What mattered for me was to take time to be still and connect with a deeper sense of Self. Knowing That served as an anchor during the day when, who knows, the s**t might hit the proverbial fan. Meditation over time steadily built that awareness. And, as readers of this blog will know, awareness is key.
Yet, the world goes on. Stuff happens. People do their numbers. Our buttons get pushed. We get on it, and it can be hard to get off it. Despite what we know, s**t still happens.
Right now, many might say, there’s an awful lot wrong with the world. You might want to get out there and do something about it. Or you might want to avoid it and hope it goes away. Or you might believe you are very spiritual and none of this stuff touches you.
Until it does.
Not being caught up in ego stuff isn’t easy
The art is to not get caught up in this ego stuff. Easier said than done, and even the most seasoned practitioners have their off-days. Then, the art is how to get off it, let it go, drop it, and return to your equilibrium.
The Buddha taught that the core problem of humanity was suffering. Other traditions have other ways of making sense of the seeming senseless, like it’s our sin, or our inherent evilness, or ahamkara, or our kharma, or whatever. These traditions teach different ways to step aside from suffering. One tradition I have been involved with says that what goes on in the world is “a play of consciousness” and one can learn to simply observe it while connected to the Self. Psychology might suggest that it is a playing out of our own psychic drama, that what goes on “out there” is a mirror of a part of ourselves, that we project on to the world our own stuff, and that we each need to work this through.
We still need to engage with the world. We, very many of us, have jobs to do, bills to pay, children and ourselves to feed, places to go to, people to see. Then there’s all this injustice and evil that needs to be fought, and wrongs to be put right. Or there’s these targets to meet, or people to answer to, or profits to be made. Many might say that it’s our fallibility, that the ego catches up with us, that ego is part of who we are and all too easily we get drawn back in.
Being true to your path matters – to you
I would say that one can stay calm and centred and yet be dealing with others who aren’t.
One can have the understanding that this world is one of ego and that while we are caught up in it, it is we who suffer from the anger and the angst. We’re doing it to ourselves. Yet this isn’t who we are. It is an emotion and a behaviour we are caught up in, and we can let go of.
One can develop skill in becoming aware that this is what is happening and step back, connect or re-connect with self and witness what is occuring. I can for example notice the feeling of anger at what is going on, ask “Is this feeling serving me?”, know that this is not who I am at essence, and instead be an aware, present person while I continue to serve this “other”.
One can develop this deeper sense of self and learn to manage one’s state.
One can engage with others, some of whom might be losing it, and, as my wife says, “see the jewel” in the other people. It is perfectly possible to hold others in respect while challenging their behaviour and modelling an alternative behaviour that serves a higher cause.
Compassion trumps indifference
We can channel anger and angst into action. We don’t have to ignore injustice or pretend it is “their kharma”. We can do something about it. It is how we do it that is important, with what motive, with what spirit, with what intention.
When we’re naturally in touch with our inner candle flame, we naturally resonate with others. It just happens. The sensing ability is heightened. If we attend in a sensing way to ourselves, then we’re likely to do it with others.
The key is what in Gestalt is called the rule of epoché, the ability to be aware of and put on one side our own stuff, including our buttons that have been pushed. Here you don’t take other people’s stuff on board and make it yours. Instead you have empathy for others, and see it from their perspective rather than being it yourself. You don’t get overly involved emotionally. Instead you feel compassion and can help. Otherwise you suffer too and become ineffective at some level. And you can still be strong and assertive.
What is important is to hold that awareness – of who you really are – and be there.
So, here’s an important challenge: can you contribute in some way? Other than being on it?! The world needs it right now!
Further reading. There’s a lovely article (well, I thought so!) on this theme, here.