In the face of the world’s suffering, does practicing mindfulness matter?
There is so much heaviness in the world today. Big, sweeping suffering – from the savagery being wreaked on the people of Ukraine to the plight of the polar bears – can leave us feeling small and powerless. My tendency to believe in the power of light, love, and the general goodness of humankind can feel a little naïve in the face of it all.
In fact, I was pondering just this as I walked the dogs this morning. Could the practices, perspectives, and philosophy that I teach to so many possibly help anyone navigate the hazards of our time? Is it foolish to invest such energy seeking insight, harmony, and connection rather than answers and actions to solve hundreds of problems I can barely begin to understand?
A gift from (literally) above
With a half mile left to go, feeling uncertain and unsettled, I turned a corner to face a glorious sunrise. Through the trees the sky glowed deep pink, orange, coral, and gold. I could not stop staring as the beauty spread across the sky. As I walked and watched, I felt the glow of the sunrise reflected in my smile and in the swell of my heart.
As much as this sunrise felt like it was just for me – a massive, perfectly timed hug from the universe, I wanted to share it with everyone. My kids would have been mortified that I did just this by pointing up and saying “Look!” to several runners coming toward me. In my imagination, they, like I did, headed home shored up with a little extra faith in the goodness at the heart of life.
Are people essentially good? Or not?
I once heard a story told about how the Dalai Lama responded to the age-old question about human nature – is our essence selfish and mean or good and loving? He responded, with characteristic humility, something like this:
“What I know is that when we do something cruel, mean, or evil, we feel bad inside – like we’ve done something wrong. And when we do something generous or kind, we feel very, very good – as if we’ve done something right.”
Could it be that simple? Could it be that straightforward? That because goodness feels right to us, we are good? It makes sense. We are pack animals, after all. We are meant to live in community and community thrives on kindness, generosity, and goodness.
Every one of us has a circle of influence
While none of us alone can solve the sweeping suffering of our world, we each have the power to impact the well-being of the people in the three-foot circle around us. In fact, I suspect our range of influence is much bigger than that. Through small acts of kindness (decency, even), we can leave the world around us feeling safe, valued, cared for, and inspired to do the same for those in their own circles of influence.
The sunrise this morning was a grand gesture of just this for me. It made me feel loved. It made me want to share that love. As I walked and watched nature’s spectacle, I remembered other such moments from this very morning that I’d let slide past me:
- Before either of us made a move to get out of bed, my husband reached over and took my hand.
- As I put on my sneakers, one of my dogs leaned against my leg in his own form of a hug.
- A fellow early morning walker saw me coming with the dogs and hopped off the sidewalk to give us space.
Practicing mindfulness helps us notice the kindness around us and inspires us to share it with others
What a shame it would have been if I had missed the opportunity to recognize how awash in kindnesses I have been this morning – all before the day was even underway! This very thought reassures me that every chance I have to share practices, perspectives, and even a philosophy that create a more mindful, more aware way of experiencing life is worth seizing.
While we cannot change the whole wide world, we can (and absolutely do) change the world around us. Just as the little puff of air from the proverbial butterfly’s wings has the power to change the weather halfway around the world, so our acts of kindness ripple outward, inspiring kindness, generosity, and goodness in people we may never know.
Practices such as yoga, meditation, and spiritual direction are all ways to train yourself to notice the good in the world. Reach out if you’d like to learn more about adding any of them to your daily life.