How do I transform feelings of anger, from politics, social justice, the place of the modern homemaker, employment inequality; how do I transform these feelings into something tangible and adequate to make change even within my own self, home, community?
Homemaker in the hills
More than ever before we are aware of what is going on in the world, Homemaker in the hills. We track tweets from the wise and the misguided. Pictures of disasters in war zones and tragedies in city streets flash onto our online feed moments after they happen. We can surf dozens of news sites across the planet to track the latest disaster.
Of course, we feel shock, anger, disbelief. And they can be useful and appropriate emotions. They move us towards action.
Yet when our anger shifts into outrage, rather than a spur to activity, we can move closer to despair. We feel burdened by all this injustice, the victim of the actions of those who hold very different values from our own whether they are jihadists, politicians or our next door neighbours. The spectrum of our own possibilities narrow. We forget that we are agents of change.
You have asked what David Whyte calls a beautiful question, Homemaker in the hills, and in your question is the seed of your answer.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ is often attributed to Gandhi. Apparently he didn’t use those words. It is a paraphrase of a broader image he described.
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.
And on the theme of paraphrases someone shared this version of the Serenity prayer with me.
When we feel ourselves feeding on outrage, we have to call a stop. I am a wee bit addicted to reading about a certain president’s misdemeanours and ineptitude and can find myself clicking from website to website my outrage rising, my sense of superiority blown up into self-righteousness with its own taint of egotism.
But I can switch away from this frantic search and come back to myself, to my own heart, to who I am and to my own circle of influence. What am I called to do? Where do I feel drawn to place my energy? This question requires that I shift from reactivity to creativity.
The wisest part of us always knows where we are drawn to act if we are patient enough to ask the question and to wait for the response. This wise part of us always lets us act out of love rather than outrage or fear.
And our actions don’t have to be global. They can be very simple. Maybe I’ll just light a candle to remind myself to speak with authenticity and patience. The act of lighting it can also connect me imaginatively to all the other changemakers; those seeking world healing in tiny pockets all over the planet. They gather under different umbrellas and adhere to all kinds of philosophies and traditions across the world. They may not often feature in our facebook feed but they are there.
I can also start to act in ways that recognise that I have these tendencies too. Where have I behaved with Trumpian callousness or egotism? When have I acted out of fear rather than love? How often did I put up a wall rather than building a bridge with someone who holds different priorities and beliefs to mine? I can usually find plenty of examples. I even find myself acting towards those whose values differ from mine with the same dismissive violence I abhor in them.
In response, I can apologise when I notice I’ve acted wrongly. I can offer patience instead of discouragement to my partner or my parent. Check a habitual response maybe not before it happens but at least half-way through. If I can do that, it makes a change not just for me and for the person I am engaging with—I’m sure that change ripples out beyond this situation, maybe even nourishes the metaphysical world which longs to help us. Our action may not be on a global scale but it is a beginning. And you may be drawn to something larger in scale, Homemaker in the hills, but if you are not already at least attempting to walk what you talk, then your gesture will lack something vital.
There are practices of non-judgment, tolerance and empathy from a range of traditions which give us clues and ways to practice. Tonglen from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is one. We can also practice empathic imagination. How can I place myself in the shoes of those difficult others—a would-be jihadist, a unilateral politician—and try to understand what is going on from their perspective? How can I listen to them?
This requires courageous questioning at least imaginatively but that kind of imaginative questioning helps us when we come to the person who is not someone teetering towards becoming a jihadist in Syria, or a politician facing a political dilemma in Canberra, but our friend, our partner or our child. We don’t condone what is unjust, cruel or hateful but we move into a broader understanding that helps us acknowledge complexity, the story beneath the misbehaviour whether it is a little petulance from our beloved or an unspeakably tragic action.
I know you will sense in your heart where you are called to act, Homemaker in the hills. This is the kind of discernment we all need to develop. We are called in this lifetime to particular responsibilities and we can grow more at ease and more engaged if we are active in those spheres that are ours. Notice and attend to your anger but do not stoke it into outrage. Stay in your heart and listen. Use whatever listening practices you have. A little journaling, a snatched prayer, a moment of reverie.
Take a small action close to home or one within yourself. All it takes is enough of those tiny (or grand) open-hearted actions. I’m sure that they have the same impact as the proverbial butterfly’s wings in the Amazon forest. Trust that if we can learn to deal more compassionately and wisely with ourselves and those immediately around us that we can begin a revolution; a small shift in the way we perceive the world that ripples beyond our selves.
Sending you courage, trust and patience, Homemaker in the hills.
If you have a question you’d like me to explore, I’d love to respond.