It doesn’t take much looking, these days, to see problems around us for which there are no easy fixes. In fact, the problems we’re confronting are wickedly complex. Consider the precarious nature of our ecology, the increasing concentration in our economic system, the lack of equity in so many different realms, the state of politics throughout the world…
Today, the truth is that anybody who wants to know what’s happening to our world can see it. But, apparently, not everybody wants to know, and none of us can bear knowing it all. That’s simply the way it is.
Not infrequently I’ll become aware of some symptom of one of these problems—an Orca mother carrying her dead calf for days and days; pictures of people or animals starving to death; the rubble of a neighborhood in a place of war; albatross chicks with stomachs bloated on the plastic lighters and bottle caps their parents mistook for food. I’ll feel a familiar bulge forming behind my heart and, if I’m not paying attention to my intention, the next thing I know I’ll have moved on to something else.
There’s only so much loss we can take before we become saturated with an accumulation of grief and anger and helplessness.
It’s easy to become frozen or stuck. But that’s not something that happens to us: being stuck is something we have to actively do. Being stuck is a consequence, not so much of what’s taking place ‘out there’, but rather of our saying ‘no’ and turning away from what’s taking place ‘in here’.
There’s an intelligence in Life, an ability to adapt in ways that ensure survival. That’s why we don’t put our hand on a hot stove more than once. It’s why we have fear and anger and desire. Obviously, we recognize what feels painful or humiliating or ‘dangerous’. This is hard wired.
And yet, what do we feel whenever we grow or reach for anything new—like a new job, falling in love, speaking in public about what really matters? Inevitably, among other things, we feel fear, pain and sometimes even humiliation.
If we say ‘no’ to experiences that make us feel those things, what happens then? We stop whatever Life wants to be expressed through us. And Life doesn’t really care about our feeling these things, it just wants to grow and flourish and, when it’s time, let go.
Our experience of Life wanting what it wants is what I call developmental pressure. It’s rarely comfortable. And turning away from the discomfort of this pressure is one of the most potent forces in the way of what’s trying to emerge, within us individually as well as through the collective culture.
And this would be a force even if we’d had the most loving parents, grew up in communities that actually looked after our well-being and stood by our side as we faced into the great mysteries of adolescence, adulthood and death.
None of us can hold all that’s happening to our world, all that we’re participating in because we live in this time on this planet. We simply are not capable of feeling all that we’d feel if we were to let it in. Turning away is part of the intelligence of survival.
There’s a paradox here: the pain of these times is actually the result of our love. Our love of the world and each other. When we turn from the pain, we also turn away from something essential about loving, and then loving, too, is less accessible to us.
If we are to turn toward the kind of change that’s trying to emerge now, it will surely involve finding a way to turn toward our loving—including the pain that loving involves.