There are only five more days until Inauguration Day. Reactions run from the rejoicing of some, through the apprehension of many, to the determination of others to block anything the president-elect may do. I think most of us, myself included, are feeling the intense chaos enveloping our world, along with intense discomfort at not only not knowing just what will happen, but also not perceiving how to influence the outcome in any major way. Apparent helplessness is not a space that most people find very tolerable.
I am one who has difficulty focusing on the small, positive things of the moment. Admittedly, those small things are of immensely greater value than most people realize. However, my default stance tends to be to look at what is called “the big picture”, looking for trends and patterns, and trying to figure out just what I can do that will have an effect on these larger things. I want to do something big that will help to bring about justice, peace, kindness, healing. I tend to look at those who have achieved success or expertise in such areas, and wish to emulate them. In the process, it is quite easy to lose awareness of the present moment, and of the small events that constitute life for most of us. I would also venture to guess that the lives of even the most admirable of achievers are made of the same small moments.
Recently, at least three people, quite unknowingly, have reminded me that the most valuable acts of all are sometimes the smallest. Extra smiles for strangers, a few hours helping the less fortunate, focused listening to communications that are entrusted to us, and including someone the group prefers to ignore – all these small things make a difference, often with repercussions that are not visible at the time they are given. They are the small things, the things of the moment, and it is only in the moment that we are able to accomplish anything at all.
There is a reason that spiritual teachers emphasize humility. Contrary to popular opinion, the word does not mean self-abasement. It derives from humus, earth, and is the quality of being firmly grounded to the earth. It means the opposite of being arrogant, above the mundane and considering oneself more worthy than others. It means remaining aware of the present moment in which the Earth exists, and aware of the details of each moment.
The Earth includes and is shaped by the energy of all its denizens; to be humble means to acknowledge our connection to the Earth and those who share it with us, as well as to the omnipresent energy of God. The Earth and that which exists upon it are in time; the worlds of spirit, of the unseen and ineffable, are timeless. These two polarities exist together; yet it is in time that we who are on Earth can affect the progress of events. And, the only time we have is the present moment. Even the largest and most wonderful of visions depends on the minute daily actions of all of us.
In this first month of the year, I must remind myself that being unhappy about all the things I have not accomplished – grand visions or more mundane tasks – is useless. Nothing is accomplished by being unhappy about its non-accomplishment. That doesn’t mean giving up the dreams or goals; they need to continue to be held in mind. It simply means maintaining awareness that small acts of kindness or justice or peace or healing are valuable in and of themselves; it means refusing to be unhappy because they are not grand ideas. I understand this lesson, but the application is, for me, difficult.
Let us all, as we adjust to the imminent political changes around us, remember that it is by our small, day-to-day actions that we build our responses. Let us remain aware that we are interconnected, even with those with whom we disagree or who are doing actions that we reject. The small actions of each of us, consciously or unconsciously linked, are the bricks from which a new society is built. Let us, then, construct our bricks well.