Gratitude and Compassion

I grew up believing in the importance of giving, expressed both as putting forth energy to be productive and as charity by donation of time and resources to others in need.  I was taught that giving is greater than receiving, to always go the extra mile (being productive so that others would recognize my value), to exert effort to achieve and to maintain, and that giving is a position of power.  Sharing with siblings and others was also a given – it was “wrong” to withhold.  The best people were always givers.

In contrast, there was a certain shadow around the act of receiving.  We were made aware that, quite possibly when we received something, someone else had gone without.  There was guilt attached.  We were indebted to the giver and must always remember the person who had been kind enough to give something to us.  Often, that meant giving in to or obeying the giver.  Receiving implied that we were lacking or needy.  There was shame attached.  To accept charity was considered shameful. 

It was okay to “get” – especially if one was a boy.  “Getting” was a means to have what one needed or wanted by competing with others and putting out effort to achieve.  It was a way for goods and energy and esteem to come in other than by receiving without putting out the usually competitive effort.  It was a way of providing for oneself (and one’s family) without admitting any need for the help of others.  One earned what one had; therefore, it was not a gift.  We were to cultivate the qualities of self-reliance, rather than exhibit any kind of need, including politely refusing assistance when we could Although competition to “win” was encouraged, taking something away (as in snatching or stealing or deceiving) from someone else was not.   We should earn everything we got.

The result was an imbalance; it is an imbalance many of us share.  Our culture is more individualistic; it emphasizes self-reliance, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.  The concept of cooperation is there, but the society itself is not particularly cooperative.  Most of us are familiar with giving, either as a duty or a self-esteem enhancing act, but do not know what it is to simply receive.  We are either one-sided, or we practice neither giving nor receiving very well.  

Here is a secret; giving and receiving are the heads and tails of the same coin.  One cannot give unless one has something one has first received to be given; the act of true giving opens one to receiving.  It is circular.  

Saints and sages, masters and mystics have for as long as people can remember exalted the qualities of gratitude and compassion.  The spiritually adept of all religions have practiced them, understanding that the qualities of gratitude and compassion are intimately connected.  They are on the same continuum.  Compassion is giving love in action; gratitude is opening oneself with love to receive.  It is not possible to practice compassion for long without also receiving, being filled with not only the motivating love to give, but also with the resources to do the giving.  Receiving money, one can give money; receiving skills, one can use those talents to help others; receiving knowledge or understanding, one can share those with others.   It is a circle, a continuous exchange within life.  We give, and we are given to.

When we look upon receiving as shameful, we block the flow of life through us.  I am deliberately using the term “receiving” as opposed to demanding, taking, feeling entitled to, or amassing.   Receiving is humble and relaxed, requiring no struggle to “get”.  It is trusting that the Universe, God, the One will provide what is needed, and then being open to perceive that we are being given to.  The trust and the perception are the basis of gratitude, the feeling of joy and well-being at being provided for.   We cannot be grateful if we do not perceive that we are being given to, or if we do not trust in that provision.

Mother Teresa is more known by what she gave to others.  Less is known about her trust and her acknowledgement that she was indeed provided for.  Somehow, what she needed would always come to her so that she could, in turn, give to others.  The circle was intact.

Giving, too, is a humble action.  Giving in order to increase one’s power or the esteem in which one is held or to increase our own inflow is not true giving, no matter the amount that may be put out.  Giving to charity intentionally in such a way that the gift is actually an investment which comes back in the form of increasing profits for companies in which one is invested is not really giving.  It is business.  True giving regards the gift as simply belonging to the receiver; it is a natural reaction to feeling compassion or a concern with justice.  It does not take a great deal of effort to do.

As a culture, we seem to lack the humility and the communal consciousness which allow us to receive, and to perceive those blessings with gratitude.  This weakness results in difficulty with true giving, skewing many of our gifts to be those which increase our power, are meant to increase our esteem in the eyes of others, or to return profit to us.  Lack of the ability to feel gratitude also limits our compassion.

Change starts in the present moment.  Now is the time to turn our attention to cultivating the ability to feel and express gratitude, while simultaneously keeping our eyes upon the quality of our compassion.  The world needs both if it and we, too, are to grow.  Our individual practice and mastery of gratitude and compassion are essential. They are a component of the growing world to come.

Peace, Diane

Regaining Our Connection

The news was on in the background as I worked on my computer, proceeding as news normally does, when my ears picked up some words that did not at all sound like what is regularly on the news.  It sounded more like a part of a science fiction show, or perhaps a section of a movie about healing via a strange version of the esoteric.   I focused and was astounded by what I saw (although I admit that afterwards I laughed at the absurdity).  An elderly woman, ostensibly a doctor, was passionately warning people to make sure God was watching when they had intercourse to make sure that they were not sleeping with spirits and demons (which was the cause of illness) and that vaccines were made with alien DNA.  Was this really a news program??  It was, and this was the person with whom Trump wishes to replace the current senior advisor on the pandemic, Dr. Fauci.  Replace Dr. Fauci with a witch doctor????   (Not to be confused with shamans, who are sane.) Alice in Wonderland had just expanded exponentially.  I have my reservations about vaccines, especially about the designer vaccine being hurriedly developed to ward off the Coronavirus, but I am certain the vaccine has not been made with alien DNA.

The news is also telling us that we need to come together to defeat the virus.  This is partly true.  However, the news puts out mixed messages about connecting with each other.  It says we should stay connected virtually and by acts of charity performed within the parameters of distancing, connecting at a surface level but continuing to wear masks and stay in our houses, or at least six feet away from each other.  I believe the reasoning is that if we do this, we will feel satisfied, rather than isolated from each other.  People do not like to be deprived of touch and of proximity.  Despite the surface nature of its pronouncement, the news is not incorrect in this matter.  We do need to connect, more than virtually, more than just sharing a meal outside a restaurant at tables six feet apart.

 I am not talking about being sheep in a herd, led by the latest official direction and pressure from the bandwagon.  People who connect respect the individuality of each other; they listen and discuss; they cooperate without pressuring each other to conform. For example, whatever I may think of masks, it does not hurt me to wear one either out of concern for the safety of others or simply to refrain from adding to the already overwhelming anxiety that many people feel.  Being vaccinated with a vaccine I do not think is safe and doubt is effective or being tracked to ensure that I get vaccinated is a completely different matter.  There is a difference between radical cooperation and tyranny.  We need to come together in cooperation at a deeper level, to sustain each other, to survive as a species and to influence the evolution of events towards a healed Earth,  disease-free living, and a just, compassionate and respectful social and economic order.

One concept we have for a long time been taught is that life is competitive; it is everyone for him/herself and for his/her immediate family.  Our schools, with their system of grades, are built that way.  The economic inequality we currently experience is built on a foundation of competition, winner take all.  Now that we are faced with the challenge of the pandemic (and also the ongoing challenge of an ever-warming Earth), we seem unable to come together to solve it using the standard competitive paradigm.

To achieve the deep cooperation we need is a major undertaking.  We once had that kind of cooperation, when people lived in tribes, or even in small neighborhoods, and worked together for the benefit of all.  Sure, there were disagreements then, but the disagreements were not allowed to destroy the well-being of the whole.  In various ways, the community would help the members who were at odds with each other work out their differences in ways that allowed life to go on.   We have lost that.   Now we have competition, fights, wars, winners, losers, and increasing chaos.   The mainly competitive path is not working. 

To succeed in reclaiming cooperation between ourselves, we must change the directive which instructs us that life is every man or woman for himself or herself, and that we need to defeat someone else in order to be successful or happy.  We have to give up some of our defining individualism, sacrificing some of it to the benefit of the whole.  No, our individual identities will not go away completely.  We are, after all, each unique, each an irreplaceable individual.  The value of our talents, though, must be geared towards helping the other unique individuals with whom we live.  The community supports us; we support the community.  That is the essence of cooperation.  We work together towards what we all in our wisdom perceive to be the best.  That is quite different than a government, or corporations, deciding what is best and giving us the illusion that if we just do it their way, we may manage to succeed, and life will be good for some of us at least.

Cooperative community is the way of the future.  It is in process; the substance is still evolving.  In community, each voice is heard, and time is taken to reach consensus.  Consensus is possible because people have learned to listen, and to discuss their differences and respect another’s stance without needing to feel that they have ‘won’. People work with and support each other.  The wisdom of even a few is not only heard but incorporated into consensus decisions.   Because the process takes time, the pace is slower, less frenzied.   This is new to us; if there are even distant memories of how it was, we still need to learn or relearn the patterns.  However, this ‘road less taken’ is the one that can lead us into a healed, peaceful world, prosperous equally for all.

Now is the time for change; now is the time for action.  If we shy away from this deeper working together, we are abdicating any influence we might have on what evolves.  Do we wish to live in the world some distant authority prescribes for us?  We can see the beginning of that now.   Let us pause now to think, to come together, to know each other as the wonderful, creative people we are at heart, and to use our combined talents to build a world in which we wish to live.

Peace, Diane

A Call to Community

Wisdom tells us that the present is the only reality.  The past is gone, the future not yet here.  Thus, a snapshot of the present is the clearest truth.  The rest is memory or guesswork.   Currently, my state of Virginia has just gone into stage 3 of opening its economy, which had been closed by the Coronavirus.   Other states are in various stages of re-opening.  Yes, the virus is still being transmitted, but the consensus seems to be that if the states do not open their economies, we can choose between death from Coronavirus or death from deceased economies.  Most states have added precautionary regulations to their re-opening plans.  Some states are more consistent about enforcement than others.  Many people are rejoicing, seeing a return to “normal”, or the way things used to be before the virus.  Others are reserving their joy, maintaining a ‘wait and see” attitude. There is no consensus.

In true Alice in Wonderland fashion, events keep happening and creating chaos.  Given, needed changes can emerge out of chaos.  Ending racism, economic justice, and climate change are three of them currently in the news; others, such as restorative agriculture and abolishing war seem to garner less attention now.  No one really knows what will happen.  The only development with some certainty is that the “normal” of before the coronavirus is gone and will not return.   The new normal is yet unformed but will be different than before.

There are predictions by pundits of oncoming catastrophes of one kind or another that will inform the new normal.  One such prediction is economic collapse; the dollar will lose its value, there will be massive inflation and disruption to supply lines, creating shortages of foods, medicines, supplements (and maybe more toilet paper).  Another is a physical calamity, such as an EMP, or the sabotage of the power grid, or perhaps earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.   Yet another is the advent of massive Big Brother type tyranny, and the digitization of everything, even our bodies, so that we and everything else can be tracked.  A fourth is the effects of climate change, such as droughts, storms, floods, and dwindling water tables.  Each prediction has its reasons, and they can be investigated online. Some may happen, in full or part, and some may not.  Or, the other extreme, none of these things will happen and we will somehow attain a utopian society without much effort at change-making.  Whatever happens, it will not be the same as pre-Coronavirus.

Many of those who see catastrophes happening are busy preparing silently for the difficulties they foresee.   Most of this prepping is done individually by families who prepare for themselves, in as much detail as they can.  A few groups prepare together.  An underlying theme is that there will be chaos, and everyone will have to fend for himself/his family amidst looting and violence.  Cooperation is not the largest goal.  The thrust is to have as much of everything necessary or desired for oneself and one’s family and protect that from the envisioned chaos.

There is wisdom in being prepared, and perhaps the anticipated chaos will occur, although that cannot be known for certain.   What is missing, so far as I can see, is the element of community, cooperation and sharing.  This used to be a part of the lives of our ancestors, whether those in tribes or neighborhoods or frontier homesteads.  One cooperated and shared with one’s neighbors and hosting a stranger with generosity was a virtue.  We seem to have lost this in modern times.  It is not that there was no struggle; tribes and homesteaders fought, and neighborhoods tended to be of people who had known each other for a while.  However, the concepts of the virtues of cooperation and sharing were there.

We need to recapture these virtues if we are to create a new normal that is nurturing for people.  We need to expand these virtues, extending them to others who are different.  We need to combine our skills, wisdom, and energy to create a new normal in which all of us can live with dignity, exercise our creativity, be assured that our world will not poison us and that there will be enough food, shelter, water, clothes, medicine, education and the like for all who are open to receiving it.  That cannot be legislated from above.  It must come from people changing their own hearts and attitudes and working together cooperatively to create these conditions.  We need to recapture the attitude of community.

Communities, of whatever flavor, such as tribe, neighborhood, extended family, intentional community, are self-governing groups of people, from, say, 10 or 15 to as many as say, 50 (there is no set number, other than that which is workable for the group in its entirety) who commit to helping and supporting each other, working together, and who have the intent of staying together over time.  They occupy land of various acreages (some are rural, some urban) and are often self-sustaining.  They tend to be cognizant of the needs of the earth and the non-human life which inhabits it, and work in cooperation with those needs.   Generally, they govern themselves by consensus.  This contrasts with what now exists (and is in chaos) such as nations, states, counties, and other large units using forms of governance which are top heavy and authoritarian.  Voting still exists, but direct participation of the governed is rare.  People usually tend to look out for themselves and their families, embracing an ethos of competition and a race to the top or a sinking to the bottom.  Resources are indisputably unevenly distributed; those at the bottom often do not have enough.  The needs of the earth and other creatures go unseen or are neglected, following the apparent belief that the entire Earth and its resources are there simply to serve the needs and convenience of humanity.  (Some human beings were once held in slavery on plantations under a similar assumption.)

What now exists does not seem to be working very well.

Examples of how a modern community can function exist.  These extant communities show that people are truly able to come together and create successful community not only now, but also more prevalently into the future.  Like-minded people tend to gather into communities with others who hold similar values.  They are also willing to allow other groups their own values and beliefs.   Other than not attacking and harming one another, they recognize structures which are different from their own.  They also recognize the value and the right to continue living of the Earth and the plants and other animals who inhabit the Earth along with us.   Their ability to use communal wisdom enhances their ability to live in general harmony with the Earth and with each other. This is a summary; details can be found online at www.fic.org , for one, and also from many books written on the topic, including a directory of communities worldwide, available through www.fic.org .

We need now to examine how such a lifestyle might be possible for us.  Yes, there are difficulties to overcome; they are difficulties inherent in ourselves as people of a dominant and prosperous culture.  For example, we need to be less dependent on being right, on being one up on another, of being dependent on having many things, of tending to argue rather than try to reach agreement.  We can choose to overcome these difficulties and learn to truly cooperate, or we can carry our current stances into our demise.  The Earth will not choose to die so we can continue to be “right” until the end.  Even if the Earth did so choose, the death of the world which sustains us is also our own death.   Community is our hope; it is people working together, as cooperative units, to learn to heal the Earth and to give value and sustenance to every living being on the Earth.   People, is it harder to learn these things, or to continue to struggle with the chaos around us as we refuse to change?  Neither will be easy, but I do believe that the former will be exponentially more satisfying.

Let us now, before it is too late, to ponder the changes that need to be made, and the ineffectiveness of top-heavy government to make those changes.  We cannot avoid individual responsibility.  The struggle and chaos of the virus have given us our second chance.  Let us examine the format of cooperative community as a supportive medium in which to make these changes.  Let us research websites, read books and talk to those who have already made community, and then talk with each other about how we might do the same.    It is time.   We need community if we ourselves are to survive.  The whole supports the many, and the many support the whole.

Peace, Diane

We Really Do Matter

” I have marched, petitioned, written letters to the editor, made phone calls and donated, but despite all I can do, nothing seems to have changed.   I feel I cannot make a difference.”  The words refer to the current crisis of climate change, uttered during a conversation about that topic.  The words are poignant, but the speaker is not the only one who feels that way.  At some time or another, each of us experiences frustration at not being able to inspire the changes we want to see, and many also experience a strong desire to give up and stop working.  Paradoxically, while we experience that desire, we also know that actually doing that will not bring lasting happiness.

I, too, experience such discouragement.  At times, it seems that no matter what words I use, they will simply echo back from the void of inertia, slip into the antithesis of what I am trying to challenge, and perish unread and unconsidered.  At such times, it is hard to continue.  Yet, giving up would simply create more hopelessness, and negate the essence of who I am, re-incorporating it into a standard status-quo.  No wealth or luxury (or the “righteousness” of its opposite) can soothe the injection of pain resulting from giving up.

I would that it were easier for us to continue.  I would that we were not surrounded by the integrated tangle we have made for ourselves by assuming that we can create better than the wisdom of nature, or the tenets of Wisdom.  However, wishing does not make it so.  We are indeed all linked, whether in chaos or creation, or both at the same time.  This connection, while it may seem at times to present an insurmountable obstacle, is in fact an innate strength upon which we all may draw as we continue living and doing our parts to nurture each other and our planet.  Understanding this can lift us up; acting on the understanding can help us perceive often imperceptibly slow forward movement.

We need community; we need others with whom to work, strive and share.  We need those whose efforts commingle with ours to heal ourselves and our planet.  We need to act on the knowledge that we are all linked, and that each of us does make a difference to the nature and quality of the whole.  Our connection is creative – even if we are joined in creating destruction – and allowing ourselves to be separated each from the other, perceiving the separation rather than the link, inhibits our creative manifestation.   Many ways exist to connect.  Some are those of technology (not the same as physical proximity, but yes, a kind of connection), discussion groups, action/service groups, economic cooperatives, extended family, neighborhoods and co-housing, monastic groups, intentional communities, to name a few.  These groups, each in its own way, support their members (and sometimes others, too) and devote their pooled energy into influencing the creation of the as-yet-unformed that is to come.

Another obstacle many of us experience is the perceived lack of time.  Often our experience is that when all the work done to support ourselves is finished, there remains the maintenance work at home to sustain us, and some time spent to connect with family and friends.  That done, perhaps we can eke out a little time to read, exercise or learn and grow in one way or another.   When all that is accomplished, there remains little time to sleep, even if we have been operating with the stress of full speed ahead.  Community is helpful in this way as well.  Work shared (remunerative or for maintenance) means less time each individual needs to spend on tasks.  Shared effort means support for each other.  Shared knowledge means learning and growing in the course of being.  Time saved means less time spent rushing and more time available for sleep and healing, and more time in which to pursue those efforts about which one is passionate.

“It is all so complex,” one might protest.  “We are becoming more fully aware of the consequences of climate change, yet it seems that averting the full effects of climate change cannot be addressed without also engaging the issues with which it is linked.”  It is as if the totality of mistakes made in human society are the drivers of the changes on the planet as a whole.  Yes, fossil fuels are certainly a large part.  But what about people trapped residing in marginalized areas or substandard housing, an agricultural system seemingly bent on destroying the life of the soil as it goes about chemically killing everything it cannot sell, factory farms selling meat from abused animals while polluting ecosystems, a political and economic system structured to exclude or minimize minorities, escalating wars, and technology fever, which separates us from the earth and gives us the illusion that it will protect us from change?  These are a few of today’s issues; they are related to climate change.  Cause for hopelessness?   Not when we realize that each little bit helps; when enough drops have fallen into the bucket, the bucket will overflow.

Let us hold on to hope, learn to feel the interconnectedness of all things, gather into community, and be aware that we do, indeed, matter.  Anything, small or large, that we do counts.  Let us “hold the vision and keep the faith” and continue to contribute from the time we manage to devote and the talents we have been given.  In this way, we continue to grow, helping the earth and others in the process.

Peace, Diane