I am awake before anyone else this morning, which is not unusual for me. I love the unhurried peace of the early morning. Just before the sun comes up fully, with the landscape still sleeping, the present moment is so much more accessible. The only noise within that peace is the starlings, house finches and mourning doves. They sit on the aspen branches and on the railings of my deck and repeat the same melodies again and again to each other as if reciting prayers.
On mornings such as this, it seems like everything is as it should be. I am usually running around after the improvement of this thing or that thing. I have built my career on the foundation of such a creation, the creation of an improved world. But for a while, in the stillness of the morning, it feels as if I am already there. The world is already in a state of peace and it is already harmonious and instead of change the world into something we want it to become, we are left with the truth that all humanity must do, is catch up with the peace that already exists. All we must do is to awaken to what is. And so, there is nothing to do.
Sitting here this morning in this peace, I can’t help but think about the unusually high number of e- mails I’ve been getting this week from people who don’t feel as if they can deal with all the suffering in this world. They ask me how I deal with it so well. My confession is that I don’t. As anyone who lives with me can attest to, I am reduced to tears often by stories that make their way into my awareness. When we look at something across the world that causes suffering or when we look at something in someone else’s life that causes them to suffer, we feel powerless. Being empathetic, we want desperately to do something to improve the situation. But we don’t know how. This is even truer when the suffering is causes by a large conflict, such as a war. We (even I) get to a point where we feel utterly powerless to all the suffering in the world. We are left with the question “what can I honestly do about it? Am I going to get on a plane, fly to the country where the war is taking place, get off the plane, walk right into these killing zones and try to talk terrorists or soldiers into stopping the bloodshed? Some of us might be inspired to do that, but for most of us, we know the answer to that question is no. As a result, we are paralyzed to improve anything. We begin to feel if the world is forsaken.
The most crucial thing for us to understand is that we will never feel good about the world we live in, or about ourselves until we stop addressing suffering in terms of specific, isolated incidents. We will only reduce suffering if we treat suffering on this planet as a whole. We can only make an impact on suffering if we feel empowered instead of powerless. We can only make an impact if we believe we can make an impact. If you want to believe you can make an impact; and what’s more, if you want to start actually making an impact, look at suffering only as a whole instead of in parts. Instead of focusing on that one war that you feel like you can’t do anything about, focus on suffering in and of itself or at least on collective human suffering. Look at the big picture of suffering (which is something we can have a direct, tangible impact on) instead of focusing on isolated incidents that cause suffering (which we often feel removed from to the degree that we feel we cannot have a direct tangible effect on them).
We need to take a vow to reduce collective suffering by adding to collective wellbeing every day in the ways that we CAN add to collective wellbeing. How do we reduce suffering by adding to wellbeing? There are an unlimited number of ways. But here are some examples: Eat a plant based diet, open the door for a stranger, smile more, pick up litter, help someone reach a goal, compliment someone, give someone a gift, give someone a hug, spend quality time with someone, adopt a homeless pet, inspire others, quit killing the bugs in your house and set them free outside instead, stop using pesticides, encourage someone, donate money, and look for and create beauty in the world. There is an enormous difference between focusing on and resisting the problems and focusing on and going in the direction of a solution. You will know you are focusing on the solution when you feel emotionally empowered. You will know you are focusing on the problem if you feel emotionally in pain.
When you look at suffering as a whole, you will soon realize that your suffering is a part of that collective suffering. It will then become apparent that the most important thing we could do to reduce suffering in the world is to reduce our own suffering as individuals. You are contributing to world suffering when you suffer as a result of focusing on the suffering of others. Because of this, it can easily be said that the single most important thing you will ever do for world suffering, is to do whatever it takes to enable yourself to be happy. To do whatever it takes to awaken to the peace that already is all around you.