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Challenging times: How Shall We Proceed?

“Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage… Yet I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with Wolves)

At this moment, many are feeling fearful, angry and uncertain about the future. How shall we respond? How shall we proceed effectively? Psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach, suggests anger arises for us when we fear something we love is being blocked. And when this happens we need to look deeply into what that love is and then act from here.

Chogyam Trungpa, Buddhist scholar, makes a distinction between how we can “collectively smooth out this world” when facing social problems (Trungpa, 2003) versus how we might be called upon to act in an extreme moment to protect the innocent. When my good friend saw someone harassing a woman on the trolley, without thinking, or hesitation she kicked the fellow and chased him away. And in this moment, this was the appropriate action, not with anger, but with intent to protect. And, we must continually distinguish, which moment are we in?

How do we move forward in time of societal upheaval? What words and actions will we choose? Our words are powerful. We have many remarkable examples in our shared cultural memory from bright souls throughout our history:

  • We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate ..... This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. (Martin Luther King)

  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (Viktor Frankl)

  • If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner. (Nelson Mandela).

We remember these words. Why? They are words which recognize difficult truths yet still offer us possibility. They are words that call us to a higher way of being and thinking; a larger view which requires us to be in inquiry, understanding, compassion for one another. In the Dalai Lama’s appeal to the Chinese People, although he refutes the Chinese position and treatment of the people of Tibet…he implores them with deep sadness to seek dialogue to find mutual understanding.

1st Practice is to Pause and Breathe and Notice What you Feel: If not in immediate threat, then pause, Just Pause for a few moment. Breathe in deeply and slowly on the out breath. And notice, really notice what you are feeling. Acknowledge it with kindness to yourself and to others. Just accept it as it is without acting on it in this moment. This is the beginning, the place from which we can center ourselves and not be caught in the "movie." From here we can connect with our heart and mind and integrate to act from inner wisdom rather than unconsciously driven emotion. In all these moments of life, notice what you are feeling so you can integrate it, so you can take care of yourself when needed.

Breathing in,

I am aware of my in-breath.

Breathing out,

I am aware of my out-breath.


Breathing in, I calm my body

Breathing out, I calm my body

2nd Practice - Reflecting and intentionally reframe your choice of words : When we are frightened and outraged by an action, an ill -word or deed…how can we participate differently besides anger-inciting language? How can we use compassionate inquiry to learn about this person in front of us who feels and acts so differently. Practice asking in: "where does it hurt?" (Tara Brach). “Tell me, how do you see this situation?,” “What are your fears?” “What are your hopes?” The Buddhist masters advise us, and our own experience tells us, that when we lash out with hateful words, with name-calling, with generalized labeling---- there will be no bridging of understanding with that other human soul. The other will only reject and ignore us or retort with more ugly words. We begin an angry escalation. But we can choose differently, we can choose a different emotion……research shows that when we smile or even just act a mood---it can actually alter our brain chemistry.

3rd Practice - Take Effective Action from your place of love and protection: Take positive action within your reach if you are moved. Join a group doing something you believe in. Create beauty. Help individuals. Teach. Walk in nature. And, there may be moments where fierce action is required to protect the innocent. I don't know when those moments are necessary. But I do believe they must be deliberated carefully because they have grave consequences.


Martha Postlethwaite Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth the rescue.

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