A Tiny Guiding Light Amidst So Much Darkness

There is great darkness afoot in our world right now.

There is Aleppo. In Syria, it is the dead of the night, and many will not make it until the morning. Those who do will only have another day of misery, another day of starvation and brutality and terror, another day which may well be their last. Bombs rain down like shooting stars and the terror has settled over the city like hot ash. Women are choosing death over rape and everyone, including 46 orphans, are posting goodbye videos.

In my own country, I am having the eerie experience of watching tyranny rise. There are videos of neo-Nazis saluting Trump, a rejoicing KKK. Each of his Cabinet appointments feels like a slap in the face from patriarchy, from white supremacy, from the 1% of the 1% and dangerous polluting industries. I feel so many things I have worked and prayed for slipping away: a clean environment, good public education, a thriving economy. I feel the possibility of safety and equality and prosperity slipping away from future generations, from my two young nieces, from the many black and brown children I love.

And now the CIA is confirming something many of us already knew, which is that Russian intelligence interfered in our elections in support of Trump. I feel like I am watching Democracy flounder on the ground before me.

There is so much darkness now and I am struggling to take it all in. My usual tools of optimist, active hope and engaged story telling are failing me. I cannot simply search for goodness in such dark times, or throw my usual blanket of beauty and love over this one. We are facing powerful forces and need powerful tools.

In looking for these tools, I turn again to story. I turn to the Buddhist prophecy of the Shambhala warriors. It says that there will come a time when all of life is threatened, where dark forces arise and hold the promise of massive destruction, annhiliation even. This is the time that the kingdom of Shambhala will rise.

You cannot go to the kingdom of Shambhala, because it lives in the hearts of the Shambhala warriors. And the weapons that the warriors wield are manomaya, or mind-made. They are the two-pronged weapons of insight and compassion. It is essential that Shambhala warriors have both. We must have insight, so we can see clearly what is happening and find wise action, but alone, insight is too cold; it does not have the fire behind us to inspire us to the acts of courage we are called upon to make. So, we must have the warmth of compassion to open our hearts and inspire us to action. (I want to thank Joanna Macy for sharing this story with me; I would encourage you to read her telling of it.)

This certainly must be the time of Shambhala kingdom; on top of the immediate political atrocities, we are facing climate change, species extinction, massive wealth inequity, and social unrest. This means that we all have the extraordinary opportunity to be Shambhala warriors, to disarm the powerfully dark forces in the world.

These dark times call on us to cultivate our tools. For me, this starts every morning as I sit in mindfulness meditation, honing my insight, my clear thinking, sharpening my ability to see through my own story and pierce the truth of the world. Insight is like a machete cutting through the weeds of the thickest jungle, opening a clearing so we can see the landscape around us.

And we Shambhala warriors cultivate our compassion. The word compassion comes from Latin, meaning “with suffering”. The word is literally about being with the suffering in the world, breaking open our hearts to the incredible misery and heartbreak and terror that exists. In times like these, we do not have to look hard to cultivate our compassion, because heartbreak surrounds us.

It is important to note that these are tools; tools are worthless until they are used. We must take our double-edged sword of compassion and insight out of its sheath and wield it in these times of darkness. This means we must act. I will follow up with a post on resources to do that.

There are no guarantees on this; I truly have no idea how any of this will turn out, if we can actually protect our ecosystems from irreparable harm or sew lasting seeds of global peace and connection. I  am bracing myself for more darkness, for more heartbreak, more hardship. I am bracing myself for uphill, seemingly impossible battles and many losses.

But I am not doing this because I think I will necessarily get what I want. We all have up-hill, loosing battles ahead of us. I am doing this for my own sense of integrity, my own values, for my own belief in love and beauty and justice.  I am doing this so that, when I have children and grandchildren, I can look back and know I stood up for them. I am doing this because I cannot look on to atrocities and do nothing, nor can I look away from them and feign ignorance. I am doing this people I love are being threatened, and I vow to protect them. I am doing this because silence is consent and I refuse, absolutely refuse, to give my consent to any of this.

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One Comment on “A Tiny Guiding Light Amidst So Much Darkness

  1. thank you sally. i wish i’d read this when it came out, which might have been the nadir of my post-election emotions. i appreciate the imagery of these tools: insight and compassion. and also the ‘do it anyway’ mentality in the last paragraph. because it’s the right thing to do.


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