This article first appeared in the Autumn edition of All About Malvern.
In our small town, nestled safely into the side of these ancient hills, the sun is shining. In other parts of the world the weather is not so kind. As I write this people are assessing the damage from two hurricanes that moved through the Caribbean islands and the east coast of the United States. The west coast of the United States is full of smoke from devastating wild fires. Thousands of people in Asia have been displaced as a result of flooding. A few days ago there was an earthquake in South America.
The news is not only full of extreme events in the natural world, but of devastation and the potential for devastation caused more directly by human beings.
How do we proceed in a world like this?
It can be tempting to see these crises in the world as an invitation to respond in some way. There is some wisdom in asking the question, “What does the world want from me?” But asking this question can lead to being overwhelmed or frozen with indecision. Sometimes we see this on a smaller scale when events in our own lives seem to overtake us and we can’t find a way back towards taking positive action.
My Buddhist teacher, David Brazier, suggests that a better to question to ask is, “What does reality want from me?”
Reality includes what’s happening in the world, or the big events in our own lives. It also includes us. Human beings have strengths and weaknesses. We have some things that we are skilled at offering to other people and the world, some things that are on the edge of our comfort zone, and some things that are impossible for us to offer.
When I first moved to Malvern I asked myself this kind of question.
I imagined two circles: the first — what the world was calling for; the second — what my skills were. I asked myself what was in the space where these two circles overlapped. Out of this questioning came the first of the courses I teach in mindfulness meditation.
Keeping my interest on the place these circles overlap has led me forward in my life, to other work and projects. It has also taken me through a process of getting to know myself more deeply and of self-acceptance.
Asking yourself this question might lead to small actions at first: making a friend of cup of tea, holding the door open for someone or smiling at a neighbour. Perhaps it will lead on to offerings that take a little more time: planting some wildflower seeds in your garden, giving a lift to someone who struggles to get around or choosing to volunteer in your community.
Living in this way is deeply satisfying.
We take realistic positive action, pointing ourselves in the direction of unfolding goodness, starting from a position of self-empathy and self-acceptance. In this way we grow and flourish. We move towards a place of joy as we make beneficial and sustainable offerings to ourselves and the world.