What is the one simple thing that transforms suffering into powerful motivation for change?
As is often explained by Joanna Macy, who is one of my Buddhist teachers and one the founders of the Deep Ecology movement: in systems theory, a stimulus will automatically lead to a response, but only if the stimulus is felt.
So when we close down to the stimulus of our physical or emotional pain by ignoring it, denying it, distracting ourselves, or numbing out, we short-circuit our natural ability to respond.Closing down to the pain may bring us minor relief in the moment, but the cost over time is extremely high.
When we numb ourselves, it leads to a state of apathy, a lack of energy, and a loss of passion for life. And that’s not all. When we lose our ability to feel, we lose our ability to care for ourselves, others and our world, and we compromise our intelligence, our creativity, and our ability to choose.
What greater loss could there be? I believe this is akin to the loss of life itself. Because to be alive is to consciously feel and respond. So to relinquish this essential capacity drains us of life-force and leads to a state closer to death.
We can see this necrosis of consciousness at work, not only within ourselves, but in our imperiled world. How else could we, as a species, have allowed ourselves to consume our way so close to the precipice, even as all the alarm bells are going off?
In our wish to avoid even the most minor pain or inconvenience, we have successfully tuned out all warning signs of a system out of balance. And we have succumbed to a collective numbness that saps our will, ingenuity, compassion, and vitality, and leads us to the verge of destroying ourselves, countless other species, future generations and everything we once held beautiful and dear.
Thankfully, we can reverse this process. We can begin to rewire our circuits by gradually opening to the pain, and grieving what has been lost. This is how we heal and come back to life.
I had an very powerful experience of grieving for our planet during my time in solitary retreat, and I can promise you: when we consciously open to our own pain and the pain of the world, in a safe and gradual way, it is truly astounding how much energy, care, creativity and passion for life can be unleashed.
We can begin to open to this “response-ability” for ourselves and for our world, a little bit at a time, every day, through the simple life saving, consciousness-raising practice of mindfulness.
In invite you to do so, with this 20-Minute Mindfulness Meditation.