Many of us think our situation in the coming decades will not
be as good as today in one or more ways – less
oil, reduced wealth in
general, climate change, social and ecological deterioration, perhaps
even rapid population decline. A question that I often hear when these
topics come up is, "How
can we keep from feeling
discouraged, even though we strongly suspect our future situation will
not be as good as today?"
For about three years, up until two years ago, I let the full horror of
these negative possibilities into my mind, heart and soul. I embraced
them completely – energy collapse, economic collapse,
ecological collapse, social collapse, population collapse – all in the
interest of awakening to the
Truth. While my goal was noble, the process was flawed and the outcome
was almost disastrous.
Like an alcoholic I'm now recovering day by day (but there are still
days...) My goal in the last two years has been to regain my emotional
footing and find peace of mind. I see myself holding the
of these negative possibilities in one hand, the possibility for hope
in the other, and giving them both equal space in my thoughts and
feelings. Here is some of the advice I give myself as I do this.
0. Remember that the future is fundamentally
Bad stuff will happen (as it always has), but good stuff will also
happen (as it always has). Becoming attached to any outcome, whether
good or bad, is a sure path to disappointment and suffering.
1. Live as fully as possible in the present moment.
Strive to be aware of what's going on around you and inside you. Don't
cling to the good stuff and reject the bad stuff, simply be aware of it.
2. Pay more attention to the little voice inside you
that tells you what's right with you.
Pay much less attention to those inner voices that tell you what's
wrong with you. The "shoulds and oughts" they beat you with are
defensive lies laid down in your past. They bind you to that past and
keep you from being fully present to the life you're living right now.
3. Develop your ability to feel empathy and compassion.
Life without these qualities is dark, cold and hard. With
them life becomes luminous, warm and easy.
4. Be of service to others.
There is a good reason that selfless service (also called seva) is the
cornerstone of various eastern philosophies and religions. It focuses
our attention outside ourselves, and reminds us that there is a greater
arena than our ego. Joining one of the countless small local
environmental or social justice groups that are springing up all around
us is a great way to start.
5. Take time to honour and serve yourself.
Balance your outward attention with inward attention. Have compassion
for your own mistakes and shortcomings, recognize your own intrinsic
6. Remember that it's not stuff that makes us happy,
it's our connections.
Nurture your connections with other people, with animals
and nature, with organizations, with ideas larger than yourself. Strive
to see yourself as one node in the enormous, majestic web of reality, a
web that unfolds through the countless interactions that its
connections embody. It would be a different web if you weren't a part
7. Develop your capacity for
awe and reverence.
A writer named Paul Woodruff says this: Reverence begins in a deep
understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be
in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control. The capacity
for awe brings with it the capacity for respecting fellow human beings,
flaws and all. Simply put, reverence is the virtue that keeps human
beings from trying to act like gods.
If religion is your thing, follow that path. If it's science, use that
as your springboard. If you're secular yet spiritual, find a teaching
like Buddhism or one of its modern developments like The
Following this approach has not blinded
me to the negative possibilities I mentioned at the beginning, but it
helped me regain and retain a sense of balance in the face of life's
barrage of curve balls large and small. I hope you find something
similarly stabilizing among these suggestions.
February 14, 2010