I have two friends who are trying to do beautiful things in the world. One is an ardent environmentalist who really passionately yearns to save the biosphere and protect the planet. The other is a social worker serving abused, abandoned, neglected, traumatized children in a community where most people are hooked on meth. Both carry so much pain in their deeply empathic hearts that their own bodies are suffering. I worry that these two are killing themselves with those broken open, bleeding, service-oriented hearts. Yet, I see in them a painful pattern that leads to unnecessary suffering, one I recognize because I’m still in the process of breaking this pattern myself. But it’s not easy. Breaking this kind of pattern is like trying to put an octopus to bed. The minute you get two arms tucked quietly under the covers, six more arms of the pattern sneak out!
Here’s what I wish I could say to these two extraordinary big-hearted activists:
To be on the front lines of service work, you have to stop fighting what is.
Yes, it hurts that our biosphere is at risk. Yes, it breaks our hearts that innocent children are violated every day. We can’t skip those emotions. They remind us that we’re humans with sensitive hearts, and this is a good thing. In his work with grief, Francis Weller acknowledges the five gates of grief—the grief of losing a loved one, the grief for places within us that are hidden in shame or banished from our awareness, the grief of our loss of connection with nature and each other, the grief for what we hoped for but never received, and ancestral grief. In our culture, we often only acknowledge and respect the first gate—losing a loved one. But these other gates of grief are real and to neglect them or fail to feel them means either living in denial or “spiritual bypassing,” whereby we use spiritual principles or practices to skip painful emotions. Grief can’t be skipped, so I would never tell my two friends to avoid the pain they feel. However, we can get stuck in the story of “the world is wrong.”
The world is the way it is. This is what is. We can keep fighting life and suffering needlessly or we can choose to let go of the painful story that says that the biosphere shouldn’t be dying. Let go of the gut-wrenching agony that says children should not be abused and neglected. Let go of the part of you that thinks you—and you alone—are here to fix this brokenness in the world. Let go of any story that says that if you take a day off or turn your back on yet another client or say no to yet another climate change conference, the world will fall apart and it will be all your fault.
What if the world isn’t broken? What if there is Divine perfection in things just as they are?
Holding this perspective requires the ability to inhabit non-dual awareness. You have to be able to hold the paradox that allows you to simultaneous experience the grief of a dying biosphere or the pain of watching a child get abused while also realizing that life is perfect just as it is, that there is a Divine order in all things that the mind can’t possibly understand. Unless people on the front lines of service can be in agreement with even the painful aspects of life, they carry so much pain that they become burned out or sick or suicidal, and their ability to do their service work is limited. It’s yet another paradox to realize that you can only stay on the front lines as long as you can take care of yourself, prioritizing your own self-care before you consider the needs of the planet or the needs of abused children. Excessive self-sacrifice limits your service. It’s not sustainable. You’ll be forced to slow down and help others less, even if it means getting the cosmic bitch slap of a cancer diagnosis.
It helps to inhabit the consciousness of this mantra. “I am in agreement with life, and I resist nothing.”
This doesn’t mean that you don’t feel pain or experience empathy. It doesn’t mean you detach and become cold and unfeeling. It doesn’t mean you throw up your hands in helpless desperation and sit by passively as you witness seeming atrocities without trying to serve life. It doesn’t mean you don’t stop taking actions to protect the biosphere or keep an abused child safe. It just means you do it from a different consciousness, one that recognizes that on one level, all is well just as it is. You don’t need your righteous anger to motivate you. You don’t need to stay stuck in your heartbreak in order to love the planet or its children. When all of that falls away, you will still serve love because it’s who you are. It’s what you do.
I don’t know why things we deem horrible happen to seemingly innocent people. Life is a mystery I’ve given up trying to unravel. Perhaps we humans have soul contracts that require us to go through certain life ordeals in order to grow as souls, in order to become One with the Divine, and perhaps things are as they should be on some plane we can’t possible understand with our human minds. Or maybe not.
What I do know is that it’s possible to hold a consciousness that allows that life is already perfect just as it is while still taking actions to make the world a safer, healthier, more loving place.
The Universe Doesn’t Need You to Be in Charge
Also essential to making this shift is realizing that you alone cannot save the world. Believe it or not, the Universe doesn’t need you to single-handedly take charge and fix what you judge as broken in the world. It’s laughable when you think about it. How arrogant are we to think that our singular actions are essential to saving the biosphere or protecting every child on the planet from being abused? And yet, herein lies the paradox again. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Yes. This is true. We are not meant to just sit by in a state of learned helplessness and watch children getting abused or oceans getting polluted. And yet, if any one person dropped off the planet, it would not significantly affect the state of the biosphere or the number of abused children on the planet.
We’re special, but we’re not special. We matter, but we don’t matter. Every act of love we offer is significant, and yet we are a wisp of energy on a wisp of a planet spinning in a vast galaxy of infinite stars. We are here to serve love in the world, to fulfill our callings, to do what we can to make this world a better place, and yet, life is perfect just as it is, we must accept what is and stop fighting life, and no single individual can save the world.
What a Relief!
Once we realize this, not just in our heads, but in our hearts, we can rest. Our nervous systems can relax. We can let go of the heaviness in our hearts that comes from fighting life or perceiving the world as broken. We can feel our grief fully and not get stuck in it, so we can also feel the joy that exists in the world right now, riding shotgun just next to the grief. Then, from this peaceful, centered place of stillness inside, we can say yes to our callings, do what we can to serve love in the world, and rest in the refuge of our own hearts, in tribal communion with the other beings who inhabit this planet with us.
Let Love Flow
From that calm, centered place of stillness, we can let love flow through us unimpeded without suffering burn out or carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders in a way that prevents us from being able to fully enjoy and savor the pleasures of life. Then we no longer see it as our responsibility to save every child, every tree, or every hurting soul. We don’t have to feel guilty for taking a day or a week or a month off to go sit amongst the spring blossoms and bathe in sunbeams. We no longer have to carry the burden of all of the pain that exists in this world, yet we are not bypassing the pain either. We are simply allowing life to be as it is, moving different energies through us as we experience things. We are not grasping at what we want and we are not resisting what we don’t want. We are simply being with what is.
We feel love. We feel grief. We feel anger. We feel ecstasy. These emotions flow through us like clouds in the sky, always changing, always moving through us and allowing themselves to be fully experienced and expressed, never getting stuck or being resisted. Then we can serve love in the world without impediment, without taking on all the world’s pain as our own. Then we are free to just be human, with all of its bliss and all of its pain, with no separation between the sacred and the profane. Then . . . finally . . . we can rest in beingness and allow the stillness of this calm space inside to leap us into inspired action, as we allow ourselves to be a benevolent presence in the world.
I attended Joe Dispenza’s advanced mediation workshop in Tacoma, Washington, where I studied what he’s up to as part of my research for a future book Sacred Medicine. By 6 a.m. one morning, I was hooked up to an EEG machine as Joe guided us into a deep meditation, which I dedicated to Mother Earth. During the meditation, I saw all 500 of us in the room as light beings on a rescue mission to bring consciousness to our planet, and I felt the love in the room swelling in my own heart and all around me, until I saw love missiles being cast towards Syria and other terrorist installations, love fireworks raining down on the rainforests, and love bombs exploding in the hearts of people inside corrupt systems everywhere, such that they were suddenly unable to continue business as usual. My whole body started pulsing all the way out to my skin and tears streamed down my face as I felt myself leave my body and look down upon our planet as if from space. The green and blue ball of earth had two big eyes on her and she was gazing at me with the soft, tender eyes of a mother. I heard the mantra repeat itself, “I am in agreement with life, and I resist nothing.”
My heart is bursting.
Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and spiritual seeker. Passionate about what makes people optimally healthy and what predisposes them to illness, she is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual; it also heals the collective. As she became aware of how fear dominates modern culture and how such fear predisposes us not only to unhappiness but to disease, she began researching ways to befriend fear so we can let it heal and liberate us, opening us up to greater compassion, not just for others, but for ourselves. Lissa has starred in two PBS specials and also leads spirituality workshops, both online, as well as at retreat centers like Esalen, Kripalu, and Omega. When doing what she can to sprinkle pixie dust on a fear-based culture, Lissa loves to hike, ski, and dance. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter. Read her blog and learn more at LissaRankin.com.