Walking the Tightrope Between Joy and Fear

Kurt '15_ I have been doing a lot of soul searching lately. Not that I am any stranger to big questions. I seem to be one of those people who was put here on earth to ask the biggest questions I can think of. Part of what feels different now is that the questions are becoming more intimate, more nuanced, more rooted at ground level. I'm not so interested in the big unanswerables these days, those cosmic questions have pulled me so often out into a world of abstractions. These thought trains don't seem to be helping much anymore. I'm seeing more clearly how the toxicity of negative thinking in particular, especially of future catastrophizing, has too often led me into emotional exile. I'm really genuinely tired of that.

There are more good reasons now for catastrophizing than at any point in human history. The news is rampant with reasons for pessimism and despair. Every one of us has a front row seat on the most alarming developments around the planet on any given day and hour, constantly, without cease. Some of it is the usual natural disaster stuff. We get to be up close and personal, up to the minute, with human suffering that is in the "act of God" category. But the biggest stuff is our own doing. The climate isn't changing. We are changing the climate, with consequences that dwarf the worst natural disasters. We are the architects of most social unrest, political extremism, human brutality, and ecological collapse.

How to be with all of that, without losing heart, without sacrificing our aliveness in the moment, and at the same time without turning away from the difficult truths? That is the Big Question I ponder these days.

David Whyte, in "The Poetic Narrative of Our Times", wrote:

It may be that we live in a time of collective heartbreak, where for the first time in history we are being asked to witness the disappearance and reappearance on a global scale of what it means to be fully human; to give away our identity and see how it is returned to us through a sincere participation in the trials and necessities of the coming years. Part of that heartbreak is the sense that we might not be equal to the ecological, political and economic transitions that are necessary, that our own selfishness may be writ too deeply into our genes and that the future is therefore untenable and unreachable.

We do not as yet know if this is true, but the old humanistic story around ourselves as a successful species, always on the up and up and appointed to some special destiny, is fading and silvering into the night air, and we are left, at this point in history, contemplating the unknown immensity of the night behind it."

These are tough words, but also honest and compassionate words, because they have the ring of a necessary truth. We never did control our destiny in the way that our ever-ascendant modern story has taught us to believe. And whatever modicum of control we did have has been squandered by our inability to gain control of that part of the natural world that has proven most destructive - namely, human nature.

The "collective heartbreak" that I feel in the air, and on the airwaves, daily now, is therefore appropriate. It's not a bad thing at all. It is an opening into a deeper inquiry that is gaining traction beneath the radar of most media coverage, an inquiry that is beginning to grapple with the futility of merely political or technological solutions to the crises we face, the crises we are the authors of.

Ultimately it is the same "unknown immensity" that we have always been given to contemplate; the inevitability of our own demise, the smallness of our time in this passing human body, but set as always within the immensity of that abundant life force that flows through us.

This inquiry happens best, I'm finding, within the absolute nuts and bolts of daily life, on the very ground I tread - the smallest daily encounters, the most intimate choices that are continually being offered - to either be present to what is, with a full and open heart, or to turn away in fear and despair. That is never a choice that is bound to circumstances, or that depends on a particular outcome. It is a choice freely offered, freely taken (or not), in the deepest heart of our experience, here and now. Therefore I will continue to live and fight for what I love in that spirit. I will not allow the great losses of this moment in history to rob me of my joy, compassion, and expansiveness of heart, that is as real and accessible now as it ever has been.

And when I am able to do that, in those moments of actual presence, I have learned to expect surprises, possibilities I hadn't imagined, aliveness in unexpected forms, immense beauty emerging all around, endless reasons for gratitude.