Soberly, we watch the explosions at the Boston Marathon on our TV screens. Chaos. Wounded men, women, and children hurried away on stretchers. Loss of limbs and loss of life. Police and medical responders. Eye witness reports. Theories about which mad men plotted this massacre. The President resolving to track down the culprits. News analyses. We watch until we’re numb, then try to find a channel not focused on this event.
We can and we must sustain our poise when devastating troubles occur
The good news is that we can sustain our poise even in the face of the worst human behavior.
We know that there are no guarantees about how long we or our loved ones will live, how healthy we will be, how safe we will be, or what might threaten our well being next. We can predict only that humans will confront great challenges.
We can predict with certainty that we will all die.
The only way to be ready for anything and everything is to sustain our poise.
Poised when great human suffering comes, we have all of our powers at our disposal.
Poised, we are present, ready in the moment—rather than disabled by sorrow and anguish, wishing that this trouble would pass.
Poised, we are connected to others—rather than shrinking back into separation and self-protection, worrying only about our own survival.
Poised, we are grateful—avoiding complaint, blame, and calling life hard names.
Poised, we are creative, masters of improvisation–rather than collapsing into sorrow and impotency.
Poised, we are lighthearted, loving life even in its most challenging moments—rather than defaulting into depression and victim stories.
Our poise brings the gift of consciousness to a world often lost in the conviction that life is tragic.
Is it bad taste to sustain our poise when we confront human suffering?
Most of us feel compassion for these strangers who were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We identify with them as innocent people whose lives have been blasted out of careful design, a life design intended in part to avoid pain, suffering, and accident.
From the safety of our homes, work place, or favorite bar, we watch transfixed, mulling our own fragility and the possibility of an unexpected catastrophe that could divert or end our own lives.
Is it in good taste to be joyful, glad to be alive, right now? If not, what is the appropriate timeout before we switch emotional channels and move back into the usual concerns of our immediate needs, interests, and activities?
Emerson said in “Compensation” that we are always compensated when suffering or evil come into our lives. Soon or late, goodness and benefit will follow as a direct result of what happened to cause us pain. Calamity in our lives, he says, is compensated and can produce a revolution in our consciousness, a necessary transformation in the way we live:
“And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances, and the reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and the neglect of the gardener, is made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighbourhoods of men.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”
Emmet Fox predicted that anyone who understands these laws of karma will become unrecognizable to friends and family. When you stop fearing that something bad will happen and realize that all the good you create will come back to you, the ordinary person you used to be disappears to make way for the real you.
When we mind what happens, we lose our poise
My mother minded what happened in the world every day. Even in her 90s she was tuned in to NPR all day long, staying abreast of corporate corruption that ruined lives, major governmental blunders in the world, and every notable human betrayal.
Mom reported these stories to support her on-going argument that the U.S. is in steep and inevitable decline and that the evils of the human species will probably drag us all into oblivion.
In our phone conversations, I would give current examples of human love, creativity, vibrant spirit, and victory over adversity. Mom would say, “Well, you’re an optimist,” believing that I wasn’t quite seeing the world as it is, a crazy place headed for oblivion.
Mom was a hand wringer, someone who responds to bad news with obsessive angst. Oh, me, oh my, the world is falling apart. Bad news in the world was incontrovertible evidence to her that the human species is doomed.
When she was in this mood, she was unable to see that the sun also rises.
Many of us are hand wringers, even if we don’t voice our dismay and pessimism as predictably as Mom.
9-11, a tsunami, China’s smog, Japan’s loss of control of its nuclear plants, an oil spill, a murderous school shooting, a mad pronouncement from North Korea, the latest spate of bombings in Iraq, the melting glaciers—any of these particular problems and all of them in aggregate weigh on our psyches.
Many of us are unable to sustain our poise because the evidence of human fragility, ignorance, and evil seems overwhelming. We are unable to sustain the key elements of poise:
v We can’t stay present in the wonderful now, but instead obsess about an apocalyptic future, a future to be guarded against and avoided if possible. (Stock up on water, food, and fuel and stash it in the basement in case of a future disaster.)
v We let go of our connections to others and to this beautiful earth. In our fear and self-protection, we try to figure out how our loved ones and we can survive when the edifice of human order and stability appears to be vulnerable.
v We can’t maintain our gratitude easily as the evidence of human violence and perfidy piles up day after day.
v Our creativity shrinks when we become convinced that all efforts to save the human race and our planet are futile. We lose faith that humanity will be able to evolve, become less violent, and learn how to live with each other in peace.
v We don’t believe it is logical or even decent to maintain a light heart when so many people are suffering and so much seems to be going wrong and getting worse.
We very much mind what is happening whenever we lose our poise.
We don’t mind what is happening when we sustain our poise
The great teacher, Krishnamurti, once told an audience that the secret to his life was,
But Krishnamurti was speaking from a state of poise.
Poised, he could accept whatever life brought to him, even if it was a great challenge.
Poised, he did not waste energy on quarreling with the realities of his life or wishing that something else was appearing. Krishnamurti had defeated self-pity and victim-hood.
Poised, we become empervious
It’s OK to stop wringing our hands in the face of human suffering.
At this particular stage of human evolution we are still capable of immense violence, brutality, and cruelty. This fact calls each of us to a higher consciousness.
So, if you want to help our species evolve, learn to sustain your poise.
Poised, you will live a life of vibrant joy and practical advantage.
Poised, you will be able to help.