I have been thinking a lot about how to use my mindfulness practice when I start to feel anxious or even despairing about the unusual times in which we find ourselves. So it was fortuitous that the book “Real Change” by lovingkindness meditation expert Sharon Salzberg was just released. The subtitle of the book is “Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World.” Bingo!
In the book, Sharon shares lots of stories and advice from people in all walks of life about how they keep going in the face of adversity and turmoil.
Keep in mind that the premise of the book isn’t that we need to take on large societal changes (unless we so desire), but that change can be small and personal, even just a tiny shift in perspective.
Below I excerpt some of the ideas in the book that really resonated with me:
Transportable tranquility - Tranquility itself is not freedom from the storm, but the peace within it.
Replace “social action” with “radical thinking” or “radical practice” - The scope of possible action that can initiate change, that can move us to act in big or small ways, is far vaster than protests.
Take that first step - It isn’t enough to simply feel bad about a situation, write a disconsolate tweet or vaguely note that something should be done. Bring alive a vision by taking the first step to making it real, despite of what may usually hold you back (like stories of lack of self-worth)
Start small - You can’t let all the world’s tragedies into your heart. You’ll drown. But the ones you do let in should count. Let them manifest action. When enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.
Use anger mindfully - Learn to use the intelligence and energy of anger to take action rather than getting burned up by it. Transform anger into discerning wisdom - which is clarity and the willingness to let go of assumptions and agendas to see more truthfully.
Build resilience - The acknowledgement of the need to truly touch our sadness, pain, and loss is where real change is born, where we begin to build resilience. As we respond to our own pain with more presence and compassion, the energy we have for responding to the pain of others increases dramatically, as does our sense of connection and care.
Take time to gladden the mind - Cultivate generosity, acknowledging joy, seeing what we have to be grateful for. In doing so, we build an inner resource that enables us to persist through anything.
Avoid compassion fatigue - While empathy is essential, if we over-identify with the person or people hurting, the empathy turns into empathic distress, where our own discomfort, ironically, takes center stage. Compassion implies boundaries (movement toward, not into), balance (compassion for all, including ourselves), and clarity rather than over-identification. Compassion can avoid burnout by teaching us when to say no when we need to, without guilt.
Recognize the interconnectedness of all things - Everyone relies on everyone else in this universe - our lives all have something to do with one another and a bigger picture of life. Often we see ourselves as isolated, independent, sealed off from others, but the truth is everyone is interdependent, connected, and reliant on one another. A corollary to this understanding is that everyone counts, everyone matters.
Acceptance and equanimity is key - We can recognize the truth of things, accept them as the inevitable fabric of life, and understand that the best way to work for change is not to be freaked out, or in denial, or feel anxious with the ups and plummet with the downs. Equanimity implies a posture of dignity even in a whirlwind of change. It implies being able to breathe. It implies complete presence. It implies being able to come to peace.
I am so excited about the new monthly discussion group at the Sattva Wisdom Center, that we call W.A.K.E. (Wisdom Action Knowledge Enlightenment). It will be facilitated by me, Christine Lewis, founder of Spoken Word Yoga, and Juli Kagan. Each session will be inspired by a book or other resource, giving us a framework to explore the intersection between mindfulness and action. We kick it off on October 6th at 7:00 p.m. with “Real Change.”
There will be guided meditation, lively and interactive discussion, resources for you to enjoy between sessions (including audio of guided meditations led by Sharon Salzberg), service opportunities and a W.A.K.E. Facebook page so we can stay connected.
You can register here: https://www.vagaro.com/sattvawisdomcenter/classes
We hope you will join us! We can’t wait to welcome you!
With love and light,