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Radical Wisdom

Lately the news has been overwhelming, feeling almost apocalyptic at times. Whether it’s climate change, restrictions on reproductive rights, community spread of COVID-19, increased violence, acts of overt racism, and on and on--it can seem like a firehose of bad news.

What is the wise response? I am thinking it might be “radical wisdom.”

I am cribbing from the meditation teacher and author Tara Brach who has written extensively on the concept of “radical acceptance.”

Part of radical acceptance is to recognize that there are times that things may feel overwhelming and we can give ourselves permission to acknowledge when something is too much to process in any given moment.

But when we can process, if we turn to blame and judgment, instead of acceptance and compassion, or feel like we can’t make a change or a difference, we are undermining ourselves. Brach suggests that we ask ourselves this question: What's happening right now inside me and can I be with this with kindness?

Taking that a step further, I think we can next ask ourselves what we are able to do, rather than focus on what we can’t do. With a kind and compassionate heart, for ourselves and others, we can bring a radical wisdom to our actions.

Here are some tips from Sharon Salzberg, another meditation teacher and author:

1. Think of kindness as a strength, not as a weakness. Kindness isn’t an ally of foolishness or gullibility, but rather an ally of wisdom and courage.

2. Look for the good in yourself—not as a way to deny your difficulties or problems but as a way to broaden your outlook so it’s more truthful and balanced. Looking for the good in ourselves helps us see the good in others.

3. Recollect those who have helped or inspired us. Sometimes even a small act of kindness on someone’s part makes an essential difference for us. Cultivating gratitude is a way of honoring these people, and also a way of lifting our spirits and reminding us of the power of good-heartedness.

4. Practice at least one act of generosity a day. We all have something to give, large or small. It may be a smile, or an attentive conversation. Perhaps you let a stranger get ahead of you in line, or gave a coworker a small gift, or wrote a late-night note of appreciation. Any act of generosity—whether material or of the spirit—is a meaningful expression of kindness.

5. Listen. Often we have conversations where we are only partially paying attention; we’re thinking about the next e-mail we need to send, or what we forgot to mention to the last person we spoke to. Or we decide we know what the other person is going to say, based on past encounters. Reopening that closed file by listening is a powerful gesture of kindness, one that allows fresh responses and transformed relationships.

6. Include those who seem left out. In a conversation with a group of people, there may be those too shy to speak. In a room full of partygoers, there may be some who feel out of place. Be the one who opens the circle.

7. Refrain from speaking ill of others. If you feel tempted to put someone down, assume knowledge of their bad motives, or generally prove their inferiority, take a breath. Even though we might feel a rush of power in saying those words, we ultimately get no benefit from dividing people and sowing seeds of dissension and dislike. There are ways to talk about wrong behavior without derision or condemnation.

8. “Walk a mile in another person’s shoes before you pass judgment.” As this old saying suggests, even if we’re going to take strong action to try to change someone’s behavior, a sense of empathy and understanding for them won’t weaken us. If anything, that element of kindness will allow us to act more compassionately and creatively.

SWC will continue to offer our monthly complimentary Women’s Wisdom Circle via Zoom where we will join together to explore how we can cultivate radical wisdom in our daily lives.

Our goal is to be back with a great line-up of offerings as soon as we feel comfortable gathering in person again -- hopefully we will begin 2022 together!

With love and light,


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