Shaking the World in a Gentle Way

In a gen­tle way, you can shake the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

It’s been 18 days since Hamas launched its hor­rif­ic attack against Israel, killing over 1,400 Israeli cit­i­zens, includ­ing chil­dren and the elder­ly. I’m bereft but con­fused, try­ing des­per­ate­ly to under­stand the his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal land­scape of the region, while squar­ing that with my moral lodestar that there is no defen­si­ble action by a gov­ern­ment or group that puts civil­ian lives in dan­ger. How do you make sense of the sense­less? My Muslim friends have sent me videos to watch and arti­cles to read. So have my Jewish friends. They all seem to believe we are wit­ness­ing the death of human­i­ty. The moth­er in me wor­ries they may be right.

This morn­ing, I woke to the news that anoth­er angry white dude bru­tal­ly gunned down inno­cent bystanders in Maine, killing 18 and wound­ing 13 oth­ers. As of this writ­ing, most of Lewiston, the small town where the shoot­ing occurred, is still in lock­down and the sus­pect is at large.

The oth­er news of the day is that Congressman Mike Johnson was elect­ed as the Speaker of the House, which seems to be a lat­er­al trade at best. Johnson vot­ed against send­ing aid to Ukraine, is vehe­ment­ly against same-sex mar­riage and abor­tion, and is a huge Trump sup­port­er. This man will nev­er vote in a way that sup­ports my rights or moral beliefs. 

I’m still pro­cess­ing all of this when my mom comes into my yoga stu­dio and tells me that the spot­ted lantern­fly was dis­cov­ered in Gallatin County. Evidently, this inva­sive lit­tle bug­ger could cause sig­nif­i­cant harm to the commonwealth’s nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment and wipe out our wine indus­try completely. 

I want to care about the spot­ted lantern­fly, but I’m emo­tion­al­ly tapped out. Aren’t we all? Every day seems to bring more hor­ri­fy­ing, trau­mat­ic, and exhaust­ing news. Strangers bru­tal­ly destroy each oth­er and our world. We respond by tear­ing each oth­er apart in our grief. Then we retreat and shut our­selves off from the pain. 

Our pain is real. Our over­whelm is real. We shouldn’t feel guilty about need­ing a break from a world that was nev­er set up to pro­tect our men­tal health in the first place. We aren’t designed to expe­ri­ence so much destruction.

What to do? Perhaps we could choose to be gen­tler with our­selves and each oth­er. When it feels like we are only one small human in a stag­ger­ing eight bil­lion, when we feel pow­er­less and hope­less, we could sim­ply lean into just being a lit­tle gen­tler.  Softness opens doors that force alone can­not move.

When the feel­ings feel too big, trade your peace-steal­ing phone for some­thing that gives com­fort instead – a pup­py with soft ears, a slice of per­fect­ly toast­ed bread, a book you’ve read a hun­dred times and still love. Hug some­one and for­give some­one and send some­one a text so they know you love them. Establish bound­aries and guard them care­ful­ly. Give a gen­tle answer to a harsh or trig­ger­ing ques­tion; you do not have to attend every argu­ment you’re invit­ed to. Sit under a tree and let the falling leaves land on your skin. Soften your jaw, your breath, your gaze, your opin­ions. Assume every­one is doing their best. Know that some peo­ple do not care about being bet­ter or kinder. Give those peo­ple a wide berth, even as you send them the love they deserve too. 

The Loving-Kindness med­i­ta­tion is thought to have orig­i­nat­ed in ancient India, before the time of Buddha. This prac­tice chal­lenges our culture’s belief that love and good­will are trans­ac­tion­al. It’s sim­ple to prac­tice; when­ev­er you’re despair­ing for human­i­ty, sim­ply repeat the fol­low­ing mantra:

May all beings be safe. 
May all beings be healthy. 
May all beings be hap­py. 
May all beings be free from suffering.

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