In feeling overwhelmed with the sharp edges of change gripping life, I am like so many of us; my friends, students, colleagues and family. Whether this change is deeply personal or broadly social, the seeds of despair can spout and grow.
It might be insanity of our current national politics that throws you into despair. Perhaps it’s the reality of climate change alongside people, even loved ones, who deny the truth. Perhaps it’s the veracity of the mass extinction of species happening across the planet, the ‘sixth extinction’ mankind is causing, rivaling the extinctions of dinosaurs and the other mass extinctions of life on our planet over the millions of years. Perhaps it is a personal loss you’ve experienced that shattered the life you knew. Despair arrives hand-in-hand with our ability to remember, imagine, and long for something other than this difficulty, this terrible occurrence.
Despair doesn’t need to run the show. Consider the possibility that despair is a way of avoiding the sharp edges of change that shatter what we cherish; our health, a bright future for our children, loved ones. In her recent article Searching for a Cure writer Cara Buckley recently described her enquiry along the path of despair and found what she describes as a ‘fierce roaring compassion.’ A willingness to meet what is before us, however terrible, and allow it to be part of life to be worked with even in the smallest ways and during each of these unfolding moments. To embrace life in a fierce way no matter our urge to despair, avoid, or fight.
The message she found was that when we are free of the desparing reaction that saps us of our vitality we can move more fiercely and powerfully to make positive change in our lives and the lives of those around us. We offer compassion and find courage in response to these difficulties.
The writer Joanna Macy shares this view of meeting the insurmountable with such fierceness in her recitation of one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s sonnets Let this Darkness Be a Bell Tower. The passage ‘Let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell. As you ring, what batters you becomes your strength’ seems to capture the message Cara Buckley found.
A few years ago without Cara Buckley or Joanna Macy’s inspiration, this poem welled up for me in the face of a very sharp edge in life. Perhaps this will encourage you to know that compassion comes forth in difficult times without so much effort and with a willing openness to experience the difficulty: Allowing
Let’s practice fierce roaring compassion in the midst of these difficulties. Let’s inspire one another.
Kindest Regards — Brant