I have been receiving questions recently about how to deal with suffering in the world, and specifically about the recent events in Charlottesville. For example, one Facebook user saw my Batgap interview and asked the following:
“You briefly mentioned Charlottesville at the beginning of the interview. Can you describe how you process seemingly apocalyptic news stories like this (and North Korea, global warming, etc) from an awakened perspective? Conversely, for someone like myself, can you suggest any means for turning the news into a form of sadhana?”
I would like to go into more depth on this issue because it seems to be something that people really want to understand. I’m going to be adding a blog page soon and I will address it there more thoroughly, probably within a week — so stay tuned. But I do want to address it here briefly.
My first point is about practicing compassion. What is compassion? I define it as “an awareness of another’s suffering coupled with a willingness to relieve that suffering.” How do we do this? The key is to practice an awareness that doesn’t judge. Here is a video I made with my partner, Aly, on the subject about four years ago.
Basically, compassion involves an awareness of suffering caused by judgment (e.g., race-based violence), but the awareness itself is not based in judgment. If we judge, we’re just adding to the mess.
My second point is that compassion is like a muscle that gets stronger through exercise — but it’s important not to take on too much too fast. Just as you wouldn’t go to the gym and try to lift 5,000 pounds in one effort, it isn’t wise to overexpose yourself to the news media. It’s okay to expose yourself a bit until it’s just uncomfortable — just as you would with weightlifting — and then take a break to recover. Go for a walk, be in nature, and practice mindfulness for a while. That’s the basic idea.
I mentioned the term “hormesis” in the interview but didn’t have time to go into it. Hormesis is defined as “a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.” It’s an interesting subject and definitely applies here, as overdosing on news consumption can have a toxic effect on your brain. For more on this topic, check out http://gettingstronger.org/hormesis/.
I will be posting more on this issue, so stay tuned for further updates.
Thanks for your participation.