(I swear this is the last of lame puns for a while.
But I had to link the summer trio somehow.)
Several years ago, someone told me that I “see the world for what it is and still exude such joy.” I was flattered by the observation—I think those are two of my better qualities. I want to be real, and see the world for what it is, all the highs and lows. I also want to live in joy.
But though I understood, I had also never thought of myself in those terms. “Seeing the world for what it is” had always brought me both joy and despair. And until that comment, I had never considered the relationship between being real and being joyful. I had never thought of joy as existing despite—“still”—reality. I simply had both sentiments in equal measure.
Others have considered this relationship:
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both…. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
~ Pema Chodron
“There is no love of life without despair about life.” ~ Albert Camus
So much of my life churns on love, in love, by way of love. I have so much of what I have always wanted, in terms of community, connection, work I enjoy, creative outlets. My passions fuel my vocations. I am healthy. I have a home. My needs are met.
Thus personal optimism comes easily. I could live gratefully in my happy, peaceful life and not worry about much else.
However, I have no intentions of being an ascetic, so I also recognize that my lifestyle and consumption contribute to the world’s destruction. Moreover, do I even deserve what I have? I have fought and continue to work diligently for the life I live now. But I had a really sweet starting point—a stable family, access to education, comfortable finances. Growing up, many opportunities in in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and summer camps for underserved neighborhoods illustrated clearly my life’s abundance. Even then, I knew I was no more worthy than anyone else of the advantages I had at birth. I didn’t do anything in this lifetime to deserve that starting point.
And thus cynicism comes easily.
As I thought about this balance more closely, I realized that love and despair are intertwined—just like everything else in the universe. Years later, I read Gibran’s description of the interrelation of joy and sorrow: “only that which has given you sorrow [gives] you joy.” And the reverse as well—you have sorrow “for that which has been your delight.”
Thus I despair about the world precisely because it brings me so much joy and love and ecstasy.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches “interbeing”—the co-existence, the interdependence of everything. Biologically, chemically, we are composed of the same elements as everything else in the cosmos. Likewise, our actions are part of the greater whole; we do nothing in isolation. Interbeing, as I understand it, perpetuates the collective energy of the YOUniverse.
Understanding my perspective more clearly—that love, joy, compassion, delight are intertwined with hate, despair, cruelty, dis-ease—suddenly made me understand how my friend could see this relationship as unbearable, irreconcilable. Andrew Boyd perfectly explains the consequences of this perspective (emphasis added):
“When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything.
You cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound to the destinies of others.
You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it.
You must grown strong enough to love the world,
yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”
The alternative is indifference.
So if I love our interdependent YOUniverse, I will also despair about our interdependent YOUniverse. (YOU meaning collective, rather than singular.)
I do love the world, and I have to gather my strength and courage to face all the horrors. Untangling, or at least understanding the intertwining, is essential.
Otherwise, my despair will overpower my love. Alternatively, I could use love to compensate for despair. But that option might simply foster ignorance—I ignore the world, my head happily in the sand.
Ultimately, I believe in light. I have to, if I can live any sort of functional life. That does not mean I ignore darkness. By definition, being in light, spreading light require acknowledgement of darkness. The acknowledgement certainly comes easily enough.
Although that cognizance might seem dismal, it can also be constructive. Constant reminders of challenges, violence, destruction, and injustice around me keep me focused on abiding by my conscience, finding deeper joy.
Regardless of scale, anything cruel, hateful, terrible results from the choices of individuals—from personal betrayals to genocide. Yet that recognition gives me hope. Destruction is not a force beyond our control. By the same measure, anything compassionate, healing, nurturing results from the choices of individuals.
All our interbeing results from choices, and I wish for my choices to combat the causes causes of my despair. I constantly scrutinize myself:
– Have I done all that I possibly can to foster kindness and compassion?
– What is the most constructive way to face this challenge?
– Do I have to drive there right now? Can it wait? Can I bike there?
– How can I minimize the trash from this activity? Bring my own cup, plate?
– Does this purchase support paradigms in which I truly support? Is there an alternative?
– Do I need to try harder to ignore my ego when I interact with this person?
– Does this choice create abundance for others?
In other words, I commune with my soul about how my contributions affect affect the collective. Sometimes I despair because I fail at my intentions. But I have joy because I always keep trying. Mother Teresa explained it better (emphasis added):
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
Your best may never be enough. Live it anyway. In all moments, we co-create the YOUniverSOUL.
SK © 2014