Lately, I've been feeling overwhelmed. So many scary and awful things have happened - the mass shooting in Orlando, the suicide bombing at the Ataturk Airport in Turkey, the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the sniper attacks on Dallas police officers, among others. I've found myself feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of these senseless tragedies. My heart hurts so much when I think of the state of our world, both for the victims of these acts of violence and the desperation and pain that caused them.
Adding to these feelings of despair is the ignorance I witness from so many people that I know - and from people that I don't. I feel as though I am facing a brick wall without a hammer. How can one person hope to change so much? And yet, I know that this emotion stems from my attachment to my own perspective. Even though it seems so logical to me, it isn't realistic to expect everyone else to agree with me. We all form our opinions from our individual experiences. It's when these perspectives clash that we experience conflict and even violence. In The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo wrote, "Trust in your heart, but never forget that you're in the desert. When men are at war with one another, the Soul of the World can hear the screams of battle. No one fails to suffer the consequences of everything under the sun."
So how can we make peace with our differences and make the world a better place? I've come to realize that this kind of peace comes from within. It's scary to examine our own prejudices and opinions with a critical eye. The ego rejects this kind of self-reflection, and it's easier to live our lives with a self-righteous attitude. But until we face that fear we cannot expect to change. As Pema Chodron wrote in her book When Things Fall Apart, "…We can use every day to take a different attitude toward suffering. Instead of pushing it away, we can breathe it in with the wish that everyone could stop hurting, with the wish that people everywhere could experience contentment in their hearts. We could transform pain into joy." We have to be brave and vulnerable when we look at ourselves, and we must use that same bravery to change. The path to changing the world starts inside each of us, and even though it's difficult, it is a necessary part of the process.
If every person in the world felt a sense of peace and contentment, we would never experience violence and conflict. We could face our individual experiences through a global lens, and override our ego's insistence that we are or should be superior to others. Fred Rogers said, "I have long believed that the way to know a spiritual sense is to know it in our real life. I think the best way to know about God and peace is to know about peace in our everyday lives." Unfortunately, our impulse is to do the opposite, and it's a strong one. We may never achieve this level of peace on a global level. We cannot control the actions or attitudes of others. But we can change ourselves.
I challenge you to look inside yourself and find this kind of inner peace, if only for a moment. Let go of your pain, your hurt, and your ego. Release your desire for others to see the world through your own lens, and accept the way things are. And then think of the ways that you can begin to make these important changes within yourself. How can you change your own attitudes or perspectives to serve a broader purpose?
Paulo Coehlo also wrote "Tell your heart that fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity." I have faith that a basic goodness resides in each of us, and right now I want to appeal to that part of you. I know that this strong, wonderful, beautiful piece of who you are can overcome even the most evil and violent impulses in our world. I hope you believe that, too, and I hope that today you will take the first step toward making that happen.
We are all part of the same human experience, and our actions affect each of us equally. We can use these painful experiences as an opportunity to examine our own views and begin to change for the better, one step at a time.
I leave you with one final thought from Pema Chodron, one that has guided me through many painful times. I hope it will provide inspiration and light for you, too, as you navigate the chaotic waters of the world we live in today: "…Use difficult situations to awaken our genuine caring for other people who, just like us, often find themselves in pain. As one lojong slogan says, ' When the world is filled with evil, all mishaps, all difficulties, should be transformed into the path of enlightenment.'"