We’ve all experienced death many times. Death of people, of relationships, of expectations, of identities, of ways of being. I don’t like to really fully admit that I know life is actually a cycle of beginnings and endings and in-betweens. It’s dizzying, and it’s a reality check, when something pulls you out of your own mental dramas and propels you into the collective grief of the world.
This morning when I read the news about Vegas, my first thought was…
“Hold onto the people you love for dear life.”
For dear life.
For dear life: desperately, urgently.
When a tragedy happens we feel a primal need to protect and to keep everyone safe. But really, as much as we may want to, we can’t hold onto people desperately and urgently, for dear life. We can’t protect every single person we care about from all forms of harm. All we can do is surrender to the fact that life is in fact a series of beginnings and endings, with some beautiful and difficult and mysterious moments in between, and while we’re here, we can be more intentional about living.
And we can be WAY more intentional about LOVING.
In these times I think all of us reflect on life a little bit more, and it’s easy to feel helpless and out of control.
There’s a book called A Year To Live by Stephen Levine that explores how we would live if we knew this year would be our last, and I’ve been thinking of it a lot today.
A few quotes from it:
“If you were going to die soon, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”
“How soon will we accept this opportunity to be fully alive?”
One of my favorite chapters in the book is about pain being universal and collective, not just our own individual pain. And how when we realize that, it’s easier to have compassion and help with the collective healing, rather than simply suffer alone. This concept has helped me so many times.
Excerpt from A Year To Live by Stephen Levine
Here are his exact words from the book:
“Each time you get a cold or the flu use it as an opportunity to soften around the unpleasant and investigate how resistance turns pain into suffering, the unpleasant into the unbearable. Notice how discomfort attracts grief. Watch the shadows gather in the aching body. Hear them mutter in complaint and self-pity. Pity arises from meeting pain with fear. Compassion comes when you meet it with love. When we attempt to escape from our pain, we feel a sense of helplessness.
Every time you are ill or have a headache, instead of turning on every appliance in the house to distract yourself, settle into the moment as it is and soften around the discomfort. We have been conditioned to withdraw our awareness from the unpleasant. Break that imprinting! Whatever limits the entrance of awareness limits healing. Allow awareness to go where it may never have been before. Let it enter directly into the field of sensation radiating from the discomfort.
Soften and explore the constant state of change within the sensations. Do they move or remain stationary? Do they have a shape? Does the shape remain constant or is that also constantly changing? Watch the unfolding of sensation as a process.
When we begin to respond to discomfort instead of reacting to it, an enormous change occurs. We begin to experience it not as just “our” pain but as “the” pain. And it becomes accessible to a level of compassion perhaps previously unknown. When it’s “the” cancer instead of “my” cancer I can relate to others with the same difficulty, and I can send compassion into the cancer rather than helplessly avoiding it and turning its pain to suffering.
As this “experiencing of the personal in its universal aspect” develops, we feel a great weight lifted in what can now be seen as “the” mind. When it’s “my” depression, “my” cancer, “my” AIDS, I am isolated from the source of my greatest comfort. But when it’s “the” depression, I take it less personally and am not too threatened to investigate it. When it’s “my” unworthiness I feel unworthy to explore it. But when it’s “the” unworthiness —the pain that so many struggle with—compassion flows naturally toward it.
Seeing the universality of our shared condition offers a broader path of healing on which to continue.
The day I realized it wasn’t my mind or my pain, but just the nature of the mind and pain itself, was an initiation that changed my relationship to pain forever. When it’s “the” pain, it has the whole universe to float in; when it’s “my” pain, I’m standing alone in it. Open yourself to discomfort. Meet it with mercy, not fear. Recognize that when our pain most calls for our embrace, we are often the least present. Soften, enter, and explore, and continue softening to make room for your life.”
To me, this is really meaningful because I can easily get lost in emotional pain, and I can easily get overwhelmed by the pain of the world. But thinking of it as universal pain makes me feel like any small thing I do to relieve my own pain or the pain of someone else is maybe – just maybe – contributing to the greater alleviation of the pain of the world.
We can’t help or save everyone who’s hurting but we can put our energy towards the positive and do good for others and for ourselves.
We can be intentional about loving.
So, first things that come to my mind..
Cultivate more moments of meaningful connection.
Make someone’s day brighter if you can (you always can).
Tell someone you love them as soon as you think it.
Tell someone ANYTHING nice as soon as you think it.
Take care of people. How can you make someone else’s life easier?
Connect with each other in person more, instead of on social media. Join a group that’s doing something meaningful. Start a group to do something meaningful.
Look at people in your life with compassion. Drop your stories about them, and look at them as if you’re seeing them for the first time.
If your heart breaks over a problem in the world, do something to alleviate even a tiny amount of the suffering. Anything. Donate your money, time, energy…spread awareness about it.
Take a moment to reach out to someone who might need help, or a kind word, or a listening ear. Call someone. Send someone a voice text, instead of a regular text. Hearing your voice will make a difference.
Be a light in the world when you can. Every moment of light or kindness makes a difference to alleviate the darkness.
I wrote this one about 5 years ago. Change Yourself, Change The World
And here’s a post from my friend Jeremy today that I found meaningful.
Vegas. Fuck. It happened again. Another massacre. Another tragedy. . That's not even the worst part. . The worst part is that we know this isn't the end. We know this isn't the last shooting. . We are a nation united by trauma, and I'm sick of that shit. . What I have believed, and do believe, and have tried to do with my own work is to promote kindness as an antidote to disconnection and fear. I wish compassion was popular, that empathy was commonplace. I want the world to be better than it was yesterday. Just one more hug. One less apathetic shrug. . That, to me, is how we get to where we want to go – by diligently committing to something bigger than ourselves, by cultivating a hopeful vision, by understanding each other, and always acknowledging that we have much more in common than we realize. . In times like these, on mornings of overwhelming despair and fear and helplessness, let us come together instead of apart. Let us be brave enough to feel weak, and let us be united by shared truths that life is short, and sometimes hurts. . Let us remember that we're all in this together, that life is a precious and beautiful thing, and that the actions we take today create more of the same or a better way forward. I'm choosing the light and I'm choosing to fight with an open heart and an open mind. . YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN WANTING A BETTER WORLD WITH LESS OF THIS BULLSHIT. . So lets fucking make it, one day at a time, starting today, moving forward, together.
I will not pretend to have the answers about the suffering of the world, but writing about it helps me to wrap my mind around it a little bit.
I don’t really know what to say, but I think saying something is probably good. This is the kind of writing that comes out when I’m a bit emotionally disoriented.
So, put simply, if you’re reading this, go love someone right now.
And maybe we can help make our love shine brighter than the darkness.