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Personal Acts of Conscience

There’s a strange cocktail of rage and apathy going around in some people I’ve been talking to lately. I notice it even in myself. When I see the news coverage about Trump rescinding environmental rules governing emissions, for instance (in the same week that we’re watching the Amazon burn down), I feel furious— but I also feel powerless to change it.

You can site any number issues and that’s the template: rage and apathy. The detention centers at our Southern border. Climate change. Election tampering by the Russians. Racism. Sexism. It never ends.

And that’s the point. It’s never going to end. There will always be something horrendous out there to shock and paralyze the populace. Which, if we play our cards right, brings us right to the control room at the center of the universe. Us. Me. Today.

When you start spinning out about the latest breaking news, no matter which political party it’s about, stop for just a second. I mean it. Stop and feel your feet. Are you sitting? Standing? Driving? What’s the quality of feeling going on right now in your body — just physically. Do you feel a sinking in the chest, or fire rising up in the arms? What exactly, if you had to describe it to somebody, is going on?

That’s your gateway in. How you are right this minute? Once you go through that opening, examine what you can do or who you can be today that feeds the world you want to live in. It goes like this.

Step 1: Start with the thing that upsets you. I’m appalled and heartsick about the shortsightedness of the Trump administration where it concerns the environment. I cannot believe this is happening. And it’s happening. So I will start there. Your issue could be anything that’s overwhelming you, anything where you feel completely out of control.

Step 2: Use your body as a gateway to a solution. There’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I slump when I’m reading about it. My heart races. I shake my head a lot. My jaw tightens, the back of my head grips. Shoulders are creeping up. Overwhelm sets in. Apathy takes over. What happens in your body when you get really upset?

Step 3: Imagine, then nourish the world you want to live in.  Step back for a moment and imagine how you want things to look. In my case, I would take some time to imagine Donald Trump as the person I wish he were (open, compassionate, energetic and respectful toward the environment). Here comes the hard part. Now I must be that person. Open and compassionate (do I express these qualities about or toward Trump and his supporters?). Energetic and respectful toward the environment (am I really doing everything I can on my end?).

When I see Donald Trump as an idiot, or a megalomaniac, or a narcissistic dictator on his way to ruining the entire world, I’ve stopped seeing him as a human being. I just want him to be thwarted and to suffer. How is that different from what he wants, say, for the immigrants trying to enter our country on the southern border?

In that sense, we are split egg twins. Can you see the deep similarity of intent, of delusion, of negativity in both stances? 

The irony is that neither one of us will get what we want by getting what we want. 

We think we want to thwart the other, to make them suffer enough so they’ll just please go away. But the problem can never go away, because we’re carrying it like a virus inside us. It’s not Trump. It’s not the Mexicans. It’s me. 

Whether I’m a refugee trying to make her way to safety, a border patrol employee, the President, or a woman writing on her laptop in Floral Park, the problem always starts me. My attitudes, my actions. 

Don’t get me wrong. We must take action in this world. But that action won’t yield the results we want until we know what’s driving us. If we’re driven by hatred or contempt, our efforts will sour and fail in the end. If we’re driven by a healthy love for ourselves and the world, our efforts will take root where they’re most needed and flourish — whether we live long enough to witness that or not.

So right now, today, as I watch the roiling white water of my mind while reading the coverage on the situation in Brazil, in the White House, in China, at the G7 summit, I check in with my body. Then I imagine the behavior I want to see in my world leaders, and I make a commitment to tend to my own behavior in exactly that way.

This is the only thing that will save us. Taking responsibility for our own day, our own life, our own people. Doing it in person, face to face. Over and Over.

Of course there are a million things we don't have control over. But focusing on that is a cop out. That completely ignores the areas we do have control over. Our own reactions. Our own choices. 

So let's take back our lives. Claim our choices. Let's plant them in serious, informed intent. 

And let's create the world we want our great grandchildren to live in.


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