by Michael Maciel
The mind really is the problem, what we think about things, more than the things themselves. It’s the “about” part that causes suffering.
Can you free yourself from the about? Can you observe something horrible without being sucked into the horror? Can you observe without judgement, without making it either right or wrong?
But it IS wrong! you might say, and you’re right. But does being right make a difference? Does it help? Does weeping and gnashing your teeth do anything to alleviate the suffering you see?
Deep down inside, you know that it does not.
But when we feel powerless to effect changes in the world, a reaction can feel better than doing nothing. At the very least, it reassures us that we are not part of the problem—we are not “them.” We are not the ones causing the suffering.
But in reality, taking the moral high ground only comforts ourselves. It does nothing for those who suffer.
What then, are we to turn a blind eye? Many are doing just that, you know. “It’s all too much!” they say. “I cannot bear it any longer.” They stop watching the news. They retreat into their preferred comfort zones. Instead of letting their light shine, they hide it under a basket.
Did you see the movie, Apocalypse Now, about Colonel Kurtz who retreated into the jungle because of the atrocities he had seen? His dying words were “The horror!” But besides driving him insane, the shock of those atrocities led him to commit even greater horrors.
He became the very thing he could not stomach.
So, I ask you, which is better, empathy or service? If you love God and you care about people, there is perhaps no greater question. How you answer it determines the kind of person you are. And it determines how effective you are in the world.
Which would you rather be, a feeling person or an effective person?
Can you transmute your feelings into action?
Without action, feelings are self-indulgent. And yet, without feelings, actions can be unnecessarily cruel. But in extreme situations, action is better. When there is pain, look first to what’s causing it. Address that first.
Here’s the catch. Can you distinguish your feelings from your emotions? Do you know the difference between empathy and reaction? If you don’t, your shock will turn into outrage, and your outrage will lead you into violence. And like Kurtz, you will try to cleanse the world with blood.
And that can happen in the blink of an eye.
Don’t let your light become a flamethrower. Don’t let yourself become that kind of person. History has seen too many of those. Instead, take your candle out from under the basket and let it be a beacon to the world.
Let it shine on the good and the evil alike.
Light acts. It does not react.
Light acts dispassionately, without favoritism, without rancor. It is never shocked by the horrors it sees. It has seen them before. It does not get swept away by emotion, the kind of emotion that can turn on a dime from sadness to outrage and from outrage to violence.
Don’t be that kind of person.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” You, too, can BE the light of the world.