Broken Open

The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal. 

~Joanna Macy

Politics.  Human decency.  Disrespect for women.  Self hatred.  Governmental control.  Fear. Complacency.  Planetary destruction.  Stealing.   Dishonoring sacred sites.  Destroying nations.  The despair of the poor.   The despair of the rich.  Outrage.  Ignorance.  Brushing it under the rug.  Dishonesty.  Hope.  Hopelessness. Wondering.  Paying the bills.  Running away.  Feeling stuck.

This list could continue on for some time.  The words that describe what’s happening on the planet earth right now are many, and they don’t always make you  want to jump for joy or sigh in relief.   Of course, there is goodness and that which is worthy of gratitude alongside the parts that make you want to scream in frustration or shake someone.  But sometimes it’s hard to notice the good stuff.  Or when you do notice it, it’s hard to let it take center stage for more than a moment or two.  (unless you’ve been living under a rock or in denial or completely self absorbed, or…)  If you have white skin, you might feel guilty.  Or entitled. Or powerless.  Or attacked for the acts of those who share your skin color and heritage.  If you are brown skinned, you might feel fearful.  Or attacked.  Or angry.  Or hopeless.  If you are poor, you may feel it will always be that way.  If you are rich you might say to yourself, “really? Is this all there is?”  If you are a woman, you might feel hurt.  Or self conscious. Or used.  Or outraged.  If you are a man, you might feel entitled, or confused, or ashamed.

As a humans, we all might feel any one of these things in varying degrees.   And really, I’d rather not put people into categories and boxes.  But that’s where we are right now.  People tend to understand the language of a label.  So in keeping with that philosophy,  a label that we need to use more is “grieving.” And by grieving I don’t mean sad, or feeling sorry for ourselves, or giving up.  I mean seeing what is going on in the world and loving the world anyway.  Loving what is passing away and seeing things to their end.  Feeling the enormity of what has happened or is happening and not looking the other way.

This week the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the world’s largest and most diverse place of aquatic life, was declared dead by Outside Magazine. (22% of the coral is dead, not to be confused with the entire reef)  The people of Haiti struggle to rebuild that which was just barely standing after yet another disaster hit their shores.  Violence remains a normality in too many parts of the world. Distraction wins more often than not, unless you are right there in the thick of the issue.  Then survival is all that matters.

I’ve just started reading a book about a man’s journey to walk the Nile in Africa.  I just finished the chapter where he’s in Rwanda, and he said that despite the strides that have been made the last twenty years in the effort for reconciliation, it feels like a haunted place.   The genocide that happened there in 1994 is not easily forgotten, nor should it be.  It’s something to be grieved.  (This is easy for me to say from across the world – could I say it as a Hutu or a Tutsi? I have no idea.) But perhaps the feeling of haunting comes from the struggle of a nation to truly feel the pain and come to terms with what happened on their home soil.  Perhaps some of it comes from grief.  The author of the book says that some of the people in Rwanda are actively trying to forget.  We do what we need to do to cope.

So I don’t think we need more guilt, or rage, or powerlessness.  We surely don’t need more entitlement, self hatred, or shame.   But we do need to grieve that which has been lost, that which has died, that which we or our children will never have, and that which is at this very moment fading away.  Stephen Jenkinson says, “Grief requires us to know the time we are in.  We don’t require hope to proceed.  We require grief to proceed.”

We need to acknowledge the time we are in.  It’s not a nice time for a lot of people.  It’s a downright terrifying and ugly time for way too many forms of life.  It’s not a nice time for the Great Barrier Reef or the land of the Bakken Oil fields or the war torn streets of Syria.  If the world were a house, there would be rooms for gratitude and joy and celebration, but there would also be a room that can only be filled with grief.  And the house will feel empty until the grief is acknowledged.

The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.  ~Joanna Macy

We don’t need more angry, hardened hearts.  We need more hearts that have broken open.

Image by Bing Wright: Broken Mirror/Evening Sky series



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