Giving Energy and Paying Attention

There’s a difference between giving your energy to something and paying attention.  It can be hard to distinguish sometimes, since these days there are things screaming at us all the time to “look at me” and “pay attention to me” and so forth.  The media generally does whatever it needs to do to get people to take notice.  It is generally considered a good idea to keep up with what’s going on in the world, to be an informed citizen.  Etc.


I’ve been struggling with an illness for the last 2-3 weeks – some days I wake up thinking, “oh yeah, today’s the day I’m not going to feel like coughing anymore” just to wake up, like I did this morning, at 3:30am with a cough that was just annoying enough to keep me from sleeping anymore.  I’m really tired, my five year old woke up crabby, and I let my energy go where it wasn’t helpful as I lamented not being able to go for the hike that I wanted to go on today.  The shadows were dark this morning, for myriad reasons.


There has been, yet again, a tragedy of unfathomable violence against unsuspecting individuals, this time in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The media will tell us that it’s the largest massacre in US history, and maybe that’s accurate in some ways, if we are talking about modern gun violence.  But it’s certainly not the largest massacre in US history – one has to look only at the tragic story of the Native people of this land to see that Wounded Knee and too many other instances in America’s youth were just as tragic and took just as many innocent lives.  There are lives being lost across the world in Myanmar, and innocent people are dying there, daily.  Hunger in a world that has an abundance of food kills multitudes.  Millions are still reeling from hurricanes and earthquakes. But it does no good to compare, really.  Life was lost, and that’s a tragedy.   We can’t control what has already happened.  But we can control what we notice and where we put our energy.


Right now, this late morning, my energy is pretty non-existent, and it’s tempting to just power through and keep doing what I need to do to get through a normal work day so I don’t fall behind.  It’s also tempting to feel sorry for myself and give in to a black mood and thought distortions like “I’ll never feel better again!”  “I’ll never be able to go running again”  “I’ll be tired forever.” I can’t control the fact that I woke up too early and feel exhausted right now.  But I can control how I respond to how I’m feeling.  I can control where I put the little energy I have to impact my day, and the following days, for the better.


The media would have us glued to our televisions and computers all day and night, watching coverage and reading articles as commentators speculate on motives and break down what happened.    Surely we need to try to understand what caused such hate and violence to rain down on innocent people.  Grief is useful and necessary, and those who lost loved ones need to mourn and wail and feel the enormity of what happened in their lives.  But what happens when we allow ourselves to get sucked into the bleakness that comes with letting despair continually wash over us?   For those of us who are looking in from afar, being paralyzed by fear and powerlessness by scrolling through social media feeds and sensationalized news stories is not useful, unless we want to slip further into despair.


How do we cope and keep living in the way that serves us best when the world, either our personal sphere or the larger collective, seems out of control and spiraling downward?

I propose we acknowledge the hurt and sadness and feelings of helplessness and remember these words from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes: “What is needed for [change] is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale. […]There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.  I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”  


We need to be mindful of where we are putting our energy, since we only have so much to go around on a given day.   We shouldn’t ignore what is happening, as turning a blind eye doesn’t solve anything, whether a personal health issue or a global crisis, but we should check ourselves if we start to get sucked into the pit of endless bad news.  We should put our energy into paying attention to the root of why things like this happen in the first place, and delving that deep into broken systems takes a lot of staying power. It’s not easy to take a dive into the shadows of our cultural story (or our personal shadows and tendencies, for that matter).  We should mourn what has been lost and give support where we can help.  And we should make sure to notice where our energy is going, and ensure we are using it in a way that serves the greater good, instead of the parts of the world we wish where different.

We can keep our ship sailing where it’s needed most.


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