Compassionate Response in the Post-Fukushima World
November 26, 2013
Reflections on Mindful Engagement for Thanksgiving
On March 11, 2011, the world was shaken when the Fukushima nuclear disaster hit Japan after a major earthquake. The possibility that unforeseen amounts of nuclear reactivity could be released into our oceans and atmosphere became a reality, and there was no turning back. Two and a half years later, we are left with vague information at best. We have heard devastating accounts of the amounts of radioactive material increasing globally and building up in our food chain and saddening details about the impact on marine life and our oceans…Yet it is hard to know what this actually means. Meanwhile, conventional media posts “business as usual.” The US has done nothing to address the issue of nuclear power, though numerous countries have closed down reactors and opted for nuclear phase-out.
When a disaster of this degree of severity occurs, we are initially jolted awake from our slumber and, for a split second, we drop into the reality of interdependence…open, receptive, and present to our shared vulnerability. We experience the fragility, uncertainty, and sense of powerlessness that comes with being a human being on a planet of delicate balance. We feel the pain, love, and truth of that reality deep in our bones. For a brief moment, we collectively acknowledge the preciousness of life on earth, the fragility of our global infrastructure, and the harm caused through unconsciousness.
It is a shock to our system that the powers that be have not ensured our safety…For a human animal dependent on a healthy planet for our survival, this is traumatic. It is a shock that we do not have control and that the “protected bubble” we live in is non-existent. And as we ponder the vast dilemma of nuclear radioactivity on our living planet, we find ourselves standing in the new territory of global uncertainty. After our initial heartbreak, we tend to get pulled back into the familiarity and reactivity of the conditioned mind. This is the mind of story, drama, and limiting belief. This is also the mind of passive consumption that literally consumes thought and opinion in order to have something “to hold onto”… rather than stay open and present to the experience of uncertainty. We reach for the false sense of safety in “knowing” rather than staying with the discomfort of “not knowing.” This provides temporary numbing for our grief and confusion – but it also clouds our ability to connect with this issue from a place of wisdom and compassion.
Ironically, in turning to conditioning, we turn away from our capacity to fully feel and respond from our hearts. We turn away from our greatest strength, which is our sensitivity. It is by remaining open through the experience of vulnerability and intimacy with life that we allow for conscious response to move and guide us, rather than conditioned reactivity.
Given that we cannot underestimate the value of conscious response as we navigate the growing challenges of our times, we must understand how the mechanism of reactivity limits us. Reactivity points us to one of two sides of a duality. We either turn away and go numb or we catastrophize. In other words, we either go to “Everything’s fine, nothing major happened, they’ll fix it”… Or we go to ultimate doom, gloom, and terror… “This means the world is coming to an end…” “We are all going to die tomorrow from radioactivity… ” “There is no hope.”
There are many other stops on the road of duality that we might visit as well….self-righteousness, rage, pessimistic detachment, paralyzing despair, or contrived positivity. All stops take us away from the ability to be with what is and respond from a deeper place. If you wish to investigate this duality for yourself, notice, anytime you are faced with uncertainty and the unknown, how compelling it is to cling to familiar thought patterns or to project that you know what the future holds, even if it is a horrible nightmarish vision, rather than remain open through the experience of “not knowing.” To choose either side of duality is to lose “center” and to choose the illusion of control over the power of awareness.
All of our reactions are fine and natural… We are human and we’re doing the best we can. However, if we are going to meet the increasing challenges of our time, it would serve us to learn how to respond from center rather than duality, from compassionate awareness rather than conditioning, from intimacy with life rather than the illusion of separation. Compassionate response is only available to us when are willing to stay present to what is.
By “staying present” we are available to be part of the natural feedback system that is vital to our interconnected world. Consider that all systems in nature are self-regulating. They maintain balance and well-being through internal feedback and self-correction. This is true for the human body, every ecosystem, even the global climate system. When we don’t honor natural feedback, imbalance happens and a system can no longer sustain itself. We’ve all witnessed this personally and globally.
Feeling our pain and love for our world is essential for being an effective part of the self-regulating web of interconnection on this planet. It is how we receive feedback about how to serve and protect life, how to care for our planet, and how to live in balance. When we abandon our experience through numbing or catastrophizing, our pain cannot inform us… and cannot be transformed into compassionate action.
The reality is that none of us can control the fate of the web of Life… for that would mean to control every organism, every being… BUT we can acknowledge, from the place of wakefulness, our impact and role in this web of interconnection. We can choose to take passionate responsibility for our lives and our world on a moment-by-moment basis. It is only when we stay with the felt experience of being part of the web of interconnection that we learn how to channel our grief, rage, and disbelief, into compassionate action. Rather than give our power away to conditioned reactivity, we can be mindful leaders and change agents in our lives and in our world at-large. This is the essence of engaged awareness practice.
Part of taking responsibility for our world is acknowledging that we are needed, and therefore committing to taking care of ourselves as change agents. Consider the degree to which the stress of catastrophizing depletes our systems, clouds our judgment, and paralyzes us. Are we willing to acknowledge the detriment of reactivity and commit to mindfulness and self-care so that we can be of service?
In staying present to our pain and grieving together, we are able to feel our love more fully. Are we willing to open ourselves to deeper intimacy with life and thus respond from compassion rather than fear? Are we willing to acknowledge that we, collectively, co-create our world in every moment through our thoughts and actions? Can we see the value in letting go of the habits of numbing and catastrophizing in order to do the work to create a more conscious, sustainable world?
We can allow the natural feedback of our world-in-crisis to help us correct fundamental distortions in our perceptions about ourselves and our world… the very distortions that have caused the global unsustainability crisis. This begins with paying attention and consciously choosing to let go of our limiting beliefs, remembering our connection to source, and acknowledging all that is beautiful, vital, healthy, strong, and working right now.
Awareness practice is about committing to mindful engagement with our world in every moment. As change agents, our job description is to use every moment and every situation as a laboratory for peace and sustainability. When we feel our pain fully and do not siphon it off into reactivity, it translates into wakeful embodiment. Our love for our world becomes so pure that it changes us and how we engage with life… moment by moment… from the subtle levels of how sensitively we treat our bodies and one another to the larger levels of how we engage with the environment and world-at-large.
My hope is that this Thanksgiving, we include Fukushima in our awareness and let it be a reminder to deepen our embodiment of interdependence and gratitude, to bring care to how we engage with life, to expand our capacity for intimacy, and to deepen our commitment as agents of change. When we allow our gratitude to contain both the light and shadow of our times, we open ourselves more fully to the dynamic interplay of light and shadow in ourselves and in the world-at-large…and this propels us into a deeper commitment to living from compassion.
This blog was inspired by a chapter in my coming book, Mindful Living Revolution: How to Live Sustainably from the Inside Out
In Peace & Passion,