I recall when I was in my early twenties, I was having dinner with my family and my nephew Danny, who was 14, had joined us. My father had just given a bit of grandfatherly advice to Danny, then quickly followed by saying, “But it probably doesn’t matter what I say.” Not in a way of trying to get reassurance from any of us at the table, but a sincere comment that betrayed how he thought about himself, that who he was had no impact on others.
I realized at that very moment that my father never thought he mattered or had any effect on his world, particularly with those whom he loved and loved him. I stopped in the middle of eating, looked at him and caught his eye. Although I had never expressed anything strongly to him in his entire life, I stated emphatically, “Yes it does! Don’t put yourself down that way. What you have to say to Dan really matters a great deal!”
Neither of us said much for a few moments, still looking, not staring, at one another, my father in a mild pause of surprise as if he was allowing the power of what I said to penetrate somewhere behind his more common wall of self-effacing invisibility. Something else passed between us at that moment. We both realized without saying that I was also talking about his influence with me. Inside I felt some sadness that this man I called my father would think so little of himself as to not see how important he was to me. I only wished he had taken a stronger role with me, advised me more, talked with me more, but he was a man that didn’t express himself a lot, like many men of his generation.
It took me many years before I could fully accept that I do in fact affect my world, in ways I’m aware of and in ways that I’m not. Whatever actions I take, there can be ripple effects, consequences that I may never hear about. When I pray, do shamanic healing, energy work, write books, create oracle cards, donate time or money to causes I believe in, I may never know exactly how these affect my world, except in those instances when there’s direct feedback.
We all settle for what we have from time to time, yet often there’s a mysterious force inside us that wants challenge, wants to grow. When we look around us and see those things in our life and in our world that are dissatisfying in some way, we have a choice doing nothing or of taking some sort of action. Seeing trash in the park or on the beach, you can ignore it, judge it, hope that “they” do something about it, or simply start picking up trash! We often underestimate the impact that such kind and compassionate acts may have.
With all that’s going on in the world, many people experience something we can call compassion fatigue. This is when you shut down and feel helpless because there’s so much darkness in the world. There are three things you can do when this happens. First, narrow your choices. Choose a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, and do what you can do. Second, change your thoughts. Why dwell on the darkness and misery and suffering? By doing so, in a way you’re actually contributing to it by bringing yourself down along with that part of the world. Sure there’s suffering, but you can take some sort of action and still not join in the suffering.
Third, act locally, such as the example of picking up the trash. There’s an organization here in Orange County called Surfriders that periodically sponsors a beach clean up. Another local church sponsors a clothing drive for the homeless and the needy. Next time a homeless person asks you for money, buy them a meal instead. The possibilities are endless!
What I aim for is to live in such a way that my will is congruent with Spirit’s will for me, and then set my intention and actions accordingly. It’s not always easy to hear the voice of Spirit, but with practice it becomes an exquisite dictum for the art of living. As Thich Nhat Hahn said, “The real miracle isn’t to walk on water, but to walk on the earth.”