No More Thoughts and Prayers

It seems trite, to sit here in my comfortable home and send thoughts and prayers to those hunkering down, sitting on the cold concrete floors of the Ukrainian subway tonight. To think of parents holding tightly to their children, doing their best to shield the little ones from the bloody trauma of war simply shatters my heart. Nothing I could do feels adequate. Everything seems like it is worlds away from actually meaning anything.       

I walk into my kitchen to fix my dinner and my world is the same. Nothing has changed. I have food in my refrigerator. Electricity is available when I turn on the stove and there’s running water in the faucets. Life goes on, a flowing continuance, one day to the next. Tomorrow won’t require me to hide from missile strikes, to worry how I will feed my children, to wonder if we’ll survive the day to do it all over if we’re still here when the sun rises again. Life in my part of the world hasn’t changed at all. How is that possible?

Ignoring what’s happening to the Ukrainians, and the Russian soldiers and citizens, does not feel right. In fact it feels pretty damn impossible. It’s fascinating to me how Ukraine has captured my heart. Missiles hit their targets every day in other parts of the world and I have been ignorant of the harm they do, but not today, not anymore. Ukraine seems to have awakened a sleeping beauty within, one who will not forget, who will not obligingly go back to bed. 

I am awake to the pain, to the immense damage we inflict upon each other. I will not turn away from the news. I will not bypass what is happening in the world in order to save my sanity, to feel good, or to maintain the pretense of happiness. God forbid I feel sad, that I am in tune with the pain of my brothers and sisters, or allow myself to truly feel what is going down in our world.

That is what I realized I could do. I could allow myself to feel it all, to not turn away or distract myself and deaden the pain. I could consciously open my heart to the misery and distress, the wounded and those wounding, and let it all in. I could feel the fear, the worry, the exhaustion and the unending trauma those in the line of fire are experiencing. I can’t sit with them and rock them gently as explosions rock their world, but I can feel what is mine to feel. If they must play this horrific role in humanity’s story, I can feel their struggle, their loss and grief, their shattering lives. 

Truly, it is the least I can do. I can process the world’s ugliness through my heart. I can be the alchemist and turn the pain and suffering into love and beauty, a type of Tonglen, breathing in the world’s pain, breathing out love. It is the least I can do …. and in truth, the only thing I can actually do that has any value.

If we all opened our minds, hearts and bodies and allowed ourselves to feel the fallout of war, wars would disappear from the face of the earth. Hand in hand, heart to heart, country to country, people would stream into the streets and demand change, radical change, forever change, and insist that such harm never be inflicted again.

Once we allow ourselves to feel it, we cannot ignore it any longer. We cannot stand by and let it continue. We cannot box it up neatly and put it on the top shelf. It brings the messy killing home. It makes war real right here where we are, even snug in our living rooms. It puts war’s casualties on our meditation cushion, its orphans next to us in bed.

Distancing ourselves from the life and death struggle, looking away or not looking too closely, does not protect or serve. Our consent, willing or not, conscious or not, is the prime tool of those who are mired in the guts of war. The fog of discomfort keeps us tucked safely out of the way, and makes of us co-conspirators. The leaders of this world will not save us. We must do that ourselves. It’s has always been up to us.       

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