How to thrive in this broken world
October 04, 2017
We live in a world of trauma and tragedy and outrage and constant micro-aggressions. In recent weeks we've seen hurricanes bring unthinkable devastation. The massacre in Las Vegas is heartbreaking. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a rise in misogyny both overt and systemic over the last nine months. Many of us live in fear of violence against women. There's been a documented rise in antisemitism over that same time period. (David Duke just blamed the Las Vegas killings on Jews.) The United States just voted against a UN resolution that would have condemned the use of the death penalty for being gay. (I could go on.) How can we not only live but thrive in this world? I don't have a single simple answer. But here are seven suggestions.
Kindness. Be kind to yourself in whatever ways you can. Notice your internalized voices of critique -- maybe you knock yourself for not having the spaciousness to pay enough attention to the brokenness of the world, or maybe you knock yourself for not being able to make enough of a difference. Those voices can be helpful, up to a point. But they can also harm. Tell your internal critic to take a break, and be kind to yourself. Maybe that means taking a few extra minutes to put on lotion and be grateful to and for your body. Maybe it means a cup of tea, or a walk in the fresh air. Maybe it means clean sheets on your bed and the laundry folded, or a bouquet of flowers on the table. Do the little things you can to be good to yourself, to replenish yourself.
Boundaries. Maintain good boundaries. Maybe that means being attentive to your social media use, or your consumption of news. Maybe it means taking one day a week away from news altogether. (I suggest Shabbat, for reasons that are probably obvious.) If there are people in your life who deplete you, try to find ways to minimize contact with them. If the twenty-four hour news cycle is wearing you down, take a break from it. If the omnipresence of misogyny and antisemitism fill you with despair (as they do me), find a way to turn away from them and focus elsewhere for a while. This may feel like a luxury, but it's actually a survival tool. Maintain good boundaries around your body, your heart, your mind, and your spirit. This will help you stay intact.
Balance. Seek balance in your life. Maybe this means work / life balance. Maybe this means balance between engaging with the broken world, and seeking respite from the brokenness. Maybe it means balance between reading the news, and reading a novel. Maybe it means balance between focusing outward (on the world, on the work that needs to be done) and focusing inward (on your own heart and soul.) It can be tempting to throw yourself wholly into engaging with the broken world -- there is so much that needs to be repaired! There are protests to attend, letters to the editor to write, worthy candidates to support, hungry people to feed, systemic injustice to unravel. But if you throw all of yourself into that work all of the time, burnout is inevitable.
Endurance. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. The great struggles for justice, civil rights, safety in all four worlds (physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual), human progress -- these are long and their work will not be complete in any of our lifetimes. Find a rhythm that is sustainable and that sustains you. That rhythm might be six days of work, one day of Shabbat. It might be setting aside time each week for justice work -- or setting aside time each week for not doing justice work. The work of healing our broken world is enormous. It needs all of us, but it can't be accomplished single-handedly by any one of us. And if we don't engage in that work with an eye toward sustainability, the likelihood that we will hurt ourselves in so doing is high.
Beauty. Seek beauty in what your eyes look upon: notice the beauty in the faces of other living beings, in a forest or a tree or a houseplant, in the sky. Seek beauty in what your ears listen to: notice the beauty in music, in a beloved voice, in rhythm, in poetry. Seek beauty in what you breathe in: the scent of spices at havdalah, or autumn leaves rustling underfoot, or a sprig of rosemary, or a bowl of soup. Seek beauty in what you touch with your skin: notice the warmth of your clothes, the weave of your sheets, the fur of a pet. Seek beauty in what you consume: whether media, or music, or food, or drink. Seek beauty, and cultivate gratitude for beauty. This may feel frivolous when the world is so broken, but it is not: it is life-affirming and can be life-saving.
Connectivity. Connect with the place where you are. Connect with your communities, whether geographic or far-flung. Connect with your roots and your ancestry. Connect with your heritage. Connect with your creativity, and bring new words or work or ideas into the world. Connect with your friends, the people who put a smile on your face. Connect online. Connect with people you love. Connect with causes that matter to you. Connect with places and things and ideas and individuals that make you feel hopeful and strong. The more rooted we can be in our connections with place and time and each other, the stronger we are, and the more able we become to withstand the damaging winds of hatred and bigotry and tragedy with our hearts intact.
Presence. There is an immanent, indwelling presence that enlivens all things. That presence has many names. In my tradition alone we name it as Shechina, the Divine Feminine, Malchut, God between us and within us and among us. You may have other names, other metaphors. Whatever words you use, welcome that presence into your life. Maybe that means making regular time for meditation or contemplative practice. Maybe it means regular liturgical prayer -- or spontaneous prayer, whenever you feel called to speak to the divine. Maybe it means spiritual direction, discerning the presence of God in your life. Maybe it means talking with Shechina in the front seat of your car. Open yourself to presence and let yourself be sustained thereby.
May our abraded places be balmed, and our hearts be strengthened.
(These seven suggestions map to the set of seven qualities that the Jewish mystical tradition says we share with the divine -- the seven "lower sefirot" -- about which I have written here many times before.)