The Art of Letting Go

Monks and nuns of virtually every tradition have historically avoided the media – most especially television, but also much print media with the exception of certain approved sources.  Ostensibly, those restrictions were put in place so they could focus on the spiritual life, and I am certain that was at least part of the reason they were actually implemented.  In the case of some monks and nuns with whom I used to associate back in the day, they still read The National Catholic Reporter and The Living Church.  Those publications are from the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church bodies, respectively.  Whether or not Church media are any more objective than secular media is debatable, but at least the topics they cover are different.  The truth is that corporate secular media do not report the news that our society doesn’t want you to know about.  I have a source within the Milwaukee Police Department who tells me that shots are fired every day by certain units – and the media know about it and don’t report it – but let a street cop fire a shot and the media are all over it.  Just yesterday while I was working in the hood I heard a double-tap followed by no sirens, no reporters, no apparent response of any kind.

It can be overwhelming.  Life comes at us at break neck speed even if we only consider the parts of which we are made aware.  When you add to it the various organizations seeking to mobilize us with petition drives about everything from serious issues to how the people at Lego market their toys, things can get out of control pretty quickly.  Some of those petitions seems to have an impact, while others do not.  Whether or not the same objectives could be achieved through other means is debatable, what is certain is that the organizations circulating the petitions are little more than lobbying organizations the agendas of which we happen to agree with.  The problem is that the impact of all of this information, when coupled with the declarations of emergency that accompany everything from fundraising drives for political candidates to the aforementioned gripe with Lego marketing, can easily become overwhelming.  We can feel powerless, agitated, anxious, and/or any of a host of other feelings.  Do we abandon hope, disengage from society, and withdraw from the rat race?

Withdrawing can be an effective strategy, and a valid one at that.  The problem is that most people who assume activist postures are, in fact, activists.  Remaining withdrawn is very difficult for activists because it goes against their nature.  What to do?  The advice to “pick your battles” is rather ineffective, because to pick our battles we still have to expose ourselves to more of them that we can healthily engage – unless we learn to detach.

Attachment comes in many forms.  When I worked in hospitals for the first time in the mid 1990s I was surprised to see the nurses become extremely distraught when their patients died – not just the hard cases like young patients, but even the deaths from natural causes after a long life well lived.  They lacked the ability to detach, and so to them each death was like the death of a family member.  Of course, part of the problem in these situations is that our culture has a very unhealthy attitude toward death.  The other part of the problem was that they were unable to do the best they could to help their patients and then step back and allow the Universe to unfold as it will.  The same is true for activists.  All we can do is the best we can.  The outcomes of situations and circumstances simply are not up to us.  They are determined by almost innumerable factors, most of which are beyond our control.  We get in trouble when we try to take responsibility for things that we can only impact in a limited way.

Each generation has its crises.  The only thing they have in common is that good people do the best they can, and whatever will unfold does, in fact, unfold.  There is one other thing they have in common – the world keeps on turning.  If indeed we are spiritual beings having a human experience, we keep on “turning” as well.  In the interim, if we do the best we can and leave the outcome to the Universe we will find that we still sleep at night, experience much less anxiety, and even a growing sense of peace.  And, when we need to, we can take a break from the grind and trust that the world will not fall apart in our absence.  

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