Ancient wisdom for troubled timesJul 20, 2022
How many of us have been struggling lately? The news is unrelentingly grim. Everything has become calamitous. It is hard not to feel fearful. Grief is never far from the surface. I have found myself asking, how do we navigate a path through this?
Throughout history there have been rises and falls of empires, of ages. There have been wars and famine, economic growth and ecological destruction. But in our times the images and the messages spread like the wildfires burning across continents. We see so much bad news throughout the world coming at us through social media feeds, through media. It can become completely overwhelming. We talk with friends and find ourselves asking how we are going to cope with all of this fear and uncertainty.
If you have followed my writing, podcast, videos and teaching for a while now, you’ll know that my first point of call for support through tough stuff, was Nature. Over the years I have dug deeper and deeper into the ways we have connected to Nature for our health and wellbeing throughout times and I believe there is valuable wisdom from those ages past that can help us find a way of being in these unsettling times.
I was talking to someone earlier today who said that we get to a point where we just have to draw a line in the sand and say, I can’t be passive in this anymore. I need to consciously care for myself, my family, our community and this world we depend upon. I loved that she said this. Her words had a galvanising power to them and her statement brought hope.
A key concept that ripples through time and across cultures is one of our intrinsic connectivity to everything around us. In the times before Descartes and machines and industrial revolutions, the ancients spoke of us being a microcosm of the macrocosm. Cosmos was the term for a well-ordered universe having everything within it needed for life (interestingly the words colostrum and cosmos share the same root). So us as microcosm of the macrocosm is an idea which describes us as a universe within a universe. So in effect they are saying we have everything, a cosmos, inside us that we need for life. They said that how we treat each universe affects the health and wellbeing of the other – that what we put out we receive, that how we treat ourselves is a reflection of how we treat the world around us. These ancients offer us wisdom for our times. A roadmap through calamity.
So let’s bring that idea down to an individual level: if we have fear in our hearts, we see that which is to be fearful of. Anger begets anger. Fear begets fear. The 16th Century alchemist, physician and natural philosopher, Paracelsus, said that every emotion and thought we put out into the world is reflected back at us. This can be a confronting idea at first, because what he is saying is that if we seed our interior landscape with negativity, we will receive negativity from the universe. It is all we will see and experience. Our fearful energy becomes part of feeding the fear within society. Our fearful, angry, negative energy can attract the same. So at the same time our walls go up, and we can become isolated, scared and disconnected, we are also drawing that energy towards us. Wow. Take a breath. That’s big.
So how is Paracelsus also inviting us to see things differently?
We can also use Paracelsus's thinking to 'accentuate the positive'. First up we can take a deep breath and think about what it is we wish for us and those we love, the places we love. What is it we wish for our community and the generations that will follow us? Most people find themselves wishing for peace, love, happiness, societal and environmental stability, abundance. Gandhi was on to it when he said that we need to, “Be the change we want to see in this world.” He is saying what the ancients said, what Paracelsus said, that what we think and feel and put out into the world, we receive.
Thankfully there are many people who also think that if we all raised our consciousness with feelings and actions of love and compassion and care for our human and non-human world, then maybe there is a chance to turn this ship around. We need to turn thinking into doing and connecting. And while the natural response may be to run for the hills and hide away from others, there is in fact more to be gained, there is a more positive outcome from connecting with others who are also doing all they can to radiate love out into the world and importantly, to take conscious compassionate action.
And no one is saying that this is easy, but there are things we can do to help move past the fear and the rising anxiety of these times.
Buddhists speak of being in this moment now, of not holding on to thoughts, to not grip the past while prophesising the future. They call this non-attachment. At first this idea can sound remote, detached, but what they are doing is wonderful. They are not gripping fear tightly, they are letting it go, it is not taking root in their inner world. They help us navigate the present. They are giving us ways to be in this moment now. It is up to us to define for ourselves what this moment looks like. And so what if it looked like love?
Another more contemporary take on this comes from the Course in Miracles, which says right up front at the beginning of the book, ‘what is not real cannot hurt you’. This can be a valuable mantra for helping disconnect from and let go of the negative thoughts and catastrophising that one can do when things start getting a bit much. Being able to stop and think, ‘this is just a thought, a fictional dramatization that I am creating. It has not happened and is not happening at this moment, this is not real and so it cannot hurt me’, can help unhook oneself from the grip of fearful thoughts and emotions.
Journey back through time with Buddhists, mystics, philosophers, abbesses and priests, and one finds that the myriad spiritual and religious paths all eventually meet at one place, a place that is connected to nature, connected to cosmos, and is all about love. Love for each other, love for ourselves, love for this world. Love nourishes our soul, makes our world brighter. Love is the soil and the seed. The ancients tell us that by starting with our own inner world first, by finding a place of connection and love within us we can create harmony in the outer world too.
In her gospels, Mary of Magdalene said, “Every nature, every modelled form, every creature, exists in and with each other”. She is saying is that we are all things, and all things are us. If we have love in our hearts, there is love in all hearts and in the way we are with each other, with every thing.
What would our own resilience look like if we can face these challenging and frightening times with love as our default position? Some call this the beauty way. Modern day mystic Andrew Harvey calls it Sacred Activism. I’ve decided that my form of sacred activism is to help bring this wisdom out into the light to help people help themselves, each other and this planet through these troubled times.
Yes, bad news surrounds us. Yes, it is easy to become hooked into a grim vision of the future. Yes, it takes strength to find love in the shadows. But what if our conscious acts of everyday love were the medicine that could help create a better future? A better future not just for us, but for future generations too. Let's be part of making that possible.
Shamans say that every thought, every action we have and make, will ripple down the next seven generations. They invite us to think about what it is we wish to ripple down the years, what is the legacy we would like to leave behind us. This makes me think that I would much rather leave a legacy of love, rather than a legacy of feeding fear. Surely if enough of us nurture love in our inner world, and actively take that inner love out into the world, then we can create the change needed in this world right now.
Love can be manifested in a multitude of ways and just like the airline safety announcement, we need to start by putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first and in doing so we can help others. If we show ourselves some love, if we feed our inner world, our microcosm with love and peace, we can sow the seeds to extend love and peace to others.
I sit quietly and focus on my breath. The slow pull of the in breath and the gentle release of the outbreath. I picture my soul nestled inside me, inside my interior world, one with landscapes and plants and animals, oceans and rivers and I breath in love, love for all of this and my soul within it. And I breathe out love, love from my inner world to the world outside. I picture myself as the microcosm of the macrocosm, a universe within a universe. Breathing in love. Breathing out love. My inner and outer worlds become calmer. I become the buddha under the tree, the shaman by the fire, the abbess in the garden, finding peace in this moment right now. I imagine my love connecting in this moment with every other person on this planet also breathing in love… and breathing out love. A communion of souls united in love and in loving, compassionate action. I smile at the thought of this. And then I imagine this love like a golden light, like the sun rising and rolling back the shadows, giving me the strength, and confidence, and resilience I need to move forward again. A new day dawns.
We are in difficult times, but there are things we can do to help the way we navigate this and take action to be the change we are wishing for in this world. We can't give up on love and we can care for our inner cosmos in order that we can actively care for our outer cosmos too. I believe the ancients have much to teach us about how we might navigate a path through the times we find ourselves in now. It takes work to find this place of stillness, to create moments of peace and compassionate action in chaos, but they give us the wisdom to help us do it. This is their legacy rippling down the ages. Their gifts given to help us in this moment now.
Here is a link to this blog and meditation on the Soul Garden podcast
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