Today’s world is faced with significant challenging issue, including shifting climate, the quality of the planet’s water, world hunger, a seemingly out of control economy, deforestation, and terrorism to mention a few. I recently searched the web for the phrase, “top ten urgent world issues” to discover more than one compelling list of urgent calls to action. After reading a few pages of powerfully stated articles I sank back in my chair like so many people do when overwhelmed with the growing complexity of the world, and felt momentarily paralyzed. I wanted to escape the responsibility I was feeling to do something and at the same time I was reaching in my mind for that action I could take today that would make a difference.
Don’t just sit there, do something.
Sitting around idly in my childhood was frowned upon because laziness, as it was thought to be, was not tolerated. If you weren’t actively doing something you were of no apparent worth. Day dreaming was a waste of time and action, my grandfather would say, was what the world needed. And, according to him, it didn’t matter what you were feeling or thinking at the time, as long as you did something that counted toward the solution. I learned to jump into action quickly and although being engaged was satisfying on some powerful level, I began to notice that the state of mind from which I acted had the power to make an already challenging situation worse. I never heard my Grandfather talk about thinking or mind or awareness, just action. And when I began to consider my inner life, and take more time sitting still to access my quiet mind, I had to face the substantial voices in my head I inherited from him telling me I was shirking my duty, avoiding my obligation and hiding behind my spirituality.
Being in the world, but not of it.
Contrary to what my grandfather feared would happen to me if I sat still, I did not become idle and I did not withdraw from the world. Rather, I began to take responsibility for the tone and attitude with which I engaged, whether that was in a conversation about disappearing species, the rights of women to govern their bodies, or any one of the red-hot topics that are littered across our 21st century landscape. I can no longer let my reactive mind run the show, dominate the conversation, and generate enemy images. I can no longer blame a topic for my unkind words. I can no longer justify mindless pursuit of any goal at the expense of compassion, communication and collaboration. I’ve had to learn to sit still with those volatile aspects of my mind and find my way to the quiet mind below the surface. I’ve had to learn how to be in the world without being at the mercy of knee-jerk reactions.
Urgent call to action
Now I have become my grandfather, with a slight shift in focus. My “urgent” call to action is to remind myself, and to invite people to sit in contemplative silence and to trust that inner quiet they discover within, as they would trust a wise inner counselor. Now I see that it is as easy for me to avoid my responsibility to be silent as it is to avoid my responsibility to act. I see now, that sitting in silence is the other side of the coin of engaging in the world mindfully, and I don’t see a way to have one, safely, without the other.
Edward Viljoen is author of The Power of Meditation: an ancient technique to access your inner power, available from Stepping Stones Books & Gifts, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.