“If it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it.” -Pema Chödrön
It had only been two weeks since I was in another world, so peaceful and serene you couldn’t help but to forget about the troubles of our planet. The sound of the raging stream lulled me to sleep each night and in the glow of the early morning light, the birds squawked and squirrels scampered as this remote slice of paradise came alive. It was 5:30am. As I sat on my zafu cushion, I noticed the stillness in the room. Human lungs breathing in and out. The sound of occasional coughs echoing in the zendo. I watched the thoughts go round and round in my head for an hour. I had accessed my inner refuge and everything felt safe and good. It certainly helped, though, that I was at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. It’s a natural high, an indescribable feeling you get when you are there.
Driving back into “civilization,” I took a deep breath the minute my phone began to go off alerting me of endless text messages and emails. I had only been gone four days. Being disconnected from technology, from my phone and computer, made me realize what a better connection I had in nature.
The Tassajara high eventually began to fade and I quickly fell into my usual routine.
What brought me to type these words you are reading is the difficult class I had tonight. I’m about half way through my counseling psychology program to become a Licensed transpersonal Marriage and Family Therapist. Tonight my professor mentioned Sunday’s shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. I hadn’t yet heard this news. Maybe if I had heard it earlier and had had time to process. Maybe if I wasn’t on my period and having severe PMS….maybe….I wouldn’t have felt on the verge of tears. Then my professor began talking about our current President. About how Hitler compared Jews to rats. About how there are children in cages right now in this country.
I felt a surge of emotions well up inside me. The tears began running down my face. I felt uncomfortable, hot, vulnerable, and hyperaware. I did not want to be there in that moment. As I heard my classmates share their frustrations, fears, and stories, as I heard the pain in their voices, soon my thoughts began spiraling into a confused mass of deep sadness and despair. I was once again reminded of my white privilege and felt a wave of guilt wash over me. As I type this, I realize that this guilt is not serving me and I need to let it go.
During the shamanic soul retrieval I had a few months ago, this message came through to me from Spirit:
“The biggest thing that has impacted you is how strongly your past life followed you. Like you’ve been living in the experience of what the natives went through, what your tribe went through. It doesn’t serve you to live with this in this life. There is the wisdom that has stayed with you, the heart and compassion has stayed with you, but to relive that trauma in this life doesn’t serve you, it doesn’t serve what you came back to do. What you came back to do was to heal that, to thrive from it, to break through for it. You won’t ever forget but you will be able to hold space better. But because of how much that was invaded into your life now, it left everything else open, everyone else’s pain to just flow through you.”
“It’s almost like you’ve been a container for holding the pain of the world in you.”
As an empath and a highly sensitive person (HSP), I internalize other’s pain and absorb it like a sponge. I care deeply. It’s why I rallied for Darfur and marched on Capitol Hill as an anti-genocide activist, it’s why I’ve worked with various social justice and environmental non-profit organizations over the last decade, it’s why I follow a vegan lifestyle and am studying to become a mental health therapist.
But sometimes everything is just too much for me to bear and I feel paralyzed by the weight of the world upon my shoulders.
A week ago, I heard about how wild salmon populations are being devastated. This is particularly alarming news because salmon are a keystone species that countless other species depend on. A mother killer whale was described as having carried her dead baby around for 17 days. Her baby died because he didn’t get enough fish to eat. Thank God it was after class that I heard this on the radio. This triggered my eco-anxiety and I went home an emotional mess, crying hysterically about the state of our planet and the countless plant and animal species that are going extinct every day or are on the brink of extinction.
Then this morning, I read about the recent protests led by Native Hawaiians to protect their sacred mountain Maunakea from desecration by the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Unlike the Gilroy Garlic Festival shootings, this news was not new to me. Three years earlier, I had written an article all about this clash of science and culture.
Tonight in class, however, I became increasingly disturbed by all of the information I was taking in. The class took a break and I left before it restarted. I left because in that moment I had to. I couldn’t be there anymore, so I gave myself permission to leave for my mental health and to prevent myself from bursting into tears in front of the entire class. I went home, made some tea, ate, talked to my mom, and moved about the house feeling completely numb and heavy. Then, somehow, I made my way to my laptop and found myself typing away at my keyboard in order to share my experience with others.
Tonight a wise friend said to me:
“I can see your viewpoint about the world…but there is also a lot of good that is not televised and seen…there are a lot of good, soulful, loving, open people…like you!”
She’s absolutely right. I think about her and about my beloved, resilient light worker wonder woman warrior goddesses making a positive difference in the world. I think about all of the Bodhisattvas and conscious, compassionate humans who I met at Tassajara. And I think about all of the amazing nonprofits out there working hard to co-create more positive change every single day. Just to name a few: Virunga National Park, Island Conservation, United to End Genocide, STAND, A Well-Fed World, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, SACNAS, Centro de Educación Creativa, Chomping Climate Change, and Climate Healers.
I am not Atlas carrying the globe on my shoulders, nor should I be. We are in this together. We are not alone. We have many different helpers in our lives. None of us can do this alone. The Universe has our back, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it. All I know is how to be vulnerable and attempt to be my authentic self in order to break barriers and shatter misconceptions. To move mountains and make more love. To uphold truth and justice and unite as one. Right now, in my helpless hour, I choose to use my weapon of choice: my voice.
I choose love and light.