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Concern for the World

You are compassionate and have a genuine wish for the health and happiness of all beings, but sometimes your wish goes astray.  When you reflect on the inequity of resource distribution, you might find yourself slipping into hopelessness.  You begin to suffer about suffering.  One of my zen teachers called this "suffering plus one".  It's not very helpful.  What can you do to move from "suffering plus one" to connected awareness plus contribution?

Wise action flows from wise attention.  Hopelessness is a sign of unwise attention.  You followed your thoughts through various stories about a doomed planet or some version therein.  So hopelessness (along with the other alarm feelings- guilt, depression, anger, & shame) is an important cue.  It tells you to notice where you are putting your attention.

One form of wise attention regarding your concern for the world is to follow the four elements of Compassionate Communication.  I am going to go through them one by one in order relative to this topic.  First, name what you heard or saw that triggered this latest bout of hopelessness.  Was it someone you saw on the way to work, a story on the radio, a bit of news on TV or something else?  

Next allow yourself the space to feel the grief of the suffering you witnessed.  Grief is a connected and expansive feeling.  If you begin to feel heavy, collapsed, or shut down, you have moved out of grief and into reactivity.  Grief is also a feeling that has it's own life.  You don't decide to grieve.  You simply make space for it by sitting quietly.  It will arise and fall of its own accord.

Third, name the specific needs/values up for you when you witnessed the event you named above.  They might be one or more of these: compassion, fairness, contribution, hope, mutuality, appreciation, respect.

Fourth, give your attention to the ways you are already meeting those needs in your daily life.  Your list might include things that are an integrated part of your lifestyle like biking to work, buying organic food, sharing your smile and consideration equally with all you encounter, etc.  There are many helpful books that name these simple things.  What I want to emphasize is not the things you do, but rather the quality of attention you give them.  Hanging your laundry out to dry saves resources, but when you do it begrudgingly because you know you should, you are adding to the web of suffering.

When you name the things you already do to live in accord with your compassion for other living beings, go slowly and let yourself feel the quality of intention with each thing you do.  This is wise attention.

Lastly, knowing your strengths and unique gifts, you can ask yourself:  "Is there is anything else I would like to do and could do generously from my heart?"  Wise action arises from this wise attention.


Take a few minutes of reflection now.  Go through each of the steps of above.  Notice the quality of attention you bring and the impact your attention has your sense of well-being and ability to take wise action.

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5 Responses

  1. Aug 11, 2013
    Jean Mohr

    Hopelessness about things going on around me does bite me and your list of steps to take to move from reactivity to "wise attention" is helpful. But my most painful area of hopelessness always comes up in me when I hear about and know about the contamination and death human kind has been and continues to bring to our infinitely precious earth mother. I can't imagine relief from this deep and profound sadness. I would so appreciate hearing your thinking about this.

    with great respect..........Jean

  2. Aug 14, 2013

    Hi Jean,

    Yea, I hear the profound sadness and I hold this as a non-reactive part of being connected. In Buddhism we say that the oceans are the tears of Kanzeon crying for the suffering on earth.

    The way I hold this is two-fold, one that this grief for the earth and her living beings is an important part of the path of contribution and practice, feeling it and allowing it.

    The other part that for me brings a sense of peace is a broader view. That just as we breath in and out, the universe does so on its scale and all we know will come to its end when the universe finishes its current exhale and breathes in again.

    So this is my way of accepting the cycles of life and death on a large scale. I have to watch myself that I don't slip into disconnected apathy with this. What I find is that it helps when I am slipping into hopelessness to zoom out to this larger view.

    Let me know if this is helpful.

  3. Aug 14, 2013


    One of the things I like to keep firmly fixed in mind when I'm experiencing pain in relation to something which seems hopeless and overwhelming to me is that this pain can still be useful to me. If I make a special little place within me to savour (treasure, prize, and yet respectfully contain) that pain, then I also allow myself to look upon it as a constant reminder of how and why I would still like for the world to become a better place, even though I'm not quite sure just how to go about directing my energies and efforts at this particular moment.

    This kind of attitude keeps me mindful of why I'm choosing to retain some measure of pain about an issue, while accepting that it might not be something I can currently do much about.

    Perhaps most importantly this choice helps provide me with impetus to stay ready and willing to act in the future should I recognize an opportunity to do so, while keeping despair from sapping me of all my energy and joy, and while also keeping impatience and desperation from building up in me so that I get panicked and risk adopting strategies that are counter to my values and dreams.

  4. Aug 22, 2013
    Emily Webb

    Just wanted to say thank you for this, LaShelle. In my professional and personal life, I am constantly trying to find ways to hold grief, and simultaneously not be overwhelmed with grief. The image of the ocean being the tears of Kanzeon makes my whole being soften.

    Please know I am still reading and enjoying your connection gems - that I am very grateful for the gems as a way to continue learning from you, even as I am living in California now. Many blessings.

    - Emily

  5. Aug 23, 2013

    Great to hear from you Emily. So glad that this was contribution to softening.

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