When I was a child, I was a fan of a book called The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On. For me to continue to write about kind promises with the world in its present chaos, I would have to be as blithely insensitive as the teacher in the title poem. (On the other hand, when I read through the promises, I think they are transformative both personally and – if each of us practiced them – globally.)

We are squirming because the world is changing. Our ethnic identities are being challenged as we rub against each other in this new, global civilization. Those of us who think there is One Right Way must either fight or flex. Neither are comfortable.

If we are honest, each of us sees the world with limited vision. It helps to admit that limitation.

The hate, violence and chaos we see around us make sense if we understand them as expressions of fear made by people who are not willing to let go of Being Right. Responding to the chaos with fear, helplessness and hopelessness makes sense too. It’s overwhelming out there.

But it does no good to stay stuck in the overwhelm

As someone who lives with chronic, progressive illness I know something about how to deal with hopelessness and overwhelm:

Feel it. If I run away from feeling Big Emotions, I stay stuck in them. I need to open to them. Naming what I feel allows me to understand that I am not my emotions. There is a witness there as well. For instance, I am not my fear because someone is noticing the fear. Someone is outside the fear. Not only that, but the fear is about the future. Right now, everything is okay.

Unpack the story. What story am I telling myself about the future that’s giving birth to the emotions? There is some situation I’m imagining will happen that I’m afraid is beyond my abilities to cope. Is it really? (Everything I feared would happen to me as a result of having MS has happened or is happening. When it happens, I am able to adjust and live with it. It turns out I am more resilient than I thought I would be.)

Remind myself of my values. Who do I want to be? What kind of world do I want to live in? I want to be (as my blog tagline suggests) compassionate and creative. I want to be conscious of blessing. I want to live in a world that cultivates compassion for all living beings.

Take compassionate action. What do I need to do to live and move toward my values? Part of self-compassion is to identify tiny, achievable steps I can take. Part of compassion toward others is to make room for their visions and values.

It feels right to take a moment here to wonder about how to handle it when others’ values contradict mine. I am specifically thinking about people who value violence and people who don’t value the environment. The answer, for me, is nonviolent resistance and activism. If that’s my answer, what actions do I need to take?

Another piece of compassion is to recognize that this is a practice and a process. I will lose my way, be overwhelmed. I want to release any judgments I have when that happens, recommit to my values and return to action. (I realize, in fact, that this blog post is one of those course corrections.)

If you have been feeling helpless and hopeless, I invite you to join me in this gentle process of identifying where you are and what you want, returning to your values and renewing your commitment to live into a hopeful future.