Pain for the World

In April, I attended a retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center on Transforming Distressing States. Joanna Macy was one of the teachers, and is an amazing feminist Buddhist ecophilosopher, who wrote World as Lover, World as Self.

One of the most profound shifts for me on this retreat was Joanna’s revelation about the pain we feel for the world that we totally repress. BP’s oil spill destroying the Gulf, thousands (or millions) of people dying in multiple never-ending wars, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about to blow, Arizona getting more racist by the minute, and whatever else is going on that I don’t know about because I can’t even stand to read the news. Every new piece of information is like a blow that hits and retraumatizes that wounded, vulnerable part of me – it’s a wonder I can even get out of bed.

Because we believe that we have a separate individual self, we feel the pain for the world and assume it’s all OUR pain. Our individualistic culture tells us to do this, and look how much it helps keep us from fighting the larger corporate and political powers that are creating all this pain. While psychotherapy is generally awesome, it can contribute to this as well – when we talk about our terror over how the land and water is being raped and pillaged by masculine corporate interests, our therapist redirects us to talk about our “real” terror of our own bodies being raped and pillaged. As if there’s no “real” terror to be had over the destruction of our environment.

I’m certainly not minimizing or denying the reality of the pain and terror of our own bodies being brutally violated. But what if they BOTH get to be real? That when the pain & terror comes up, we can name it as about BOTH our own violation and the violation of our world? What if we flipped the therapist’s script, and when our trauma came up, we honored it AND asked “What other trauma is going on in the world that feels like this same pattern of individual trauma that shows up in my life?” And then we honored that too. For me it’s nearly impossible for me to tease out how much is mine vs. how much is the world’s … because it’s really all the same trauma at some level. My trauma ripples out and diminishes the rest of the world, and the world’s trauma ripples out and diminishes my ability to live.

I’ve found it immensely helpful to understand why I’m feeling overwhelmed, triggered, and ready to just shut down – there’s a lot of shit going down and it IS overwhelming and triggering to my system. A little Breathing Through practice is in order – just breathe it all in, and breathe it all back out. No need to transform it, and certainly no need to hang on to it. Open to let it in, and breathe it right back out.


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