16 June 2016

What Do You Do When The World Feels Scary?

(By Danny)

Last evening we received a letter I think many can relate to this particular week:
Hi Mara & Danny, 
In light of everything that's been happening this week (and this month, this year, this decade, this lifetime), what do you do when the world feels like a scary place to live in? 
My immediate reaction is to stay at home. Lock the doors. Don't let anyone in, and don't let myself out. Stay where it's safe. But I know that's not living, and I know that's letting the darkness win. 
My heart feels so heavy, and I don't know what to do with that weight. Even though I try to be kind and bring joy to the people in my immediate circle, it doesn't seem like enough. I can't change the laws that need to be changed, I can't stop the hate that causes people to do terrible things, I can't stop every bad thing from happening. So what do I do?
A Reader 
Her note prompted a quick reply which I thought might be worth sharing...

Thanks for writing,

I'll admit, normally I'm quite verbose in these email exchanges.  But this time the answer came to my mind in a very short and simple phrase.

Just love the person right in front of you.

I'm not sure what else there is to do, but to be one of the distribution points of love in what at times feels like a sea of darkness or hate. Sometimes, doing that small and simple thing -- loving the person in front of you -- can still take a decent amount of work. But it's worth it.  

This week, I had one of those moments where I felt offended towards someone. Stewing in that offense felt awful, it pulled me back from things and people I care about for a few hours, even a day.  

When I pulled myself enough out of the fog, I committed to a ritual I oftentimes perform. I lit some sweet smelling incense, set it on the floor, laid a folded over blanket next to it to sit on, calmly observed the swirling smoke for a few minutes...and when my mind was sufficiently cleared of other thoughts....I started to figure out how to love again.  

What would it mean to love those that offended me? What would it mean to understand them, and replace offense with compassion? What would it mean to willingly release that overhanging feeling I'd allowed to pile up inside of me by my own stubbornness? How could I change the story I'm telling myself about the offense, so that I can move on and restore connection again?

While it was a great mental exercise, and it did indeed free me quite a bit...it was missing something. Where I'd previously withdrawn, I needed to connect. I needed to go Love who was in front of me. In this case, it meant loving Mara, and our 3 cuddly puppies. I needed to finish my mental release by actually going out and doing some authentic connecting. 

So I did. And if felt good.

So the answer, while simple, takes effort...and sometimes a little preparation to clear your head and heart of the weight that at times presses upon them.

So....go love and be present for the person in front of you, and relish in the connection that is formed in that tiny world that exists in the moment the two of you share.

If anything good is to come to this world and those we love...it will begin right there.


The last few days certainly have created a space for heaviness and contemplation.What little rituals or ideas do you use to get yourself back to a place of connection?


  1. Thank you for again sharing an example of "the practice of loving" as I choose to call it sometimes. Two thoughts: 1. One of the most profound lessons I've ever learned came in the heat of trying to process why someone I love was choosing to hurt someone else I love. As I pondered and prayed for understanding, I saw dominoes in my mind's eye. The perpetrator was hurting. So they hurt another. This can go on infinitely back to the first humans, the first hurts. The one causing pain is expressing pain (pain of emotional or physical abuse or pain of ignorance, for example). Compassion started to swell within me as I tried to imagine a Love so BIG it could encompass the domino-falls-of-pain-and-aggression from the person over whom I was pondering to generations before that person's birth...I admit I couldn't quite comprehend it, but I did sense that the passing on of the aggression could end with me. I'm practicing--perfection in this is a long way off-- but visualizing the dominoes and being willing to absorb some of the energy (as the aggression affects my life) and transform it into something more helpful is a price I am trying to pay to have peace. 2. The second thought is the notion that witnessing atrocities or abuse is in itself a type of trauma. A children's book my daughter brought home from the library recently is called "Ouch! Moments." In this book I found a validation I guess I needed. When I read this, I felt a big "AMEN!" swell inside of me. The author writes: "When OUCH moments happen, who needs help? EVERYONE. The kid who is saying mean or ugly things needs help, the kid who is getting hurt needs help, and kids who saw or heard what happened need help." I loved this!! When we witness trauma, we also need to practice self care and get support. It hurts to see others get hurt. Only then can resilience be on the horizon. Just as choices can destroy life, choices can also nourish life. And as I pick myself up in the aftermath of a traumatic event, I choose to give life and arm myself with truth: I know the next trial is around the corner, and I will stumble, but I will meet it, in time, with compassion for all and shameless self-care.

    1. Sarah, I always love your thoughtful comments, for always sharing something meaningful along your own path of learning a principle. So helpful.

      And, I'm a fan of "The Practice of Loving"...I think it needs Capital letters to make it sound like it's a thing...because it is. Much love!

  2. Danny, thank you for your words, I'm giving a talk in Sacrament meeting tomorrow and I'm going to share your wisdom as part of my thoughts. Thank you for the enlightenment!

    1. Thank you Amber. I'd be curious to know what you're speaking about. Whatever the topic, glad the post offered a bit of inspiration.

  3. When there are terrorist or hate attacks, I try to remain IN LOVE energy... We always hear the "pray for the families" of the victims, which is great...but I think that we should be praying for the perpetrators, their families and entourage and also for all those who might become a perpetrator one day. The only effective answer against hate is love. The only thing that can make darkness disappear is light. We have to be the light in the world...

    When we feel attacked in a personal level (with comments, remarks, actions), I find it harder to answer so well so quickly... But there is these Buddhist anecdote that I like, in which, the assistant of a great zen Master (let's call him John) was always mocked when he was down in town. He tried not to care, but it hurt him. He told this to his Master and the Master said... " Oh, so when you go to town, they say bad things about John you feel offended? " ; "Yes , Master!", " So from now on, I will refer to you as (let's say...) Alex". So when the assistant goes to town and people are mocking John, he finds himself less affected by it and instead of being hurt, he feels compassion for those who are saying bad things of someone without knowing the someone. I try to remind me of that... to create a distance.

    I also find that whenever someone attack someone else, it's more about the attacker than the one attacked... Even when I am angry and I say something harsher to someone else and feel "entitled" to do it, if I really analyse it, it's more about my frustrated expectations than about what the person has done or not done. It's more about myself letting/putting myself in a bad position rather than being forced into a bad position by someone else... and this is kind of humbling and empowering at the same time.

    Of course, then there are situations in which your expectations are not "so personal"...as not being physically attacked, not being morally harassed, etc. Then there are tougher things, as murder, rape, abuse, etc.... Much tougher... But then I read Desmond Tutu's book: "No future without forgiveness" (which I strongly recommend to EVERYONE) and the "love and forgive" became more of an evidence. And I may say this, for I was a victim of severe abuse...

    1. Anon - just wanted to say thank you for the effort you put into both these comments. Loved what you had to say, and we are also deeply grateful for Buddhist principles that elaborate on what it means to walk a peaceful path.

      You took a lot of the words right out of my mouth :)

  4. Here are some quotes from various of his books on forgiveness:

    “What about evil, you may ask? Aren’t some people just evil, just monsters, and aren’t such people just unforgivable? I do believe there are monstrous and evil acts, but I do not believe those who commit such acts are monsters or evil. To relegate someone to the level of monster is to deny that person’s ability to change and to take away that person’s accountability for his or her actions and behavior.”

    “Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”

    “Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.”

    “Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible. We do not heal in isolation. When we reach out and connect with one another—when we tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship—our suffering begins to transform.”

    “Forgiveness is truly the grace by which we enable another person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. To not forgive leads to bitterness and hatred. Like self-hatred and self-contempt, hatred of others gnaws away at our vitals. Whether hatred is projected out or stuffed in, it is always corrosive to the human spirit.”

    Desmond Tutu

    Then, of course, there is UBUNTU:

    According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others.

    Tutu describes Ubuntu as:

    ‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

    1. You've peaked my interest in Desmond Tutu's works, thanks for turning me on to such a powerful voice.

  5. What a fantastic post. I'm in the middle of a major life transition (moving my family of 7 from London to NYC) and the stress of it all has me really down today. This advice feels relevant and encouraging to me. Right now I'm surrounded by family I wasn't able to spend much time with while living abroad, so my opportunities to give love are plentiful. Thanks.

    1. Glad this makes sense for the day to day!

  6. Hey guys! do you have any posts about fun things to do in NYC in the summer?? I'm just coming for weekend in july, so i wanted to know what the "musts" are!!! Thanks!

  7. Off topic, but can you give an update on your dogs, Sila, Pip and Rue? Thanks!


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