A few days ago, I wrote this post. Leo read it and said it was incomplete. I knew it was, and I’ll explain a bit more about that in a moment, but I felt that these questions of mine needed to be honored for what they are. In other words, I haven’t convinced myself of these feelings of despair. But, this marananussati bhavana, the Buddhist term for “contemplation on death” needed to be just that.
The reasons for this are two-fold, as far I as can see right now. In my mindfulness of death, I am in the process of confronting my attachment to results. As an activist, I desperately want to see that what I’m doing means something, that what I’m doing will bring about some kind of perceptible change in the way that people and all creatures live on this planet. The reality is that I may never see the new world that I think I’m working toward. In a letter to a young activist (thanks to my friend, Adam, for posting this on my Facebook wall after reading my previous and depressing blog), Thomas Merton says, “When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on… you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.” Not only may my work achieve no result, but it may have the opposite effect? Things might get worse?? Thanks, Tom!
How can my response to this be anything other than simply (read: simply, not necessarily easily!) letting go? It doesn’t make any logical sense to forget about the results. Why would I keep doing what I’m doing if I don’t think or have hope that things will get better? There has to be some kind of inherent value to the actions I make.
Do good for the sake of doing good.
As Merton writes, “The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths.”
The other reason I needed (and will continue to need) to go into this contemplation on death, to become more intimate with what feels dark and scary and sad to me, is to expand my capacity to hold that sadness. My heart is busted open over and over and over again as I move on this planet that carries so much suffering. Every time I think I can’t possibly take in more of the pain and hurt, one last drop of sadness breaks my heart. But, then, something magical happens. I find that not only do I now have a greater ability to understand and carry sadness, but I also have an expanded container for joy. For, unlike a shattered static thing, my heart is more like a shelled creature that can and does grow beyond its former casing.