Overcome any bitterness that may have come
because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain
that was entrusted to you.
Like the Mother of the world,
who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
each one of us is part of her heart,
and therefore endowed
with a certain measure of cosmic pain.
You are sharing in the totality of that pain.
You are called upon to meet it in joy
instead of self-pity.
Pir Vilayat Khan
Thich Nat Hahn was asked: "What do we need to do to save our world?" This questioners expected him to identify the best strategies to pursue in social and environmental action, but Thich Nhat Hanh's answer was this:
"What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying."
In despair work, that is what we do: we uncover our pain for the world, and honor it. We bring to awareness our deep inner responses to the suffering of our fellow beings and the progressive destruction of the natural world, our larger body. These responses include dread, rage, sorrow, and guilt. They are healthy and inevitable--and usually blocked by the pressures of daily life and fear of being overwhelmed by despair.
Now, in this first stage of the Work that Reconnects, they are allowed to surface without shame or apology. Note the term "allowed to surface." We do NOT try to instill these knowings and feelings in people; for compassion—the capacity to suffer with—already inheres in us all, like an under-ground river. All we do here is help that river come into the light of day, where its currents mingle and gain momentum. We need not scold or manipulate people into what we think they "should" be feeling if they were moral or noble; we simply help each other uncover what is already there. Only honesty is needed. Then we discover, as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, that "the pain and joy are one."
For each of us this process entails:
acknowledging our pain for the world (verbally or silently)
validating it as a wholesome response to the present crisis
letting ourselves experience this pain
being able to express it to others
recognizing how widely it is shared by others
- recognizing that it is not "crazy" but that it springs from our caring and connectedness
A note on fear of "negative thinking"
Sometimes people are reluctant to acknowledge their distress about the situation we are in, for fear of reinforcing negativity and making things incapacity to see what is actually going on. Creating a false dualism between "negative" and "positive" thoughts, it operates in the service of totalitarianism. It diverts attention from the very real world we all participate in, and cuts off the feedback necessary for the system's healing.