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Insight and Practices for Difficult Times

We are in a race between fear and consciousness. We live in strange times unlike any I’ve seen before in my lifetime. Never before, in my country and other developed countries, have forces of greed hatred and ignorance enjoyed such a platform of populist divisiveness that instills fear and separation throughout society, endangering our very civilization. Never before has the planet faced annihilation and self-destruction because of humanity’s shortsightedness and ignorance.

At the same time, never before has there been as much caring and worldwide commitment to making this a better world. Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest estimates between one and two million non-profit organizations and groups dedicated to making this a better world. As my friend, Bob Doppelt a leading voice in addressing Climate Disruption says, “The Dharma holds the key to turning all of this around.”

In these times we’re called upon to bring as much consciousness, love and skillful action as we can into the world. How can we use our practice to stay sane, positive and motivated while keeping our hearts open and even be ambassadors of joy? We can use Buddhist practices to not help us through these challenging times but to give the energy and aliveness that can help awaken all the goodness inside and in those around us. That awakened goodness and caring is the perfect the energy to make a positive difference in the world. .

Part of this process is getting in touch with the intention to see your practice in the context of benefitting others. I mention in my book Awakening Joy about having a college existential crisis where everything in life seemed pointless. After some time I finally came to the realization that the one thing that could give life meaning was to bring happiness to others. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my own version of the classic Bodhisattva Vow, where you make the commitment to yourself to relieve the suffering of others around you. It is a very powerful promise that leads one in the direction of a meaningful and joyful life. At this time we more than ever need mindfulness practitioners to see their practice in this light. I invite you to create your own Bodhisattva Vow by following this exercise from the book:

  1. You can make up your own version of a vow to relieve suffering in the world. The basic principle is seeing your own happiness in the context of how it can benefit others and the world.
  2. Take a few moments to ask yourself what words would sincerely convey that wish in a way that uplifts your heart. For instance, you might say something along the lines of May my happiness lead to the happiness of others or the healing of the planet.
  3. When you’ve found the phrase that resonates with you, silently state those words as a promise to yourself, connecting with the sincerity of intention they express.
  4. Notice how your body and mind feel as you do this.

Continue to hold your dharma practice in this context when you meditate and in all you daily life activities.