High in the Swiss Alps, I have felt protected from the constant stream of information about the state of the world by the beauty of the alpine meadows. The grandeur and stillness of the mountains have allowed me to feel cradled by the immense power of nature, and yet the day has arrived when I know that my sense of connection with my fellow human beings and the planet means that I can no longer turn my back on hearing how the world is faring.
As I open the BBC homepage, I am aware that I am holding my breath, as though bracing myself for the worst—images of typhoons, fires, attempted attacks on trains, migrant children caught in the middle of political and economic storms assail my eyes. The timeless purity of my surroundings vanishes in a split second and my shoulders slump as I plunge into a sense of despair and disappointment.
How can we, who have so much potential and possibility, cause such harm to each other and the planet?
I close my eyes, hoping that in the dark silence I will find an answer, but instead I find myself reliving the first moment that I experienced injustice based on something that I have no control over, the color of my skin.
At first I fight with this image, for the pain of others is far greater than this memory. But my surrender to Wisdom as the provider of answers demands that I pay attention to what arises in my inner world.
As I hear the racist taunts of the white boy, I feel the same sense of despair and rage that I feel when I see the image of the child migrants. To this image is added the smiling face of Trayvon Martin, and soon my inner landscape is full of the people who have dealt with and are dealing with oppression.
Now I am aware of how each moment of injustice that I have witnessed and my sense of impotence about what to do have created shells that have hardened my heart. I who have fought hard for a fairer, more just world cannot see a way out of the darkness. I am back in the same sense of isolation that I felt when I heard the taunts as a ten-year-old child.
But this time as I experience the same feelings, I realize that in my desperation to help others not feel the same as I felt, I have often suppressed my tears. I didn’t and still don’t want the white boy to see my tears. I will not let those that oppress see the hurt they cause.
And yet as a tear hits my chest, I know that a hard heart cannot be the answer. As the trickle turns to stream, I can feel how each tear is not just bearing witness to pain but a reminder that we are not alone.
Here a new hope arises as my heart gets tenderized by the saltiness of the tears. As Chogyam Trungpa says, “Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart.”
And so today I will let the tears fall and let the wisdom they carry shine. For this cry, it seems, might just be the cry for freedom from all that enslaves us.
Image: Ticino mountains, Switzerland (2011) by Rio Hauser, Zenith Institute