“Buckle up; we’re in for a bumpy ride this year. With the impeachment trial, the Democratic primaries, a presidential campaign that’s sure to be blistering (and probably embarrassing), and all the revelations, crises, and nastiness that are sure to arise, we have to be prepared for anything and everything.”
Buckle up; we’re in for a bumpy ride this year. With the impeachment trial, the Democratic primaries, a presidential campaign that’s sure to be blistering (and probably embarrassing), and all the revelations, crises, and nastiness that are sure to arise, we have to be prepared for anything and everything. Keeping our heads above water is going to require discipline and strength.
I’ve made a personal resolution to constantly seek a pragmatic balance between spiritual self-protection and engaged citizenship. I’m urging everyone I know to make a similar commitment.
My protection motto is a reversal of Timothy Leary’s famous dictum from the Sixties. Instead of “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” it’s “Turn off, tune out, and drop in.” Meaning that, as often as possible while also staying well-informed, I will turn off the TV and all my devices, tune out the constant clamor of news (both fake and real), shouting pundits, and belligerent tweeters, posters, and wannabe influencers, and drop in to the silent space within.
It’s the third part of the equation that makes this strategy something more than merely taking some downtime and seeking out entertainment and diversion. Not that we don’t need the respite of ordinary pleasures. But we stand to benefit most from deep dives into the spacious interior. All the great spiritual traditions tell us that the most dependable, safe, and accessible sanctuary is not something we have to locate or search for like an emergency shelter, or something to be obtained like a medicine or a massage. It doesn't have to be acquired or built. We already have it. It’s inside us, at the core of our being. The refuge of stillness is our inherent nature. It is the true Self, closer than our breath and nearer than our heartbeat. Some call it the soul.
The traditions also provide roadmaps to that sanctuary and methods for unlatching its entrance. We have names for those methods, like meditation, prayer, contemplation, and mindfulness. And these days we have access to such a broad range of practices that it’s relatively easy—if we can avoid being overwhelmed by the daunting number of choices—to establish an effective practice routine and acquire an inventory to draw from as our needs and circumstances dictate.
I can’t think of a more crucial imperative in these stressful days, when we are constantly pulled outward by powerful forces. Not only our spiritual development but our health and our mental and emotional well-being depend on it.
The fate of our nation may also depend on it. If I were to add a fourth element to “Turn off, tune out, drop in,” it might be “pitch in.” When we emerge from our temporary retreats and return to the material world physically refreshed and spiritually revitalized, it seems imperative that we do something by way of lending a hand.
Spiritual practice is not merely a refuge, and it is certainly not an excuse for complacency or indifference. The world is in a perilous condition. We are all needed, and the ones who are needed most are those who are in touch with the infinite intelligence at the silent source of creation, and who therefore bring to their actions an added measure of peace, wisdom, compassion, empathy, and love.
I run into an increasing number of people who want to contribute in some way to the healing of the world, but don’t know where to direct their energy. They feel helpless. They feel that nothing they can do would make a dent. I don’t have an answer for them. The truth is, I often feel the same way. But I do know these things: 1) Anything that adds a scintilla of happiness, health, security, justice, and comfort to even one person’s life is vital; 2) Every form of service serves the server—research clearly shows that helping others and contributing to something beyond our own self-interest is good for our physical, mental, and spiritual health; and 3) The best kind of service is one that is compatible with the server’s personality, values, and predilections. “Don't ask yourself what the world needs,” said Howard Thurman, the theologian and pastor, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
2020 is bound to be crazy. It brings with it a demand for both sanctuary and involvement. The challenges ahead are a clarion call for people with peaceful presence, inner strength, clarity of vision, and big, open hearts. And the most reliable source for all of that is the Divine refueling station within us all.