Global alarm bells sound urgently. Everywhere people concerned about climate change are calling for immediate, radical action. In these times, how best to respond and serve with integrity? I have been tussling mightily with this question, waking up at night thinking about it. A good friend of mine revels in front-line activism and campaigns vigorously for fundamental systemic change on social and environmental issues. A vibrant elder, she embodies the model of a social justice warrior in both personality and action. She does much good. I admire her greatly. Yet each time I try to mirror her ways of thinking and her actions, my heart sinks and I feel drained of vital energy.
What is going on? Am I wimping out? Or do I trust the inner voice that quietly tells me “Her way is not your way.”
What is my way? Over the past few years, I have experienced a tidal shift from an outward-focused orientation to an inner one. After spending much of my life actively doing things to meet others’ expectations, I now find my natural energies turning inward to reflective contemplation. Could it be that contemplation — and the slow ‘non-doing’ it seems to require — serves as an important and necessary counterbalance to the hyperactivity of our present world? The poets remind us of this time and again. Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” My deep gladness lies in contemplation and mindful appreciation, in sharing my expressive talents through writing, music and poem-speaking. And yes, there is also a deep gladness in heeding a moral call, such as taking responsible actions, including uncomfortable ones, for the well-being of the earth and our fellow creatures.
Honouring both the inward call to contemplation and the moral call to outward action generates a tension that I am slowly recognizing is healthy in its discomfort. That tension calls on me to pay close attention to my motives for doing or not doing something; to risk action or non-action depending on the insistent echo of my inner voice; to be willing, as my teacher Kim Rosen counsels, “to be misheard, misunderstood, and unseen” if that means staying true to myself.
This poem from Rumi reminds me, wisely, that the call to be true to myself is by necessity incomplete, because we human beings are always stepping from question to answer to question in our unfolding growth.
A Voice Through the Door
Sometimes you hear a voice through
through the door calling you, as fish out of
water hear the waves or a hunting
falcon hears the drum’s come back.
This turning toward what you deeply love
saves you. Children fill their
shirts with rocks and carry them
around. We’re not children anymore.
Read the book of your life which has
been given you. A voice comes to
your soul saying, Lift your foot;
cross over; move into the emptiness
of question and answer and question.
~ Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks