A few readers of this column recently asked if I could recommend a website or two where they could turn to gain insight regarding some issues they were dealing with at the time.
One of the first places that I consult when seeking balance and clarity, is a web-space I’ve mentioned on occasion known as “On Being.” The reason that I’ve chosen to refer to it as a “web-space” is because I view it as a layered content resource, housing various “families of thought,” rather than a singular perspective, as many websites tend to offer.
Those folks familiar with “On Being” most likely came to appreciate its value as I had nearly a decade and a half ago, through the weekly radio broadcast via American Public Media carried nationally on many NPR stations. Originally titled “Speaking of Faith,” its host, Krista Tippett, a journalist and former diplomat, saw an opening where a need for intelligent and thought-provoking conversations with diverse guests from around the globe, something well worth pursuing on a regular basis.
“On Being” has since evolved into a multidimensional entity, now encompassing several other components including the Civil Conversations Project — essays, columns, poetry and numerous collections of thematic archival material dating back to the original programs. I have a tendency to gravitate towards the featured columnists, where I often finding meaningful, informative interpretations for some of life’s more challenging issues.
Along with Parker J. Palmer, Sharon Salzberg is one of “On Being”’s most recognizable writers. As a sought-after author, meditation teacher, and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, Salzberg brings to the table a wealth of experiential wisdom and calm. One of her essays from last year titled “How to Hold Hope Lightly,” I found to be particularly relevant, and I wanted to share it with readers.
Right from the start, Ms. Salzberg lets others know that they’re not alone in their futility by stating: “It has been very hard not to get lost in the chaos and it takes strength not to dwell there. As with so many, I yearn for peace and stability and a lot less anger and hate, but I know I cannot achieve those things on my own.”
She also reveals that, in the Buddhist tradition, there lies skepticism when it comes to embracing the concept of hope wholeheartedly. Hope represents a deficit of sort, and therefore becomes an ideal in which we struggle to achieve a particular end result. She also emphasizes the importance of viewing the bigger picture with composure when offering: “Equanimity reminds us that what is happening in front of us is not the end of the story. It is just what we can see. Instead of being frightened of change, with equanimity, we can see its benefits and put our daily existence in a broader context.”
Ms. Salzberg offers two examples of where she finds solace without clinging to the expectation of a desired consequence. The first is that all situations are temporary — whatever we may be dealing with at the present moment; it too shall pass.
Second is the important role that community plays when it comes to experiencing difficult times. By communicating with one another our fears, our ambivalence, our frustrations, we collectively begin a process of extraction, which subsequently reduces the potency the current conditions dictate.
To emphasize the latter point, she shares a poignant anecdote of a friend who has been struggling with the decline of her aging father. Feeling very much alone in her personal circumstance, her friend has embarked upon a daily swimming routine in order to relieve some of the stress. It has helped, to a certain degree, yet during a recent session she found her mind drifting back to the needs of her father. Ironically, when she entered the large Jacuzzi afterwards, she found three others discussing the same subject that had occupied her very thoughts throughout the swim.
After listening to the exchange for a while, her friend felt comfortable enough to share her own burden with the small group, and one of the women gave her sound advice that she could leave with. It was in a moment of connectedness, between strangers sharing a similar concern, that she found some manageable support.
Ms. Salzberg ends the piece with the following salient recommendation: “Live according to your values and intentions, while knowing that you may not always succeed in your aspirations. The actions you are taking are honorable and those feelings of despair and inadequacy are part of the human condition. When you find community with others, you know you are doing the best you can with what you have.”
This, she emphatically states, “is the buoyancy of hope, not the burden.”