These are without doubt turbulent and deeply uncertain times.
Just days ago Japan was hit by one of the biggest earthquakes and tsunamis in recorded history, leaving the world in a state of shock. The devastation sadly continues as I write this. This is not an isolated blip either: in the past few years extreme weather and geological instability has increased exponentially. Apparently between 2006 and the end of 2010 there has been a 75% increase in earthquakes, and a similar increase in volcanic activity as well.
And it's not just the planet that's in turmoil - it's the people living upon it as well. In the past few weeks both Tunisia and Egypt have undergone revolutions, with deeply revolutionary unrest continuing in Libya and other parts of the middle east. The rest of the world has not been immune to this revolutionary fervour either, with civil unrest even in comparatively stable countries such as the UK, USA and Ireland.
So what do we do when the world around us is in a state of chaos?
It's normal and natural to react to a terrible occurrence with a measure of shock. Our reactions and the pain we feel motivates us to take action and do what needs to be done. However, problems can set in when we get caught in a kind of feedback loop. This is something the media tends to cause and exacerbate and I feel it's unhealthy and destructive.
When something bad happens, it's best to avoid doing what the majority of people do. It's almost as though people are programmed to respond to chaos in a certain way. They stay glued to the news, which continually feeds images of devastation, violence and heartbreak. This feeds the cloud of despair and shock that almost tangibly hangs in the air, getting larger and larger the more it's 'fed'. People also like to talk with others about how terrible the situation is...which, it may indeed be. The suffering and devastation is indeed heartbreaking and it's necessary to acknolwedge and witness the feelings it brings up in us.
But I also feel we have to pull ourselves out of our knee-jerk reactions of shock, despair and fear and recalibrate ourselves. Instead of continually fixating on images of the outward dissolution and disintegration of form (which was always so incredibly fragile and fleeting in spite of its illusion of solidity), we can instead turn our attention inward and seek that which is beyond form...that which can never be harmed or diminished in any way.
When the world around us is crumbling, we must go within and find our centre. The importance of doing this cannot be overstated. It's not something that comes naturally to the vast majority of people - it's something we have to consciously do.
This formless background upon which the ephemeral objects of this world come and go is eternal, untouchable and ungraspable and yet it's there if only we take a moment to connect with it. For want of a better term, I'll call it the Tao. It is the source of this world; the page upon which the words of this world are written, the very space which allows objects to exist.
There are many different pointers to help one discover and reconnect with this inner vastness. Some people find that quieting the perpetual chatter of the mind allows them to access this state of inner stillness and aliveness. I find it easiest to become aware of being aware, turning awareness toward itself, enquiring 'what am I?', 'what is it that's conscious?', 'what is it that is awake and aware at this moment?', 'what is it that's looking out of these eyes?'
Becoming aware of what we truly are beyond the surface-level movements of mind and beyond whatever is happening in the outer world creates what has been termed 'coherence', a state that can actually now be scientifically measured. Psychological and physiological disharmony dissolve as we reconnect and anchor ourselves in this inner reservoir of awareness/peace/being and we are automatically centred, strengthened and sustained. Coherence is catching. Peace has a habit of spreading.
The world is free to do its thing...which it's going to do anyway, whether we like it or not. From this deeper perspective we are just witnesses, observing the play of form in all its wonder and terror.
"But wait a minute...isn't it selfish going on a bliss-trip when the planet is in chaos and people are suffering and dying?"
There's often an unconscious assumption that if we don't suffer along with others we're cold, heartless and unfeeling. Some people seem to feel that if we aren't constantly glued to the news, trying to glean as much information as we can about a disaster, then we're almost letting down those that are suffering. Yet if you've ever been in a crisis, you know that the people that are of the most help are those that remained balanced, centred and who don't allow the stress of the situation to sweep them into shock, panic or despair. Those reactions, though natural and understandable, have a crippling effect and are completely unhelpful. In order to help in a crisis, you must first transcend it.
Getting swept up in the chaos and trauma simply adds more chaos and trauma to the world. It creates greater disharmony and incoherence. Scientists and mystics agree that we are all interconnected and inseparable from the whole. It's therefore not unreasonable to assume that our state of being must have some kind of an effect on the whole. My personal feeling is that spending all our day focussing on devastation, conflict and violence may actually energise the disturbance and might even perpetuate or worsen the very conditions we're upset about.
If, on the other hand, we remain centred, balanced and in a state of peace (or at least acceptance), then we are emanating the qualities of peace and coherence to the whole. This can only have a positive effect. Again I am brought back to Nisargadatta's statement that we can only save the world by transcending the world.
It's likely that the geological and social/political upheaval our world is experiencing will continue. In the end it may even be necessary for our continued survival as a species. We have created and unsustainable and self-destructive system that simply has to change. We can do it the easy way or the hard way. I think the majority of people are still too deeply asleep to see the choice that's before us, so it's likely we will be forced to wake up and forced to change.
Is this nature's way of bringing us to our knees? Sometimes it takes a disaster of epic proportions to shake us out of our slumber and make us realise...heck, I'm alive! But I'm destroying myself and the planet. What do I have to do to change? The human race has never done things the easy way and alas I can't see that changing anytime soon.
Ultimately it's all just a process. From the perspective of the Tao, the world of form and objects comes and goes...things happen, then change...things happen, then change again. Good things happen, bad things happen. The Tao doesn't manipulate or cling in any way. That's not to say it's cold and aloof, for it is intimately connected with everything. It embraces the entirety, the whole, with wide open arms, judging nothing. (How can it judge? All is part of the overall process and no seemingly separate component can be judged on its own merit).
I feel we are being invited to do the same. Find the Tao within yourself and surrender to it. Let it live through you. Let it observe, with an open mind and open heart, doing what it can when it can, allowing, witnessing, being. By finding the stillness within and embodying and BEING that stillness, we give a tremendous gift to this world. It is a gift of transcendence and transformation.