I was walking through the amazing Washington Square Park on my way to lead a meditation for climate activists the other day, and I was feeling so amazed with the trees and the grass and the park. I felt joy. But then I thought, How is it right to feel joy right now when what is happening on climate is so sad?
That got me thinking about the relationship between my awe for existence and my sadness in general, over the state of the world or anything else. I wondered about this for myself, of course, but also because I was due to lead this meditation at an Xtinction Rebellion action and to give a talk that same night at Greenpeace‘s New York City office. What should I say about feeling good, even though things were sad?
In climate action contexts and many others (like raising teenagers, I’ve discovered!), the question of how not to get completely stopped by despair comes up. Actually, that question comes up in all areas of life. How do I function with my sadness? Those trees in the park that give me joy that day in the park pointed to one answer. That answer, for me, is awe.
Awe, as I define it, is when I let all the information of this moment come flooding in without passing through the gates of my judgments and opinions. It is like that look you sometimes see on a baby’s face when their eyes get big and they look around all kind of gaga.
It is when I let just the thus-ness of this moment exist. Right now, for me, as I type, that thus-ness includes the jackhammer outside my window and its sound and my experience and the plain being of it all. It is just like this!!
One of my favorite short spiritual texts is called Trust In Mind (Hsin Shin Ming) by Tseng Ts’an, the third in the family tree of Zen masters. He lived in China and taught in the Seventh Century. You can find a great translation of Trust In Mind by my friend Stan Lombardo here.
The first stanza goes:
The Great Way is not difficult:
Just don’t pick and choose.
Cut off all likes or dislikes
And it is clear like space.
When I look without judgment and dislikes and opinions, even a world with climate change is awe-inspiring. Even the sadness I feel is awe-inspiring. The very existence of sadness is awe-inspiring.
Then, that awe, gives me the energy to act on my climate sadness. I can go help in some way. It does not take away my sadness but transforms my relationship to it. Awe transforms sadness into action:
Awe is not a place of immobility. I am not supposed to just go “It’s all so amazing!” and be gaga like the baby and leave it at that. I am supposed to let that amazingness flow through me and find its actual function.
Take time to feel awe. When you are talking to someone. When you hear a plane in the sky. When you feel the crisp air in your nose.
Sadness gives awe its purpose and function–to help. Awe gives sadness its energy–to act.
Sadness + Awe = Compassionate Action
Together, they are so powerful!!