Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Just how courageous are you?

Spider and web, Chiang Rei, Thailand, November 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/320 sec @ f5.0, ISO 64, with flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Do you think you are brave? Courageous? Willing to take a stand? Fight for your principles? Take on injustice?

Well, here’s another view.

That’s not really the hard path. The hard path — where courage is really needed — is to accept that adversity as a fact of life. To be present in the face of the suffering for which you are all ready to take up the good fight.

We all seem to think that the world should be somehow different than it is. And, being good citizens, and very altruistic, we would like to be a force for that change, right? Social activists. Politically involved. Green consumers. Back to nature. Anti-war. Truth and justice.

Well, what if that was the wrong first step? What if that fundamental premise — that the world should be different than it is — puts us on the slippery slope of right/wrong, good/evil, us/them. Do you see it?

Consider this a test. You can feel your inherent reaction to this idea. Let go of that. Expand your thinking. Open your eyes and your mind.

I think the question, then, is can you be so courageous as to be present for another’s pain and suffering, or your own. Accept the fact that life will deal you happiness, sorrow, and everything in between, and it is NOT your job to change things.

Maybe now you can see just how hard this task will be. And why it will require such an act of bravery.
”As long as we are caught up in always looking for certainty and happiness, rather than honoring the taste and smell and quality of exactly what is happening, as long as we’re always running away from discomfort, we’re going to be caught in a cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, and we will feel weaker and weaker. This way of seeing helps us to develop inner strength.”
-- Pema Chödrön


Anonymous said...

Taoist concept goes like this:

Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.
If you tamper with it, you ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you lose it.

Anonymous said...

This Thomas Merton quote is also interesting and connected me thinks, with this blog entry:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times.

Steven Crisp said...


These are both excellent points. This is one area I find so counter-intuitive (or even contradictory). We see suffering in the world, and wish to alleviate it. Indeed, isn't that one aspect of the boddhisatva vow?

And yet we see the wisdom of these points you make, and the need to find acceptance with what is. Or perhaps better, the "reality" of what is.

Thanks for your insights. I need to continue to contemplate this area.

Avantika said...

Thats a great question - should we choose to accept things as they are, or should we try to change them?
I was disappointed to learn,through my own experiences,that as much as we try, we can't really improve the world much.
In the sense that, we may,for example,set up a cottage industry for poor women to become empowered,but it may not mean they become happy.
or we might provide health care free to the poor, but that doesn't mean they become free from suffering.
Or we may want economic progress to eradicate poverty and it may bring along with it a whole Pandora's box of new problems.
So (in very basic terms) people become happy when they are free from suffering,and that is something that each individual must do - you can't do it for anyone else.
But at the same time, if you try to help other people you save yourself a lot of pain that stems from selfishness.
And the bottomline,at least for me, seems to be that doing something altruistic seems like a better thing to do than spending an entire lifetime chasing my self interests.
Feeding the homeless,reading to the blind,talking to an elderly person,recycling everything...they will bring about no revolution.
But they somehow feel like a better thing to do than spend my life consuming endlessly,mindless entertainment,hoarding wealth and chasing bigger salaries.

Steven Crisp said...


So good to hear from you again. And what a lovely post. As Henry Higgins said to Eliza Doolittle, "I think she's got it. I think she's got it.
By George, she's got it. "

You have given me an 'aha' moment. Perhaps it should have been obvious (they usually are).

One doesn't help others for the purpose of changing the world. But becuase it is the right thing to do. Not for them. But for us.

It does really come down to working on oneself. Not for self interest, but as you note, to awaken ourselves and reduce our own suffering in the world.

And by doing so, we will know what actions are appropriate. Not to save the world, but because they are the right thing to do.

The focus needs to be NOT on the "ends", but on the "means". If we take "right action" as the Buddha might say, the ends will take care of themselves.

So do not focus on the end result. Work to awaken, and then from that place, you will want to offer your compassion at each important juncture. Will it change the world? Who knows? (Well, actually, yes, as every action you take does.)

Thanks you so much Avantika for your visit and comment. You seem wise beyond your years.