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When the world is overwhelming - take a breath

The world is an overwhelming place. Things are happening that are beyond belief. People are suffering.

The world is an overwhelming place. Things are happening that are beyond belief. People are suffering. How can I help? How can this one person act out of compassion, with all my prejudices, unconscious habits of thought, and lack of expertise in so many areas: of Treaties; reconciliation; racism; welcoming refugees, and their long term settlement into the 2nd and 3rd generations; global warming; ecological destruction; and financial collapse. How can I have any positive effect in such a messed up world?

More and more, even when we may actively avoid the news, we are still faced with horrific events and predictions for the future. We need ways to deal with this in order to function.  Avoidance is one way to deal, and we are all pretty expert at this in many different forms. But for many of us avoidance is only a temporary measure. For many of us, there is a deep need to be awake to what is happening in the world as well as a need to feel alive and well in our own bodies, not medicated or distracted into oblivion.

In order to bring balance, healing, and insight into my life, the thing that I come back to again and again is the breath. I simply drop everything, and breathe. When you sit in meditation focussed on the breath, in a comfortable supported pose, your body can relax, your gut unwind, and even the muscles in the face can let go. Aaaaaah… All those tiny muscles that hold your facial expression in place like a mask, can let go with relief. The eyes relax, the muscles around the ears let down their guard, the jaw cracks a little and settles.  This settling brings attention to the throat.

The humble throat is often forgotten. Here is where we may hold fear, and unspoken sadness or pain or joy. It is the home of our voice. This voice is the one we use every day for conversation, for communication at work, for expressing our anger, our love. It is also the voice of our intention – what am I doing in this world that has meaning? How do my voice and my silence affect others, affect my purpose, affect my life’s journey?  What important things have I not said, in what ways have I been a bystander, silent or silenced?

As my throat relaxes, and I continue breathing in and breathing out, I notice how close my throat is to my heart. My heart swells with the love and pain and joy that are its natural reactions to life. As I breathe into my chest, a mixture of sweet sorrow, of painful love arises. Today my heart is moved by the plight of refugees, of those caught up in war, of those young men in the American military who play video games with real people’s lives on the other side of the world.  I breathe in the pain of war and ignorance, and breathe out love, respect, forgiveness, wisdom.

My body and mind calm, I can stay with this meditation for as long as is needed.

For a while now, I have been looking for the voice of wisdom in the mainstream world, and not finding it. Today I know that it is up to each of us to grow our own wisdom. It is a skill that can be learned. I can breathe, be present in my heart, allow my consciousness to shift to one of inclusion, connectedness, and creativity, and from here act and speak skillfully for the benefit of all beings.

Soshin McMurchySoshin McMurchy is a junior priest with Zenwest Buddhist Society,, and serves as the Buddhist Chaplain with the University of Victoria Multifaith Services. She works part-time at the Greater Victoria Public Library and lives in Victoria with her partner of 38 years.

You can read more articles on our interfaith log, Spiritually Speaking HERE