Back in the 1960′s, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton wrote,
Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.
He went on,
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
from ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ by Thomas Merton*
I have spent most of my 60+ years being ‘carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns.’ If the internet and email and work haven’t been enough, there has also been my natural desire to be valued by my peers and my unshakeable belief that my ‘value’ is rooted in my accomplishments, real and imagined.
Believing that, I get carried away.
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My picture of a social education activist is someone with high ideals, a person who lives their life according to principles that can serve as an example to us. This rosy picture, however, hides the high costs that can accompany a life of commitment. P. Gorski has this to say, “Activist burnout, which causes activists to disengage from their activism, is a formidable barrier to the sustainability of social justice movements, including those focused on social justice in educational contexts. However, the cultures of these movements often disregard the importance of self-care, seeing it as self-indulgence, putting activists at even higher risks of burnout.” Read the rest of Gorski’s article, “Relieving Burnout and the ‘‘Martyr Syndrome’’ Among Social Justice Education Activists: The Implications and Effects of Mindfulness” in the Urban Rev (2015) 47:696–716 DOI 10.1007/s11256-015-0330-0
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, or CCARE, is part of Stanford’s School of Medicine. It was established and directed by Dr. James Doty, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, with the explicit goal of “promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.”
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Troubling times. They come in all shapes and sizes: the personal – a missed exam, a fractured friendship – and the global – a civil war, a devastating earthquake. How does one find the courage, the enthusiasm, and the joy, to go forward when confronted by troubles beyond our control?
Writing in the Tricycle blog (“In The Spirit of Service”), well-known author and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, describes a path for cultivating an open heart that combines service and meditation and service. On the topic of meditation, she describes practices for cultivating mental states that “foster a connection to our own inherent capacity for wisdom and love. They put us in contact with a world beyond the moment-to-moment fixations of our mind.”