Scaling the imagination

The latest shock story is circulating.

As we have seen with compassion fatigue, there is clearly a disjuncture between the scale of what comes our way – starvation of millions, war casualties, animal cruelty, entire villages wrecked – and our emotional, cognitive and affective responses. We can be as humanitarian as the next soul, but dinner must be cooked, the children dressed, the garden tended. And in this gap, this moment, we can assume it’s a lack of care or concern or compassion that is the cause. It’s a reflex, and it is based on our tendency to draw conclusions based on what we can see, feel and touch.

It is not the lack of compassion necessarily, or rather, it is not a lack inside us. It is the web in which we are woven, the sticky netting of our ideologies, relations, patterns, regulations, policies, institutions. We spend much of our lives navigating this web, this netting, as gracefully as possible. And we don’t always do so well.

I believe compassion for scale may be of some value here. On seeing Joan Halifax address the need to not only support, but activate compassion, she identifies the enemies of compassion we negotiate: fear, moral outrage. She may as well mention anxiety, as anxieties are what feed and fuel our protective membranes against the suffering of our world, ourselves, thoughts on the sidewalks we pass each day. Anxiety that is silent, unconscious, felt in our body perhaps but more often, it courses through us and is not known. It is only seen once it’s run the course, in the form of projection, denial, self-hate, guilt, or the love of distractions. The dazzle. The fireworks.

What I’m saying is that we need to appreciate the scale of the issues we face, the affect of these images, and have compassion. Joan Halifax’s compassion is not sweet, sentimental or coddling. Heck no. Hers is a fierce fire of compassion, fueled by the need to cut through illusion: to wake up.

Let us wake ourselves and each other up: gently, firmly, gracefully. We will falter, but we must try.

1 Comment

  1. Sharon Heath

    Renee, I’m holding your spot-on image of the “sticky netting” of our lived lives side-by-side with my own appreciation of the meaningfulness of the Hindu myth of Indra’s Web, in which each dangling jewel mirrors every other jewel in the web. Your words are a helpful reminder of the shadow-side of Indra’s Heaven. Taken together, as you say, compassionately – reflectively acknowledging our interwoven anxieties in the face of a shared set of challenges so very large in scale – offers the possibility of moving in the direction of hope for world-repair and self-healing. Thank you for articulating so elegantly the real task that awaits us when we rise up each morning in these awful, awe-filled days.


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