The world is overwhelming. I have been feeling small and a bit dazed in my ability to take in, process, and respond to everything that is going on right now. Is there a limit to engagement? I think there may be, although so many things feel that they require at least some level of engagement, if only to validate their urgency or gravity. But that’s difficult with a finite amount of minutes and energy, at least for me. I get the urge to nest, to disengage from the world around me, searching for quiet, maybe, or a moment of unadulterated calmness, a natural inclination for an introvert even in peaceful times, difficult to overcome in times like this. Yesterday I took a drive in the evening through western Lancaster county, a beautiful area, on ridiculous back roads filled with blind corners and S curves, remnants of dirt roads that followed property lines in simpler times. I had no goal except to experience beauty on a cool evening, finally rid of the heat and humidity of our wacky late September heat wave. Beauty isn’t hard to find, really, especially in that area, and the startling clarity of the air, the lack of the haze of humidity, the unmistakable change to the quality of sunlight in fall rendered the scenes in high-definition. In those minutes, driving through the calm predictability of Lancaster county farmland, I simply focused on breathing – well, and navigating those silly roads, forced to slow down without feeling guilty about it, for a change. I need to do that more often, walking or driving, being in the moment without analysis; it is restorative, meditative even.
Afterwards, I felt relaxed and clear-headed, at least for a while. It is a challenge to stay in that zone, though, in our media-saturated world. In my professional life, I am accustomed to the necessity of holding many, many things – too many, really – in some accessible corner of my mind, for quick access or to check off as complete (which, frankly, doesn’t happen often enough, because many of these things are ongoing.) I know a little bit about brain research from my time in education, enough to know that we can’t really multi-task as effectively as we think we can, and that stress is incredibly bad for the brain (and the body, but that’s a different story.) Both of these things tell me that I need a way to put more brain stuff away, to somehow “check more things off the list.” I don’t have much control of this at work, obviously, and honestly I don’t have a lot of hope that it will improve, so managing that will likely remain a challenge. That leaves the rest of the “world”: politics, disasters, climate change, social justice, the environment…a comprehensive list feels impossible. Caring deeply is both the superpower and the Achilles’ heel of an empath. Lest I sound self-righteous, let me clarify; empathy is a quality to cultivate and celebrate, but being an empath is a mere description, neither good nor bad, at least in my mind, providing a context in which to better understand a person’s strengths and weaknesses. In my case, it makes it difficult to let go of stuff, among other things. This, in particular, adds to the challenge of feeling overwhelmed.
For a while now I have been kicking around an idea to help me feel less powerless and more purposeful in dealing with this. It is not a new idea and most definitely not my idea. It’s merely something that feels doable to me, a shoe I might try on and find comfortable enough to keep. I’m going to try doing one small thing. I’m not going to establish a timetable, as I want to be responsive to whatever feelings I might be having in the moment, so it might happen weekly or maybe more or less frequently. I want to focus on the action of the one small thing, a way to add a check mark beside something that is troubling me at any given moment. I’m not going to define the thing, because I know that there are infinite responses that matter. I will accept that I cannot solve every problem and that I can contribute to the work of finding solutions, in any number of ways.
I’m not beating myself up here. I believe that it is my nature to want to help, to feel passionately about things that matter to me, and in my own introverted way I have often contributed to efforts to help. The difference I am hoping to achieve is to have a more purposeful approach to this, to be more responsive without being reactionary. This isn’t about me, either, although there is nothing wrong and a lot right with feeling good about helping. I must also admit that, as I’ve described, I do hope it lets me feel less powerless. Still, I want to be clear; without dwelling in platitudes, giving is its own reward. I don’t seek gratitude – I seek peace.
So, beginning today, I will complete one small thing, a donation, an act of giving of resources or time or whatever skill I have to offer to some cause that will contribute to a better world. This may be financial support sometimes, as I am in a position to do so and in many cases there are people far more skilled and able than me to “do the work,” needing only that support. However, I know myself well enough to understand that financial support alone, however necessary, is not going to feel entirely sufficient, and so I want to find more active ways to contribute as well. I want nothing in return except my own sense of being some tiny brick, a pebble even, in the path to change. I can’t do it alone, but I can contribute. I am going to share these here and on social media, although I have deep concerns about how it might be perceived. My goal in sharing is most definitely not to celebrate myself, but to celebrate the possibility of contributing in any number of ways to the greater good. I have so many friends who live this now in their daily lives, and I have no cause or desire to promote myself as a model when there are so many who do this so much better and without anybody else’s knowledge. So, I may regret sharing these things and perhaps I will stop sharing, but at least for now, I will share them in a manner that I hope comes across as I intend, which is an invitation to take my hand and join me on my journey.