How To Stay Open-Hearted In A World With So Much Suffering

How To Stay Open-Hearted In A World With So Much Suffering Hero Image

Because you're reading this article on MindBodyGreen, I already know something about you. You are on some stage of the journey to being a more connected, healthier, environmentally aware and open-hearted person.

I am a long-term meditator, vegetarian, and environmentalist, and I want to share something with you that very few people will ever talk about.

Having an open heart and a hyper-conscious mind can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

What does that mean?

Well, you'll be healthier and feel more vibrant and alive but, you will also become more hyper-aware and emotionally sensitive to all the bad stuff that’s going on, too.

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For instance, when you choose to eat more organic vegetables, you inevitably become more aware of the diabetes epidemic and farming practices that degrade the environment.

Or how about when you go to yoga or start exercising, you become more aware of all the issues you have around and within your body, which in turn makes you even more aware of deep rifts of discrimination and shaming that exist in our culture?

When you meditate, you will feel deeply connected and in love with everyone around you, which is wonderful — except when those people suffer or live in a country at war.

How many times do people burst out crying in their first yoga class? They can be tears of joy and release but regardless, they’re still tears. When I teach returned military people to meditate, I’ve learned that it’s essential to give them their own room for their first meditation sitting. The toughest guys and girls in the world will almost always break down crying when they face their own opening heart.

I think of us —  the people who are greening our bodies and minds —  as the vanguard of a peaceful revolution that will define our culture over the next century. Our openness and awareness are our strengths, but these qualities also make it even more essential to be conscious about where we put our energy and attention.

Here’s how I do that in a few practical steps:

1. Remind yourself that you were born for these times.

Your life is meaningful. Sometimes you’ll feel like you are guided by a higher power and sometimes you have to create that meaning for yourself, but either way the world is a better place by virtue of you being here.

When there are big challenges in the world like global warming, war and poverty you can choose to be a part of the solution in both big and small ways. Adversity can make heroes of us. The Dalai Lama would have preferred that Tibet never got invaded. Harriet Tubman would have preferred to not be born a slave. You might prefer your circumstances to be easier too, but you were born now and you were born for action.

2. Remember that you are not alone.

We’re a community of amazing people and we also have amazing leaders. We need to get together more often and reach out to one another and get connected. So take a few minutes to be amazed at how great your yoga teacher is, or how dedicated the organic farmers are who grew your food.

That stuff is hard work and the people who do it are on your side. If you're an environmentalist, think about the fact that we have a billionaire, physics genius trying to solve sustainable transport on our side. Are you concerned about global health? How about this guy who, at 40, transformed himself from an overweight, former alcoholic to one of the fittest guys on earth.

These are two of my current inspirations. Who are yours? Reach out, get inspired, and get connected. Whether it’s the people staffing your neighborhood organic farm stand, or people who get invited to give TED talks you’ve got a community. Be a part of it.

3. Take small steps and build on success.

What do sustainable lifestyles, lean muscle, healthy diets and a society based on love and acceptance all have in common?

They all take time to build. The world’s problems were not created overnight nor will they be solved overnight.

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by thinking you have to solve everything at once. The best way to solve big problems is to break them into smaller problems.

Remember that everything is connected, so small actions like eating fresh, local, organic vegetables for one meal a day will improve the health of migrant farm-workers, reduce fossil fuel use, improve marine ecosystems, reduce your likelihood of heart disease and save the life of an animal.

Meditate for one minute.

Plant a vegetable seed and grow it organically until you can eat it.

Bike to work one day a week.

These small changes will start to become fun and you’ll be amazed as they build slowly into bigger things and eventually become a lifestyle. In a few years you’ll be living in your solar-powered, eco-home surrounded by a loving community of entrepreneurial, vegan, yogis who are having fun and making a living by saving the world. I hope I’m living next door to you.