Statue of Shiva with hands in prayer - Hope for the devastatedAnyone with half a heart likely feels that the news of the past year has been excruciating. So many people around the world have been torn from their homes by war and wind, fire and earthquakes, politics, starvation. The Earth and her people are undergoing a rough shaking of epic proportions. Some might say it’s particularly extraordinary that Mother Earth and her children should experience such an upheaval at the same time—the perfect storm.

This reminds me of those who’ll say of someone who’s suffering from an illness, “but it seems more psychosomatic than a physical.” As if you could separate the head from the body. If the body suffers, the head must as well, and if the head suffers, the body will follow suit. This is true of the inhabitants of Earth and their mother. Of course, her distress will affect us and ours will affect her. How could we think otherwise? Just as there’s no such thing as a solely psychosomatic disease, there’s no such thing as an autonomous earthling. While we’re here, we’re part of an indivisible whole.

Praying for influential people

My friend Sarah and I were talking about the news the other day. As Americans, we were amazed at the storms and devastation to our Southern shores and neighbouring islands, as well as the earthquakes, the mass upheaval in so many nations around the world, and our own recent mass shooting. We lamented the political news in our country: the division in Washington, D.C., the pettiness, the lack of compassion, the inability to pass sensible gun regulations. I feared that we were spiralling, unable to stop the downward trend of our conversation.

I then thought of a time, several years ago, when I was particularly involved in thinking about the great tragedy of extreme poverty around the world, when there was so much absurdly unnecessary wealth in this country, in just a few pockets. This thinking led me to Bill Gates, and the fact that he had more money than many governments. “Just think of what that man could do for life on the planet,” I thought, “if he began to give with focused attention.”

I decided to pray for Mr. Gates to open his heart and wallet and begin to help alleviate some of the suffering caused by extreme poverty.

At some point I told a friend about my prayer campaign, and she chided me, trying to convince me that everything in life was perfectly planned and correct, and that Mr. Gates could do with his money what he pleased.

“Hmph,” I answered and went home to pray with even more fervour.

I don’t take full credit for Bill’s change of heart. His wife Melinda might deserve a tad more of the kudos than I, but ever since this miracle, I’ve tried to focus my prayers for enlightenment on specific people, some with too much money and others with too much power.

At this point, I’ve prayed for dozens of individuals, including judges, politicians and world leaders. I pray that their hearts will be opened. I’ve also prayed for billionaires, CEOs and religious leaders. I try and have one or two going at the same time. This morning, I prayed for a Supreme Court justice and the widow of a billionaire.

The awakening of the individual soul

I have, for many years, believed that life has much more to do with the awakening of the individual soul than the movement of the masses towards enlightenment. Seeing a disaster—such as the one that occurred during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—as not so much happening to three and a half million people, but to each individual soul involved, allows me to pray with more hope.

If I’m able to focus on the goodness that accompanies tragedy, I begin to see what the world would look like if we could all learn the grace of generosity.

I pray with hope for the possible enlightenment of the souls presently suffering through this disaster, and for those of us who watch from our places of relative peace and prosperity.

This and every rough shaking, I must assume, holds the potential to break open hearts, allowing each individual to connect and offer help to their neighbours. If I’m able to focus on the goodness that accompanies tragedy, I begin to see what the world would look like if we could all learn the grace of generosity.

The children’s TV show host Mister Rogers said that his mother used to say, when he was scared by something in the news, “Look for the helpers.”

God, I think we can safely say, is not getting his news of the world through the media.

I suspect if we could see from a microcosmic point of view, we’d see the individual explosions of brotherly and sisterly love occurring around the world just now. We’d be astounded by the acts of heroism, of sacrificial kindness—some very quiet and small, others enormous. The people of Mexico City, after the 2017 earthquake, just minutes after they found themselves still alive and able to be useful, gathered themselves and their tools and ran to help dig out their neighbours. The city became a city of volunteers.

Perhaps there are people out there who haven’t been able to feel compassion for anyone but themselves for years; people going through days, months and even years with their love locked up in their hearts. Picture a day, a moment, when they must run to help their neighbour. These long-encrusted souls might have the opportunity to break the cruelty of isolation in an instant. They might, for the first time in ages, be able to be of use to another soul.

Imagine the woman who’s locked in her own vanity, concerned for her manicured appearance, her spotless home, digging and digging with delicate hands to free someone from the rubble whom she’d never bothered to get to know in her previous life. Imagine the man who’s grown stingier and stingier with mistrust of his neighbours, breaking free in one moment and reaching out with all his might to tear at the collapsed walls of his neighbour’s house and free him.

The answers lie in opening our hearts

Street after 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, HaitiI have a friend who was in the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010. She was downtown when the quake occurred, and it took her all day and into the late evening to make her way back home. There was no cell phone service, and she wasn’t able to call her family, but she was able to make her way very slowly on the roads, stopping over and over again to jump out of her car to lend a hand along the way.

By the time she stumbled back to the street where she lived, many hours after the quake, exhausted and covered with dirt, she walked into her front yard to witness her family. They were holding each other and weeping. They assumed that she’d been killed. She’ll never forget the horrible sadness of this sight, or how important it is for us to understand what we mean to one another, how necessary we all are to the whole.

Of course, if we’d gained enough enlightenment, we wouldn’t be suffering the extreme upheaval of our planet. If we’d reached the tipping point of enlightenment, we wouldn’t be suffering the ravages of climate change and the divisions of war. But the answer doesn’t lie in pointing out this lack in humankind, nor in blaming our stingy-hearted ways. It lies in opening our hearts, in loving more. These aren’t times for cynicism and negativity, and they won’t serve us well.

I invite you to pick someone, anyone for whom you’d wish enlightenment, from the stranger with too much wealth and power to the stingy-hearted man next door. Now pray for them. Pray for their hearts to open. Never give up on anyone.

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Margaret Dulaney is a playwright and essayist, and founder of the spoken-word website Culled from a lifetime’s study of the ancients and mystics of all traditions, Margaret’s writings employ the ideas of Emerson, Lao Tzu, Hafiz, George MacDonald, Richard Rohr, Emanuel Swedenborg, Lorna Byrne, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, Rudolph Steiner and many others. Her recently published book, To Hear the Forest Sing: Some Musing on the Divine, is available on Amazon and in select bookstores.
image 1: Xomiele (Creative Commons BY-SA); image 2: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons BY)