What are we supposed to do when there’s nothing to be done?
None of us could avert that question this past year thanks to the virus that stopped us in our tracks. Even while our cultural chorus exalting personal power reached a crescendo and the verb “manifesting” abounded to mean a designable process for getting exactly what we want, many of those things we wanted suddenly shut down to us and we got a shared lesson — in standing by and watching, feeling helpless.
In recent weeks, other moments unrelated to Covid have brought me up close to the frustration of powerlessness. I’ve heard upsetting news I couldn’t change about the well-being of people I love, been the subject of strong opinions I couldn’t alter, and sat wordless behind the wheel while a burly ex-Marine unleashed road rage at my car window. I’m sure you’re viscerally familiar with helplessness too — the anxious chest tightness, rush of blood to the ears, uncontrollable fidgeting. These physiological reactions stew and fester in the face of something awful we can’t control, and the menu of symptoms has expanded for everyone as a global pandemic and political violence have dawned on us as more than disturbing movie plots.
Beyond the bodily damage of feeling helpless, we just don’t want to live that way. Humans are wired for agency, choice, power toward the outcomes we care about. Not feeling any power hurts at a soul level long after the physical effects abate. Could that be why we’ve seen a surge of more spiritual (less material) pursuit of wholesome, heart-centered activities during Covid shutdowns? We’ve looked for emotional grounding among family or friends, nature, and our own creativity to feel better. Those crucial connections had been all but dismissed as outdated, but in this crisis we had an instinct that the real fix we’re after happens in the soul.
OK, but what about the even tougher, deeply entrenched forces in our lives? I might feel good one day because I baked bread for a quarantined neighbor, but the next day I hear of another violent killing of a young black kid by police or read about a big oil company decimating land held sacred by First Nation tribes. (WHY aren’t both the kid and the land sacred to all of us?!) Or more privately, I lose the chance to spend time with someone who fills my heart and have no choice but to let go. No … the occasional soul fix doesn’t do much with that kind of helplessness; the measure we really need is to fixate our souls.
I’m talking about something I had to learn to be able to do my work with clients and students. There is one non-negotiable, daily job requirement in offering yourself up as a channel for divine guidance: equanimity. Without finding and holding a certain level of inner peace, it’s actually impossible for me to pick up on the essential and life-shifting information that my clients count on receiving during our sessions. I call that sustaining force the fixation of my soul. To be sure it’s not just a fluke that I have a psychic vision or spirit message once in a while but that I can offer that communication any time someone schedules a session, I have to fixate the whole essence of who I am on a state of peace informed by universal love. That’s the form of love that inspires every hope, belief, and act that grows goodness in the world.
The challenge is that I have a regular human life of my own too, full of those events beyond my control that we all confront. And we do need to confront them as James Baldwin said — “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Though tempting at times, it’s not an option to ignore the real, gritty world and wait in a cave until someone calls me for a session. And don’t we all have an equanimity requirement for some crucial reason or other? Maybe we’re raising young children who demand our best when we feel the worst, or we have an illness that inserts pain into everything we do … or we inhabit a race or gender identity that our social structure threatens with violence every day. Fixating your soul toward universal love and new possibility in any of those circumstances is challenging, yes. But also powerful.
Here’s what changes when your soul essence is fixated on the power of goodness to grow instead of frustration or pain from your surroundings: You see new outlets, you hear better news, and you meet new allies. Especially in that communion with other people who are also fixating their souls on a peaceful and loving universe, visible progress starts to happen faster. I’ve seen it happen in my life and through that one non-negotiable job requirement. It happens everywhere you look, in fact, once you start looking. And suddenly, you no longer feel helpless.
A very specific strain of being a powerless bystander came into stark relief this week as I’ve watched the trial of the police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, with its replays of deadly force from every angle and testimony of sidewalk witnesses’ pain at watching Floyd die while unable to help him. The officer’s defense has now suggested that those frustrated bystanders’ shouts justified his violence against Floyd. Could anything compound their pain more cruelly? Most of us who’ve seen the footage also feel desperate for humane reason to enter the picture in time to spare George Floyd’s life. That hope is dashed at his last breath, so my soul’s fixation points me to lifting up the jury in my mind every morning, their ability to see truth and deliver justice.
Some people take me to task for holding onto unrealistic hopes that don’t give proper weight to the realities of systemic racism (or cancer or corporate interests or crime statistics, depending). I can’t argue or combat the facts they offer — I would become helpless in the face of them as soon as I tried. In fact all of us do when we relinquish our focus to those facts. Instead I go back to my job, for which my soul fixates on what is less visible but eternally true, and I count on that choice catching on.