What’s at Stake

This creature, Trump, has a following and I, along with millions of others, struggle to understand why.

This is what I have come up with:

I think about Pope Francis and the thing that he exhibits so strongly—compassion. Having compassion means you’ve suffered some or more than some and you’ve come out the other side with a sense of humility. Because you understand what suffering is and how it forges bonds with the rest of humanity–because  everyone suffers.

Compassion is a state of empathy. By developing compassion, you acknowledge the interconnectedness of all beings.

Non-compassion, or hate in the general vernacular, is the opposite of interconnectedness. It always arises from fear. Always. And fear is the state of feeling oneself alone, powerless, not connected. It is a primal emotion and it is part of our reptilian brain, the one that controls our fight or flight responses, our heartbeat, our breaths—the basic responses that keep us alive.

Our frontal cortex is our reasoning brain and the reason we can develop other traits beyond simply survival—like compassion. Everyone with a frontal cortex has the capacity to develop compassion, but it is a trait that will wither without nourishment.

When life becomes suffering, as it inevitably does at times, ask yourself: do you strive to learn from that suffering, thereby developing compassion and connectedness with others, or do you stay mucked about in the primal instinct of fear—blaming others and outside situations for your suffering?

Compassion unifies; fear divides. That’s pretty much it.

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The Red-eyed Vireo and the Pope

Not eight feet outside my studio window, a red-eyed vireo has built a nest. It is a wondrous thing of fine birch bark, pine needles and spider silk. The spider silk not only holds it together, but also holds it suspended on the twigs. I have been watching the vireo daily and I’m impressed with the quiet, most decidedly non-instant gratification life she leads. She sits on the nest, sometimes with eyes closed, for hours on end. During thunderstorms and driving rainstorms (the little basket-nest tossing, but holding) she sits. Once or twice a day, her mate visits the tree next to her and sings out a few lines of his song to say “this place is taken.” I’m flattered they have chosen to build their nest so close to our nest, as it were. I feel like I’ve been accepted as a part of nature.

Observing this ordinary, but still wondrous, natural event brings Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical to mind. He knows what he’s talking about. We are from, of, and nurtured by nature, whether we know it or not. Our culture of instant gratification—the way we try to fill the holes in our souls with things—is a direct consequence of our emotional and physical separation from the natural world.

The closer we nest ourselves into the natural world–noticing it, living in it, absorbing it–the closer we are to the small rhythms that nurture our well-being.

Because what is well-being after all but simply a sense of belonging?

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