what moves you

What moves you?

Understanding why we take the actions we do, and being okay with the actions we don’t. 

I saw an injustice on the news the other day and I was very upset about it. I looked online to find out more about this injustice and the more I found out the more upset I became. All the people I follow online were very upset too as were the people who follow me. I made a post on my social media about just how upset I was and then I commented on other people’s posts about just how upset I was too. Then I made a video telling people to, “wake up,” about how upset they should be. After all that being upset it was time for milk and cookies and then off to bed. 

Okay, this wasn’t me, but it is a common and understandable response to watching the news. The feeling of powerlessness that follows can be overwhelming. The days of the news being about staying informed are long gone. Nowadays the news is designed to make us feel powerless and overwhelmed. Social media then becomes an outlet for that feeling of powerlessness and can leave us feeling like we have actually done something about the injustice. But have we really? I don’t think so. 

It is like the old joke where I give my friend a gift saying, “I got you this really thoughtful gift. I hope you like it!” My friend, opening the gift says, “Oh wow, it’s… an empty box?” To which I reply, “Well, it’s the thought that counts!”

Did I lock the car?

My mind likes to think about things. I am guessing yours does too. Just when I am about to fall asleep, for example, my mind likes nothing better than to throw out a thought like, ‘Did I turn the stove off?’ or, ‘Did I lock the car?’ Just enough of a thought to make another thought as I start to retrace my steps, while simultaneously running through what will happen if the car is unlocked overnight, or if the stove is on all night. 

My mind thinks it is being helpful — a last minute check before I pop off into the mystery. Its idea of being helpful is for me to lie there running through possible futures that might eventuate and what I will do in each of those futures. The thought of actually getting up and checking never comes up.

After many years of meditation, I am familiar with the way my mind works and I know that thoughts with no intention to take action are for my mind’s benefit as it likes to keep thinking. My mind is a little bit like an insecure shark. Sharks have to keep moving or they will die. My mind gets anxious that it will cease to exist if it doesn’t hear itself thinking.

Action Purifies

Nowadays if I am about to fall asleep and my mind throws out the, ‘Did I turn the stove off?’ or, ‘Did I lock the car?’ thoughts I make an internal announcement that if there are any more thoughts about whether I turned the stove off or locked the car I will get up and go and check. 

When I do this one of two things happen. My mind will either stop thinking about the car and the stove, or I will get up and check if the stove is off and the car is locked.  This is the power of action and how it can purge my mind of the thoughts that have no intention to action. 

I apply this to all repetitive thought patterns by coming back to the question of what action can I take. If there are no actions I can take I keep steering my mind away from the repetitive thoughts.

Doing and Being Moved

There are things we do and there are things we are moved to do. The things we do are things like washing the car or folding the laundry. The things we are moved to do are things like writing a poem or helping someone in distress. 

Why we are moved to one thing and not another is not always clear.  There is an element of unconscious repetition and patterning responsible for some of our actions but there are also deeper reasons at play. The sort of reasons that find us in the right place at the right time or the seemingly wrong place at the wrong time. Often the reasons are only clear in hindsight.

I find it helpful to stand to the side of myself taking note of what I do and don’t do. I find this observation helpful particularly when I come across something new and boisterous, something screaming about making, “this one small change to next level my life,” or, “Applying this life hack to 10x my results.”  I have observed myself enough to have a good sense of what I will be moved to do and what I won’t.

“YOU NEED TO GET UP AT 4 AM TO BE MOST EFFECTIVE IN YOUR LIFE!!!”

Me: “Yes, I probably won’t be doing that.”

“YOU NEED TO EAT THIS THING THAT DOESN’T TASTE GREAT BUT IS VERY GOOD FOR YOU AND STOP EATING THIS OTHER THING WHICH DOES TASTE GREAT BUT IS CURRENTLY NOT VERY GOOD FOR YOU.”

Me: “Yes, I probably won’t be doing that.”

Having a good sense of what I will be moved to do and what I won’t is very helpful for pushy manipulative marketing but challenging when it comes to hearing about heartbreaking world events. 

It is challenging because I will feel the pain of the heartbreaking event and all the feelings associated but then I will come back to action and the difficult question of what action am I going to take about it. What am I moved to do? Now I will let my mind run through all the possibilities I can think of — moving to the place where the heartbreaking event is happening to help in some way — protesting or organising a protest — political approaches. I will go through all the possibilities I can think of and at the end of each I will ask myself, ‘Am I moved to do that?’

Making a Difference 

I was fictitiously walking on a beach in Australia many years ago. The tide was out, leaving thousands of starfish stranded on the hot sand, slowly getting fried by the sun. The beach was empty except for a lone figure out at the shoreline. I found myself walking towards the figure which turned out to be an old man. 
He kept walking back and forth between the beach and the water and as I got closer I could see that he was picking up starfish and carrying them back to the sea. 
“Hello goodly Sir,” I said awkwardly, “Do you mind me asking what you are doing?”
“I don’t mind at all mate,” he replied, “In case you hadn’t noticed the tide has gone out leaving all these little buggers stranded. If I don’t put them in the water they’ll die.” 
Looking around at the expanse of starfish I say, “I don’t mean to burst your bubble but there are thousands of starfish. How is what you are doing going to make any difference?”
He placed the starfish he was carrying in the water and said, “Well it sure made a difference to that one.”

Hypnosis Of Despair

We know an awful lot about a lot of awful things that are going on in the world. What can we do? We can’t help them all. Which one should we give our attention to? Where should we go? 
The news talks about big issues with large groups of people that you and I have very little chance of helping directly — broad spectrum, big, complicated problems cultivating powerlessness and despair.

Compare watching a news story about a famine in a foreign country with a story about Bill who lives two streets away from you, is in his eighties, and is finding it hard to bring his groceries in from his car.
Chances are you will be moved to go and help Bill.

When we see something terrible on the news and we are heartbroken by it, it can be very hard for us to ask the question, “What am I moved to do about this?”

It is a hard question to ask because we might discover there is something we are moved to do but it is disruptive to our lives and flat out scary. If that is the case take heart from the fact that there is something very cleansing about action, actually taking action, not thinking about taking action, but taking action.

For the rest of the time it is a hard question to ask because we have to face the fact that we are not moved to take action. Facing that fact is the end of performative outrage both within and without. Then we are faced with the challenge being what we are, so if we are happy, being happy without reserve. If we are grateful then being grateful without comparison. 

The good intentions the road to hell is paved with are the feeling that your suffering, either public or private, in some way helps the people you are feeling for. It doesn’t, it just increases the amount of suffering.

Can we trust what moves us?

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.Photo by Grace Madeline on Unsplash


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