Team BlogsLets-Rise-Up

Let’s Rise Up!

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)


When I did a retreat with Joanna Macy (a renowned Buddhist scholar and activist) many years ago, I was shocked to discover that pretty much all my personal suffering is funnelled down from a more universal, collective suffering related to what is not wholesome, healthy and well in our culture and eco-systems. My uncomfortable thoughts, emotional struggles, physical tensions, my sadness, numbness and frustration, are not only mine I realised. What a revelation! I believe reuniting with what Rilke calls ‘Earth’s intelligence’ was what enabled me to see this. It’s an intelligence that sees interconnectedness, that feels part of the Earth.

The infuriating and heartbreaking reality facing us at this time, is that humans have entered an age where our survival and the survival of the earth as we know it, are hanging in the balance, due to our own actions. Rilke’s words above were written in the early 20th Century. Much further down the line, as a species, we are still drastically spinning off from living with this kind of intelligence.

I would love to believe we can turn this around, but in reality I have no idea if this is possible. So where does this leave us? Well, here’s my answer: I choose to live as if it is possible, because the alternative, hopelessness and giving up, is not an option. This is what Joanna Macy calls ‘active hope’ – living the hope of a better world, because without hope there is no hope.

Fascinatingly there are several prophesies that predicted this world situation. This one below, which is of Buddhist origin, is in the words of Joanna Macy. It was given to her by her teacher Tibetan Buddhist monk Dugu Choegyel Rinpoche of the community of Tashi Jyong in North-West India. While some similar prophecies have been discredited or consigned to cultural appropriation, I’m happy to give this one my attention, because I know and trust its origins.

‘There comes a time when life on earth is in great danger. At that time, great powers have arisen…there are weapons of unfathomable destructive power and technologies that lay waste to the world. It is just at this point that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges…You can’t go there because it is not a place, it emerges in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors.’ (From the book Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone)

The Kingdom of Shambhala. This myth sends shivers down my spine. These shivers tell me that I need this myth to live by. I need it to lift my spirits, to kindle vitality in my body, to give me a sense of being part of a movement to ‘rise up rooted, like trees’ and be powerful. We need to be galvanised by a narrative that inspires us to act. The narratives we’re exposed to these days often only serve to dampen, disempower and send us back to sleep. I need this myth to give me hope that transformation on a mass scale is possible, with the force of compassion and love. This is what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning. Will you be part of it?



So, with this myth to live by, what will I do? I will nurture my ability to bring love and compassion into action. Here are some things that I didn’t know I needed, which nurture me to be able to engage in compassion in action.

  • I need to let myself off. You don’t have to give perfect, unconditional compassion for it to count as compassion. Feel the inner judgement, resentment, reticence, defiance or fear and be compassionate anyway.
  • I need to fill my own cup by bolstering joy, appreciation and creativity in my life. It’s not selfish to allow yourself pleasure. Pleasure, joy, beauty, creativity – these are essential to the human spirit too, if we are to thrive. They also give us resilience and the inner resource to face what is difficult.
  • I need to feel the pain of the world. On the retreat with Joanna Macy on Holy Isle, when I realised that our historic global inheritance is a shared one, that my suffering is everyone’s suffering, it was a big surprise to me and very liberating, as well as tragic. My suffering is not personal!
  • I need community. If I engage in community experiences (celebrations, volunteering, friendship groups etc.), not only do I have more people to be compassionate to, but compassion naturally flows out of me more easily and spontaneously.

So it’s worth focusing on growing your capacity to give to others both for others and for the world, and for yourself.

The Dalai Lama once famously said something along these lines – an unwise selfish person is selfish and a wise selfish person is compassionate. The key point that I believe he was making is that we flourish when we can fulfil our need to contribute.

The need to contribute is fundamental to all human beings, and if frustrated it becomes hard for us to thrive. In the end compassion is not for you or for me, but is shared by all human hearts that need to give and receive in order to fully live. By participating in the endless network of giving and receiving we feel ourselves embedded in the web of life. So, we give because it is essential to the human spirit to do so, for all of us.

Even the NHS now advocates giving as one of its Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing. The NHS website says that acts of giving and kindness can improve your wellbeing by

1. increasing positive feelings and a sense of reward

2. bringing a feeling of purpose and self-worth and

3. helping you connect with other people

When I first encountered this idea many years ago, I began to do something for others whenever I felt low or out of sorts. It worked. And it worked when all else failed. Sometimes I had to force myself, but I came to rely on this strategy. It’s actually very common sense – if I focus on others, I’m breaking the self-referencing loops of thinking that hold me stuck in a slump of my own making. I find a sense of self-value again, my nervous system enters into a pro-social mode and the inner weather system shifts correspondingly.

In our weekend on Compassion in Action (26-28 April at Samye Ling) we will create a temporary community of togetherness which will be the crucible for our discoveries about how we each can engage in giving. We will ground ourselves in gentle, supporting mindfulness practices that provide a refuge for us to over and over return to self-connection, which is so important as a basis for acting in the world. And we will look at fostering our sense of connection to people and planet in a wider sense, nurturing interconnectedness as a way of being and seeing.