One audience member talked about feeling powerless. Her activism, she said, felt in vain. The life was sucked out of her. Indeed, do-gooding, however outwardly noble, tends to bring the do-gooder into the blight: the same level of consciousness that creates problems like the global ecological crisis. Hence, the archetypes of the burnt-out aid or social worker, the jaded inner city teacher, and the compromised activist. In my new book Twelve by Twelve, the off-grid physician (Dr. Jackie Benton, a pseudonym) suggests that there is something absolutely essential beneath the doing — and it’s the most important part. It has to do with something both Einstein and Jung said in different ways: the world’s problems can’t be solved at the same level of consciousness at which they were created.
Jackie’s philosophy is a unique approach to living authentically in today’s world. It’s not about a religion that forces you to put on blinders or accept rigid rituals; nor is it purely secular, in an overly analytical, Cartesian sense. I’ll synthesize her approach as: see, be, do.
First, see the problem. It could be anything: resentment toward a family member; a homeless woman by the curb; a government plan to fund a bigger nuclear bomb instead of better schools; stinky crude washing up in your local marsh. Often we look away — we’re busy earning a living, going to the ballgame, or depressed. But this is a core error. Every one of these so-called problems is there to teach us. Either we face it, and grow toward that higher level of consciousness, or it comes back again and again, in one form or another.
You’ve garnered the courage to see the problem. But it’s not yet time to act. First, be. This is both the simplest and hardest part: going to that solitary place of I discovered in the deepest part of the woods beyond the 12×12. Some people call this place God, but you can call it intuition, or the “still small voice” (Gandhi), or grace, or simply presence. The words don’t matter. They are merely signposts, suggesting something that you either understand through direct experience or barely at all. For example, imagine you’d never tasted honey. We could talk for days about “honey” with no real comprehension, but one taste of it would instantly tell you much more about it. When we find a way — be it meditation, music, prayer, your child’s eyes, a shooting star, it doesn’t matter what it is — to become present, we can look at problems with fearless clarity.
The final step — do — is then as natural as drawing breath. You hand the homeless woman a sandwich; forgive your loved one whatever supposed injury they’ve done to you; join a peace study group to confront the nuclear issue with others in your community; put solar panels on your home to use less fossil fuels. Or take one of a million other actions, based in what I’ve come to call warrior presence.
In twenty years of meditation and spiritual search I’ve noticed that the people who really “get it” in the sense of beautifully blending inner peace with compassionate action have something in common. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, or born-again-pagan. They have warrior presence. In other words, they face larger problems just as they face their personal problems — as Einstein and Jung suggest we do — on a different level of consciousness than the one at which the problems were created. Instead of allowing the negative forces of a flattening world to flatten them, those with warrior presence maintain beauty and control in their interior space, through being fully present in the moment.