What can be done?

What can be done? How can we help others? How can one person make a difference? Well, there are many ways, of course. Most people in modern Western society, and in many parts of the world, feel powerless today. They feel that they can’t do anything to help – they can’t do anything to change things. This is an illusion. We are never powerless. We always have some degree of power. There is always something, however large or small, that we can do.

How can we help others? We can offer a smile, a warm hello, a hand shake, a bow, a kind word, a shoulder or an ear. That may sound like very little, but it can make a world of difference. If someone is hungry, we can give them a sandwich, buy them lunch or make them a meal. And if we are enlightened, we can lead others to enlightenment. I’m not enlightened – that’s clear! – but a few people are. And in between the smallest acts of kindness and the greatest, there are many, many things that we can do.

If we are an artist, writer, musician, actor or performer, then we can lift people’s spirits, make them laugh, nourish their minds or their hearts, or give them food for thought which may be helpful. If we are a doctor or health care professional, we can heal people when they are sick – or better, help them to stay healthy and become even more healthy, vibrant, vital and alive.If we know how to build things, whether it is building homes or building a business, building organizations or building a heavenly lasagna, or building something else, then we can build things that can bring some happiness, some comfort, some peace or some joy to others.

And there is also local community activism, social activism, economic activism, share holder activism and political activism; and given the troubles and problems facing the world today, I would say that this is an important area for us to engage in as well – in our own way, in whatever way inspires us, or fits with our unique talents or disposition. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.

Ralph Nader has said that if just 1% of people took up activism as a hobby, and spent just one hour a week on it, the world would be transformed in  short order, and I think he is probably right.

Generally speaking, people are not uncaring, they’re not stupid, they’re not lazy, and they’re not ignorant – but they do tend to feel powerless, and this must be overcome. Getting together with others, and realizing how powerful we are when we work together, is part of the answer. Another part of the answer is simply to begin – get active, overcome the inertia, and simply dive in.

The great majority of people, as Chomsky has said, have basically decent impulses. Kropotkin, Rifkin and others have documented and proven the point amply, with clear and overwhelming scientific evidence. People do care – empathy and compassion are natural to human beings. It is only the few who are deeply callous, and only a rare few who are truly sociopathic and unfeeling.

The great majority of people also have a very good idea of what is going on, and human beings are possessed of a natural intelligence, an innate common sense. Common sense may seem uncommon in this age, but that is because so many people choose to follow the norm and follow the crowd, or obey authority and do as they are told without question. It is not that they lack in intelligence – it is that they choose not to use their intelligence, because they have been trained and conditioned to obey authority and follow the herd. They are more than intelligent enough to see what needs to be done, and in any event, the problems we face are really not all that complicated. We make things complicated by sticking to ways of doing things that no longer work, or that never really worked in the first place. So yes, most people know what is going on, and together, we have more than enough basic common sense and natural intelligence to deal with the problems we are facing. Again, the central problem is the pervasive illusion of powerlessness.

Sometimes, before we can help others more, or be more empowered to work for positive social change, we have to devote, at least a little time to nourishing ourselves. So with that being said, here are some thoughts on that subject, for anyone who may be interested.

I can get bogged down by worries, or by money issues, or the state of the world, but when I remember to do it, I find that a few things make a world of difference. Just simply going for a walk – getting outside, getting some fresh air, some sunshine, a bit of exercise and a change of scenery can really lift my spirits – especially if I walk in green spaces or near the water.

Going to the gym and working out, or having a steam bath or sauna, makes an enormous difference, and the YMCA is not all that expensive, and has subsidized rates. It’s worth it, believe me. Any kind of exercise will bring blood to the brain and to all organs and tissues, along with nutrients and oxygen, soothing stress and renewing our energy. Fifteen to thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise should be the norm, as a minimum, if we want to feel our best.

Yoga and meditation have been the most powerfully healing things I have ever experienced, and they have probably literally saved my life. I have never experienced anything that is as powerful, and yes, anyone can do it, if you have the willingness.

Cycling is wonderful, and you can sometimes find used bikes really inexpensively, so this is an option for just about anybody who is physically able to ride a bike, and its a lot cheaper than psychotherapy or a weekly massage! The latter can be very helpful too, of course. Or acupuncture, or a whole array of holistic health therapies, including herbal medicine, which is also extremely powerful, safe and effective.

Laying on my back, looking up at the sky – day or night – helps me to put things into perspective, somehow, and lightens the load on my mind and brings me peace. Getting into nature, and getting a break from the noise and bustle and stress of modern urban life, has helped enormously.

Eating healthy food, and learning to love cooking, has been very therapeutic for me. It doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be cheap and simple, just rice and beans and a few vegetables, but it nourishes my spirit as well as my body. And if I cook for others, then it’s even better, and even more satisfying. (Nigella and Jamie, you rock, by the way!)

Listening to uplifting or soothing music is a great help – especially classical, for me. This weekend, I really felt worn down and not in the best of moods, and my favourite jazz station, Jazz FM 91, along with my cats, writing and reading, got me through it.

Practicing appreciation for every little good thing in my day or in my life, can ease the worry and the pain, and sometimes, very often in fact, turn my mood right around, and put me in a state of sheer joy, or at least bring me some peace.

Learning to be patient with myself and compassionate with my faults and limitations has been vital, and has made a big difference; and learning to be more patient and forgiving with others, even when they are annoying or rude, has helped greatly too.

Sometimes, simply taking a long hot bath with Epsom salts, makes me feel relaxed and renewed – or just sitting in the sun, or looking out the window, and having a hot cup of tea.

If stress is very high or depression is a problem, herbal medicine can help greatly. I really don’t like taking pharmaceuticals, due to risks and side-effects, but fortunately, German studies have found that St. John’s wort, an herb you can take as a tea or in capsules, is as effective in treating depression as pharmaceutical serotonin re-uptake inhibitor anti-depressants – of course, you’d never hear that on the mainstream media, but it is a fact. Motherwort and Solomon’s seal are excellent for reducing stress and also for enhancing mental clarity, as is gotu kola. And meditation has actually been found to be more effective than pharmaceutical drugs. Meditation or herbs are safe and certainly won’t hurt anybody in any case, so it wouldn’t hurt to try. And for energy, Siberian ginseng and fo ti (shu wu in Chinese, or polygonum multiflora) are extremely helpful, especially in high doses. 5-30g a day of Siberian ginseng packs a powerful punch, and the same for fo ti. Russian scientists have done an enormous amount of research into the health benefits of Siberian ginseng, and it is known in Russia to be so powerful, that not a single Russian astronaut has gone into space without taking Siberian ginseng.

Oh, I almost forgot! Great books! Great books have been a life-line. When all seemed lost, so many times, a good book turned my mood around, gave me new hope or new perspective, or simply eased the pain and soothed my soul.

But maybe above all, what has helped the most, is simply doing things that are important or meaningful to me, and just taking whatever small steps I can – no matter how small – every day.

So what can we do? Nourish ourselves, body, heart, spirit and mind; connect with others; get active and stay active; and trust our own natural intelligence. Things will take a turn for the better, and sometimes very rapidly, if we will simply make the choice to do this.

It makes me think of the wonderful story by Dr. Seuss, The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – it’s not.” I know, it’s a children’s book, but the point remains valid. If only more books that are written for adults had such honesty, straight-forwardness and wisdom.

If we assume that things are hopeless, and nothing can be done, then we will ensure our failure. But if we think, well, maybe there is a slim chance that things can change for the better, at least in some measure – then there is hope. Then real change becomes a possibility.

There was a cartoon I saw that depicted a whole crowd of people. Each one had a little thought bubble above their heads, and each one was quietly thinking to themselves, “What can one person do?” A whole crowd of people, each caught up in their own little worlds, and each one thinking, “What can one person do?” The irony is clear. We are not alone. We are only alone if we make ourselves alone. With few exceptions, it is in our power to connect with others, and together, we have tremendous power, and everything becomes possible. This is the reality of our human existence, and you have to work very hard to deny it, and to cling to a stubborn cynicism or fatalistic stance.

But these are just some thoughts that came to mind this evening. Think for yourself. You have all that you need to make your own life decisions. We all do. Trust yourself, do what you can, and try to take joy in that, and be at peace with that. Tomorrow is another day, and there is more day yet to dawn.

JTR,
March 7, 2014

 

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