If you’re anything like me, you’d like to see a world where everyone genuinely respects and cares for everyone else (including the earth and all its inhabitants), a world where ethical integrity is valued more highly than fame, fortune, pleasure or power, and where objective truth is valued as the basis of our shared reality – even though we know we see it through our own subjective lenses. And if you’re like me, then you’re willing to do your bit to help bring about such a world.
But when the world doesn’t move in this direction as much or as fast as we’d like it to, when our leaders are heartless, selfish people who pray at the temples of fame, fortune, pleasure and power, and whose policies speed us ever faster towards the extinction of the world as we know it, we can easily feel helpless, depressed and anxious. And we can give up.
But are are as helpless as we think?
In the last post I shared a video on how I handle feelings of helplessness, and the surprising thing is that how I process such feelings leaves me not feeling so helpless after all. Not only because I ‘feel’ more powerful after connecting to the vast clarity of my mind, but also because once I’ve got out of my helpless state, I find that even on a practical level, I have achieved more than I thought, or I can do more than I thought I could. A refreshed mind allows me to find fresh inspiration. And when I realise/remember just how intimately everything is connected, I see truths and possibilities where I couldn’t see them before.
Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism
Despite all our outrage, all out efforts, Tibetan Buddhism hasn’t changed – at least not that I can see. Rigpa, in setting up a code of conduct and grievance procedure, has appeared to make a few concessions to the idea that non-vajrayana students, at least, should be safe from abuse. But that code makes it clear that within Rigpa, once you’ve agreed to a vajrayana relationship with a teacher, you’ve consented to whatever is involved in that teaching. Sogyal thought his abuse was ‘teaching’ vajrayana students, and those running Rigpa thought the same thing – myself included, until I realised I’d been brainwashed. Rigpa international management have not admitted that Sogyal abused people, have not apologised for their enabling of the abuse, nor stopped gaslighting their students into thinking they’ve changed when, in reality, they’ve held tight to their fundamental belief that Sogyal was a crazy wisdom master of the highest calibre.
Shambala, despite some abusers facing legal action, is back to business as usual, and NKT has been carrying on for some time. Other instances of abuse in other sanghas have come to light and the pattern is the same: the lamas support each other no matter what they do. When an abuser is called out, they speak of how realised and precious he is, and they assume that the victim was not adequately prepared for or is not suited to vajrayana. If there is any fault, it’s because we Westerners don’t get it! That’s the usual refrain. The religion is stuck in superstition and feudalism.
So we could be forgiven for thinking that we had no effect. And a sense of powerlessness or hopelessness over our inability to make change would be an understandable reaction.
But those of you who spoke out about abuse in your sangha, (such as the eight Rigpa students who wrote the letter in July 2017 that exposed Sogyal’s abuse) have had an enormous positive effect on a lot of people. Though many of us were resistant at first, you opened our eyes with your persistence in sharing the truth. You educated us. And though the religion may not have changed in any obvious way, the ripples you set in motion are still moving underneath the surface. By educating students on the dangers of the teacher-student relationship as it appears in Tibetan Buddhism, you’ve changed the teacher-student dynamics for many students, and in a religion where that relationship is such a central pillar of the teachings and practice, that’s huge. We can’t see the changes yet, but they’re happening all the time. It’s as impossible for your words and activities not to contribute to change as is for change to not occur in every moment in the world.
The pattern is that we speak, then when we’ve expended our voice, we fall silent, and perhaps our interest leads us elsewhere, but others who’ve heard our voices take over the speaking. And so the ripples of awareness lead ever outwards from the first word spoken out in disgust. Every word we say has power far beyond the moment in which we speak. And our actions even more so.
I only feel helpless about this when I forget how intimately we’re all connected. The truth is that, though it sometimes doesn’t appear that way, we have made a difference. Every one of you who even knows in your own heart that the abuse in TB is wrong has made a difference, simply by knowing that and by trusting your own knowing.
When my property was threatened by wildfire in January 2020, I felt truly helpless. I lived with that feeling of helplessness for a while, and so I became very familiar with it. But I was determined not to repress that feeling, and eventually it pushed me to find some way to ‘do something’. I researched what I could do as an individual to help in the effort to save our planet from human-made destruction, and I found plenty. The most comprehensive list had 101 things you can do to help stop climate change.
Click to access 101-things-you-can-do-climate-change_1.pdf
Though the effect of one family or business lowering their carbon footprint is very little on its own, the effects of many families and businesses doing what they can cannot be discounted. It’s easy to give up because you feel helpless, even easier to give up if you think you’re helpless to make a difference, but it’s only when you do nothing, that you’re truly helpless.
The greatest threat to our planet’s health is apathy.
I live a low carbon lifestyle anyway – I live off the grid, completely on solar power, with just a little bit of gas as back up – so all that advice on what ordinary people can do to help stop climate change I’m pretty much already doing. It’s been how I’ve lived for a long time. But I really wanted to do more. For my mental health I needed to do more – I was suffering from eco-anxiety – and so I found a way. My feeling of helplessness demanded it of me .
So my family and I undertook to make our property more resilient against drought and bushfire, and to increase its contribution to offsetting carbon emissions. We put in larger water systems – including roof sprinklers – and planted around 20 trees and many understory plants to make a permaculture food forest, which besides making us less dependent on supply chains for our food also sequesters carbon in the soil. It becomes a carbon sink.
Yes, a fire could burn down all those fruit trees I planted – though fruit trees are less inclined to burn than eucalypts – but there’s no point in worrying about that because that’s something I really can’t do anything about. Nor is there any point in not planting an orchard just because there’s a chance it might burn down – just as we don’t not cross a road because we might be hit by a car!
We might not be able to personally stop the coal-fired power stations spewing out their Co2 – so no use being unhappy about that – but we can lower our carbon footprint and we can even help reverse climate change by turning our lawns and gardens into carbon sinks. But we can only do that if we stop thinking it’s all hopeless.
Kiss the Ground: a truly nurturing solution
I recommend watching the Netflix documentary titled Kiss the Ground. It stops you feeling helpless about climate change because regenerating our soil so that it naturally sequesters carbon in the soil will not only stop climate change worsening, it will also wind it back! And we can all help simply by:
– Stopping using synthetic fertilisers and pesticides on our lawns and gardens;
– Leaving our lawns to grow longer & leave the ‘weeds’ in it. Better still plant some clover to it to make it a multispecies area;
– Turning as much of our property as we can (even if it’s just a balcony) into a biodiverse garden. Imagine all those suburban lawns and gardens managed to maximise their ability to sequester carbon. That’s a lot of land area;
– Composting your food scraps and garden waste (why wouldn’t you?) and put it on your garden. According to modelling by Project Drawdown, worldwide adoption of composting could reduce emissions by 2.3 billion tons over the next 30 years – as well as help us feed the world on less land by boosting soil productivity;
– Planting lots of different species together so you have a polyculture of foodcrops and flowers in the same bed. Following the permaculture food forest system will sequester lots of carbon. Google it.
– Covering any bare ground with mulch.
– Spreading the word. Get your neighbours doing the same.
“There is so much we can do ourselves [to sequester carbon], in whatever space we have. If we all did it, imagine the impact that would have!” Botanist Ginny Stibolt, co-author with landscape architect Sue Reed of the practical guide Climate-Wise Landscaping.
Anyway, if you’re feeling helpless about climate change, if you think we can’t reverse it, watch Kiss the Ground.
Click here for some written back up on the matter.
It’s easy to feel that we’re helpless to change a government that doesn’t share our vision for the world because we’re only one vote, but lots of votes together can kick out a government. Even if it’s not this time. Then next time. Or the time after that. Sometimes things have to get really bad before people will wake up.
We can’t all be activists, but we can all speak with others, and it’s not just what we say or do that has an effect, it’s how we are, what we believe in. And anything we say or do that inspires others to a wholesome vision for the world contributes to creating that vision. Small or large, obvious or hidden, makes no difference; the point is that you have an effect simply by being you. A positive outlook has a positive effect on the world.
In democracies, we have a vote. Be grateful for that and use it. It may be only a small way to help, but it is a way. Our vote will only be pointless if we don’t use it.
Both helpless and not helpless
We have little effect as a single person to change things for the better on the macro level, and that makes us feel helpless. But dwelling on that feeling of helplessness (as distinct from acknowledging it and allowing it to pass naturally) closes us off to the power we have to effect change on the micro level. And since the macro level is made up of lots of units at the micro level, we do actually have more power to bring about change than it appears if we’re only looking at the macro level.
Think of it in Buddhist terms:
On the conventional level of reality, we appear helpless to make significant change, but that’s just how things appear, not how they truly are. In truth, everything exists interdependently, which means that we are so intimately connected to everything else, we have far more power to bring about change than we perceive on the conventional level.
How to we access this power? By meditating until we learn to recognise and remain in the absolute level/ true nature of our mind – that wide-open, clear and inherently loving space of mind, the level of mind where your connection to everything is no longer theory, but something you know with every fibre of your being. In that state, your intention alone has power, even without ‘doing’ anything. That power may manifest as providing you with new inspiration to actually do something in the conventional world, or it may be sensed as light and/or sound frequencies that naturally manifest from your deepest being.
And in true vajrayana fashion, you can use that inner light as a vehicle for sending out specific visualisations to manifest in the world. After all, everything has that clear light. Everything is that clear light. Once plugged into that level of reality, we’re connected to it all, and so we’re no longer helpless to bring about change.
I love to hear your comments, so please share your thoughts.
Have you watched Kiss the Ground? What did you take away from it?
2 Replies to “Are We Really Helpless or Do We Just Think We Are?”
I think one key point- both concerning climate change and the effect an individual can have- is to understand non linear tipping points in systems. The most used example is that of an ice cube: from -100°C to -1°C nothing seems to happen, although tremendous amounts of energy has already been put into the system. But then to finally melt it, you need just this little more energy. You can see this in the Arctic, with the R during the corona virus, or with the critical mass in social movements to affect change. Bottom line: single droplets fill the empty barrel.
They do indeed.