When I was growing up my father often said: “Everyone does the best they can with what they have to work with.” What I want you to know about this is that he did not say this lightly, did not come to this from a life of ease or privilege. He had grown up poor with an abusive alcoholic father and an exhausted, unprotective mother. As a child he and his mother were beaten almost every night by my grandfather who eventually (after my father was an adult) committed suicide- hung himself in the barn of the dirt farm where my father had grown up. And still, my father held that everyone does the best they can with what they have to work with. He would occasionally add, with a sadness that made my heart ache: “Some days people don’t have much to work with.”
Consider for just a moment- what if this is true? What if you and I and every person on the planet, in this moment are doing the best we can with the inner and outer resources we have?
Let me say what this does not mean: It does not mean that “It’s all good.” Some of it is not good. Some of what is happening right now in the world- the abuse of children, the destruction of the environment, the exploitation of people, all the ways in which human beings create suffering for themselves and others- is not good.
Nor does it mean that we have no responsibility for the suffering we create. It simply means that saying we “should” do better with the resources (awareness, information, perception, education etc.) we have is a set up for blame, shame and maintaining the current level of suffering. If we could do better with the resources we have, we would.
So, if everyone does the best they can with what they have to work with in this moment, AND we sometimes create suffering for ourselves and each other- what does it mean to want to create change and alleviate suffering?
It means we have to recognize we are doing the best we can with the resources we have, and (instead of beating each other or ourselves up for not doing better) find, invite and accept more resources.
What does this look like in one small human life? It looks like open inquiry into what is. It looks like an honest evaluation of our individual and collective resources. And honest evaluations pretty much have to be free of judgement and shame to be even close to accurate. Resources can be everything from how much sleep I had last night to collective beliefs about why many are poor while some are rich.
But let’s stick with the small stuff- if I find myself impatient with a sales clerk and I know I have not had enough sleep in days (for this particular body/mind/heart/soul-self), I have a responsibility to get myself to bed as soon as possible so I don’t spread suffering (however minor) with sharp comments tomorrow. This might entail cancelling other plans (and letting go of my attachment to these plans) and/or asking for help (seeking assistance with children in my care, asking my neighbour to turn down the noise etc.) so the sleep I need is available. But expecting to be more patient and kind tomorrow with the same exhaustion I had today is a set up when I have just experienced what my “best” looks like when I am this tired.
I’m using a very simple example, and when we start to move into global collective problems and the resources needed, (for example- awareness of inter-dependence and a willingness to share material resources so that all can flourish in meaningful ways) it gets admittedly more complicated. Not impossible, just more complicated.
But it’s not about getting it perfect. Nor is it about trying harder. It’s about recognizing we are doing the best we can with what we have to work with and, if our “best” is creating suffering, seeking, asking for and receiving the resources we need to alleviate that suffering.
What would we have to lose by seeing ourselves or others this way? Justification for putting out of our hearts those aspects of ourselves or others that are causing suffering; fear that keeps us from being willing to create real change by trying something different instead of insisting that we/they just have to do better with the same inner and outer resources. And what might we gain? A doorway into deeper compassion, necessary forgiveness, and a real chance to alleviate suffering.
From The Green Bough blog (c) Oriah Mountain Dreamer 2010
Oriah is the author of the international best-selling books: The Invitation, and The Dance, and The Call (published by HarperONE, translated into eighteen languages.) Her much loved poem “The Invitation” has been shared around the world. Trained in a shamanic tradition, her medicine name Mountain Dreamer means one who likes to find and push the edge. Using story, poetry and shamanic ceremony Oriah’s deeply personal writing and her work as a group facilitator and mentor explore how to follow the thread of our heart’s longing into a life where we can choose joy without denying the challenges of a human life. www.oriah.org www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/Oriah.Mountain.Dreamer?sk=wall
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