This episode considers the record breaking heat waves that are currently plaguing many parts of the planet and how easily we can feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of worldwide crises.
“In radical times like this, great emotions can fall upon us in a similar way that massive storms and heat waves now settle over entire areas of a country. The overwhelming facts about disasters in the world around us can quickly become overwhelming emotions inside our individual psyches. We can suffer increasing levels of stress and anxiety, even if the place where we are living is not one of the hotspots in the moment.
Collective anxiety is a real thing that connects to our primal sense of fear, and like fear, anxiety can be contagious and spread. Over time, collective anxiety tends to exacerbate our sense of feeling insignificant and impotent in the face of radical changes in the world. How can a single, fragile person do anything to affect or change conditions that are so big and beyond our control?
The German word weltschmerz translates as “world pain” or “world weariness.” It carries the sense that while we feel inadequate in the face of world troubles, our individual pain is linked to the pain of the world. What troubles the world also troubles us and we don't have to be in tragic circumstances ourselves to feel how others are suffering.
We can be deeply affected by the pain and grief in the world because basic empathetic qualities are part of being human. We feel heightened levels of stress and worry when we see a loved one suffering, but also to some degree when a stranger is suffering or in fear. In terms of weltschmerz, we not only sympathize, but we can realize that all humans are inextricably linked to each other, and that each person's suffering easily could become our own suffering.
On a psychological level, we each have our own unique experiences of fear and anxiety that arose early in life, when we were in fact helpless in many ways. The trouble with emotions like fear and anxiety is that they don't simply go away. If they are ignored or denied, they tend to take up residence somewhere in the body. One way or another, we continue to carry our own sense of fear and anxiety about being left alone and being helpless in the face of things beyond our control.
In spite of some prevalent ideas, emotions turn out to be part of the natural dynamics intended to keep us awake and resilient in the face of ever changing conditions of life on Earth. Engaging with our deepest emotions turns out to be a necessary part of the transformations that need to happen both individually and collectively. Emotions are part of the great outflowing of life, without which we cannot truly live or meaningfully change and grow.
It is the role of feelings and emotions to reveal the inner stirrings of the human heart and soul. In that sense, emotions are the necessary and mysterious turbulence without which we cannot truly tell if we are alive or not. Emotions serve as a vital link between body and mind, between spirit and soul. They move us because they carry massive amounts of energy. And in that sense, emotions can be understood as messages coming from a deeper sense of self and soul within us. Thus, ignoring or repressing an emotion amounts to shooting the messenger and missing the message coming from the deeper self that knows what we need and how we must change.
The ancient idea that transformation is the aim of the soul rests upon the understanding that there is something essential within each of us that we can turn to, and continually learn from, that we can draw upon repeatedly and grow from continuously. When this knowing self within us becomes more conscious, a surprising sense of inner stability can be experienced, even amidst the chaotic circumstances of life. At the same time, inner resources previously unknown to us can become available.
And that's why ancient poets and thinkers could say, hold on to your particular pain and suffer your anxiety for those too can bring you in touch the inner spirit and knowing self that has been secretly present within you all along.
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