Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Weight of the World

“My head’s full of the screams of all the dead and dying children in all the world’s war zones and in Americas colleges and schools.”

One of the people I follow on Twitter sent me this message earlier in the week.

I replied:

“No, it's not. Your mind is making all that noise and it's helping nobody - not the kids and certainly not you.”

At first glance, my response may seem unsympathetic and, perhaps, flippant, but there’s a wisdom behind those words which I received through experience. I can relate to this person’s fears and ‘dark imaginings’ (as Max Ehrmann calls them, in Desiderata) because they used to be my fears, too.

I used to worry about everything I could find to worry about. I’d actively hunt down subject matter that would help me wallow in that fear, such as watching footage of the Asian Tsunami or the World Trade Centre atrocity. I’d consider what it must have been like to be on the beach and see that tremendous wave coming, or to feel the floor beneath my feet give way in those towers, visualising myself utterly powerless to prevent my imminent doom and demise.

Did my grim empathy do anyone any good? Did it force time to rewind and allow me to save lives? Did it comfort the survivors or the families of the dead?

No, all it did was help exacerbate the depressive, negative swirl of thought in my mind, further deepening the darkness of my perception of life.

This process of thought was no use at all, to anyone. Quite the opposite: it caused mental torment within myself and that negative energy would have spread to the people around me, either through my communication with them, or because of my general sullen demeanour.

Adopting the pain of others in such global events – when you were not directly or even indirectly touched by those events, except to read about it or watch the video footage on the news - is, at best, futile, but it can also be very damaging to a person’s mental wellbeing…

Taking on these burdens are an example of how the ego schemes to keep us unhappy, and while this dysfunction of the egoic mind remains unchecked, it will always seek new attachments to fear and pain.

Your life could be, to all intents and purposes, perfect, but without the ability to discern the quality and value of your thoughts, your ego will find fault in anything it can and lure you back into a false perception of imperfection.

When you can’t get to sleep at night, or your days are consumed by macabre thoughts about such events, and you haven’t actually experienced those events first hand, then you are imagining it and your own mind is hurting you.

It is a false, selective and imaginary pain – and why would you want to imagine such horrors and play them in your head, when you weren’t involved?

The massacre of young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in December of last year, was something that every good-hearted person in the world would find abhorrent, and the outpouring of sympathy and sadness was – of course – a natural reaction to such a terrible event.

But what about the multitudes of children killed in the conflict in Syria, or those starving to death in Sub-Saharan Africa? What about the baby girls murdered or abandoned in India, because they were born the ‘wrong’ sex? What about the kids the world over who live and work on rat-and-disease-infested waste dumps to find scraps of metal they can sell, for a pittance, to recyclers? What about those who live both here and abroad who live in misery, under the constant threat of mental, physical and/or sexual abuse from the people they should most be able to trust?

If you consider them all and take their pain as your own, before too long you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.

And here’s the truth: that weight is not yours to bear, so let it go.

Relinquishing that pain does not mean that you don’t care. In fact, it puts you in a stronger position to do something that may actually be of use.

Leave the true, close-up grief to the survivors of these tragedies and give them your strength when they need it, or leave them alone, if they express that wish. (How many TV trucks turn up at school massacres and doorstep the families of the victims, when those families have asked for privacy?)

If you’re worried about the world, the most positive thing you can do, today, is to clear up your inner-environment – i.e. yourself – and make it a calmer and more peaceful place to live.

Once you’ve mastered that, you’ll radiate positive energy to those around you. Be kind to those you love (and even to those you don’t), make them smile when you have the chance and do what you can to help, when they need it (which isn’t necessarily when you think they need it).

To focus solely on the perceived negatives of this beautiful and vibrant planet is like viewing in a mirror the incredible machine that you are in command of - the human body; one of the most complex and brilliant organisms in the known Universe - and deeming it unworthy and imperfect because your mind judges the nose to be the wrong shape.

“With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata


  1. Very well said! So much truth in your words.

  2. Excellent. Certainly this article enlightens, broadens the vision and brings serenity. If every individual learns to be harmless to the self, the world also will acquire the peace.

  3. 1. Mastering the self
    2. Loving the planet and all its resources
    3. Honest livelihood through professional skills
    4. Spiritual journey under guidance of various Gurus of different philosophies.

    I personally felt this algorithm can ensure a meaningful life.

  4. Yes, indeed, a lot of truth in your words. It is impossible for one person to carry the weight of all the horrors existent in our world today. It is unimaginable and totally unnecessary. The events closer to home will be the ones carrying the most weight but even those should not direct our energies toward what we cannot control. It is innate for humans to experience both the good and the bad. From those experiences, we learn to cope and live on toward a better day.

  5. It's like trying to watch 'the impossible' without holding your breath!

  6. Les, this is a brilliant post full of loving wisdom. I used to be one of those people who carried the weight of suffering for the whole world. It did no good to me or for anyone else. Sharing this everywhere!

  7. Beautiful, Les. You took my breath away. Couldn't agree more, by the way. We all have brilliant gardens to tend. If we are good stewards of them, our lives and everyone they touch will be beautiful. Rich in the ways that are truly of value. Good on you, my friend! Hugs.

  8. Great post, Les. I admit I hadnt thought how living through / with 'empathy' for the suffering of others which is out of my control, is really quite futile. It certainly puts this into context. I guess by not shouldering this burden which is not ours to shoulder, we are also keeping our mind strong and leave it more open to opportunities to help in a more proactive way. Say by organising donations of money, goods, food etc for those in need everywhere on this planet.

  9. Spot on. One can care without dragging one's self through the mire of misery. You never know what the lesson might be for the person in the tragedy. To not judge but instead send steadfast love and caring might be the greatest gift you can give.

  10. You always know exactly how to get at the heart of the matter. Such wisdom! Thank you for this because I too get bogged down by all the misery of the world and think "what is the use".

  11. Great words. I'm never sorry I click your twitter links to read your blogs. What a sad yet uplifting article. These are wonderful words you wrote: "If you’re worried about the world, the most positive thing you can do, today, is to clear up your inner-environment – i.e. yourself – and make it a calmer and more peaceful place to live."

  12. This is the best piece of advice I have read for a very long time. You are right Les. All the compassion your mind has can't make one iota of difference to all the woes of this world, but it can drive you mad thinking obsessively about them.

  13. I commend you for sharing what you have experienced in your own life. Linda Harper

    Thank you for the follow Les. I am now following you back.

  14. Thanks for posting such an inspiring post

  15. Les, I see the value in your words. I experience pain in my body when I see an image of a wound or an image of abuse of an animal or child. This has plagued me all my life. It happens spontaneously and makes me cringe inside and out. Les, this pain is not something I seek. When I was a child the sight of a dead animal on the highway would hit me like a blow which I felt over my whole body.

    This goes beyond carrying the weight of the world. It's like an attack that I have no control over. Why does this happen to me and how can I prevent it?

    1. But you do have control over it.

      I noticed that the pain you feel you experience comes from seeing images, rather than through the actual suffering of the people or animals - so it's not their pain that you're experiencing, but the pain of your own mind.

      It doesn't happen spontaneously if there's a trigger.

      You need to accept that bad things happen to people and animals. If you can do something to alleviate that, then go ahead and do it. If you can't do anything to help, then your emotional reaction to it isn't doing any good whatsoever.

  16. I like this post. Ultimately we sample the pain of the world to maintain perspective, but we do not weigh ourselves down by claiming it as our own. We change the world by changing ourselves. All we can do for others is to be ready to assist if they choose our assistance, and point the way to a better vision.

  17. Truly excellent post. One would hope your Twitter friend doesn't languish often (at all) in such a painful place. To do so VERY occasionally can connect us to greater compassion, but just as you say - detach, stay positive, send love and not pity. It does get SO easy when one KNOWS we each have our journey to fulfill and "it"(life) all works to move us in the direction of our Enlightenment and bliss.

  18. Every aspect of life it has already been here is just that now is an a bigger scale. I always have been humble since Birth, my hearth goes to all the people that suffers even just when looking at gruesome photos and videos of destruction and suffering. In a way, I feel guilty at times, because maybe I have not been praying hard enough,I can not get enough of Jesus I need more of Jesus. Jesus is Love. That is how I relief my pain.
    Thank you, God Bless you

  19. when the weight of the world feels too heavy, stand upright and carry it as a gift perched on your head.

    feeling is the root of compassion. yes, feeling the pain of others is so much different that suffering with that pain. the trick is to feel the pain without becoming the suffering. what a dance...

  20. Renee Dwarkadas3 March 2013 at 15:34

    >>So true, if one can help in any way one should, otherwise help people see the positive in life.The bad is an aberration and rare therefore it makes it into the headlines.There is 99.99% good....the rest is in the news....People would love to believe the poor in India are miserable, surprisingly they are as happy or sad as the rest.I believe as you say help them if you can, otherwise smile with them.
    I do love reading your articles. Thank you.

  21. It's a fine line, and Les, thanks for articulating it so well. I find it frustrating to be around the mind that looks for the next negative ocurence to ricochet from...there are so many! I have been accused of wanting to act like it has to always be the "Eldorado" but I see it differently: our time together, all, is precious, and I believe we help each other more by acknowledging the truth and finding things to do about it if necessary, and celebrating each moment.

  22. Les, I love this article! It speaks mounds of truth. When we feel this weight of the world I believe we actually contribute to the mass consciousness of depression and pain. Becoming conscious of it and changing it allows us to even contribute on an energetic level to POSITIVELY change the energetic collective energies. This is such important work. Woo hoo and way to go!!

  23. Sorry for coming in so late, but I just stumbled onto your blog and have been reading through posts. Great stuff! I'm also glad that the darkness is passing for you. On this post, let me throw in an alternative view. Perhaps identifying with the pain or negative emotions of others is not a problem in itself. I see it as a natural result of the interconnectedness of life. Not being affected by or feeling another's pain would be, I think, scarier. But we make it a problem by selectively identifying only with the pain. As part of life, we share the pain, the joy and everything else. Emotions come and go, but zooming in on a tragedy is to ignore whatever moments of beauty, joy and awe that the people involved experienced in their lives beforehand. Rather than focusing on any particular aspect, I would say let it all in, and let it all out. Breathing life, as opposed to holding our breath and turning blue.

  24. You have a good grasp on the inner turmoil a lot of people atract to themselves through lack of understanding about themselves, whether it be day to day or wordly events causing their pain. Obviously it is a reflection of their self worth or lack of knowing their reason for being or purpose in life, yet wanting to help others or taking the plight of the worlds woes on their shoulders, as mentioned above in a post.
    It's a great comfort for those who seek help in understanding the machinations of the human condition and yearn for truths, that people such as yourself are there to them from their slumber.
    And of course as we know, there are many levels to traverse in this life and beyond... so in short we are all in the same state of searching, evolving consciously and there are no bounds to our perpetual quest for knowledge and truth.
    If we look deep enough we can find what we seek... only to be met with yet more conundrums, questions, disbelief, unknowing... until we do 'get it'.
    It is though a very deep well to consider and appreciating we as humans can only find those answers we can cope with - as this life on Earth is but a stepping stone to endless more lives elsewhere in the universe or other dimensions.
    Anyway I'm probably starting to waffle ;0) It's an endless open book to explore and great fun delving into the complexities of life..should you be at a stage where one can help others in their spiritual understanding.
    Merry Christmas, Gary. aka bad boy bard
    PS. I'll drop in again and have a good look around