Like the unraveling hemline of a beautiful dress, the world seems to be falling apart. Too many things are tearing at the fabric – a global pandemic, wildfires, protests over racial injustice, and political discord.
All of it can make you feel as if you have no control, no personal agency. And that’s a dangerous thing because helplessness courts despair.
Yet, I read something recently, from author Sharon Lebell, that lifted my spirits. And it’s this: “We always have the power to care.”
I often define mindfulness as a set of skills, with caring being one of them. What we pay attention to at any given moment is essential. But so, too, is how we pay attention to it. When we’re mindful, we’re able to attend to ourselves, others, and the world around us with care.
Lebell notes that caring unlocks the meaning within a moment. It also creates meaning in our lives. No matter how bad things get, the power to care gives us purpose. It connects us to something larger than ourselves.
A brief story about caring: A friend of mine volunteers at a homeless shelter: much of her work, which she loves, is organizing the shelter’s supplies – everything from personal protective equipment to maxi pads. After organizing and creating an efficient system, so shelter employees know what and how much they have on hand for the homeless, my friend feels satisfied. Shelter employees feel grateful.
But there’s a hitch. Shelter employees don’t possess my friend’s organizational skills, and for all sorts of reasons, they can’t maintain the system she creates. So, the Groundhog Day process of cleaning up and reorganizing happens over and over again.
My friend continues at this Sisyphean task because she cares and because those at the shelter, even if they can’t duplicate them, value her efforts. If nothing my friend does at the shelter lasts, her act of caring is sustaining.
I’m sure you can find countless examples of such caring in your life, work, and community. I believe it’s what quietly makes the world go round.
Of course, we can care too much. We can overextend. We can become co-dependent and unhealthy in how we relate to others, our work, and our pursuits. It’s good to watch for the telltale signs of unwholesome caring, which invariably involve stress, burnout, anger, and resentment.
But the power to care, when exercised with balance and awareness, is more potent than you’ll likely ever know.
The other morning, my husband read an example of this to me from a college student who posted the following on Reddit.
“My mother passed away last weekend. I emailed my professors to ask for a 24-hr extension. Prof #1 only gave me an extra 12 hours. Prof #2 told me to do the assignments for the week when I could & asked if I wanted to share my favorite memories of her instead. Be like prof #2.”
Even if the world is unraveling at our feet, we can still show we care.
On My Mind