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Too much to do!
January 18th, 2014
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illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Too much to do!

There’s a lot of interest in what’s wrong with our 'world' (local or global), so much so that what's right regularly is dismissed and people perceiving what's right are considered either "optimistic but not realistic", or "in denial".
Of course, there's a lot to do! But one's relationship to the task at hand is crucial.


An atmosphere of anxiety, of oppression, a feeling of unavoidable impeding disaster are not conducive to a calm, unbiased, unprejudiced, wise response. Unless you're extremely trained, you're likely to make more and more mistakes as the pressure piles up.

A sense of having to 'urgently' organise meetings and discussions and task forces makes the world overwhelming. The reality is that people have done so already, and it often made matters worse! Many crusades and wars were triggered by a sense of urgency, wanting to respond fast  more than wanting to respond well.
The circumstances aren't the same than previously, this is correct, but has the cause of past failure been addressed? Did the change make success more likely, or even less likely?
Clinging to "I know what's right"  or "I know what needs to be done",  then forcing through all reality checks, often led to violence (notably religious violence… all in the name of doing 'Good').


This is not to say we shouldn't act because we cannot be sure, because there's no recipe for success, because it's been tried before.
We can never be sure, and we still need to act! Leadership is needed!

If we cannot be sure though, then the way we act should be different from an "unstoppable purposefulness". Leadership is not to be confused with forcefulness.

If we cannot be sure, then we cultivate what works and refrain from repeating what doesn't… and we don't presume we know what is what; we look for what works, we observe what works, we find out what works —instead of postulating it— and we accept that what works for a time might not be what works later (and vice versa) so we keep observing. Leadership is found in trusting your observation, discernment and responsiveness.

We don't just observe an instantaneous, fixed photo of the situation; we observe causality at work! A first aider can notice that a person is breathing and might know that the heart is most likely beating fine… but a check might —on rare occasions— reveal a lack of pulse! The 'usual' or 'expected' causality doesn't manifest, what do you do? Assume it 'should' work, or consider the 'usual' cause for heart beat isn't present thus CPR is needed? You cannot blindly rely on the knowledge "breathing = heart beating", no matter how frequently it is true… Don't know, observe!

Don't confuse observation with getting stuck! Act, observe, act, observe (rather than: observe, observe more, observe even more, then notice the victim is long dead… or rather than: observe, doubt, listen to ignorant people around, start a committee, notice the victim is long dead…).

The doubt of your knowledge (of all the in's and out's of the situation) doesn't imply a lack of faith in action, a lack of faith in causality, a lack of faith in engagement combined with observation.


There is a lot to do, and Buddhism promotes the cultivation of compassion and wholesome engagement… but it also promotes equanimity. Overwhelm isn't helpful.

When you're overwhelmed, the first thing to do is to cultivate detachment, not to rush in and do something —simply because the ignorance, prejudices and biases you'd embody if you favour speed over wholesomeness are likely to cause more harm than good.
Solving the world's problems is possible, but it requires monitoring the progress of small steps, monitoring the interaction with others, monitoring side-effects, etc.

Once the emotional urgency is dropped, then you can cultivate wholesomeness, you can play with causality to achieve the best results in the circumstances at hand (not in some idealised world in your head), you can act out of mindful or rational compassion instead of emotional "should"s…

The thought "no one 'should' die of hunger today"  or "this heart 'should' beat"  will prove unsatisfactory, will generate frustration and suffering… Once you see this, you can drop the 'should' and switch to "what can I do so that fewer people die today?"  or "what can I do for this properly-oxygenated blood to flow?"  Then do it!

Controlling your emotions is critical to be effective. Think as a first aider: panic will never help, and might even contribute another victim to the scene, yourself!
No matter what, drop the emotional urgency, the snowballing mental fabrications, before  you act. It's only dropping a thought! If you train in dropping thoughts (e.g. via meditation), it turns out to be a lot easier than it sounds.

And yes, training in first aid might help too! The first precept for buddhists is "refrain from harming sentient beings"  "Right intention" and "right effort" are parts of the Eightfold Path though, which is to say 'negligence' or 'complacency' are unwholesome: training in first aid might be the modern translation of "do not harm". Train!


#Buddhism   #firstaid