Can the success or failure of humanity depend on the actions or lifestyle of one person?
Despite the theory of interdependence, it’s hard to claim that the success or failure of a planet depends on the actions of one person. As a person who tends to feel obligation and duty this type of question might be exactly what I don’t need. I’ve learned enough, though, not to answer by positing some grand scheme to change the world. As a college student preparing to work in civil society building and post-conflict reconstruction, social reform is in my blood; but I’m not about to propose providing clean water in slums or WMD proliferation control or even sharing of the teachings of meditation and spirituality as a global panacea. There’s deep merit and value in all social reform movements, even those that we disdain with hindsight. But I don’t believe that by striving we can save the world.
The goal of each human life is to maximize our potential. This requires some level of endeavor to achieve the artistic, social, or physical creations we dream of. But these endeavors are only ever limited. Our creations are formed of the temporary and the changeable. I’ve come to realize that no matter how hard I try to succeed in my endeavors or fix the world around me, ultimately I’m just playing with broken glass. That’s not something to base one’s life goals upon. I’ve come to believe that the success or failure of my own life depends on my being present.
Presence is gratitude. It’s true appreciation. It’s the ability be patient and wait to know what needs to be done. It’s courage based on an understanding and acceptance of reality. Presence is empowerment. I can’t argue for saving the world – but in my own life, my greatest goal is to be present. When I am present, I encourage others to be present. I encourage others to find patience and serenity; to have faith; and to take joy in the process of being alive, rather than being fixated on the outcomes of our strivings.
I can’t go so far to think that I change the face of the earth by being present. But I can say with humility that by being present I affect the course of others’ lives. We affect each others’ lives however we are, of course. My own life has been deeply shaped by people who are deeply present. My greatest mentors are people who are deeply present and alive to themselves, to the world, and to God. They may or may not be people who make a big impact in the world. But through these deeper and subtler impacts, they shape all those they come in contact with.
Presence doesn’t mean I don’t strive to do what I can in the world. It’s connected to endeavor, but it’s not a strategy. I lose presence by corrupting it into striving. It’s through presence that we learn what need is, what we should do and how we should be. It’s through presence that we’re able to follow through and adapt. Presence isn’t a quick fix to change the world or to make our jobs easier. But I know that for all my studying and striving, I won’t go anywhere worth going without it; and if there’s anything I can teach, it’s that.