Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Smallest of Seeds

"Towering Trees"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Many people turn on the daily news and "shake their heads" in frustration over the fact that they can do noting about all the pain and suffering. We see pictures of children suffering and dying in Alleppo, we hear stories of terrorism and gun violence and we are barraged with endless reports of vile and hateful political rhetoric;  and yet, it seems as if there is nothing any of us can do about it - some people feel that all we can do is “pray.”

While I don’t think there is anything wrong with “praying” for the suffering of the world, I also believe that we can actually “do” something to heal the suffering and bring about a world of deeper compassion and greater justice. In fact, every word we speak and every action we perform in our everyday lives either contributes to the suffering or heals it.

We make choices every day. We choose what we eat and drink and we choose to sit quietly and meditate or we choose to be so constantly busy that we have no have no time for reflection. We choose to forgive an injury or we chose to lash out in anger. We choose to reconcile or we choose to hold grudges. We choose if and how we vote in an election. In fact, even when we choose not to make a choice we are making choices - when we decide to ignore that homeless person asking for help on the sidewalk we have in fact made a choice.

Since we are an interconnected web of relationship,  whatever we say or do not only affects a small circle at a given moment but it inevitably ripples out, resonates and reverberates far beyond our own individual selves. An act of kindness is infectious and so is a word of anger.

It is a great paradox to me that we can control very little if anything in our lives but we can influence almost everything. Our choices have the power to enhance our humanity and they have the power to diminish it.

I remember reading an op-ed column a while back in the New York Times:

Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances in life
that, if explored, provide great meaning –everyday chances to be generous and kind.
Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

The big decisions we make turn out to have much less impact on life as a whole
than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.

I find great wisdom in the observation. The spiritual journey is all about making decisions, it is a practice of a discipline of making good choices – little everyday seemingly insignificant choices that can, in fact, change the world.

Jesus offered a piece of wisdom about little tiny mustard seeds that, when planted, become large trees:

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone sowed in the field;
it is the smallest of seeds, but when it has grown
 it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.

The Buddha taught something fairly similar when he said:

Do not underestimate good.
Drop by drop the water pot is filled.
Likewise, one who is wise is filled with good,
gathering it little by little

Every act of kindness, mercy and forgiveness is a little mustard seed planted every day of our lives – little seeds that can grow into great trees. Every act of generosity is a little drop that gathers and eventually can fill the whole pot.

Today is a good day to think about those tiny seeds and those little drops of our life and just how important they may be. 

The philosopher and psychologist, William James, once said:

Act as if what you do makes a difference – it does.

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