Beauty in These Ugly Times

Today We Grieve

Today we grieve. Our hearts open, and we send support and love to those family members and friends who lost loved ones in the shooting in Las Vegas, and, too, to those in places of natural as well as human-made strife. Yes. It is a time of mourning.

And, too, the turmoil in the world’s soul is visceral. We are experiencing the collective trauma 24/7. No longer can we encounter our angst like a bad dream frightening us in the night, only to disappear in the morning when our eyes open to the avalanche of texts, Instagrams, tweets, and emails alive on our phone, seducing our attention even before we get out of bed. No. The nightmare is real, here to stay, a living actuality … and demanding our response. Yes. We find ourselves in a time of great peril, as the world as we know it faces the imminent threats of ecological devastation, the sixth extinction, and technological takeover, which Elon Musk names as “the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.”

Our bodies are on “red alert.” Combined with the omnipresent actualities of social injustice and impending war, our psyches suffer and our life force depletes, both visibly and invisibly.

We must respond.

Perhaps, because I have just recently become a grandfather for the first time … imagining that my grandson would inherit a world devoid of the magnificence of nature and the vitality of imagination pushes me to come awake, to open my eyes and rediscover/recover my optimism.

Just two days ago I was walking along the beach here in Santa Barbara, and I “gifted” a stranger with a beautiful shell that I had discovered from the bottom of the ocean, or should I say it discovered me? He noticed that I was also holding a piece of beach trash, a weathered plastic back, left adrift in the sea, that I was taking to the recycling bin. He looked into my eyes and said simply, without pretense, “Thank-you brother, for being part of the solution.” I felt something move through me, a powerful life force, an awakening. Dare I say, I experienced a kind of planetary love; a remembrance of what for the most part has been lost, numbed, and drained out of me over these past months. In that moment, through that gesture, I felt a resurgence of “communitas,” the fulfillment that comes when we collectively tend to the beauty, to the soul in and of the world. Ah, what a rewarding moment.

Over these past days, I find myself, picking up more beach trash and opening my heart more deeply, gifting more of my Self to others (including sea shells!). Simple gestures, like saying “hello” as well as taking a moment to notice the kindness alive in each person, opens me to the generative impulse reemerging from the humility of my humanity.

The nightmare is real, but so, too, embedded in each intolerable situation, there exists the seeds of beauty and care. Time for me to “wake up” from the belief that “this nightmare too will pass” and, thus, remain silent. Time for me to remember my inheritance, reestablish my care for others, and restore my optimism for the world. And, indeed, it is time for me to imagine all of us living together with compassion in our hearts. It happened, for me, most unexpectedly, in a moment, on the sand, at the beach, with a stranger saying simply, “Thank-you brother, for being part of the solution.”

A reminder once again, that in the pathos of sorrow, at the center, in the darkness, a light shines on the yearning for love.

Head of Pacific Graduate Institute Stephen Aizenstat originally wrote this memo to his faculty and staff after the events in Las Vegas.

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