In February of 2004, I was feeling very discouraged about the state of the world, and seeing my efforts to change things as pitifully small. I sent out a despairing plea to the circle dancing elist – and got a whole bunch of wonderful replies that really lifted my spirits. See Circle of Hope
This is what I said: I’m tired and discouraged. I feel like I’m trying to move a mountain of sand grain by grain. .… Are we engaged in a hopeless task? … Is there anybody out there who agrees with me? Please let me know, I’m feeling pretty alone with it right now.
One reply came from a committed Quaker, and what she said was so elegant and disciplined, so clearly resting on generations of people who had worked hard for peace, that I go back to it again and again, to feel how strong the support is under me.
Thank you so much for reminding us how arduous this peacework can be. I very much liked the image you drew of trying to move a mountain of sand grain by grain. In fact, that is precisely what each of us is doing, in much the same way that Buddhist monks build their sand mandalas — grain by grain. What enables them to work so assiduously is the fact that they focus not on the result, but on the process. This is a valuable lesson for the West. The I Ching teaches that we should plow our fields, not expecting a harvest. The harvest is not our concern; it is only the plowing that matters.
In response to your plea, I can offer only what I learned growing up in Friends meeting about what it means to benefit from the endeavors of an active life. Whether we succeed in our efforts depends on how “success” is interpreted. There is another kind of success outside that of seeing the result we hope for. There is the success measured by useful and important work done with devotion. There is the success of having responded to what one knows to have been the authentic call of God/dess and of having remained faithful to that guidance, whether seeing any results or not.
When society has fed and housed the poor and nursed the sick, and when it has educated the disenfranchised and offered them a useful place in the economy of mankind; when the brilliant and advantaged have been educated for responsibility rather than for personal gain; when no one is standing around rejected while others feel themselves over-entitled; when war has been renounced and its instruments disassembled, only then will it be possible for us to consider whether our struggles offer us any sense of worldly success compatible with our convictions.
In the meantime, this work we do forms us in character and conscience. We do it because it involves bearing witness to a “testimony,” which (contrary to what many people think) is not a response to an external problem. It is a leading that comes from that authentic guidance from God/dess. In that respect, we do it because to do otherwise is unthinkable. We do it because we cannot conceive of not doing it.