To be in the world, but not of it. What the heck does that mean? It means, to hold the pain, not repress it, but also not act out of it. To let it touch you, deeply; perhaps even make you weep. To hold those who are suffering in your heart, while at the same time feeling the pain of those who inflict it. Becoming a person who doesn't have all the answers because the world is messy, but being one who is willing to listen and act out of love, courage, and service in the best spirit of humankind. This is what it is to live and be "human." Not perfect. Not acting out of ego compulsion. To look into the eyes of the other and see the beauty of the nameless. To hold power accountable and also see the way we all miss the mark. To forgive. To forgive. To forgive. Even ourselves. And then, to slowly, steadily, awkwardly, begin the journey to seek the way that leads to a path that is unknown to us. A letting go of what we think is true and real. To breathe. To taste the moment. To listen as that still small voice calls to us. To weep and love and be exactly who we are called to be, and not the hollow shells we pretend to be.
In this vulnerability, we lose ourselves and yet gain everything as vessels through which love can enter the world. This is our calling, our evolutionary step. It takes a different kind of courage to walk this path because it's not about ego or power as we know it. It is power redefined. It is strength redefined. Will we respond to the call that tragedy and suffering are asking of us? The definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. Can we afford to do the same ol'? This is not a passive call. It is also not a call for one person to change the world. It is a singular, personal, individual call. A ringing truth of your heart that says, no more and what must I do? It starts with me. It starts in how I treat my wife. It starts in how I treat my family. It starts with how I treat my students and my colleagues and my community and this person right in front of me, no matter who they are. It is in the pivot point when my anger is about to sabotage my conversation. Or when my shame is too much to bear. Or when my fear feeds my compulsion.
It's as simple as a breath in that moment and asking, "Huh. That's interesting. Where is that coming from?" And then something magical happens; it melts a little and choice arises. In between stimulus and response is choice. How do I want to respond? This is what true strength is. This is the path of true power. It is not an easy path, but it is the only way we make it out of here alive, together. As Thomas Merton said shortly before his death, “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” This is not piety or doctrine or something to believe in, but real, authentic, active love for the other in whatever moment you are in.
You want to be strong? Take the first step, become self-aware and then, begin a practice of active love in whatever moment you find yourself.