bearing witness to the war in Ukraine

Updated On — 11th Oct, 2022

I admit I am preoccupied with the war in Ukraine. Should I not be? 

I am ambivalent about mixing politics with spirituality, so I am trying to be very cautious here. But as the French sculptor Daniel Buren once wrote:

Every act is political whether one is conscious of it or not.

If our meditation practice is to be of any real value to us, it must shine a light into every corner of our lives. We can’t hide anything away in some secret place in our minds and hearts.

So many feelings come up

So many feelings come up when I read about the war in Ukraine, I have trouble triaging them in my head–which ones are critical, which are purely reactive and which might have some meaning to reveal.

I check my news feed several times a day, as if that would make any difference or allay my anxieties.

These last few days I don’t know any more how to greet people.I cannot say have a good day or have a good night, no, because for some this is their last day. We are facing a harsh reality–people are dying every day.

Volodymyr Zelensky, 3/1/22, during a video-link message to the European Union.

Sadness comes up a lot. Then there’s awe of Zelensky’s guts and the courage of everyday Ukrainians in the face of such terror. 

bearing witness to the war in Ukraine
Bearing witness to the war in Ukraine and all the pain

frustration and anxiety

Frustration and a horrified anxiety yell into megaphones from the crowd of protesters in my mind.

I ask if I am “doing this right”, if I should even feel anxious, or should I be cool and disconnected from these emotions? I mean, I have been a dedicated Buddhist meditator for four decades.

How do I write about this? Should I emote? Be visceral? Adopt any of the wartime tones on social media and the press?

I feel exhausted emotionally at times, wanting to turn away from this pain.

how we carry our pain vs knowing the answer

The older I get, the more I think about what makes us deeply human is how we carry our pain.

What also makes us human is to question what we think we know. To allow that whatever we think may not be as rational as the thoughts say they are. Remember the bumper sticker from the 1970s?

Don’t believe everything you think.

It helps me to know that bearing witness to the pain is more important than knowing what the answer is to this crisis. When sadness comes up, mindfulness observes the feeling tones in my body and the thoughts in my head intimately and dispassionately.

the mindful space

Mindfulness makes the space that allows me to investigate if the feeling offers some direction, or if it is purely reactive, coming from fear or aversion.

The poet Mary Oliver writes in her poem Wild Geese,

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile, the world goes on.

the world goes on

That is a tough reminder for me. The world does go on, despite everything.The media reports are horrendous, but I can’t forget my own well-being, and that of others I care for.

So I continue meditating. 

It feels like a privilege. But maybe an uglier entitlement would be not to care about the war in Ukraine. Meditation is a privilege, yes, but one that I don’t embrace just for myself. 

Sitting quietly in mindfulness meditation, I care for myself.

Caring for myself, I care for others. 

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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