A Mighty Purpose (continued)

“This is the true joy in life – that being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.  That being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.  For the harder I work the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.  Life is no brief candle to me.  It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

A few months ago, I wrote a post (https://engagedmindfulness.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/a-mighty-purpose/) inspired by the words above.  And since then, I’ve been reflecting on what personal steps I might take in order to live more in keeping with Shaw’s lofty ideal.   Here are the resolutions I’ve come up with so far ….

1. Work on being more open to – by which I mean being less irritated by – the unexpected things that arise in the course of each day.  Try seeing them from the Buddhist perspective of “being with what is” rather than from my default perspective of “I don’t have time for this”.

2. Become more conscientious about building and sustaining relationships outside the small circle of my immediate family and close friends.  In particular, actively seek out meaningful ways of contributing to my local community and to the world at large.

3. Sharpen the focus of the essays I write for this blog.  Look for links between engaging mindfully with the world and the Buddhist concept of  “wise action” as a way of easing suffering in the world.

For now, I will keep the first two of these resolutions outside the scope of this blog, except when something occurs in my pursuit of either one of them that seems relevant to the intention set in the third resolution – promoting wise action and easing suffering.

By way of getting started with the third resolution, I’ve gone back and read through my posts since the very first one in October 2011.  What I notice is that, while the topics vary from month to month,  the themes revolve almost exclusively around various aspects of becoming more self-aware.  A worthy enough concern – and yet not enough in and of itself.  This blog bears the title  “Engaged Mindfulness” – and yet it appears that I’ve been concentrating excessively on the mindfulness part, to the detriment of the engaged part.

From now on, I intend to restore the balance implicit in Engaged Mindfulness’ description phrase, “Reflections on balancing committed action in the world with mindful awareness of the self”.

Since I wrote the original “A Mighty Purpose” essay in September of 2012, the United States has concluded the most divisive and most expensive presidential election in its history, the northeastern region of the country was wracked and wrecked by the most devastating hurricane ever to strike this area, and a quiet community in the state of Connecticut was traumatized by the horrific mass shooting at its elementary school that left twenty kindergarten-age children and seven of their teachers dead.  So much suffering on the national stage.

Since that same time, not even four months ago, the world has been witnessing – often on a daily basis – the ever-escalating carnage in Syria, the dismal descent into chaos of the once-promising democracy movement in Egypt, the eruption of civil war in Mali, the continued sectarian violence in Iraq, the threatening missile launches in North Korea, the secretive nuclear activities in Iran, the economic turmoil in Greece, the toxic air pollution in China – not by any means a complete catalog of our global woes, but a bleak enough accounting nonetheless.  So much suffering on the international stage.

So much suffering in the world.

I do not propose – in fact, I would not presume – to offer solutions.  Instead, I propose to offer ways of looking at and engaging with these complex events from a mindful perspective that focuses on the interconnectedness of all people and on the interrelatedness of all situations.  Only from such a perspective can wise action arise and the easing of suffering take place.

My topics will continue to change from one post to the next, but the underlying theme I intend to bring to each new post will, I hope, consistently reflect the urgency implicit in Thich Nhat Hahn’s powerful declaration – “Mindfulness must be engaged.  Once there is seeing, there must be acting.  Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?”

I believe that this new intention will make writing these posts more compelling for me.  I hope that it will make reading them more compelling for you.  Otherwise, what is the use, for us both?


About Tom Cummings

A life-long news and current events junkie, an occasional political activist and volunteer, and for the past five years a practitioner of daily meditation and a student of Buddhist philosophy, I write this blog to explore what I see as the inherent tensions and contradictions between practicing mindfulness - so rooted in the Buddhist virtues of compassion, generosity, and non-attachment to self - and being an engaged citizen in today's world - where the very opposite traits are all too often the ones that prevail.
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2 Responses to A Mighty Purpose (continued)

  1. Hi Tom

    Super aim!

    This came four days after my ‘Excruciation’!

    I felt ‘used up’ but not at all in Shaw’s sense of ‘I want to be thoroughly used up when I die…’ which is a great aspiration. Seems to me to involve rising above all earthly complaints into a different level of being.

    I have an endless Litany:-

    I have pain but ‘I’ am not my pain…
    I have concern for the state of the world but ‘I’ am not my concern…
    I have emotions but ‘I’ am not my emotions…
    I have anger but ‘I’ am not my anger…

    And so on…

    I wonder whether this can sharpen things?

    I’m also reminded of Covey’s Circle of Influence & Circle of Concern – the latter much larger than the former.

    I found a little poem in HGWells last year:-

    a new world order

    cannot come into existence
    without the preliminary order of
    a mental cosmopolis

    I’m just rambling, I’m afraid but what you’ve written here resonated with my own sense of impotence in the face of appalling human behaviour – shootings, bombings, state murder. Something way beyond anything we ordinary folk can get to grips with. Something way out of the capacity of ‘politicians’ to deal with.

    This is certainly where it’s at: ‘…the interconnectedness of all people and the interrelatedness of all situations…’

    Thanks Tom!



    • Thanks, Colin! What a powerful poem from Wells …. “the preliminary order of a mental cosmopolis”. The concept seems so close at hand, but the reality seems to be slipping ever farther away. The poem I contemplate most often these days is, I’m sad to report, Yeats’ The Second Coming, with its ominous lines “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”, and “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. A terribly apt description of the current American political landscape, if not the entire global stage as well. More necessary than ever to aspire to Wells’ hopeful cosmopolis image.


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