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We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned

to have the life that is waiting for us

—E.M. Forster

Sometimes we lose sight of what we are doing, or the way forward seems unclear.

For those of us who have dedicated our work to making the world a better place—even in some small way—we are faced daily with numerous obstacles: the urgency we feel, the resources available (or not available) to us, finding the best way forward, coping with the enormity of the challenge.

The theologian Howard Thurman shared: “Don’t worry about what the world needs. Find what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

Returning to what it is that makes each one of us come alive is a critical practice when daily we are confronted with the overwhelm of creating change. The transition to a more sustainable society can only occur if we are vigilant in participating in the constant process of acknowledging clearly what we know must shift—no matter how unlikely it might seem—and returning to the roots of why we became involved in this effort.

The Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn advises activists who are feeling worn down or frustrated not to connect with anger but to connect with the vision of how they’d like the world to be and to act from that intention. And anyone can use this as a powerful practice—in everyday interactions, during meetings at work, while engaging others in important efforts.

The practice of returning to what inspires us brings a new clarity, allows us to participate more fully in our work, and provides renewed energy to move forward for the long haul.

Ultimately, there is a reciprocity we find in being honest about our purpose and motivations and that connects us as a community to those working in similar ways and can produce a profound sense of gratitude as we continue on. As Albert Einstein observed:

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.

November 2009