As I sit down to write these words, my heart is filled with disbelief at the unfolding situation in Ukraine. A couple of days ago, Ukraine was subject to an unprovoked attack by the president of Russia and his army. This is the birth country of my parents, who had to flee after the second World War as the country was under attack, just like it is now – a pattern that has been repeating itself for hundreds of years.
I spent my childhood immersed in all things Ukrainian. My parents, (as is typical of Ukrainians) were patriotic and so we spent our weekends attending Ukrainian school, Church, dancing, singing, you name it, my sister and I were there. As I moved away from the family home, I discovered a world beyond the Ukrainian community, expanded my horizons, and my Ukrainian heritage was put on the backburner.
Like many of us in the Western world, I have taken for granted the ability to go about my daily life in peace. I can go to work, I can buy anything I like, I can travel freely (Covid restrictions aside!). In these past few days I have been reminded that in this very moment, there are millions of people just like me, with dreams and aspirations, whose ability to even enjoy a warm meal has been taken away. As I sit in the cool stillness of a new day in my apartment, families are being torn apart, children are crying, people are frightened. It isn’t fair and I cannot believe that in the 21st century, (some) humans are still oblivious to the atrocities of war.
As the current issue is close to my heart, it is hard for me to not be affected in some way, as I feel the Ukrainian part of me stirring. All of a sudden I have a desire to visit this country of my parents’ birth and I worry about how much of the culture, sacred architecture and natural beauty of this country will survive unscathed.
In many ways I feel helpless about a situation on the other side of the world and I am visited by feelings of anger, passion, disbelief, sadness and my mind often wanders to that other part of the world. I cannot control external events but I can control how I react to them, and I can control my inner world.
As a believer in universal energy and the oneness of all, there are things that I can do. I’ve been lighting a candle every night for the people of Ukraine. I can bring this light into my heart and I can send it to the people of Ukraine – the leaders, the soldiers, the mothers, fathers, children, the sick and injured. There is enough hatred and anger floating around, just as the perpetrators would like it. The people of Ukraine need hope, light and love. Yesterday I visited my local shrine to pray for the people of Ukraine, to send love and hope. I sat in silence away from the news, and I listened for the quiet whisper of divine wisdom to come through.
In daily meditation, I see myself as observer of my thoughts and feelings, which creates distance between me and my thought / feelings, so their impact on me is lessened. Distance always seems to dilute impact. I give my thoughts and feelings space to be acknowledged , so they can pass through me, rather than getting stuck inside my body and mind. Journaling is another tool that I find useful to release thoughts and feelings, getting them out of me and onto paper, again creating that sense of distance.
I remember that I am not my thoughts or feelings, they are merely visiting. They come and go but I remain the same at my core.
Yes it is challenging at times, like when I watch video footage from relatives as they watch tanks roll past their home. Yes it’s insane and yes it’s unfair, but I like to believe that even in the midst of this atrocity, there is divine reason, even if I’m not aware of it. I hold on to the belief that goodness, humanness and love will prevail in the long run.
I limit my consumption of news to prevent overwhelm. I focus on what goodness I have in my life – my work, my studies, my art, my family, and immerse myself in these. I move with the feelings, in yoga and dance, rejoicing in the blessing of being able to move. I go for a walk in nature, looking for goodness, beauty and life in the world.
Lastly, I find comfort in the words of Ralph Marston, and I hope that you do too:
Stop for a moment and calm your thoughts.
Let go of your anxieties and look around you.
What do you see?
You see a world filled with beauty.
You see a life filled with possibilities.
Yes there are challenges, yes there is sorrow.
Yes there is violence and hatred.
But more than these there is love,
there is goodness, there is joy.
Think of what a precious thing your life is
and how truly blessed you are to be experiencing it right now.
Breathe in the beauty around you, the beauty and richness of being alive.