We live in challenging times, and it can be hard to know how to make the difference we want to make. When we see something we want to change – a wrong to be made right – we can feel ill equipped and overwhelmed. What can one person do, and how effective is one person up against seemingly huge problems?
Well, interestingly, an ancient Tibetan prophecy twelve centuries old might provide us with some possibilities. The Shambhala Warrior prophecy was told to me by Dr Joanna Macy who is a Buddhist scholar, deep ecologist, and translator of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry. She had heard the story through her Tibetan teacher nearly 40 years earlier.
Essentially the story (which I share in full in the video in this newsletter), is set at a time of peril, where the forces of evil seem to be winning. Into the field for goodness come Shambhala warriors, working to dismantle systems of oppression and darkness.
These warriors are not from one land, they have no common language and wear no articles of clothing that identify them to each other, yet they work to bring about a better life for all beings.
They are given 2 weapons, and these weapons or tools are available for us in 2018.The first is compassion, which allows them to feel the passion of purpose and mission, and the connection to others pain. But that on its own is too hot. Having just compassion can burn people out. The second tool is insight. This is the ability to see the interconnectedness amongst all things, and to understand that both light and dark runs through each human heart. But wisdom on its own is too cool, and calculating. Transforming our world, our workplaces and our life can’t just be about thinking and strategy. It needs the synergy and fire of the human heart.
This story tells us that if we are wanting to achieve anything meaningful, then holding both compassion and insight, and working these imaginatively, will help us as leaders.
So back to 2018 – in a business context, do you emphasise one over the other? Are you perhaps too cool in the way you work? You see the strategy and why it makes sense, and you wonder why others don’t want to work with you, or are feeling half hearted about moving forward. Perhaps you might be overlooking that people need inspiration and connection to take action. Logic on it’s own won’t mobilise the leadership and energy of others.
Or perhaps you are someone who feels the need to do a project and take action, and tries to gather others through the force of your passion. People might see that you are lit up and energised, but if they can’t see the reasoning behind it, or are not convinced on the workability of it, you will repulse them and find yourself thwarted and disempowered.
Over the years I’ve drawn a lot of strength from this story, and the tools the Shambhala warriors are given. A small example from a time in India: I was near the Pakistan border and the water was so salty people’s faces had cracks down their cheeks, like you find on a broken egg. I met a widow with a family of seven children, and she had very little. In her hut beside some rags was one clay water jug. None of the children were in school because even clothes for school was not possible. She worked three months a year in harvest time and that income needed to see her through for twelve months. I immediately wanted to give her money so she could take care of her children and send them all to school. I was figuring out in my head how much this would cost. The injustice and pain of what I saw burned within me. (Compassion).
I was with one of my colleagues, who put her hand on my shoulder. She had been training women in that village around their rights. She told me the government had pensions for widows, and through the leadership work of the women in the village, families at risk were identified and supported to apply for the pension they were entitled to. And indeed this widow I met had applied, and would be receiving it in the next fortnight. Suddenly, I saw that the same money could be used strategically and thoughtfully to allow for the training and support of the leadership of many to ensure injustice was rectified. (Wisdom)
Dancing between wisdom and compassion takes courage and openness, especially if one gift is more natural to us than the other. In being awake to both, we avail ourselves of the tools we need to help change the world.