Regal and serene in the crimson robes of his order, Brother Bhante Wimala’s eyes sparkled behind his eyeglasses as they reflected an image glowing on the screen of his laptop. The image was the beatific smile of a middle-aged Kenyan woman, crippled by malnutrition, probably since birth, as she is lifted into her very first wheelchair. Bhante is clearly delighted to re-live the moment and grateful for the opportunity to engage others in his ongoing humanitarian work in Africa.
More images flicker on the computer’s screen, and this other-world window reveals a broader view of the same Nairobi village: countless others also crippled by the ravaging effects of poverty. “Heartbreaking,” someone sighed.
Bhante breathed in abruptly and leaned forward. As he spoke, his voice grew authoritative, almost stern. “You must prepare yourself psy-cho-logically,” he instructed, emphasizing each syllable. “You must be able to share in the joy of one who receives a wheelchair, even though there are 10 more in line who will not.”
How often do we feel powerless in the face of poverty and ignorance, and shrink from being the change we wish to see? How often do we bemoan tragedy in the world and berate ourselves for not doing more? As long as our focus is consumed by what’s not done, what’s lacking, or what we perceive to be wrong, our capacity for tapping the power of the infinite nosedives.
So how do we redirect that energy? How do we psychologically and spiritually prepare ourselves? I imagine Bhante counseling, “Stop,” in a tone of voice that’s somehow both commanding and comforting. Stop obsessing. Stop despairing. Stop condemning. Stop criticizing what you wish were different or what you wish you’d done differently.
It’s powerful coaching for spiritual practice as well as humanitarian service. Disciplining thought and emotion is as fundamental to spiritual growth as it is to global transformation. When we rejoice in the blessings we are able to share, trust that our efforts are fruitful, and know that our contribution is part of a greater process, then we activate the power of the divine to meet injustice with a compassionate, open heart. We not only experience the peace that passes understanding, we become it. We radiate it.