How I Cope When the World Is Fucked Up

photo of Eiko Otake, by William Johnston

The world seems particularly fucked up this week.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in a golden age of history. I don't think that the Ancient Greeks or the Native Americans or the Celts had it all figured out until we Moderns came along and ruined everything with iphones and nuclear weapons and global warming and colonialism. Back in the day prepubescent girls were married against their will to strangers, and there was human sacrifice of children. And everyone died at the age of thirty from gum disease. Existence in samsara has always been bloody and painful and traumatic.

And yet this week in particular I've found it hard to be hopeful about humanity and the world. It seems like everyone is killing each other, and I don't know why, or what to do. I also have been feeling something else besides sadness or hopelessness, a kind of low-level panic or fear, and I think it has to do with the way information is disseminated, which is in a way that is simultaneously incessant and removed. 

So this is what I did yesterday to reclaim my sanity. Maybe you would like to do the same. 

1) Turn off the computer

My facebook feed is a mess. Scrolling down is like walking through a tunnel with people shooting arrows at me from all sides. There's people mourning Paris, people angry that not enough media coverage has been given to the deaths of people of color, people retaliating to the anger that there is not enough media coverage of people of color, and then, blessedly, there is my brother suggesting that we should form a "new religion where we worship neurotransmitters." But he is an island of sanity and humor in the midst of internet chaos. 

I am not going to read facebook anymore. It's crazy making. I read the news. I limit myself to two or three articles a day. I am selfish. I enact triage of emotional availability. I privilege my own sanity over knowing the exact body count of everyone in the world today. I am no use to anyone if I am a mess. Three articles a day is enough.

2) Mourn

As a culture, we (and I mean Americans) don't have a clear understanding about how to mourn. We don't have rituals or ceremonies for this. Mourning is important, because the dead want to be remembered. This was something my dance teacher in college, Eiko Otake, always talked about in her classes about the atomic bomb. The dead want to be remembered, which is why we have to mourn. 

It's good to do an actual ritual for people who have died, even if we don't know who they are. Light a candle. Light some incense. Light a butter lamp. Make an offering of water. Make a shrine. Read a poem out loud. Put some candy on a book, pretend the book is an altar, and offer the candy up to the spirits. Mourn and cry and remember. It's good to do this actively, to actually sit down and mourn, with people or alone. It's good to do this actively because otherwise the sadness is something we carry around, unacknowledged. 

by William Johnston
3) Pray

I'm not so much into prayer myself, but this weekend I prayed. I prayed for the families of people who've died, and also for the people enacting violence. I prayed for the end of their delusion and hatred. I prayed for peace. 

4) Sit in silence

I actually would rather not be talking about this. Silence is important. To sit with sadness and confusion and not feel the need to pose an answer is what I would rather be doing than writing about this online. 

5) Show up for people in real life

I spend too much time on the internet. We all do. There are real people in my life, and I have to remind myself to show up in conversations. Listen, give time and kind words and love. Look people in the face.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: 

Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects... humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person, that each of you is that person. 


  1. Thank you for this. With all that has happened the global reaction seems to be a great outpouring and very little reflection. We cant all save the world in a total sense but we can at least save it from ourselves.

    Thank you again for being a voice of calm and reason in a chaotic world.

  2. I just heard Sylvia Boorstein talk on this topic Saturday night, and she had one more good suggestion (I think it's her definition of Wise Intention): "Don't make things worse."
    Thankyou for writing.

  3. Agreed, Gesshin. I'm spending much less time on Facebook, am carefully curating the news articles I read, and am thinking of the old anonymous admonition "Life is short, how can we be anything but kind."

  4. Meditation can teach us that we sometimes need to close the sense doors in order not to be flooded by stimulation that further bogs us down rather than lifting us up to be more wise and helpful. Thank you for those well written reminders.

  5. Yes, we are each that person. Thank you so much.

  6. I have tremendeous respect for your writing this blog and sharing these intimate thoughts with such honesty. This goes for all of the previous posts that I've read too, they're a comforting read. Also echoing Russ's sentiments regarding this post, thanks for that. You christallized most of what I've had racing in my mind lately, only unable to take such an identifiable form. I guess reading those thoughts here kind of does the job of attempting to write that stuff down in order to find some clarification, and I'm glad because that's not something I get around to doing too much.

    tl;dr: Thank you very much for this.

  7. Personally, I went through almost the same thing, reading all kinds of facebook stuff and media and all the reactions and fell messed up, too. Then I expected Buddhism give me some clear, balanced attitude towards all this mess, and the answer was not coming. So I pushed a bit harder, a bit harder and finally, the answer came, so I wrote this article about the problems:


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