How to take enlightened activity in a crazy world

September 4, 2023   |   3 Comments

I know we are all thinking about what we can do to help the world. I mean, what else could possibly be worth thinking about? The crazier the world gets, the more I feel both ashamed of my personal concerns and also cling to them as particularly meaningful. Because the world is so incomprehensible, I take refuge in what I think I can control. Sometimes I become so full of despair!! I don’t need to list all the reasons to be sad, angry, and scared, we all know what they are. Now what? And how on earth could meditation be helpful?

When I encounter the sorrows of this world, I most often take one of three responses, none of which are very useful. 

One, I collapse into depression and anxiety. UNHELPFUL. But sometimes necessary. 

Two, I try to shut it all out and go about my business like, “well, what can I do about all this, I’m just one person and plus I’ve got problems of my own.” TRUE. But also complete bullshit.

Three, and perhaps most dangerous, I allow myself to be filled with rage and then minimize all ordinary concerns (my own as well as yours) as juvenile, naive, not worthy of concern and the only thing that matters is how hard I am fighting the power. On some days, this is true. But it often compels me to divide the world into two very dangerous categories. The first one is called “us” and the second one is called “them.”  Such divisions are behind all forms of violence, whether personal, societal, or planetary. Think about it.

How can I respond effectively? How can I avoid becoming hopeless, hopelessly self-centered, or, worse, adding to the aggression that created the problems of racism, injustice, intolerance, and climate calamity in the first place?

According to Vajrayana Buddhism, there are four enlightened actions we can take to create true transformation. They are usually best done in order but sometimes they seem to all happen simultaneously.

These four actions (also called the Four Karmas) are:




Destroy (or Let Go, if you prefer).

Today, let’s focus on the first karma, to pacify. 

To begin with, pacifying has nothing to do with calming down, reframing problems as so-called opportunities (vomit), or even trying to find a way to settle your heart by arriving at a particular conclusion, whether hopeful or hopeless. (Sometimes thinking “WE’RE SCREWED” is the only calming thought. For some strange reason.)

Pacifying begins with opening. Feeling. Sensing. Allowing. Seeing clearly. We all have problems (big and small) that we’d rather avoid. Tremendous energy goes into such avoidances. I speak from personal experience. The more I turn away from my heart, the more exhausted I become. The less energy I have for good work. The more hopeless I feel. However, when I take even the smallest internal step to acknowledge the truth of how I feel, while the first moments may be weighty and terrifying, almost immediately they are followed by a return of energy. I am in truth. Integrity. Alignment. Whatever crazy word you prefer. Shit gets real and real is always preferable. 

So, the first step is to soften and allow circumstance to touch us in a way that provokes a genuine, deeply felt response. But, you may be thinking, this is dangerous. You will see the terror of this world, there is no question. It is correct to feel afraid.

So why risk it?

Because an open heart also means this:

You can be touched and therefore see clearly.

You are receptive to others and can help them.

You are able to help from the energy of your heart, not your mind/theories/best practices. 

For everyone, everyone, it is the act of helping that creates a meaningful life. Everything else is fleeting, only being of service creates meaning. That’s how it works. I have no idea why.

But before we get all martyr-y, let’s look at what “helping” actually is. It sounds like it is committing to a life of sacrifice and drudgery. It isn’t. It’s the opposite. Committing to a life of service is committing to a life of joy, wakefulness, and love.

This looks different for everyone. We each have our unique mission of helpfulness. There is something that only you can do for this world. Do you know what it is?

It may look like showing up during disasters with money, food or clothing.

It may look like being the one person in your family or community that everyone can turn to for advice, solace, or support.

It may look like caring for all the animals in this world—or even just one.

It may be working to fight climate change in the world and/or your own backyard.

It may look like becoming a parent, priest, teacher, social worker, therapist, body worker, or any other kind of being who connects directly with individuals to make their lives happier or support them to overcome adversity.

It may look like devotion to anything you take on as an art form—be it painting, writing, gardening, knitting, cooking, playing music, cutting hair, or any other work that depends on opening to inspiration and being guided by it. Your art form may be leading an organization, heading a department, practicing law or waitressing or accounting. It’s all in the way you open to it.

It may look like practicing the art of any science to the depth of your capacity, whether it’s medicine, astronomy, software development, engineering, architecture, and so on and so on.

And so on.

The amazing thing is this: What you do that turns out to be most helpful for others is also your unique gift and thus most helpful to you as well. What you do to help is synonymous with discovering your gift and thus it is your path. And, as we know, whether it’s been a good or a bad day, when you’re on your path, you are joyful. Engaged. Authentic. Open.

So, be yourself. Offer what you already possess as deeply as you can and that will turn out to be the best possible thing for this world. And then keep doing it. Do it more. You could start right now. You could make a plan every single day for how you will offer your gift. Big ways. Small ways. Just always is the key.

For now, ask yourself: What opens my heart? Pay attention throughout your day to what touches you and what shuts you down. What does it feel like or how do your thoughts change when your heart is open? When it slams shut? Don’t try to change anything at first…just notice. You will figure it out. And remember: If you want to change the world, open your heart. That is why this is called “The Open Heart Project”, by the way. It has basically nothing to do with new age bullshit or being positive (double vomit). It is actually the path of warriorship and it begins with pacifying (aka opening). With this as a start, we can move on to enrich (add something of value), magnetize (draw advantageous circumstances), and, my personal favorite, destroy (let go, conclude, move on to what is more powerful).

And in the meantime, contemplate the 7 Signs of Open Heartedness (made up by me).

  1. The sorrow of other people touches you. So does their joy, equally.
  2. Inspiration knows how to find you and you are not a stranger to enthusiasm.
  3. You are polite to everyone yet are not a doormat.
  4. You know yourself without shame (“I suck”) or aggression (“I deserve to feel this”).
  5. You see the sadness. You cry a lot.
  6. You see the humor. You laugh a lot. You understand the importance of balance and can actually see what is funny, ridiculous–most especially about yourself. 
  7. You have figured out the difference between taking care of people vs caring about people. (This is a big one, y’all.) (Actually, they’re all big.)

Feel free to add to this list (and, if you do, share your thoughts with me).

And please note: The support for opening your heart is the practice of meditation. It teaches us to slow down. Open. Receive. See beyond preconceptions. Feel. Don’t take my word for that. Or anything. Try it for yourself and make your own discoveries. Here is a 10-minute sit for you to use right now

For more on the Four Karmas, please listen to this short talk from Her Eminence, Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche.

PS: Once, long ago, I was going to attend a talk Khandro Rinpoche was giving but as I sat waiting for it to begin, I realized I was getting a terrible migraine and would have to leave, regrettably. I walked down a narrow staircase that I knew led to the outside. Just as I was walking down, she was walking up. She locked eyes with me for the merest moment and it was strangely one of the most terrifying and joyful experiences I’ve ever had. It was the first time I experienced what, I think, it is like to be in the presence of someone who is actually awake. Terrifying Joyful. (I guess I just heard her talk, I thought to myself.)

Please remember: to change the world, open your heart.

“The times are urgent; let us slow down…Slowing down is losing our way—not a human capacity or human capability. It is the invitations that are now in the world-at-large, inviting us to listen deeply, to be keen, to be fresh, to be quick with our heels, to follow the sights and sounds and smells of the world.” –Bayo Akomolafe

I hope this is of benefit to you.



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  • Posted by:  Jane Deakin

    Very wonderful 🙏

  • Posted by:  David

    This is very inspiring. We can all do something every day. A kind word to a cashier or waitress. Hold a door open for a stranger. Pursue our passion in volunteering. These things add up to a better community.

  • Posted by:  OMeditations

    Just stumbled upon this insightful piece on “How to Take Enlightened Activity in a Crazy World” over at The Open Heart Project, and wow, does it hit home! 🌍💔 It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the chaos around us, but this article offers a fresh perspective on engaging with the world from a place of openness and compassion. The idea of starting with pacifying, then moving through enriching, magnetizing, and finally letting go, really frames the journey of personal growth in a tangible way. It’s a powerful reminder that true change starts within, by opening our hearts. 🙏✨

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