Heliotropic. | rejoyce letters, vol. 28

Hi Friend, 

I don't follow the news too closely; I consider this a spiritual practice.

Now, let me assure you that I do keep myself decently well-informed, vote consistently, and regularly donate to various organizations that I consider to be making the world a better place. 

That being said, I consciously choose not to read many news articles, mostly to protect my own mental and emotional health. 

There are other reasons, too—for example, most news companies are profit-driven (not necessarily truth-driven) enterprises, always chasing "newsworthy" stories, and often, due to this, some issues get completely blown out of proportion while other important issues go entirely unreported. (Reading Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me opened my eyes to many widespread women's issues that almost never hit the newspapers.)

But mainly, as I said, I abstain from reading a ton of news for my own benefit. I do not believe in denial—I believe in encountering pain face to face, looking at it, sitting with it, and feeling it—but I also think that news stories are often not really what I need to be facing. I believe the pain I most need to face is my own pain. (And the pain you most need to face is your own pain.) News can even distract me from my healing, from facing the very thing I most need to address in my life at the moment (e.g. perhaps forgiving someone, letting go of jealousy, surrendering in a situation, etc.). I believe inner peace precedes world peace, and remain unconvinced our endless news cycle is moving us in the direction of peace. 

All this to say, that, generally, I don't mention "current events" in these letters. And yet, after the heartbreaking shooting in a Pittsburgh Synagogue on Saturday, which I find deeply upsetting for many reasons, some obvious, some more specific, like the simple fact I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, I feel compelled to write about evil. 

I've read a number of spirituality books this year and one thing that surprised me is they all define evil essentially identically: They define evil as an absence, not a presence. Evil is the absence of Love.

So, evil does not actually exist in its own form—it is merely what's left when Love is absent or blocked. Perhaps "merely" is not an apt word, because the utter absence of Love is unimaginably horrific, and, of course, unimaginably horrific things have happened throughout history. There are unimaginably horrific things that are happening right now, today.

But, despite the abounding and seemingly unending horrors of the world, it helps me to think of evil as an absence, much like black is the absence of all color. Because it doesn't make logical sense to fight an absence, rather, it makes sense to address it with a presence. You do not fight literal darkness when you cannot see; you simply shine a light to eradicate it. 

In The Seat of The Soul Gary Zukav writes: 

"The remedy for an absence is a presence. Evil is an absence and, therefore, it cannot be healed with an absence. By hating evil, or one who is engaged with evil, you contribute to the absence of Light and not to its presence. Hatred of evil does not diminish evil, it increases it."

I realize Gary Zukav, though he is beloved by Oprah, is probably a dude most of you have never heard of. And, if you Google him, you'll likely find some people calling him a totally off-the-deep-end spirituality nut job [which is hopefully my future job tite ;)] But hey! Have you ever head of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Because check out this quote from his book, Strength to Love:

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

There's power in contemplating your own reaction to negativity in the world—in asking yourself if you are bringing the presence of Love to negative situations, or if you are fighting hatred with hatred and evil with evil. Because, honestly, it's easy to fight hatred with hatred. It's easy to hate a murderer. It's easy to hate everyone who votes opposite of you in elections. It's so, so, so easy to hate. 

But fighting hatred with hatred is like fighting fire with fire: It never fucking works. 

Pardon my cursing, but I find it upsetting when people who consider themselves on the "correct" side of history are still so quick to plunge into hate-filled vitriol toward the opposing side. Can't you see how this only adds a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars? We don't need more darkness; we need Light.

We don't need the absence of Love; we need presence. We need, specifically, your presence. And my presence. And we need those presences to be so full of Light and Love and shining so brightly that they illuminate the dark corners of the world, and, by doing so, put an end to the unimaginably horrific things that human doings can do when Love is absent from their lives.

So as for me, I might not read every news article every day, but I, like the sunflowers, will turn my face toward the sun. Even when—especially when—it feels nearly impossible to do so. I fully accept I will not be perfect at this, I know I will fall into the grips of hatred and anger and jealousy and other negative emotional states time and time again, but I also believe it is a worthy practice. 

The practice of living this heliotropic way is fundamentally the same as the practice I do each and every countless time my mind wanders in meditation. I notice without judgment, and I gently bring my attention back to my breath. Forget. Remember. Begin again. 

Rumi says:

"What you seek is seeking you." 

And I choose to seek the Light. It is the only way I can manage to have any hope for the future of the world—but, for me, it is enough. 

Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul

and sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all. 

with Love and with Light,


p.s. That last excerpt is from this lovely Emily Dickinson's poem.

p.p.s. I also love this Jack Gilbert poem where he says: "We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world." Jack Gilbert was a poet who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, a city where, I believe, Love will prevail.