There was a theory of disease before the development of “germ theory” that there was a sort of bad air called a miasma that was responsible for illness and disease. It was conceived as a heavy cloud of something unpleasant or unhealthy. Now thoroughly discredited by medical science, the idea of a miasma has entered the psychological realm as a sort of “bad air” in our thoughts that can pollute the psychic space. It is in this sense that I am calling the atmosphere around many current events a miasma.
I caught myself in a miasma recently as I was scanning the news back in the US. I read that some presidential candidates are advocating the closing of all mosques in the US and outlawing the Islamic faith. That this is a violation of the US constitution, which guarantees all citizens the right to freely practice their religion, seems to have escaped the notice of these politicians. Some of the same people are advocating violent exchanges between their followers and people who disagree with them, offering to pay for their legal defense if they are prosecuted. That this amounts to inciting violence is obvious, but no one, it seems, has the courage to prosecute these offenses. The politicians remain unscathed and grow ever more virulent in their pronouncements. Add to all this the open carrying of firearms in public places in the US, and the threat is amplified. I only wonder that it hasn’t gotten totally out of hand. Perhaps there is some lingering sanity that is protecting people from the miasma or perhaps we have only been lucky.
I found myself caught up in this miasma as I contemplated the results of these politicians’ words. I imagined young men in the Middle East and Islamic areas in the US and Europe strapping on the bombs that would make them suicide bombers after hearing the pronouncements of the politicians above. I imagined the countries of Europe closing their borders and building walls around themselves for protection, like those advocated by some politicians in the US. That this miasma is catching is obvious to me, because I found myself infected with it. The symptoms are a growing depression and hopelessness, followed by anger and the desire to do violence. This post is a warning and perhaps the beginnings of a treatment for the condition.
One possible defense against a miasma is to attempt to ignore it. If I imagine that it isn’t there and keep “whistling in the dark” I won’t be caught in the miasma itself. I can let a “smile be my umbrella” and hope to stay ahead of it by burying my head in the sand. Living here in Girona makes that almost possible. There is a continual round of festivals and events that can occupy my time, and there is excellent food to keep my taste buds happy. If I see a dark cloud on the horizon I can have another glass of the local red wine, and it seems to disappear. As long as I can maintain that attitude I can avoid the worst effects of the infection. Maybe there is a movie on Netflix or the local theater that will distract me. Perhaps a visit with friends will lift my mood. I freely admit to practicing all of the above. However, this isn’t a treatment, and it leaves me vulnerable to the effects of chance encounters with the news.
A second, and more effective defense is to choose an area where I feel I can make a difference and “become the change I want to see in the world,” to quote Mahatma Gandhi, who knew what to do. I put my efforts into changing that one area. My satisfaction in seeing some success will keep me from falling into hopelessness and depression. For me that small area is this blog. Even if what I write here only reaches a few hundred people I get real satisfaction in trying to make a difference. The downside of this approach is that the problems that create the miasma are huge, and my power to effect change seems puny in comparison.
Another approach to challenges and to the state of the world is what Elyn and I call “sending blessings.” Following the principle that “it is better to light one candle than curse the darkness” (attributed to John F. Kennedy, and often called a Chinese proverb) we choose to send blessings in difficult situations.
For example, we were in the airport on Malta waiting for our flight back to Barcelona and encountered a woman in the waiting area who was coughing and sneezing. When we got on the plane that woman was seated next to me. To make matters worse, we had a crying infant in the row just across from us. Now, we were thinking that we were going to catch that woman’s cold and have to put up with a squalling baby all the way to Barcelona. Elyn retrieved a cough drop from her portable medical kit and offered it to the lady next to me. Then we looked at each other and whispered “just send blessings.” We immediately felt better about our situation and when the cough drop took effect, the women fell asleep and snoozed quietly all the time we were in the air. Miracle of miracles, the baby stopped crying and was contented all the way home. Did our sending blessings effect these changes? I don’t know and will make no wild claims, but what I do know is that our attitude was greatly improved. We felt better than we would have and we might just have had some effect on the situation through our blessings. And finally, neither of us caught the woman’s cold!
We’re not alone in this strategy—check out the Grandmother’s Net of Light.
So, here is my general advice for dealing with all the miasmas around us: “Just send blessings.” We never know how far the ripples of our thoughts will reach.
And take a moment to listen to my favorite elder statesperson, Barbara Marx Hubbard who is starting an online course she is calling Evolutionary Mentoring. It will be worth your time.