In such a chaotic world it is easy to feel overwhelmed. How do we cope with the pressures and demands? It helps if we break things down into small steps.
Mary Kretzmann, the head of our Healing Prayer Ministry, related how difficult it is to keep staff over a long period of time. People get overwhelmed by the many tragic circumstances among the prayer requests sent to Ananda each month—hundreds of them. She told a lovely story about how she copes with this problem:
A young girl was walking on a beach on which thousands of starfish had washed up after a big storm. She would stop, pick up a starfish, and gently toss it back into the ocean.
After a while an observer approached her and said, “Why are you doing this? The beach is littered with thousands of starfish. You can’t save them all. In fact you can’t begin to make much of a difference.”
The young girl stooped to pick up one more. After she threw it back into the sea, she looked up and said, “Well, I made a difference to that one.” The man nodded quietly and joined her in helping the ones they could.
Mary applies this principle to her particular service, but it applies to so many circumstances in our lives. When we feel overwhelmed it helps to tackle the problems one step at a time.
It also helps to keep a sense of humor. Devi and I would often save up a good joke to tell Swami Kriyananda at our customary afternoon tea with him. I can vividly remember the look on his face as he waited with joyful anticipation for the punch line. Here is one we told him:
A rather pompous minister arrived at the pearly gates. St. Peter glanced at him and told him to sit down and wait. A little while later a bedraggled man in old clothes arrived and St. Peter lit up with joy. “Joe, it is so good to see you. Your seat in heaven is waiting.”
The minister, upset by this, asked, “Why does he get the red-carpet treatment while you ignore me? I’ve been doing God’s work for many decades.”
St. Peter replied, “Well, you see, Joe was a cabdriver in New York City. A lot more people offered up sincere prayers in the back seat of his cab than ever did in your church.” I can still remember Swami roaring with laughter as his natural joy bubbled to the surface.
We can’t get far with problems, either in daily life or in meditation, unless we learn to concentrate on one thing at a time. It also helps to approach our problems with a little detachment. So often, when feeling overwhelmed we resort to daydreaming or fantasizing. There is a verse in Swami Kriyananda’s song, “The Christ Child’s Asleep” that captures this beautifully:
Our pleasures and pains,
Our losses, our gains
Have kept us long bound.
The ropes of yearning hemmed us ’round.
We dreamed of imposing on desert sand
Flower gardens of beauty, verdant vales of delight:
Imagination misted our sight!
So, concentration, humor, and detachment are our allies. We would do well to ignore the larger issues for the moment and take things one step at a time. If it works for starfish, cabdrivers, and swamis, it will work for us too.
In love and joy,