when the world feels wrong

sometimes when i wake up, there’s a dark tightness in my chest, like the right side of my ribcage is twisted. Everything is terrible: the world is full of wrong.

Our society is in decay, and actively destroying the environment we depend on. My state government is ignoring these problems and persecuting trans people instead. Down the street, a mother was hospitalized for COVID and they took her children away, maybe for good unless she somehow gets a lawyer she can’t afford.

I wake up surrounded by sun and books in my perfect bedroom. An oasis of beauty in a country full of slime. How is this OK?

It used to be enough, it used to be fine as long as my life was good. Now my life is better than ever, so why do I feel worse?

My awareness has widened. My systems sense has awakened, or opened one eye.

My peers express this too, this feeling that the world is terrible. “Burn it all down,” they say, or “Capitalism is the root of all evil” or “Capitalism is the only solution” or “Our great country is being destroyed by [insert oppressed group here].”

I decline to adopt any simple story. I don’t have the consolation of religion. I don’t feel the urge to burn our society down; its replacement would be worse. I do want it to be better, sustainable, kinder.

What can I do?

I remember that the system is not my fault. It is the situation I find myself in, and that makes it mine to work on. Not to heroically fix, but to nudge in a better direction. I am only a seed, and it is not about me.

If I listen, the same system sense that reveals this pain to me can guide me in small actions to help. I can take some action to reduce suffering at many scales, and I can promote beauty on personal scales.

At a broad scale I can donate and vote, adding my tiny drop to the bucket. At a local scale, I can donate to charities that might feel it, and walk in local marches. Financial donations are abstract, I do them but they don’t change how I feel. Speaking with people, joining causes, interacting in my body, that’s the participation I crave.

At a personal scale, I can help one person near me. It won’t fix the system, but it will help someone, someone I can see and talk to and learn from.

Is it enough? There is no “enough” in systems so much bigger than us. It is only something. My focus and brainpower goes into my job, so I can support my family. This is my dharma, my calling for me-in-this-situation. Fortunately my work affords working on systems at large (industry) and small (team) scales, giving me certain opportunities to make someone’s day better, plus hope that someday I’ll boost some people who can do more. The world is wrong, and I can still work.

There’s enough despair in the world already. It doesn’t need mine.

So yes, it’s OK to have a beautiful room. Do I deserve these expensive new boots? Nah, I don’t believe in fairness. My job is to appreciate their beauty, wear them joyfully, and bring color to people around me.

Suffering and beauty both exist. They don’t cancel each other out. The world is awful AND beautiful. I need to temper the awful AND amplify the beauty.

Beauty happens at small scales. I can draw letters. I can learn violin. I can cut my kid’s sandwich differently every time. I can make blog posts with pictures. I can buy and attend local art.

There is joy in all this beauty. Not the kind of oblivion that wipes out the tightness in my chest, but a joy that lives alongside and makes it worthwhile. I go outside and touch a tree with both hands. Watch a bug meander along a branch. Laugh at the birds chasing each other.

I’ll keep this feeling on un-ease. It’s accurate; the world isn’t right. I don’t want to flee from this. While I can’t materially help every unhoused person I see, I can meet their eyes.

I attend to the unease by doing more than nothing. And I attend to the beauty in the universe over and over. I am a tiny piece in a small part of our incredible galaxy among many. The part where I wake up in the morning at all is spectacular.