I was listening to a radio interview of Barbara Streisand last week. She had just released a remastered version of songs from her youth that had never before been released. Ms. Streisand said that her Jewish faith has a phrase for repairing the world: Tikkun olam. The topic caught my attention. I have studied Gurdjieff. As a Christian I was taught the value of mission work, although I never agreed with that: The missionary zeal I was exposed to in childhood was more an insistence that others should be “just like us,” in that “our” way was the only true and right way. No. My attention was caught by the way Ms. Streisand explained the meaning of Tikkun olam. We don’t set out to fix a thing from a judgment that it is a wrong thing; but we are to repair what is broken, amiss.
I have never believed in a punishing God. Why would God create a world, call it good, and then seek to destroy a Creation he made with such love? I am instead a proponent of free will, free choice. It is the choices we make that lead us down the road to heaven or hell, and the consequences of those choices. In my book, heaven and hell are states of mind and raw emotion, rather than certified places. I have experienced joy and sorrow – emotional states that can make me feel closer to God or further away from God. I know ecstasy and I know depression. As I have learned to work with my emotions I can step into and away from these states with a little work on my part. I have learned that I am not separated from a thing, but in relationship to it. When I see someone else who is suffering as I have suffered, my heart cannot help but go out to that person. I offer what comfort I can. In this is both my humanity and my divinity.
The longer I live, the more suffering I become aware of. I have not had an easy life, but there are many people who have suffered far more than I have. And many of these people have had the courage and fortitude to rise above their challenging circumstances and horrendous pasts in order to rise up and create a better life for themselves. It is this example I want to inform those folks still living through their past, over and over, caught in the web of depression and the belief that there is nothing they can do about their circumstances that I want to help find that glimmer of hope. Yes, you are worth something! Yes, you are worthy of a better life, a better situation, whatever that might be for you!
There is a thread that all of us or maybe just most of us have in common: It is this idea that we have picked up from society, our caregivers, defenders of religious zeal that we are no good, that we are created in sin, that there is nothing we can do to better ourselves. When I was a child I felt pretty good about myself. I loved my life. I loved nature and time outdoors. Yet somewhere along the way, like many other folks, I took on ideas of unworthiness. That I was bad. That I was made wrong. Sometimes the culprit might be trauma. Sometimes the culprit is mistaken religious training. As a child I stopped praying when the church minister said it was wrong to pray for ourselves. This cut me off from a feeling I had of a secure connection to God.
Yet somehow I have regained the connection I feel when I pray. It is right to pray for ourselves, as it is right to pray for others, Nature, and the healing of our Earth-home. It is amiss, I believe, to pray exclusively for ourselves: it is then a chorus of “Give me, give me, give me,” when true reverence asks for what one needs and also asks, “What can I give back?” What is needed for me to offer to a situation or another person?
This in turn brings me back around again to my original question: How can I help another, especially if they are not yet ready to be helped? It is not a matter of fixing someone who is “wrong” or broken. Elizabeth Lesser has written that being broken is necessary for us to regain our humanity, our divinity, by being broken until our hearts open and we can carry more light. I think, rather, that helping is sometimes just being present to, listening to, carrying kindness for those who are not yet ready to offer that to themselves. I think that repairing the world is to encourage others to find and to hold their own light, and to be accepting of their process, even as it is essentially different from our own. Maybe in this way, Tikkun olam, we repair the world by encouragement, one person at a time, that they are worthy, blessed and beautiful, as they are.