Many of us remember well the most-quoted words from Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2016: “When they go low, we go high.” It’s now a widely shared internet meme. You can even order it stitched on a pillow or emblazoned on a tote bag.
The reason that many of us have kept it in front of us is that we need to be reminded of the option to act according not to a momentary feeling or reaction, but out of the best that we can do and be. To act out of our aspiration for the world as it could be and humans at our fullest potential, not out of response to the very real stresses and distresses that consume us at this time in history.
In the midst of reading the local and national news, learning of the suffering of our people and the threats to our planet, “going high” takes a real discipline of care and attention to our deepest values and our highest goals, to tuning into them and finding a well of strength from them. To meet the challenge of this time, our spiritual well must be deeper than ever.
At a conference this week, I had the pleasure of meeting Swami Jaya Devi, the leader of an ashram called Kashi Atlanta. In the midst of a bustling hall of ‘changemakers,’ she offered a brief and powerful talk called “Art of Non-Reaction: Choosing a Conscious Response.” The key, she taught us, was to allow our bodies to have their reactions in tough situations: when our values are being challenged, when others are not acting kindly toward us, when we are prone to do the things our animal instincts tell us to: to defend ourselves by retaliating, by proving ourselves more right. As we allow ourselves to notice our bodily reactions, she taught us, we must allow our core values, our grounded selves, to hold those temptations with compassion and at a distance. And then to remind ourselves, with our brains and our spirits, that we have a choice that can lead us to a different world entirely. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but she promised that each time we make the choice to live aligned with our value of each person’s sacred worth, grounded in our conviction of our own worthiness, we start to make a different world in a very real way.
Transcendence is our worship theme this month, and at its core the idea of transcendence is a commitment to hope. It’s an abstract expression of what we do every time we choose to lift our sights to a horizon where the possibilities of the sky meet the splendor of the earth and we discover something new. It’s a commitment to make ourselves hope in some abstract far off way, but to be acting hope in the ways that we make our values present in our very real actions. We may not be able to do it every time, all the time, but each time we can hold our own and others’ dignity side by side, we get closer to that new world we might create for us all.
Let’s practice together, gain strength here, to take this hope into the world in our very selves.