Be in the World, But Not of the World

Nov 3, 2023 | Virtues of the Heart

The world appears to be in chaos, with wars raging, human migration, natural disasters, the threat of AI, and extreme division in world governments and societies to name a few.

Over the past few years, I have painfully become aware of how I express my views on various topics in an effort to avoid offending someone or, worse, igniting an emotional response that can quickly spiral out of control. These emotional and divisive conversations have even led to distancing friendships with people I have known for many years. The extreme differences in ideologies and the anger that accompanies them make it challenging to find common ground when trying to converse about many of the current hot topics. Emotions spiral out of control rapidly, defenses go up, and judgment is used to justify a line of thinking based on information gleaned from a sea of opinions born from the same emotionally reactive patterns. It’s a closed loop. Truth and reason are buried under the cloud of emotionally laced fragmented misinformation.

How can we “be in the world but not of the world,” as Jesus once said?

We are in this world; that is a given. But what does “not of the world” mean exactly?

Is there a way to prevent the events of the world from taking such a toll on us?

Is there a way to manage how we respond to world events without withdrawing in fear from life?

I believe there are many ways to do this, but none are easy because the momentum of our social programming is very strong, compelling, magnetic, and even addictive. Humanity has lived for endless generations, and for the most part, we’ve adopted the same practices as those who came before us. The challenge lies in breaking these old patterns of beliefs, actions, and behaviors.

The six heart virtues are designed to reframe our response to how we interact with our reality. Regardless of what is happening out there, the practice is the same. This reframing occurs when we experience something in our world that, under normal circumstances, elicits a familiar emotional response. How we respond is the essential key to “not of the world.” This means that we manage our emotional response and shift our attention to our heart for guidance.

Here’s an example:

Recently, another mass shooting occurred in the US. A lone gunman killed 18 people and injured 13 more. This happened at a bowling alley and restaurant, which we typically consider safe public places. It is devastating for everyone touched by this tragedy.

When I wake up to yet another mass shooting, my heart sinks, and sadness and anger begin to consume me. I read and listen to the familiar voices expressing their views on how to resolve this epidemic: more guns, more mental health support, fewer guns, gun registration, more law enforcement, outlawing military-grade guns, and many more opinions. Sadness and anger continue to amplify. I find myself in an emotional state led by anger, sadness, and judgment, which connects me to the crowd looking for someone to blame.

Gun ownership is a highly divisive topic in this country. It won’t be solved by any of the “solutions” mentioned above anytime soon.

As I sit with this sadness and anger, I realize that I’ve allowed my emotions to take control. In this moment of awareness, I take a step to shift my response and reflect on my interaction with reality. This happened; that is reality. “I’m in the world.” The only thing I can do is change how I respond. Can I do that and still have a sense of empowerment and value as a fellow human being? Can I hold all the many fragments of this event and try to understand it from a larger perspective?

Enter one of the heart virtues: UNDERSTANDING.

Some would say, “I just don’t understand how someone could do this,” and indeed, it seems unimaginable to most of us. But why does someone do something like this? What drives a person to reach a point where killing innocent people is a choice? I think that’s a question our society should focus on and how we can prevent it from happening to anyone. What is it in our society that allows people to be so lost that hurting others becomes a solution to their pain? I don’t know the answer, and I’m sure it’s complicated to find a solution. I search and listen to others who may be trying to understand why, as a collective society, we allow people to fall through the cracks of our social fabric. Whose responsibility is it, the police, the government, social services, or someone else? Or do we need a new paradigm for our social collective interactions on an individual level? In other words, can we, as individuals, be responsible for what happens in our society? Can we make it our mission to behave in our social program in a manner that won’t allow anyone to be left out, forgotten, or dismissed as unimportant? I can be the expression of that in my own life?

How can I, one person, have any effect on these global or national problems? It’s such a complex and far-reaching problem.

This is not so much about me or you solving world problems as it is about being “in the world” that may be out of control while choosing to be in control in that world. If I make a conscious choice to resist the natural inclination to allow my emotions to dictate how I view and respond to the world, I am “not of the world.” I am not a contributor to it. I have chosen a new way of being in the world through understanding the larger picture of interconnectedness.

I become an emotionally stable energetic field transmitting a signal of unity to the world. This transmission emanates through my balanced emotional state, thoughts, actions, and behaviors. I have made a choice to stand in resistance to the prevailing response of emotional incoherence, blaming, judgment, finding fault, and seeing the world as disconnected.

It may seem small and inconsequential, but it’s a major shift that can have profound implications. This shift in my perspective and understanding guides my conscious actions “in the world.” It’s not passive; it’s finding my footing grounded in interconnectedness, which opens me up to new ideas, solutions, actions, behaviors, and how my life unfolds from this understanding.

That is “being in the world but not of the world.” The more of us who make this choice throughout our daily life interactions, the more we become a force for real change in service to all.

I may make this change many times throughout the day, so I must be vigilant and trust that I am resisting the unconscious drift of the herd mentality.

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