When I was 10 or so, I remember reading Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. The opening paragraph began: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and went on to highlight the extreme contradictions as a warning that revolution could happen.

When I look at the world from a 40,000-foot view above today, there’s perhaps no better way to describe it. On the one hand, things seem to be falling apart at every level. When I think of the world we’re leaving behind for our children, I’m ridden with fear and sometimes guilt.

But I also see people who are actively involved in the struggles of parenting and partnership, of work and community, of fairness and equity with the wisdom, hope, and energy that comes from not being wedded to an outcome. They’re planting the seeds of a better tomorrow regardless of whether they see them bloom.

Many people have described this simultaneous destruction and creation as a moment of awakening.

Awakening isn’t just about doing things better or differently—it’s about a radical shift in consciousness.

To me, awakening mirrors birth, the womb disintegrating as something magical emerges. Something that doesn’t just have more or different physical needs, but also has the emotional need for belonging. We hear it in that first cry to be held, to be soothed, to be loved.

I like this analogy because it guides us on how to be wise stewards of this moment. We need to deepen our capacity for love because, unlike a mother, we’re not wired to care for the well-being of people outside our “tribe”. Very few of us have evolved to the next stage of consciousness, where our circles of belonging extend beyond those we love or agree with.

Harvard professor and researcher Robert Kegan describes this advanced consciousness as the fifth stage of adult development. There we can hold onto different perspectives at the same time. Most of us are stuck in stages three or four, where we’re driven by our fears and hurt and spreading these unresolved emotions wherever we go. In a world as diverse and interconnected as ours, where the only way forward is together.

To discover our place in this world we must rise in our consciousness:

  1. We must learn to empathize with the emotional needs of those “not like us.” 
  2. We must build our capacity for love, because the deeper it is, the farther its ripples will flow.

I recently read about the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where artisans restore broken porcelain with gold to emphasize the breakage. The restored piece is considered even more beautiful than the original piece because of its imperfections.

Love is that gold that will restore our broken world into something beautiful. The awakened have deepened their connection to their hearts. So when things crumble and collapse, their hearts break open and not apart. And as they engage in the work of Kintsugi, recognizing their role in this world, it unfolds with peace and creativity.

The rest of us are crying for the suffering and destruction to stop. Our less-than-supple hearts want to hide the breakage and go back to the way things were. But the way things were will never work in a world of billions of diverse individuals wanting to belong. The status quo is a slippery road to the bottom of humanity.

I want to leave you with a simple practice to start feeding your heart with love. Every morning, as you reflect on your role in this world, ask yourself: “What will I do today to bring more love into the world?”

There is no better or worse answer—each of you will discover your unique role in this world:

  • It could be seeing yourself in the mirror and saying, “I love you.” Or saying it to your sleepy child or disgruntled teenager.
  • It could be asking your partner how their day went when they come home—and actually listening to what they say.
  • It could even be doing the dishes like you were bathing your sweet-smelling newborn in her tub.
  • It could be allowing yourself to fully feel your fears or pain with love and non-judgment. Or doing the same for your child or friend without trying to “fix” things.
  • It could be saying hello to the stranger in the coffee shop or striking up a conversation.
  • And it could be having a discussion with someone with whom you disagree, while holding onto the common thread that binds you.

It could be a hundred other things where you enter each moment as though it were precious and sacred. Because it is. Life is precious and sacred. And we’re each responsible for understanding our role in this world, navigating it for our own fulfillment and the betterment of the world to which we belong.

A version of this article originally appeared on Psychology Today.

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