With wars raging in Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan; political polarization; the after effects of the COVID 19 pandemic; and the climate crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the state of the world. With his new book, Your Heart Was Made for This: Contemplative Practices to Meet a World in Crisis with Courage, Integrity, and Love, Oren Jay Sofer offers a practical guide to living a meaningful life in a time of great uncertainty and upheaval. 

“Every day we are practicing something with how we live, how we use our attention, the things we think, say, and do. And if we are intentional about that every day, we can grow stronger, more resilient, more kind, loving, and flexible. It is an incredibly, hopefully empowering message that we can shape our life and position ourselves to be as resilient as possible in the face of so much change and challenge and hardship.”

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The easiest response to a traumatic situation is to avoid thinking about it, if you have the privilege to do so. For some people, complete avoidance may be a necessity; as Oren observes, “For some, if not many of us, sometimes the very painful realities of our world are too much, particularly for those who suffer from trauma or PTSD. And I certainly know many people whose PTSD has been severely stimulated by the outbreak of war in the Middle East.” 

For most people though, it’s about finding balance. “For me,” Oren says, “that means sometimes turning away, and there’s a difference between that and avoidance, ignoring or pretending that everything’s okay, just as there’s a difference between being realistic about our sphere of influence and focusing our efforts on things we can affect to make the world a better place, and throwing our hands up in the air and saying, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do, so I’m just going to focus on my family and what I can do.’ 

“Those can sound similar, but they’re coming from a very different place inside. And I think the results will be different based on that. So for me, those are some of the places to start being honest with what’s happening, finding balance and being realistic about what we can and can’t affect but still making the effort to engage in the things that we care about.”

Oren believes that it’s also important to take a balanced view of the state of the world. “There are those who argue that we have never been better as a human species and look at the amazing progress we’ve made. There’s some truth to that, but it’s not the whole picture. And then there are those on the other side, who say everything is crumbling; we need to prepare for the apocalypse. And there’s some truth to that, but it’s not the whole picture.

“Fear will drive us into this way of trying to understand things in a binary fashion, trying to simplify that which is actually complex. When we honor the complexity, when we honor our fear, then I think we can begin to remember that the future is not written and that we create the future by what we do today. And so I think that it’s important for each of us to look at what are the choices we’re making today and how are those informed by our values and our reactions. We start to think in a different way when we’re able to make space for and honor the truth of all of our experiences, instead of feeling like we need to have the answer or need to simplify things that aren’t simple.”

In the introduction to Your Heart Was Made for This, Oren wrote, “Our actions matter individually and collectively. Every action plants a seed. Some seeds bear fruit in this lifetime while others lie dormant for generations. We harvest the fruit of our ancestors’ actions for good and for ill and our choices today shape the future.” 

“I think it’s important to recognize that thinking about the collective is not just an idealistic, compassionate response,” he explains. “It’s actually a kind of enlightened self interest because we recognize that our fate is tied to one another. What use is it for one family to have water if the whole community is in a drought? How long is that water going to last? If people don’t have water, they’re gonna do what they need to get water. So, looking out for one another and building what are known as mutual aid networks, where we work together to meet our needs collectively, it’s not just idealistic compassion; it’s actually wise self interest. It’s recognizing that my security is tied to the well being and the security of those around me. The more I work for that, the more secure we can all be.

“And this metaphor of seeds, it shows up in religious traditions around the world. The New Testament: ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ The philosophy that I’m drawing from in terms of my training is the Buddhist one, which talks about our actions as seeds and in particular the different qualities or capacities that we have in our own heart and mind as these powerful seeds that we water with our attention. 

“So we have seeds in our heart of generosity, of kindness, of wisdom, of patience, of joy, and we have seeds of fear, of hatred, of anger, of jealousy. And so the question is, as we move through our days, as we make choices, not only with our actions, but more fundamentally with our attention, what seeds are we watering in consciousness? How are we shaping our inner life, which then determines the flow of our outer life? And so the book is really designed to give people the tools to water the healthy seeds, so that we can live a more meaningful life and contribute more effectively to the crises that we are going through.” 

Oren doesn’t intend for the book to be read cover-to-cover in a weekend or a week. Rather, it’s designed to be a long-term guide. There are 26 chapters, so at a rate of a chapter every two weeks, it provides a year of exploration. Each chapter looks in-depth at one quality, like attention, aspiration, concentration, curiosity, ease, joy, play, contentment, and equanimity.

“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about many of these qualities. And I talk about that in each chapter, trying to define it in a more nuanced way. I’m trying to invite people into a conversation that explores at a deeper level what these qualities mean, and then to provide practical guidance for how we notice this in our life. Where is it present and how do we build on it? And how do we handle the challenges that come up? 

“And so at the end, these sections of reflection, meditation, action and ‘If you have difficulties’ are designed to provide a little bit of a menu. Do we want to contemplate the quality? Are we drawn to meditation? How do we embody it in our lives? And what do we do when we hit a roadblock or when things don’t make sense or when we struggle?

“The other thing about the book that I hope people will feel empowered to do is to skip around. I encourage people to read the first part because it lays down some foundational qualities like mindfulness and concentration, and wisdom, aspiration, attention, these things that really guide us throughout the whole journey. But I think there’s a lot of value in listening to oneself and considering, ‘What do I need right now? Where do I want to focus? Is it gratitude? Is it joy? Is it resolve and determination? Is it ease or rest or is it energy and curiosity?’ So using the book as a companion to support us through the changes and the challenges of our lives personally and collectively.”


Oren’s website

Subscribe to Oren’s newsletter

Oren’s previous book, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication

Oren’s new book, Your Heart Was Made for This: Contemplative Practices to Meet a World in Crisis with Courage, Integrity, and Love

Oren’s Facebook

Oren’s Instagram

Oren’s X (Twitter)

Oren’s previous appearance on the Running for Real podcast

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