What is Just?

When We Feel Hopeless about Ukraine

I have been wanting to writing something about Ukraine for a while.

But to be honest, I have felt overwhelmed. And I didn’t know what to write. So, I have been practicing silence a lot, resting, and spending time in nature.

These practices are a part of my regular routine. However, I find that I need them even more when things around me are full of unrest.

The world can be extremely chaotic and cruel sometimes. And when it is, it is easy to respond with more chaos and cruelty. And in fact, it often feels right, feels good in the moment, to respond in this way.

But I think there is a better, deeper, wiser way to respond to chaos and cruelty.

One of my favorite books is the Tao Te Ching. This book can be mysterious and confusing sometimes. It is an ancient, classic text of Asian philosophy. As such, it is written from a worldview that is very different from the one most of us have in the modern world.

I won’t try to explain the Tao Te Ching here. To be honest, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, and not only because of space limits. I think it is going to take me the rest of my life to start to understand the wisdom in that book.

But there is one part of the Tao Te Ching I think I do understand. And it relates to Ukraine.

One of the most common and powerful images in the Tao Te Ching is the image of water. The Tao consistently speaks of water as a gentle but powerful force for the good. And it suggest that the Way (the Tao), which is the proper way to live, is like water.

All pictures in this post are mine.

For instance, in chapter eight of the Tao Te Ching, we read this:

“The supreme good is like water,
which benefits all of creation
without trying to compete with it.
It gathers in unpopular places.
Thus it is like the Tao.”

It is fascinating, and feels profoundly right, to think of the right way to live as being like water.

My husband and I went hiking this weekend, and we encountered some beautiful waterfalls and streams on our adventures.

Whenever I encounter water on my hikes, I feel always feel a profound sense of wonder, delight, and gratitude.

Streams and other bodies of water are so simple, but they are genius. They are beautiful in appearance and sound. And they nourish everything without trying to compete with the world around them. Water often seems to live by the twin mottoes, “Let’s grow together!” and “Live and let live.” And no matter what is going on in the world, water keeps on flowing, being excellent.

One of the beautiful things about streams is that despite the fact that water is critical to our survival, it is not ostentatious. It just flows consistently, quietly, persistently. And in doing so, it can carve out canyons over time.

And it’s true that water can get dammed up (like by debris or animals). It’s also true that droughts can cause streams to go dry for a while. But blocked water eventually breaks through the dam, and rain eventually brings us water again.

And this takes me back to Ukraine.

I don’t know what to do about the situation in Ukraine. And I feel really overwhelmed by it sometimes. But when I read the Tao Te Ching, I recognize that when I don’t know what to do, I can be like water.

The second part of chapter eight in the Tao Te Ching, which discusses why water is so beautiful, reads like this:

“The location makes the dwelling good.
Depth of understanding makes the mind good.
A kind heart makes the giving good.
Integrity makes the government good.
Accomplishments make your labors good.
Proper timing makes a decision good.
Only when there is no competition
will we all live in peace.”

This reminds me that when I am confused about what to do, I can always work for depth of understanding, a kind heart, and integrity.

When I develop these characteristics, I can nourish people around me instead of competing with them. And I can figure out how to send this flow of goodness to Ukraine as well. I will likely do this through both prayer and action. But whatever I do, I will do it from a place of understanding, kindness, and integrity.

That ensures that I bring more life into the world, instead of escalating the chaos and cruelty.

So today I am meditating on this question: “In regards to Ukraine, how can I consistently practice understanding, kindness, and integrity?”*

And I certainly still support U.S. intervention in Ukraine in some manner. Understanding, kindness, and integrity calls for this. But it entails that we intervene out of a different place than one of the chaos and cruelty that is so evident in Russia’s leadership.

But does this idea even work?

Of course, it can feel sometimes like the advice “Be like water” is profoundly unhelpful and impractical. I know I have thought this before.

But when I look at history, I think again. Historically speaking, major changes for good in society often came from people who consistently flowed as a source of kind, nourishing goodness. Folks like Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. knew the Way of Water.

And I don’t think a person must be a pacifist, like these folks were, to practice the Way of Water. However, I do think that when people who practice the Way of Water fight, they fight differently from those who practice something I will call the Way of the Boulder.

For example, I think about historical people who have brought about great evil in the world. These are folks like past fascists leaders and the current tyrant of Russia. And these folks bring the harm they do because they act like the opposite of flowing water. They act like a massive, unrelenting boulder crashing down a mountain. They practice the Way of the Boulder.

The Way of the Boulder sees no way but its own. And it believes force, aggressiveness, violence, destruction, and chaos are the only way to bring change. It is profoundly un-creative in the most literal sense.

The Point

And certainly both water and crashing boulders bring about change in the world. But only one brings about beauty and enduring life.

Unfortunately, a lot of people prefer (or only know about) the Way of the Boulder because it is flashy, loud, and certainly does bring about some immediate changes. We have been witnessing the Way of the Boulder a lot in recent years.

But the Way of Water is older, wiser, more powerful, and enduring. And we all can exchange the Way of the Boulder for the Way of Water.

So, if you don’t know what to do about Ukraine today, you can start by being like water. We all can. And that is going to bring life to the world.


*ThisĀ  idea always reminds me of the Fruits of the Spirit in the Christian tradition.

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And you might also like to read more here:

You can find various translations of the Tao Te Ching here:
Tao Te Ching

If you would like to read about how to cultivate stillness and contemplation in times of unrest, you might like this post:

Contemplative Practices: A Post for Everyone

4 thoughts on “When We Feel Hopeless about Ukraine”

  1. This is so much more helpful and meaningful than watching the endless news coverage, which definitely overwhelms me. While I still feel it’s important to check on the news from time to time, the news cannot offer the same kind of wisdom of “being like water.” Thank you for sharing this, friend.

    1. Jen, I am so, so happy you found this helpful. After I wrote it, I thought, “I don’t really know if this is going to help anyone.” But the thought was helpful to me. I am so glad it was to you, too.

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