A couple weeks ago, Claire sent me a link to an article, as she sometimes does. This article contained a graph that showed over the last 120 years of the frequency of what are called “Deaths of Despair.” [Graph shown below.] “Deaths of Despair” are the combination of deaths that occur due to suicide, drug overdose, or alcoholism, and it is interesting to see how this charts out over time. This chart, in particular, was only for America. In the early 1900s, it went up and when the first World War came, the rate of deaths of despair dropped and hit one of two lows of the last 120 years. After the war, during the roaring 20s, again it went up. When the depression came, It started to go down, and it continued [to go down/stay low] through the second World War, hitting its other bottom point right toward the end of this war. During the 50s and into the 60s, it climbed again, and plateaued for approximately 30 years. Right around 2000 it started climbing precipitously, and it is now at an all-time high.

Source: Social Capital Project analyses of CDC data.

We all know that there are many incidences of depression that many in our society face. When the depression deepens, there comes to be a loss of hope. And if that loss of hope becomes great enough, it sinks into despair. And when that state of mind is there, the existence of a person becomes very fragile. I remember a reading that the great Thich Nhat Hanh had written, where he said once that, during the Vietnam war, when he was living in Vietnam at the time, people would come to him with their troubles. These are not the kind of troubles we have here [in America]. These are the kind of troubles we have amidst virtual genocide, extreme hardship, and agony. He said when people would come to him, during that time, the “failure to smile when talking to them could mean sentencing them to death.” It was so strong, he expressed, that just the failure to smile may have been enough to tip them over the edge in their despair.

I remember asking Baba [Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii] one time about three American historical figures that I had great respect for: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Crazy Horse. When I asked Baba about these personalities, he smiled and said “these were all human beings who became great because they fought selflessly for the freedom of their people. “ He paused, and went on to say “but the greatest of them, the one who set the greatest example for humanity, was Crazy Horse.” And the reason he gave was that Crazy Horse knew that the war he fought to defend the Sioux and their way of life [would be lost]. He said “but even in losing, he fought, without flagging. His spirit remained just the same, even though it was foregone that they would lose.”

Baba had great admiration for this, and it speaks to the capacity of the human spirit. Even at a time when a whole great people, their way of life, was being destroyed, still Crazy Horse did what he needed to do in the world with no flagging of spirit, with the same fierce determination to push forward.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed that the “great arch of history bends toward justice.” There are those who would say, and I would agree, that the arch of history also bends toward love and toward light. We are all individually and collectively moving back toward Source, and that Source is the manifestation of love and of light. But this movement, that trajectory, is not a smooth linear one. It has its up’s and down’s, and we are coming out of a period [where] we are at a low point in our collective human existence. Largely this is because of the dominance of valuing materialism in this world, [coupled with] the loss of the value of spirituality. It has taken us to something of a low point. There is much darkness, and thus, there is an increasing incidence of despair. This despair comes where there is darkness and loss of light, metaphorically speaking.

But though there is much that is dark in the world right now, it does not represent the full arch of history and our trajectory. Our humanity, as I’ve said, is a bit like the seasons, like the annual cycle of our sun and our planet around the sun. There is a time when there is a great deal of light and warmth in the world, and then there is a time when the light diminishes. And there is also [a time of] predominant darkness during the day.

Long ago, at the darkest time of the year, the peoples of northern Europe began a tradition of lighting candles and having a celebration. A celebration of recognition that light would be returning, and the candlelight symbolized the returning of light. This candlelight was something that buoyed the spirits of people and was integral to the ceremony, to the celebration, of light that came around the winter solstice. And, of course, this was eventually incorporated into Christianity. [Where we] now we have all these Christmas lights, but the symbolization is the same/[similar].

Humanity is on it’s own turning of the seasons, and there are those who burn brighter now in the world, and are the candle lights. We are the candle lights of the return of light. We bring, individually and collectively, a force of love, a brightness of the light of spirit back into the world. This is much needed at this time. There are so many who need these sparks of brightness. They need to see the smiles, they need to feel the love. They need a source of hope. So, may our lights all burn bright.


Ravi Logan

Ravi Logan is the Director of the PROUT Institute, and the Director of Transformation Education, the training and education department of Ananda Seva. He is the principal author of PROUT: A New Paradigm of Development.  His new books are A New Interpretation of Revolution and Transition to a New Era. He is also the co-founder and program director of Dharmalaya, which has as its mission, “to promote dharma holistically in personal, social and ecological spheres of life.” 

Ravi has dedicated his life for the past 50 years to the project of the liberation of human beings and society. Ravi has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1972, and brought yoga to Jamaica in 1974. In 1996 Ravi became a family acharya in Ananda Seva and has been involved with the organization since its inception, volunteering as publications secretary, retreat organizer, and developing training manuals for the mediation teacher training. His latest publication in that capacity is the Ananda Sutram Primer, an accessible format for understanding the philosophy of Shrii Shrii Anandamurti.


This article was first published through  in April 2021 and transcribed from a talk given by Ravi Logan in February 2020. Transcription by Rene Tricou, editing by Michele Renee.


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