[This is a companion piece to my previous TPM blog / directly below here - also started during the 2006 War on Lebanon - both efforts to take all the emotions prompted by events which I found so anguishing, trying find ways to place them in some healing context. I offer this here as a way to help all of us as we struggle to cope with whatever difficulties we are currently experiencing, including this recent escalation in Gaza to a ground attack.]
Why do we have wars? What makes terrorists? Or bullies? This is a very important question, because only if we answer it accurately, can we ever have peace. In the face of aggression, we see more aggression. Indeed wars and aggression are often justified by citing prior aggression or potential aggression, which "can only be met" with violence, people often say.
I submit that hostility and aggression are aspects of all of us. Unless we admit that - to start with - we are simply viewing bullies or terrorists or warmongers as different humans than ourselves, sub-humans who merit being destroyed. And we rationalize our wars and executions as a kind of virtuous activity, different from the carnage pursued by those we deem worthy of extermination.
If we take a look at our reactions to wars, crimes, atrocities, anything which bothers us, we notice we feel scared or tormented, pained or frustrated, angry or outraged. These are normal human emotions. And we have to own them. But notice what happens when we find ourselves full of rage or pain or frustration. Something in us wants to lash out. We want to channel all those painful emotions. We feel an urge to act on our rage, to vent our frustration. Even if we urge war or the death penalty, this urge to action is coming from our own emotions - and we seek a solution through destructive actions, whether we act on our own or urge others to act as our surrogates.
But what if we learned to tolerate those painful feelings? What if we learned to pay attention to the feelings and to calm them down inside ourselves? What if we tried peace making, the transformation of pain, of anger, of frustration, of rage into peace and compassion? What I am suggesting is of course not an easy route to follow. Some might call it a "way of the cross." Others might term it meditation or mindfulness. You can situate this process within many traditions - but it remains essentially the same: Essentially transformative - if you give yourself to it heart and soul for an extended period of time.
I believe that we are all called to inner transformation. Each of us, in our own way, within whatever tradition we choose to follow (or not), can allow ourselves to be transformed through the renewal of our minds and hearts. We may not be able to personally guarantee world peace. But on a daily basis we can endeavor to immerse ourselves in the pain and suffering of the world, whether the small world of our own lives or the larger world of society, economics, politics, even religion - sadly.
The task is to simply "take in" all the pain, terror, suffering, sadness, anguish, hostility, madness of things going on - seen on television, the internet, the newspapers. Take it in. Let it sit there. Dwell with it, painful as that is. Allow this world of hurt to dwell in your heart. Without doing anything more. Take it into your heart. And dwell there. Cry some tears, if you need to. But do not let yourself do anything more. No matter how pained or enraged you may begin to feel. No matter how strongly you want to eject all of the evil and madness that begins to seethe, ejecting it onto others or into action.
If you try this, slowly - over time - you will find a change occurring within your heart. . The stony heart that would stone your neighbor or enemy is replaced with the understanding that the other person, like you, is prone to strong and painful emotions they want to eject onto others or into action. Slowly, your compassion for your own inner struggle - to make peace where there is turmoil - becomes a lens for seeing others with compassion. Slowly, you will find your inner mind being renewed. Indeed you may find compassion and a greater sensitivity to suffering growing. You may find yourself surprised by becoming super sensitive, more caring, open, even exposed and vulnerable. It might even be a bit scary at first - but stick with whatever feelings arise.
And the Peace "that passes understanding" will come to dwell in your heart and mind.
Peace Making starts with each individual person. We cannot expect more of others, whether leaders or nations, than we expect of ourselves.
Some people are able to do this quite alone. Without the support of a group. But often the process is so painful that most traditions urge you to find a group to start you on the path. However, no matter what path you choose, ultimately you arrive at a point where you need to leave that path behind (because it's no longer marked) and, in effect, strike out on your own - with nothing to guide you except your inner life and your devotion to this inner transformation.
There are others on this site who can guarantee, as I can, that this process is worth it, though extremely demanding. Many may be willing to offer suggestions, whether here or in separate blogs. In its simplest form what I'm urging is no different than "the Beatitudes...love your neighbor... love your enemies." No different than practicing "compassion toward all beings." No different from the type of non-violent self-discipline that Gandhi or MLK urged. I'm telling you - it's all the same. Certain traditions have developed specific practices, which assist this. Among Buddhists, the Tibetans have taken this to a high art - such a high art that the Dalai Lama did not attempt to work on "compassion" until he was in his 40's. Because... we're talking about "embodying" compassion. Making it central to your being. But that's not really where you start. You start at the hard part, working on your anger, your resentment, your fears, whatever inner knots you have that get in the way of a compassionate heart.
Think of the process like this. You want to go down the path of peace. But the path is full of rocks, ruts, alluring sidetracks. The path is steep. It's full of bad weather. Negative people. Nasty events. And your job is to clear your own path. To either remove the inner obstacles (that appear to be outer) or to ignore those along the way who want to sidetrack you, discourage you, incite you, scare you. Your task is to find ways of managing your own emotions so as to continue hiking. And you need to make it not only all the way to the top - where you must let go of whatever you find there - but back down to the bottom, bringing your peace process with you and continuing to "wander" among your fellow persons - with whom you are now united more closely than you could imagine.
Peace. Compassion. May you be gently guided along the way.