Some days we just have to let a few tears out, take care of our most basic needs with healthy food, positive music or literature, and rest. Meditative music and a decision to focus on love and gratitude for those blessings in disguise from earlier times in our lives can be extremely helpful. Tools like this can, in a short period of time, give us the ability to turn our feelings from helplessness and fear into peacefulness and even resolution. The answers are in front of us from the very beginning, but we have to do a bit of work to unearth them and realize that, we needed had already been available, waiting only for us to use it and pass it on; and that this is true for whatever we face today.
According to the Buddha, pain is inevitable. But we are taught that we do not need to suffer because of it and that we can even thrive within it. The road to this lies in re-framing the warped perceptions that transpire from our original traumas. The answer is not in running from it, but in facing it with courage and faith. For me, this involves re-framing those self-defeating thoughts that arise when my guard is down. For example, I knew this 15 years ago, shortly after my first major accident. I’d lost a job that I loved, and that job was connected to my independence following a period of homelessness due to domestic violence and poor decisions. I was active in a 12 step program at the time, and I went to a meeting where I felt that I really needed to listen, but I was asked to speak. I spoke of the hurdles that I’d overcome so far, and of the then new one I was facing, and that my answer then lay in turning my fears and liabilities into assets. At the time, I was deeply in touch with my stubbornness as one of those liabilities because of the various challenges I’d had, and it occurred to me that stubbornness is the downside of tenacity. I needed to transform that stubbornness into tenacity as an asset to create something positive in my life. More recently, I’ve been making a practice of looking for these opportunities.
When we objectively look at our experience, it isn’t hard to see that we have had many opportunities to use this particular lesson in our lives. In doing so, we find that we have what it takes to face whatever comes our way today. It starts with recognition of our own growth, gratitude for what we have, and a weather eye on the storm so we can catch and re-frame the negatives that come up… which is part of the lesson.
Many years ago, a dear friend would often remind me that we should pray for the removal of our defects of character, rather than for those virtues that we are finding difficult to practice. She told me that the universe gives us what we ask for… if we ask for patience, our need for patience will be tested. If we ask for help in letting go, we get situations that cause worry and grief. But if we ask for our impatience to be removed, we are open to seeing those times we have been blessed with someone else’s patience or how our current situation is leading us to those things that we desire in life by giving us the opportunity to learn and practice the principles and tools that we need in order to grow into the abundance those desires present.
Forgiveness and patience are two such opportunities that come up on a regular basis. We can understand the concepts of forgiveness and patience without truly knowing how to use them when we need them most. Forgiveness comes from seeing ourselves in those with whom are angry or afraid. Patience comes from those situations that engulf our attention and feel endless followed by a realization that we are still breathing and are able to see our faults or mirrors in the situation that is frustrating us.
One thing that is necessary to develop in helping us re-frame our liabilities is an attitude of curiosity rather than absolutes. It is our dichotomous thinking that leads to judgement of circumstances and actions as good or bad, and by extension, our own suffering or the suffering that we cause others based on those judgments. Perhaps the fear that we feel is really our need to protect those whom we love. Perhaps the violence that is perpetrated on others is done from a need to control the chaos in that person’s world by attacking a scapegoat because that person is unable (at this time) to face their own fears and how they may have contributed to them. When we stay curious, we start to see the nuance and uniqueness of the qualities that lie between our judgments of good and bad or right and wrong. In doing this, we can begin to understand how we have disconnected from our own duplicitous actions and thinking, and then apply that experience to others to see that they are no better or worse than us.
If we take our current political situation and all of the fear, violence, hypocrisy, and lack of civility that surrounds us, and we apply this sense of curiosity to our own feelings about it, we can ask ourselves what we truly value, and begin to look at how our own actions may or may not measure up to those values. We can then put that thought aside, and apply the same sense of curiosity to how those who differ in opinions or values from our own may be doing the same thing. But there is one more, crucial step here… we have to suspend our judgments of both ourselves and others while we do this, which is often a process that we need to revisit in smaller, more digestible pieces. When we practice this, we begin to see that the thoughts and feelings that drive both ends of the spectrum toward extremes are present in all of us, and conversely, we begin to realize that most of us are closer to the middle of the spectrum than we realize and that we are responsible for how our perception can place otherwise moderate people on the extremes, and how we create this with the backlash that we put out into the world.
Yesterday, I wrote a response to a quote that captured my attention. It said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain” (attributed to James Baldwin). My response was: “From my own personal experience, I’d have to say that this leans toward some pretty intense truth for many people. However, some hate is buried beneath generations of pain and lies and can be extremely difficult to uncover without understanding our history and how we have scapegoated entire groups of people for the sins of those in power.
I, for one, am grateful that the shadow has been exposed because we now have a solid foundation from which to work that affects and/or resonates with today’s generation.
Change can be extremely painful… but nothing is more painful than what we have already survived.”
If we can buck up the courage not to fight that pain or even hate itself, but to love it (within ourselves) by questioning it and getting to know it, and giving it the attention it so desperately craves, we will be well on our way to re-framing our current circumstances into the vision of the future that we have been working toward for generations. By re-framing our perception of what is happening as an expression of the very feelings that we share by right of being human, we can transform our own fear into courage, our own prejudices and hypocrisies into understanding, and our own need for retribution into justice for everyone.