“Your principles can’t be extinguished unless you snuff out the thoughts that feed them, for it’s continually in your power to reignite new ones…It’s possible to start living again! See things anew as you once did-that is how to restart life.”…Marcus Aurelius
In our current political climate, it is imperative that we stop putting ourselves in positions of offense and defense, and place ourselves in a position of awareness of what truly motivates the forces that we fear, so we can step into a position of personal control, and pivot or shift our own position to allow the onslaught of threats to our security to unravel themselves under their own momentum. By understanding the origins of our own fear and discontent, we can see these more clearly in the sources of those threats and gain a harmonious advantage rather than a dissonant cycle or roller coaster of attack/defend/retreat.
It is often said that what bothers us about others is something that we don’t like within ourselves. Most of the time this is pretty accurate. Of course, there are some absolutely frightening people out there who don’t care about others… but most of the time, the people that annoy or frustrate us are a reflection of ourselves, sometimes exaggerated, and sometimes spot on. I start with this because we need to look within ourselves to see how we are creating what we don’t want in our own lives as well as our society. One of the most prominent issues we are facing is the issue of control.
Recently (and many more times than I care to admit), I have come across people who mirrored my own control issues. The thing they all had in common was that they didn’t have enough information for whatever it was they were doing, and repeatedly tried to control various situations to make up for their lack of knowledge (which mostly was through no fault of theirs) and inflexibility. Having spent a large part of my own life in this state, I can certainly empathize… which is the key to being able to communicate with people and move forward in any situation that reflects our own shortcomings (past or present).
It can be very difficult to practice compassion toward others until we get in touch with our own shortcomings, which can be difficult because it requires a level of radical honesty with ourselves that we are rarely trained to walk through, and is extremely difficult to walk through without the help of another compassionate person. However, it is vitally important that we do not confuse radical honesty with brutal honesty. There is nothing worse than beating ourselves up for being human. The difference is in how we treat ourselves when we see the truth. Once we face those shortcomings, we get to practice compassion with ourselves which gives us the practice we need to be compassionate with people that may present conflict in our lives. That practice gives us an edge that allows us the room we need to grow into our higher selves… or as they say in some recovery programs, “progress, not perfection”.
Once we get in touch with whatever is being triggered by the person presenting the conflict, we can reach inside ourselves to find out how we would want to be treated if the roles were reversed and treat the other person that way. Doing so may or may not help the other person with their own behavior, as their behavior is completely their own issue, but it helps heal our own wounds by giving back to the world what we feel is missing and it allows us to recognize what we do have and practice gratitude.
The essence of compassion lies herein; In the end, we find that there really never was an “other”. In the esoteric words of John Lennon, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are one together”. We see ourselves in others because we are simply separate bodies with the same soul. Even the psychopaths and narcissists that create so much pain in the world are part of this soul… they are the wounded part of the human soul that reflects all of the pain that we inflict upon each other, and sometimes, that pain is so great that the only way we can see the light of the human soul is to convince ourselves that we need to possess the light in others through power, manipulation, and control to be able to see the light in ourselves. Of course, the universe does not work this way, but we are conditioned to believe that possession is synonymous with worth, whether material, conceptual or spiritual.
This leads us to the very Buddhist concept that attachment is the root of all suffering. When we are attached to something that we are not experiencing, we are given the opportunity to uncover whatever is holding us back from that experience. When we get in touch with the roots of our own suffering, we have a foundation from which we can build a solid vision of how we can transform our loss, pain, and unmet desire into a practical road map for practicing empathy and compassion with those whom we encounter conflict. It also gives us a foundation to which we can return when we find ourselves living against our own principles or unable to reconcile our beliefs with our emotions.
In a time where divisions over concepts of rights, morality, equality, autonomy, security, and how to achieve or maintain these are tearing the fabric of society, it is more important than ever that we reach across the aisles with compassion through introspection; not to normalize or condone the ideas and behaviors that go against our principles, but to understand their roots and the unmet needs that drive individuals and societies to the crises that bring about the opportunities we need for change. And perhaps, just maybe, our understanding will begin to engender a new personal and social consciousness that does not rely upon crisis to be our biggest motivator for change, which allows us to see that true control is not something we exert on others, but something we cultivate within our own experience.