I know I am not alone when I say it can feel very overwhelming and depressing to watch the news. No matter where you look there seems to be struggle, violence and suffering. This has led me to ask myself time and time again "What is wrong with people? Why are they doing that?!". As I write these words the divide between me and them grows larger. However I know that they are not all that different from me. We all want to do what we want to do right? We all have the same basic needs in this life and if put to the test will fight tooth and nail to be secure. As Pema Chodron puts it "there's some fundamental pattern that we have in which we're always trying to avoid the unpleasantness and grasp the pleasantness." Does this mean humans are hopelessly self serving and flawed at our most instinctive and basic level?
I optimistically answer that question with a resounding no way! We are not inherently bad so much as held hostage by our egos on a daily basis. Ego is frequently the mastermind behind our choices, its what pushes us to react and get even, its why we talk poorly about others and on the flip side often why we do good deeds. However how we view the ego doesn't have to be so negative and self deprecating.
Like many people somewhere along the way I adopted the notion that my ego is a bad thing and a part of myself that I need to "fix". Unfortunately that only serves to take me further away from self acceptance and honest understanding. The explanation that Pema offers in regards to the ego is very illuminating! She says "One might think we're talking about ego as enemy, about ego as original sin...Rather than original sin, there's original soft spot. The messy stuff we see in ourselves and that we perceive in the word as violence and cruelty and fear is not the result of some basic badness but of the fact that we have such tender, vulnerable, warm heart of bodhichitta, which we instinctively protect so that nothing will touch it." So where does this leave us? Jaded with a fortress around our hearts and an army to defend our pride?
I think the first and most difficult step in gaining a deeper understanding of self requires letting go of the "trip" and sitting with the reality of what's really happening. Instead of hardening to what we see and closing off we can engage a sense of curiosity about why we feel the way we do. Deepak Chopra suggests “if you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time.” But beyond the work of self reflection there is the equally difficult task of finding compassion and acceptance for the parts of ourself that we are ashamed of. However, once we begin to ease up on our own condemnation, bit by bit we are able to extend that compassion to others.
"We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path." - Paulo Coelho
This work is the work of the peaceful warrior. As much as it requires a commitment to being present it also demands a certain amount of softening. Can you sit with the pains you have suffered and keep your heart open? Can you recognize that the aggressors out there in the world that are featured on the nightly news are people like you and I? If we all can keep our hearts open without pushing away all the unpleasantness then we being to understand that there is no bottom of the heart. Its a wide open space that has room to share and needs to be explored with openness and curiosity. Although staying present and compassionate can be a lot of work I wonder why not try it? I've heard people say life is suffering and then you die but I beg to differ. I think pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Why not make the choice everyday to lay down your judgement, open up and receive the fullness life has to offer?
Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth."
Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, "I have met the soul walking upon my path."
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals. - Kahlil Gibran