First some Huge Questions
Is a deeper understanding of our relationships to each other worth the effort?
What is Compassion and why is it of great value in our lives?
All Predators are aggressive and without remorse, why should we be different? To kill or be killed is that a question?
In my seeking happiness, how do I know I have found it, is happiness a delusion?
What is suffering?
Are we really self reliant and independent or are we always connected, but with a responsibility?
Is it worth it to have a deeper Understanding of each other
We often forget that the person across the table from us has had a life. Our job, when we try to get close to another person, is to find out how we fit into their life and how they fit into ours. Obvious? Of course. But, this goal is filled with the complexity of our prior lives, our expectations for the future, and our understanding of who this person is and what they want. And, it is not obvious just what it is we want.
The keep it simple approach works quite well in the beginning. We talk for hours on end, we have fun together, we enjoy each others company, the sex is great, we both seem to want the same things, kids, career, a home, skiing, sports, etc. etc. So when does the flower begin to lose its petals?
I could sugar coat it, we are just human after all. Or I could even repeat the behavior patterns of irritation, critical comments, distractions, and the pressures of actually living together. All of the issues that begin the process of separation are well documented so these will not be repeated here. What we will do is explore the idea of a greater understanding, and its value to a long term relationship.
A promise is a promise. The use of loaded words like "love" implies a commitment, implies a promise. If the relationship grows, these real or implied promises are easy to keep. If things start to unravel, there is many times a lapse of memory. The promises and what they mean to the relationship are lost in the emotion of the moment. Our commitments to each other may not be cast in stone, but they should at least be seriously considered before we go out and inflict harm on the relationship. Trust, once broken, changes everything. And as the saying goes, "there are no do overs, there is no going back to where you were".
"I see you" in the movie "Avatar" tells us something about what relationships should seek. Seeing another as they are and not as we need them to be deepens our understanding. raises our tolerance and compassion, and promotes the good feelings that can keep us together even in times of difficulty.
Just so you know, I lived between my ears for most of my life. I was the center of the Universe and everything I experienced was a reflection of that perspective on life. From that perspective I was unable to let go or to respond with clarity to almost any insult or injury. Without realizing it I held the place of victim. It is not a healthy place to camp out.
So what exactly is this deeper understanding of each other?
Knowing where you are coming from and how your experience of life shaped your current view of life. If this seems like a vague tall order, understand that we must first learn to listen to what is going on between our ears. When we notice how we respond to a slight, to a nasty comment, to an irritation, to a real injury, to an inconvenience, we can then begin to understand our own view of life.
Are we the center of the Universe, are we an observer, or are we connected and a part of the whole? Are we separate or isolated from the larger network of life or do we feel we are inside of it? Do we treat other life forms as though we count and they do not? Do we expect certain behavior and feelings from the ones close to us and get agitated, sad or angry when our expectations are not fulfilled? Do we even notice when another's response to something in the moment is just not quite right? Do we respond with careful attention when someone goes off the deep end without apparent cause, or do we respond in kind?
These and many other questions or observations touch on what it means to have a greater understanding of a relationship. The more we let go of our ego and self image the less likely we are to respond from a sense of lack or injury. The more we begin to understand our own sense of where we fit in to the bigger picture, the better we will be able to respond appropriately in any given situation.
An intimate closeness and the good feelings that arise from that closeness blind us from taking note of what this other person is all about. I am not talking about analyzing moment by moment but instead just noticing. This is a delicate balancing act at times. Our labeling and judgements often get in the way of being a positive part of what is going on. Our own history, our self image, distorts many exchanges between ourselves and others. This is the center of the universe perspective where we take things personally when it really is not personal. When it is personal we can be a witness to our defensive state of mind and maybe not engage with another's emotional state. To engage without awareness very quickly brings deep emotions to the surface. This always results in an escalation, our triggers and fuses have been ignited on both sides.
Rarely are such battles honest. Everything important is hidden behind our strong emotions. The way to avoid these catastrophes is to learn from them , be honest with yourself, notice your own triggers, be aware of your partner's state of mind before your triggers and history confuse the issue. Your own compassion and empathy allows you to see past the facade of criticism, anger or sorrow and see what is really going on. Though you may not get cooperation in this effort, at least only one person is temporally blinded by their personal outrage. Put the cap on the toothpaste, hang up your clothes, shut off the TV, be on time. These and many others signal that we value the other person. We are not indifferent and we do care. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant, when egos have been bruised we are off and running, the outcome should not come as a surprise.
A peaceful state of mind, a sense of being a part of, and paying attention brings greater understanding and depth to our awareness of another. It is worth the effort and the path gets more harmonious with time.
Compassion and the Predator
We are indeed Predators. We are territorial. We do kill, for food, for family, for whatever we think we need to survive. For many Kill or be Killed is a way of life. In the wild very few predators kill more than they need, maybe because they do not have freezers. Humans however have been known for their extermination behavior. We try to eradicate the enemy and the enemy is who or what we decide the enemy to be. Even in America our history contains this extermination frame of mind. The Buffalo, the American Indian, the Wolves, the Blacks, the Chinese, the otters, the seals, the whales and a host of others. It is not always extermination but many times complete dominance and suppression over a presumed inferior member of the human race. While not exterminated, we have killed them without remorse if they were no longer of use.
And yet we temper our natural instincts with compassion, with laws to protect the weak, with restraint even if the laws do not apply.
A male lion that has defeated another male lion and taken over the pride, systematically and without remorse kills all of the young cubs. Only his DNA will be in the next generation.
It is interesting that those who live the middle road are more compassionate that those at either end of the human spectrum. But what is compassion and why is it so important for our ongoing growth as human beings? Even our survival.
It used to be that compassion for our families, our desire to protect them from pain and suffering, our interest in their well being and happiness was enough. But we have multiplied and multiplied. We consume more and more. Some have less and less. There is great danger here.
Each of us can expand that compassion we all have toward the special people in our lives to all life even to the planet we call home. If we are aware and we care, everyone we touch will feel it and pass it on. Real change must begin at the individual level. We can fight the good fight, build communities who feel and believe as we do, protest injustice, defend the planet. This valiant effort is doomed to be repeated over and over again as long as we as a people separate ourselves. This awareness thing, this being a part of, extending our compassion, paying attention, rest solely with the individual.
Our leadership must be set by example at the family level and percolate upward to all other segments of society. The great injustices cannot be avoided until all at the top are replaced by the next generation and the generation after that. If we as parents and grand parents, relatives and friends, neighbors and strangers demonstrate a more profound awareness and compassion the change in perspective will envelop the world.
Does that sound like a revolution, a peaceful revolution? It is. When 6.5 Billion people are true predators, the outcome can be nothing but more of what we have today. When 6.5 billion people have an awareness of their shared role in being a part of all life on this planet, serious change will appear. We will share technology, share food, share knowledge, recycle and re-invent our societies, and stop the rape and destruction of our planet and each other.
It is no longer Kill or be Killed. The only thing this belief system provides us is separation and chaos. Each of us becomes the center of the Universe. Awareness and compassion allows respectful dialogue, equality, sharing, and the belief we are all in this together. Each is dependent on another. I have food because someone planted a seed, nurtured its growth, harvested the fruit of the plant, cleaned it, shipped it, stored it, and sold it to me. I am not an island unto myself, I am a part of the complex web of life. I need to be aware of that fact and behave accordingly.
Happiness, Suffering, Independence/Self Reliance
Looking outward we all see the suffering of humanity all across the Globe. Looking inward we might be able to see in what form our own suffering takes on. Pain, either physical or emotional, does not automatically result in the state of mind called suffering. Some can deal with these and let them go. Some deny the pain of others mostly because they feel inadequate to do anything about it. All in all we can recognize suffering, our own or others, we can recognize pain, our own or others, but coming to terms with what we see and feel is not as easy as one might think.
Suffering to me is the sense that no matter what we do the pain will not go away. This feeling is debilitating. It is a complex mixture of self pity, inadequacy, real pain, and the idea that nothing we or anyone else does will make it stop. We can experience low levels of suffering and all the ranges till we reach very high levels of suffering. It is the idea that the source of our or others pain will not go away and we are incapable of dealing with it.
We want it to go away but we don't know how to make that happen.
We can remove ourselves from the source, we can physically act to expend our energy or to eliminate the source, we can change our perspective and view the source (of ours or others pain) as temporary (this too shall pass), we can put one leaden foot in front of the other until something happens, we can separate ourselves from the feelings (box them up and put them in the closet), we can even go about our business as though no problem exists.
One thing is for certain, suffering is a black hole. One should not stay too close for too long, it is bad for our health.
Sometimes an immense sadness overcomes us. We are after all a messy, chaotic, out of control species. Sadness is also a sense that we are not in control, bad things happen because of us, bad things happen despite our best efforts, we just don't know where we are going, how we are going to get there, or whether we should even bother.
Our children are angry and disillusioned. The world is filled with contradictions, there is very little stability and our words do not match up with what they see. To see a child spiral out of control, filled with unfocused rebellion, and angry at the world is a painful thing to watch. More so if we are the defacto enemy.
So, is there any good news? Of course. The feeling of happiness does exist within us. The beauty in the world, in the entire Universe, is there for us to feast our eyes on and delight in the spectacle. Love in any of its forms brings us great joy. We are more tolerant, generous, nicer and more forgiving. Our dreams and imagination generate positive feelings and unyielding hope for the future.
We are after all survivors. We are capable of great achievements, difficult problem solving, tenacity in very difficult times, and the desire for greater understanding and wisdom. So why are we not all walking around with a big smile on our faces?
Some do. Most of us have a smile or a frown based on how we experienced our day. Some are good days, some are not so good days. What we often fail to realize is that our feelings are an interpretation of what happened, not what actually happened. The facets of a diamond, the prism that finds a rainbow of colors in a single beam of light help remind us that a different perspective, a different slant on something, can be as simple as finding the rainbow in a single beam of light.
Was the inconvenience, the frown, the anger, the dismissal, the rush to get ahead of you, or just the taking up of space you would rather have remained empty on purpose just to annoy you, rude because they don't actually care, or were they rushing to help a friend in trouble, running away from something, afraid, angry from a fight with their children or spouse, or did they just get word a loved family member is critically ill.
We do not always know what is going on with another. We do not always admit to ourselves what is going on with us let alone expose it to another. With all of this hidden from open view it is a wonder we get along at all. Much of our drama is within these two walls. Much of our unhappiness is fueled by faulty judgements, misinformation, failure to openly communicate, mistrust, not paying attention, and the temptation to strike while the iron is hot.
Not all confrontations, affronts, disagreements or hurts can be resolved on the spot, no matter how openly we communicate. But by noticing, by paying attention we can spot the trouble areas and allow our natural compassion to temper our mood. We stay or leave, knowing that at least our own desire to engage has dissolved, our patience allowing us to to find understanding now or later.
Happiness comes without anger. Though we test ourselves, train ourselves, experience the pain and discomfort of building muscle or building spirit, we are rarely unhappy. We know the process comes with a reward while we take joy in trying. The training in spirit is the exercises of noticing, of being aware, of letting go of yourself to see another, of not making snap judgements, of allowing the moment to unfold as it will. Your alertness will protect you both physically and emotionally. You will not engage unless necessary but if you do you will safely redirect the energy of combat to a more peaceful end. This takes practice.
Many many books have been written about self reliance, about independence. To me each of these becomes a part of us as we learn to trust our own wisdom, train ourselves to respond appropriately, and maintain a level of alertness that guides us in acting swiftly, appropriately and with a sense of responsibility towards the outcome. Independence merely means that you are less inclined to be swayed in your decisions by the emotion of others and more inclined to trust your own judgement. It also means you are capable of altering your position if necessary.
We are all interdependent. The men who pick up our trash do us a great service. The teacher who trains our children and all the people who run our system of education not only educate academically but provide an environment for their physical and social growth. The trucker who brings us our food every day. The police who protect us. This a very big, interdependent network. It is so obvious it is hard to even to bring it into the light. Each of these people who we cannot get along without, provide a service to each of us. The next time your ego is inflated because you are above others, or you make more money and live better than many others try to remember every human being on this earth desires to be independent and self reliant. Every human being has hopes and dreams and wants to participate as best they can. Our stratified cultures do not do justice to this simple and very obvious reality.
Self reliant and independent people do not separate themselves for they can walk among discord and see for themselves where the moment should take them.
Teaching this to children, learning this for ourselves, is a by product of self awareness training.