The last week has been tinged with the sorrow, outrage, and hatred that masks itself as self-righteous indignation over the horrific attacks in Paris. It has come up with a few of my clients. It alternates between a slow-burning seething pain and a flaring, almost overwhelming rage. Why the violence? Why do so many people feel justified in taking the lives of innocents in the name of their ideology, as a response to their wounding? Why do we stand by while this happens? Why doesn’t the government use its resources to swiftly and summarily execute each and every one of them? What the fuck, world!?!
It’s a story that can’t be easily concluded and neatly packaged. And we are all, to some degree, complicit in it. When we witness a tragedy on this scale it draws us in whether we want it or not. The collective suffering of the world is not relegated to those that experience it directly, while we sit in comfortable living rooms, coffee shops and air-conditioned offices flinging our contempt from keyboards. No, the suffering that is brought down upon billions of people each day is part and parcel of our own lives. We feel it when it is brought to the surface by the attention the media gives to a horrific event like the terrorist attacks in Paris. But, that is only the gateway, the entry point into the awareness that human suffering is happening in many more places than what the media wants to show us.
Within hours, minutes perhaps, after the news being reported about the terrorist attacks in Paris, social media was blowing up with people demanding that attention be brought to the hundreds of people being killed in Baghdad and Beirut. Wait! Someone says, “What about the Syrian refugees?” #BlackLivesMatter. The Indonesian rainforest is burning down and destroying one of the most important bioregions on the planet! And did everyone forget the 43 at Ayotzinapa?
It is easy to get swept under the flood. What does getting swept under the flood look like? In some cases is it an almost debilitating sorrow. A type of crushing weight on your chest that makes you weep tears that you can’t seem to place, homeless as they seem because nothing that you can think of is wrong in your corner of the world. But “your corner of the world” is an illusion. And so these great burdens of hurt and sorrow find their refuge in your eyes and wail their songs through your heart. This is one way we experience the flood. If we can do this, collectively with one another and be witnessed, this may be a way through.
The other way, the all-too-common way in these days of push-button activism, is to start slinging our own hatred and projections via social media. When the enormous door of global grief swings wide open it becomes easy and enticing for people to start pushing their shit onto others. And I mean shit deliberately. All of the unprocessed, unacknowledged, unconscious resentments, regrets, and retributions are flung far and wide with the click of a button. Calls for blowing up anyone and everyone that has become the enemy of the day. And wait! My enemy is a bigger enemy than yours! Hey! You forgot about my enemy! No, you just aren’t aware that my enemy is more important! You’re just self-centered and racist: this is the enemy! If you don’t acknowledge the importance of my enemy you’re also the enemy! NO! THIS ENEMY IS THE ENEMY! THEY’RE ALL THE ENEMY! EVERYONE THAT’S NOT ME IS THE ENEMY!
Well, guess what, each day we point the finger outside we give our part to create the enemy. The irony of the modern age is that while we can share world-transforming information across the globe at the click of a button we spend our time flinging our wounds at others and expecting retribution. It is an age of entitlement gone awry and amped up on designer performance drugs.
It is not until we start to look at ourselves with the vigor with which we accuse others that we begin the process of healing the violence that leaves us so indignant. When we begin understanding that the hatred we harbor and the deep sorrow we all carry is the fuel that emerges as violence across the globe we begin approaching sanity. We are not islands unto ourselves. Our thoughts, actions, and behaviors do not affect us alone. We are part of a greater collective that ebbs and flows to the rhythms of thought and action that we all contribute to.
The ancient Greeks had an awareness of this. As James Hillman points out, for the Greeks psyche was not something isolated and internal. Psyche is everywhere. We exist within Psyche: psyche does not exist within us. In other words, we are the receivers for a greater consciousness than our own isolated consciousness. Likewise, we give back to that greater consciousness what we create with our own thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. In this sense, we are more like radio receivers than mp3 players. Our minds, like their materialist counterparts in technology, are connected to the cloud and are constantly streaming. Mystics of all traditions have known this and walked the path of transforming the whole by transforming themselves.
When we project our wounds and our hatred out onto the world we are creating terrorists. Just entertain that thought for a moment. Use your imagination. What if our responses of anger, hatred and contempt to those outside of ourselves are creating more of them? What if the cycle of violence is feeding itself through you because you demand violence be rained upon those that have committed violence? Play with it. Consider it a thought experiment. Or step further and see that it is in you that the change can happen.
The violence and suffering in Paris and other parts of the world is absolutely tragic. What is more tragic is that so many people would have more tragedy inflicted on others as retribution. There is no way that this will end the cycle of violence that has plagued our world, potentially since the beginning.
WHAT DO WE DO?
There is a way of tracking our hatred and anger back to places of wounding that need to be healed. Ultimately, when we have knee-jerk responses of fury towards something we see in the outside world, it comes from a deep hurt we carry within us. When you have a violent response to something you witness in the world try this:
Stop – drop whatever you are doing for a few minutes, close your eyes
Connect – become aware of your breath and your body
Track – find any places of physical discomfort and take your awareness there
Breathe – breathe into the discomfort and ask: “What happened here?”
Receive – witness what comes up for you without judgment (this is the challenging part)
Release – let the emotions that arise flow through you as a part of what you are witnessing (this can be releasing anger, weeping, feeling waves of anxiety flow through you). Don’t stop it or analyze it, just let it be until it is done.
Record – when the waves of images and emotions are over, write down what came up for you. This gives it a place to be, a home so to speak, outside of your body and mind.
Act – not react. After processing the waves of what is yours you can take action on the situation that brought up this emotion with clarity. In most cases, this shifts the response from violence to compassion. In others, it allows you to just let it go.
A Tibetan Buddhist practice that I really appreciate at times like this is the Loving Kindness Prayer. It is simple. Start by envisioning yourself and repeat:
May I be healthy
May I be happy
May I be healed
May I be at peace
You first, like putting the oxygen mask on first as the plane is going down before you can help anyone else. Then, in concentric circles around you take the people closest to you and offer the same prayer:
May you be healthy
May you be happy
May you be healed
May you be at peace
Follow this all the way through to those that have harmed you, those that harmed others in the world, those that bring up the most contempt in you. It is not an easy thing to be awakened in these times. But it is what needs to be done.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching