*The attacks that occurred Paris were shattering events that force each of us to question and to seek understanding.
One Wisdom Heart community member sent an email asking: What can you say to help me make sense of this event?
I can’t say anything to make sense of this.
I believe that seeking to make sense—too quickly—is a way of distancing ourselves from experiencing the impact, the power and the message that is encoded in this experience.
It’s natural to try to distance the mind and heart.
To pull back and protect ourselves when confronted with such rawness and horror. I’ve seen this distancing tendency in myself and my friends.
In the spiritual community there is the tendency to weave a metaphysical cocoon around the event, dulling our sensitivity and awareness. This is a way of shutting down—even when it’s framed in the language of opening up.
In the political community there’s the tendency to assign blame to the shooter, to one or more political parties or to the culture. This is a way of lashing out—even when it’s framed in the language of rationality or social justice.
For many, the distancing reaction arises as the impulse to stay busy with today’s to-do list in order to distract attention from the anguish that keeps scratching at the door of the heart.
What about you?
How does the distancing reaction shape your thoughts, speech or actions?
It’s absolutely essential to notice, to name, to be aware of these distancing tendencies—if we want to create conditions that preclude this kind of event from happening again.
Because, if what we think, say or do is based in distancing, I’m afraid it will never lead to the kind of understanding, dialogue, relationships or actions that will preclude this from happening again.
I’m reminded of the ancient Zen story.
During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived—everyone except the Zen master.
Hearing about this old fellow, the general was enraged and burst into the temple, where the master sat in meditation.
“You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”
The master remained present, open, and said, “And do you realize that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”
The events in Paris and the daily events in Syria and many other places around the world pierce the heart. The natural reaction is to blink, to turn away, to distance.
I too blink.
I turn away from the immensity of what this event (and so many, many others) evokes and requests.
I blink—rather than opening to the suffering, anguish, anger, sorrow and confusion that swirls in the hearts of those who have lost loved ones and those who have strapped on the suicide vests.
I blink rather than allowing the sword to run through me.
How can we cultivate the capacity to be pierced, to be run through without blinking?
It’s an important question. For, when we blink, what we think, say, or do, in response to this violence, will be based on distancing:
We will not fully receive the impact of this event
We will not be changed by this event.
We will not change the conditions that generated it.
Distancing strategies—and we all have them—do not transform the situation.
They’re not designed to do so. Distancing strategies are designed to reinforce our existing worldview and to perpetuate our conditioned ways of being in the world.
This event cries out for more than distancing.
It deserves more than formulaic spiritual, psychological or political understanding.
There’s no easy answer here. This event is a sword that cuts to the very heart of how we understand our world.
If facing this event confirms what you already know—I’d like to suggest that you’re dodging the point (of the sword).
If our collective reaction to this event reinforces the familiar perspectives, debates and actions, we’re missing the point.
Understanding can come.
But only as we open to and fully experience all that arises, all that is evoked, all that is revealed, as we contemplate this event. That is what the master in the story demonstrates. He asks:
How can we meet this event in a way that does more than confirm what we already know, what we already believe?
How can we, individually and collectively, take this event so deeply to heart that it overrides strongly held convictions and undermines heavily ingrained habits of distancing?
How can we meditate upon this tragedy in such a way that creates conditions which preclude it happening again.
These questions can’t be answered by the mind or the emotions—both which are heavily conditioned and rooted in the past.
We can’t look to our conditioning—including our spiritual and political conditioning—to decode this event.
Relying on conditioned reactions will only perpetuate the conditions that have given rise to this event.
Can you see that if we respond to this event with the conditioned mind and reactive emotions, we will be simply be continuing the legacy of the past.
How can we do otherwise?
What can we do to develop our individual and shared capacity to meet this event—and all experiences of suffering—without the overlay, insulation and protection that comes from relying on patterns of the past?
All the wisdom traditions agree, that for violence to arise there must be the conditions that foster, support and give rise to violence.
Collectively we have fostered, supported, and given rise to such conditions. That much is obvious.
But, when we refer to the collective, what are we talking about?
Certainly, it is a fabric woven of many individual threads.
You are a thread in the collective fabric, as am I.
Neither of us is separate from the collective. The collective is the body, mind and heart of our inter-being—to use Thich Nhat Hahn’s wonderful phrase. Recognizing the reality of inter-being, begs, again, the question:
What can I do – right now – so that my thread weaves the conditions of peace, of healing, of awakening into the collective fabric? ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
We need to develop our capacity to meet the gritty, often painful, truth of our experience without being overwhelmed.
Because when we are overwhelmed, the natural reaction of distancing kicks in. And when this reaction kicks in, you and I fall back on our habitual spiritual, psychological, and political patterns.
To let go of these patterns can be terrifying.
It feels like being run through with, cut to the quick. But the alternative – the perpetuation of the past and the prolonging of the conditions that create such acts of violence – is more terrifying. Rumi wrote, “The cure for pain is in the pain.”
We need to develop our capacity to enter the pain—with loving awareness.
To enter the pain in our individual body and mind and the pain in our collective soul. How? Through spiritual practice.
I believe we need to practice a deeper form of meditation.
One that goes beyond stress reduction, beyond the relaxation response, beyond noting mindfully and beyond individual enlightenment.
We need to practice in such a way that we enter into the tangled web of our individual and collective conditioning with loving awareness.
Through practice we can—individually and collectively:
Untangle the knots of afflictive emotions.
Still the swirling of confused thoughts.
The wisdom traditions all point to a state of consciousness that is capable of healing even the most horrific suffering.
This state of consciousness is within you. Spiritual practice cultivates the psychological, emotional and physical capacity for you to allow that state of healing presence to do its work.
There is a healing presence—a loving awareness—which transcends and can transform suffering. Whatever is not included in the embrace of loving awareness—whether within you or outside you—will remain in the thrall of the patterns of the past.
Loving awareness is the antidote to distancing.
It embraces everything—not in an sloppy, emotional, group hug—but with the fierce compassion and unwavering clarity that can create the conditions that preclude this from ever happening again.
Loving awareness never blinks.
It includes the whole situation: the slayers, the slain, those that are gone and those who remain. That sounds lovely. But, really—loving awareness is a sword.
Loving awareness won’t arise in your individual experience through thinking or emoting. It won’t take root in our collective experience through thinking or emoting. For loving awareness to transform suffering, you and I have to embody it. And when we do—we’ll be pierced all the way into the depths of our being, without blinking.
This takes practice.
Loving awareness is not an answer. It’s a fierce and endless practice.
When you and I practice, we’ll understand. When we understand, we will take action and create the conditions that will make it impossible for this to ever happen again.
Love & Shanti
E & D
Author: Eric Klein
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author