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Maybe conflict is really just all in my head.
I braced myself, knowing the strikes were coming. I hoped my protection was strong enough for the onslaught.
And then, there it was: the nightly news, spewing psychological bombs and shrapnel into my living room.
The news media are quick to report violence, making sure that we’re in a state of unrest and upset—and that we stay to view the advertising. We can avoid this negative mindset by limiting and being selective about the news we view, as described here.
But even if I turn off the news completely, conflict and competition seem to be the rule today. It’s everywhere, from a job search to kids’ soccer games to Black Friday sales—not to mention civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and internal conflicts in Myanmar and Kashmir. It’s so easy to see the world in terms of dualities—us and them, right and wrong, winners and losers.
Although my ordinary life seems to be set up in this dualistic way, many Eastern philosophies promote a nondual view, in which human judgments don’t dominate our reality and actions.
Some call this state a higher consciousness, awakening, or Buddha nature. (“Consciousness” here means my frame of mind when I’m awake—it’s not contrasted with medical “unconsciousness” or with the sleep state.)
Based on what I know of Buddhist philosophy, which is the basis for my spiritual path, I group consciousness into three types or states: (1) an ordinary mental state, in which I’m concerned with myself and those close to me; (2) a socially aware view that looks beyond my narrow focus to inequalities and injustice; and (3) a nondual view that sees the world without dividing it up into warring camps.
To show how these three states operate, I’ve written three poems to demonstrate each point of view.
The “Me” Mentality
“It’s all about me.” When we’re stuck in a dualistic frame of mind, our judgments are what matter. We’re only interested in being right and proving others are wrong. This consciousness is an ancient survival tactic based on the ego and its needs. It’s a mindset that can’t see beyond self-interest.
Red white and blue in waves
across the field as silver jets scream
overhead, and I am standing always,
you bet. Later, happy our team won
the gold, we jeer at the loser fans.
Boozy drunks, derelicts on sidewalks
Spare change panhandlers
with crummy cardboard signs,
Get up and go somewhere else.
My ranch-style home sits on five acres,
all mine. I look after my own and keep us safe
from people who speak with accents.
It’s win or lose in this hard world
and we have to win.
I am a steel fence post set in concrete
for family and friends,
no one takes me down. I know what’s right
and what’s wrong, and right must win.
God says we are the winners. Ask my pastor.
In this state of consciousness, we’ve developed a social conscience. When I’m there, I perceive others who have less than I do, and conversely, more than I do. I feel a driving desire to help those at a disadvantage, whom I see as suffering.
People with this viewpoint do a lot of good, but it’s not without pitfalls.
By seeing others as less fortunate, I have divided myself from them. I may feel subtly superior to both those I think are needy, and those I see as exploiting others. I may become a rescuer and make others into victims. They are not my victims, of course, but victims of the wealthy or politically powerful, whom I tend to demonize. Once again, I’m in a battle.
The park lies green and sweet as I
walk on my lunch hour. My heart breaks
for the man in shabby clothing who smells
like wine and urine, the woman with swollen legs
shuffling behind a wobbly-wheeled shopping cart.
I have a bright apartment with fresh paint,
An expensive bed with perfect sheets to lie in—
They sleep on slatted benches
or in doorways on flattened cardboard.
Society has failed them.
Weekends I’m on the serving line
in a basement soup kitchen. I’m at the call center
for environmental protection. I show up
on scary streets with protest signs,
knowing I’m an easy target.
Like a sheltering tree, I am sending roots deep.
I beckon all to find rest and comfort.
I hold the line, opposing those greedy ones
who create suffering and oppress others,
justice and equality my righteous causes.
This state is that of someone who has seen through duality to an underlying unity. Having this view, we realize that all beings are suffering—even those considered privileged.
With this awareness, I become a peacemaker who reaches out to all sides. I do what is needed to help—but without feeling superior (or inferior, for that matter). I refrain from condemning or hating the “opposition,” but I speak up on behalf of fairness. Kindness is my approach. In this state of consciousness, I let go of anything that puts a barrier between me and others, being willing to see the world just as it is.
It’s a rainbow out here, way beyond
colors I can see. The game is underway, and I cheer
every good play anyone makes.
Hey! someone says, Whose side are you on?
I lean over smiling and whisper, Yours.
I say hello to Jim with his lumpish trash bags.
He was in Iraq. His eyes move constantly.
I give him my extra water bottle.
Carol needs the 7-11 restroom. I help by guarding her
wobbly cart. I bring her fast food and lots of napkins.
Sometimes I’m a bug on a warm wooden bench.
Sometimes I’m the vast sky. Everything changes, always.
I suffer with everyone and everything, and yet
I am content because I see them as they are—
just like me—moving and impermanent.
This could be gone tomorrow—or I could.
I know that last flickering day will come.
Every moment, I am fully engaged in waging peace.
Kindness is my guide as I dance through this life,
the world my graceful, surprising partner.
On an average day, we might move through all three types of consciousness. Sometimes, we need that me-first state of mind—for instance, to protect a child from harm. We might need to be the one who takes a stand for equal rights against those who would take them away. Finally, in the state of being able to see many points of view, we’re always needed as mediators and peacemakers.
Paying attention is never a bad idea, and it’s easy to cultivate better attention and awareness through spiritual practices—such as meditation, affirming prayer, yoga, Qigong, and martial arts such as Tai Chi and Aikido.
With regular spiritual practice, we can improve our ability to see the world with equanimity. Even though dualistic reactions still come up, we’re in a better position to see them for what they are, instead of operating out of knee-jerk reflex and possibly harming ourselves and others.
Free from the bondage of duality and conflict, we may all live more responsibly—and more responsively—on this marvelous Earth.
For a helpful discussion of meditation, see this article.