Thanks for the A2A Christopher.
Here are some biggies:
1. For many years I was overreliant on my intellect, placing it above every other method of discernment. This had relatively disastrous consequences for many of my relationships, and for my own health and well-being. So (with the help of therapy, a spiritual awakening, and some very humbling experiences) I began listening to other dimensions of my being: my heart, my body, my spirit. Now I try to balance these input streams when making decisions or trying to understand situations in my life, and that has greatly improved outcomes for me and everyone around me.
2. In a similar vein, I was an atheistic existentialist up until my twenties, then a fundamentalist Christian for a few years, then over about fifteen years I evolved into what I called an "integral mystic." That's the path I've been on for about ten years now. In each of these transitions I revised several core beliefs.
3. Over the past decade or so, I've seen a gradual shift in myself regarding the place of anger in my life. I had always thought anger was sometimes a useful emotion - for example, it helped me set boundaries with difficult people, it helped me motivate myself to change something unproductive about my habits, etc. I held on to the belief that anger was somehow still necessary in my life. But that is changing. I now believe I confused anger with a kind of fierce love - which may look similar from the outside in terms of the emotional intensity, but each comes from a very different place. So I am working on making that interior shift in an enduring way. It is difficult, but it is definitely the result of a change in deeply held perceptions and beliefs.
4. This last change in beliefs is difficult to explain, but it has to do with human failings. I think for much of my life I have held out hope that the world contains people who aren't deeply flawed. Not better than everyone else in some Übermensch sense, just not excessively f***ed up. But that simply isn't true. There are exceptional people everywhere - in fact it doesn't take long to realize how special and interesting each person is, if you listen long enough and pay close attention to them. But everyone (including me of course) also has egregious flaws - and some that are pretty difficult to accept - that they either are unaware of, or hide, or try to control, or inflict on others with varying degrees of damage. And coming to terms with this in the context of compassion and empathy means radically accepting the flaws of others, of myself, and really of the human race itself. And that radical acceptance is what I'm working on, because my heart is more than a little broken by the failings and of people I once held up as examples to admire and follow. The list perhaps two dozen people, some not well known and others more well-known folks like J. Krishnamurti, Thomas Merton, Bill Cosby, Lance Armstrong, and Martin Luther King Jr. Each year it seems someone else is knocked off my romantic pedestal, and so ultimately I find myself agreeing with teenagers who complain that, well, "people suck." And then I let that sentiment go, hoping to return to kindness and patience.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Jen Brown: "Can you explain more about anger vs. fierce love? I don't quite understand but I think it's a fascinating insight. Great answer, thank you!"
They can appear similar from the outside, but they feel very different on the inside. Let's say a parent is angrily and viciously beating a young child in a public park. You intervene, placing yourself between the child and their out-of-control parent. The parent begins directing their anger at you, but you stand your ground, insisting that they need to calm down. You explain calmly but firmly that they cannot assault their child this vicious way, no matter what the child has done. The parent then attacks you, and you end up restraining them on the ground while calling the police, all the while explaining that they are out of control, need help, and need to calm down.
It would be very easy to get angry in such a situation. To feel that fire of rage well up from within to fill your body. But that's not the feeling you are operating from. It is much deeper - it is almost like gravity radiating up from the ground, and you are tethered to it. It helps you feel the rightness of your actions, and it gives you extra strength and courage, but it doesn't want to attack. It just wants to defend and stand firm.
It is hard to describe, but there is a distinctly felt difference from anger. It is similar to the feelings we have when we must do something really hard that we know may upset someone or cause them pain, but it is necessary. It is the right thing to do. There can even be a little sadness involved, because we are participating in another person's suffering. We aren't causing that suffering, *but we may initiate consequences for someone's careless or hurtful actions*.
Have you ever broken off a romantic relationship with a lover, knowing it was the right thing for you both, but also knowing it would cause them pain? And, because you still loved them, you did so very carefully, very compassionately, all the while feeling a bit of their pain yourself? When I was young, the only way I could do such a thing was to work myself up...get angry enough to push someone away. But now I know now that was in part because I was afraid of hurting them, afraid I wouldn't follow through, or afraid of the consequences. Well, I believe love casts out fear. As I got older, I was able to be more skillful at "pushing away" when I needed to without having to get angry...I was less ruled by fear.
So I think that is at the core of what I mean: a fierce love that isn't afraid, vs. an angry thrashing that arises out of fear.
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