A friend of mine, who is a devout Christian, will often talk to me about his studies in Buddhism. He tells me that the Buddhist tradition has for over 2500 years been studying the mind, how it works and how much suffering flows from it. He often talks about loving kindness, and how Christ shows how to be truly loving, forgiving and accepting of others. I love hearing him speak, for I agree with him much of the time when he talks about the benefits of studying Buddhist writers. One reason I agree with him is that I know from first hand experience how the mind can cause a great deal of suffering when it spirals out of control into areas of anxious concern and simple fear. I think we all live in tension, for we are after all living in a world where anything can happen at anytime to anyone of us. We can lose everything in a heart beat, though it is not often thought about, yet the tension is there.
I remember about 11 years ago, I had to go to New Orleans for a medical procedure. Because they needed me to respond during the operation, I had to be kept awake, so they gave me some… really… really… nice medicine to relax me. The nurse called it “I don’t’ give a damn medicine.” Well once they gave it to me, it only took about one minute for it to take full effect… man, I though I died and went to heaven. The doctor could have told me that he was going to cut off my leg and I would have said, “Fine with me”. My body was relaxed, no anxiety either on the conscious or unconscious level. My muscles were relaxed and all was well in the universe. I flirted with the nurses and told jokes and when the doctor hit a nerve… which is why I was awake, to let him know when that was hit…..well having no inhibition I let out a “Holy Feck ” so loud that they could hear it in the waiting room… well perhaps not, but it was loud. Then after I yelled and the pain went away, I laughed and was very, very, happy. Too bad it was temporary and I had to come down again in an hour or so.
So I learned from that experience just how much tension I carry around with me everyday, by having it lifted for an hour or so. Of course I would not want to take drugs on a regular basis to feel that good again. It would only make life more complicated, for it would only lead to other forms of chaos in my life that can come through addictions of that sort. We are meant to live in this world for a reason, perhaps to simply learn how to deal with the everyday world that forces us make choices in how we respond to others and in the events that unfold around us.
We observe ourselves all the time. That is what ”self awareness” means. It is not just being conscious, but being able to look into the mind and see what is going on. We can tell ourselves that we are angry, that is because we observe the mind as it moves along its often compulsive and ‘inner voiced and imaged’ filled way. In Buddhism, they have developed that ability to simple observe the workings of the mind and not judge, to a very high degree. Doing that can unravel some very tight knots and lead to inner peace, even if it is only for a time, but for those who practice this ‘self observing’, having a good day or a bad one, or one that can be very chaotic is ok, for having the ability to observe one is not easily pulled into the dream like quality of our mind and how it interrupts the world around it. We paint the world in its varied colors, either consciously or unconsciously, the more conscious it is, the easier to practice loving kindness towards others.
I dream a great deal. When dreaming, while I might not be fully ”self aware”, yet the dream is very real while I am having it. Now if I should become ”lucid” in the dream, then it still seems real, but the experience is totally different, I become self aware. One interesting thing about lucid dreams (at least for me), is that I can’t always control everything in it, it is as if the world really does exist, at least in part, outside of my control, so therefore it can be more real than I understand.
In our everyday lives it can be much the same. We can react, well we will, but we can also observe and contemplate how we react and learn from them. We can become lucid while awake in other words. I am not sure how often I actually accomplish this, but in the few times I have done so, life is different, lighter and loving kindness flows. Self awareness leads to compassion and empathy towards others, which in fact does lighten the load a bit. A lot of time and energy is lost in judging and reacting to others, we can be like puppets on a string if we don’t know what is going on.
So, to sit, observe, be silent and let the inner movie continue while observing ones inner dream, helps to release one from its power to project itself onto the world around us and lead us by the chain. Carl Jung talked about how we project our inner shadow onto others and then how we make them pay for carrying our darkness, fears and other aspect of our personality that we have not observed but repressed.
When we come to understand the depth of our own suffering and how much of it is self imposed, this leads to the desire for freedom from this inner bondage. It gives us tools to face life head on without fear, to not be afraid of the inner storms and when we don’t project those onto others, because we are aware of them, and then this again, helps us to treat others with loving kindliness and compassion. A great burden is lifted.
To love our neighbor as ourselves is not possible if we don’t know ourselves. We can be pious and say the right things, but the human heart in order to flower must go through its own Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection before we can say: “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” In the end, when we love ourselves, we will love others, because self love comes through the ability to observe our own inner ranting and ramblings without rancor or self rejection, but with loving kindness and compassion.
This morning I was reading the Gospel story of Jesus healing the leper. Here was a man who was truly an outcast. Lepers had to live apart, and when they approached anyone they had to call out “unclean” so that people would not get too close to them. They were feared and I guess it served a purpose for society; yet they were outcast. Jesus saw something different. What he saw he loved and he healed the man, saying that his faith had healed him. Jesus had compassion and loving kindness. When he became angry it was used to try to reach others not to condemn. Perhaps there are people who can judge and know when to be angry and harsh with others, for it can shake up illusions and lead to freedom. However, that gift, that Jesus had, is not common.
Harshness often comes from a place that is neither kind, compassionate nor does it of course show love towards the one (or the group) being judged. Knowing the depths of the human heart leads to mercy. Not understanding the inner workings of the soul, lead to condemnation. True justice, leads to mercy… since it is based on a ‘seeing’ that is holographic in nature, seeing all parts of the soul even when it is fragmented and seemingly lost. To place oneself as judge of another is a heavy burden to carry and its weight only gets heavier as time moves forward. It is a self imposed prison that leads to self alienation and isolation in the end. We can never stand still, we are pilgrims, and we are on a road, each step leading us higher up, or further down into dark and painful places.
We all need mercy and compassion, from others and also from God. I am of course speaking as one who still struggles and am still only at the beginning. Each day is a new start, as well as each moment, for hope is the rain that allows the seed to take root ever deeper; no matter how slowly the journey or at times how wearisome it can be.