I had contemplated writing this long overdue post about the suffering so apparent and overwhelmingly present in the world today. But, sitting in the park, listening to an African ensemble practice, watching a little girl blissfully dance like the gods have possessed her, I change my focus to those things in life that keep the human spirit alive in joy and love.
2016 has not been kind to my mind and heart thus far and the same can be said for the world-at-large, especially if you are an international news addict like myself. But, how is it that horror and tragedy can fill our newspapers, TVs and inboxes yet we continually persevere as a species and society manages to find a way to continue producing great works of art, we continue to fall in love, form new friendships and find ways to reach out to those in need despite the suffering surrounding us? In an interview in On Being, a podcast by Krista Tippett, the Vietnamese Zen monk and greatly revered teacher Thich Nhat Hahn discusses the notion that happiness and peace cannot exist without suffering. He shares his view, obviously of Buddhist origin, that peace cannot be appreciated or even recognized without the presence of tragedy. As a young monk and a witness to the horrors of the Vietnam War in his home country, Hahn is no stranger to violence and the human capacity to inflict terror on one another. To listen to the compassion he conveys in speaking of those that create and perpetuate violence is to truly listen to the voice of a surreal being. He reminds us that if we have the capacity for violence then, by the nature of duality, we also have the capacity for great compassion, love and wisdom. If we allow ourselves to surrender to our own part in the continuation of suffering on a personal and universal level, then we have the ability to affect great change.
How do we surrender and accept what Buddhist’s refer to as the Second Noble Truth? I again am reminded of another great teacher in the words of Pema Chodron. In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, she discusses the internal feeling or sensation most of us feel when we see someone in pain. It could be a stranger on the street, a disturbing event in a TV show or on the news, or a violent song lyric. The internal reaction we have to catch our breath, perhaps tear up a bit or even cry is the manifestation of human empathy. When you feel this, you know that you have the ability to love another. But, there are times in modern life when we may not feel this love. When you look at someone suffering and feel nothing or indifferent, that is where the work begins. What is it about that person, your assumptions about their life based on appearance that prevents you from feeling compassion? If we ask ourselves these questions, then we begin to discover our limitations. When we know our limitations, we can begin to problem solve around how to learn what is necessary to move beyond. When we learn, we grow. When we grow, we change. When we change, our environment begins to take on new hues. When the hues change, our world opens up. When our world opens up, we can experience moments like the little girl in the park. Moments when the world may be chaotic but we feel the sun, hear the music and dance like everyone is watching.