More on curing the world's pain
I’ve started to collect the recordings of the Saturday morning meditation groups in a podcast, which can be accessed as a podcast here. Or you can look at it as a web page here. It’s a Patreon, but this isn’t a solicitation for donations. Patreon just has pretty good tools for posting podcasts, and I am using them because it’s convenient.
I said in a recent post that the kindest thing we can do is to allow ourselves to see clearly. I got several great questions about this. Interestingly, two comments asked essentially the same question: if my friend is not seeing clearly, how do I help my friend to see more clearly?
It’s not surprising that this was the question, because this is the question everybody asks when they start to look at this problem. This person I love is suffering. I can see that they are suffering, and I can see why they are suffering. How do I help them to not suffer?
Or, this person who has some kind of power over me is causing suffering, for me and others, and I can see that they have made a mistake, that they are not seeing clearly. And I want to somehow show them that they are not seeing clearly, so that they can see clearly, and stop doing what they are doing that is causing harm.
I know these sound like separate questions, but they are not. The reason they are not is that the more clearly we see, the more we see that the suffering we feel is not special: that all suffering is the same kind of bad, and that it’s no good to just cure my suffering and not do anything about the suffering of others. Of course, we could still take the two questions separately, but I want to talk about the common problem.
It goes back to something I said in the previous post:
To see that truth, clearly, without turning away from it, to accept it, that is power. Because now that I see what I can’t do, I can stop thinking that it is my job to do that, and instead do the small things I can do. It is because we don’t do these things that there is so much pain in the world.
Why am I pointing back to this? Because the most important thing that I can’t do is to be someone else. Each person in the world is their own person. We are all deeply interconnected, of course, on so many levels, but nevertheless, they have their part to do, and I have my part to do. What they are doing seems valid from their perspective.
There are only two ways to get someone to stop doing something I consider harmful: either to become a barrier that they must cross in order to continue doing it (that is, violent action of some kind), or to establish a connection with them that is strong enough that they can see some of what I see.
The problem with violence is not just that harming others is morally wrong, or some silliness like that. It’s that it says “okay, we have this wonderful, interconnected whole, and this part here, that I call me, this part is the part where the truth is known, and it is from this part that control must therefore radiate.”
This has two harmful results. The first is that of course that can never work on a practical level—there just isn’t enough of me to go around. Even if I really do know the truth, even if I were the wisest person in the world, I still couldn’t exert control over the world.
The second is that we really are interconnected, and the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. Deciding that I must be the source of truth is incredibly limiting. People who communicate in a healthy way are incredibly more capable of solving problems than even the smartest individuals controlling everything centrally.
This can be really frustrating, because to accept that this is true is to accept that we have less power than we need to save the world, and the world really seems to need saving. But again, this goes back to the greatest kindness we can do. We never had this power. Thinking that we have this power, and acting as if we do, is no kindness, even if we are trying to save the world. The greatest kindness is to see that we don’t have this power, and to stop trying to find solutions that involve having this power that we don’t have. Only then can we stop looking in the wrong place for the solution to the problem we see.
What power do we have? We have the power to connect. We have the power to be the best person we can be, each of us. We have the power to be happy. We have the power to be kind. We have the power to bring people together, slowly, methodically, over time. When we do that, when we act together, when we act out of kindness and not out of the arrogance that would claim authority, we have the power to actually change things. If you look at history, you can see this over and over again.
So when we see that our neighbors are deluded, and are harming society because of their delusions, what do we do about it? Two things: first, we do what we can to improve the situation. Second, we see if there is something we can do to bring them close, without being so arrogant as to demand that they agree with us. So that even when we don’t agree, we still see that we have causes in common, and we still find ourselves working together for those causes, instead of wasting time yelling at each other about things we don’t agree on. The nice thing about this is that over time, we become more human to each other, and then a lot of the disagreements can soften. And when we succeed in making things better, despite those with whom we disagree, things get better for them too, and then they are less angry, and more able to bend.
What about the friend who can’t face a discussion about death? How can we help?
The first answer is that this isn’t ours to fix. They have their own journey. They have to make the journey; we can’t make it for them. All we can do is be there for them, be present, honor their pain, their resistance, their desire to avoid, but also honor their desire to be heard. Nobody is ever of one mind about anything; a friend who has trouble facing death knows she has trouble; while she is avoiding communicating about it, she is also communicating about it. While she is avoiding thinking about it, she is also thinking about it.
I don’t think there is any one answer to this, but the way I approach these conversations is with love, silence, and presence. Love, which is there when asked for. Silence, meaning that I can sit and hear what they are saying, not just the words but the deeper communication. Presence, meaning that when I am being silent, I am not somewhere else.
I am being silently present. I am listening openly, without an inner dialog, without a running series of ideas about what to say. Sometimes all that I’m called on to do is listen that way. Sometimes there aren’t many words being spoken to me, and yet still listening from a place of silence seems to be the thing to do.
And then occasionally words come, and they help. They aren’t words that came from an inner dialog. You could say that they rose up out of the deep mind, or that they were inspired. They don’t necessarily break things open and make things all better. But they tell the person “you have been heard” and sometimes they provide some little idea that moves things in a new direction. Not a cure, just some nourishment.