Do you ever feel a monster inside of you? I do, and it makes me feel at odds with myself, caught in a struggle – when to fight, when to love?
We are in a shitstorm. Our country’s leaders are calling for the worst aspects of humanity to rise up. To name a few, they’re calling up the unabashed and unashamed racists, sexists, xenophobes, homophobes, Evangelical Christians who want our Democracy to become a Theocracy. Watching people at a Trump rally, I can imagine what it might have been like in the Roman coliseums.
My initial tendency is to focus on what I perceive as the problems: the problem situation, the problem president, the problem idea, the problem person. Fixing my gaze outward, I judge and condemn the morally bankrupt who court a mindset that can become frenzied and violent at the slightest provocation. They are bad.
My exasperation at the cruel stupidity we’re witnessing feels like a constant, unwelcome companion. I watched a short CNN video of immigrant parents whose children were among those taken by our government. One father shared that his little daughter was taken, though he could barely get the words out through his sobs. Could there be a worse nightmare? I can’t imagine anyone feeling anything but resolve to do whatever possible to help. Yet behold some of the comments from other people who saw this story:
Janel Milton said: “Don’t come to our country illegally! If we crossed your borders illegally you would throw us in prison! Why do you think it’s ok to come here illegally???? Go home!”
Brad Oliver chimed in: “Become a citizen. Then you will have LEGAL RIGHTS. Our ancestors did. Follow suit. There is a reason you are not allowed in!”
Jody Bushton-Thalhamer said, “Then go and take a family home with you, give them a room in your home, feed them, clothe them, give them all the medical care they need and YOU pay for all of it. Yeah, just as I thought, you are all bags of wind and no action. Stop complaining as we can’t afford it.”
What the fuck? How can you possibly see this display of gut-wrenching anguish and think like that? I want to rip these people apart! But then again, I don’t want to be anything like them, hence the struggle I wage within myself, the war between who I am at my core, a kind, compassionate, warrior for love, and who I could be given the right conditions.
The other morning as I was driving to work, I listened to a Moth story of a woman who, in 1979, had been sexually assaulted by a mime (crazy, I know), doing a street show, to the delight of the gathered male crowd. As I listened to her story I felt so much rage, my mind filled with thoughts of beating him to a bloody pulp. When finally, in her story, she rose up and kicked his ass, I screamed, “YES, mother-fucker, that’s what you GET! YES, YES, YES!” in my car so loud and long that my throat hurt. From love to rage in an instant. In a case like this, at this point in my evolution, I see fighting as the main option. Physical attack, fight back. But it goes against my spiritual worldview and is hard to reconcile. For now, I’m just acknowledging that it’s in me.
But when attack isn’t imminent, how can I bring myself to work with the people I don’t like?
I remember when I used to drink alcohol. I was really good at it. As soon as the shift ended I’d slide out of the job and into a bar, loving the feeling that seeped deliciously into my limbs as I drank. But what usually followed was regret, a wicked hangover or the lingering worry – ‘what the hell did I do last night?’ Indulging in disgust of my fellow humans is sort of like that. It serves to quell a habit, feels good in the moment, “I’m so good, they’re so bad. I’m so smart, they’re so stupid…” but then I feel a little sick. I’ve covered myself in some kind of nasty gunk and it is really hard to get clean. What happened? Just a second ago all was well, I knew the difference between right and wrong – THEY are the monsters and I am good! But with rage in my heart, I see that I too, am the monster. If I make myself infallible, if I think I have the Truth, where do they fit in? In my worldview, we are literally all one, so staying locked in my disgust at those I disagree with, breaks my integrity and puts me in hell – that ill will comes right back at me. And, it isn’t hard to imagine that from this place, and pushed to a brink, I too am at risk of becoming frenzied and violent.
Monsters, or the potential to be, in all of us.
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus talked about mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7).” Mercy is a beautiful thing, and the meaning here is not just being merciful ‘out there,’ but mercy starts with us and how we hold ourselves out of our hearts. The origin of the word mercy, is reward. Just as there is an instant hit of dopamine when we give into say, the anger habit, there is instant reward when we instead practice being merciful – it calms and lifts us. Giving mercy to ourselves also helps us feel merciful toward others. Win-win.
If you’re anything like me and you want to try something different, here are two things that may help.
First, start catching yourself when you are focused on what you perceive as the problem (them and what they do) and refocus on solutions (you and who you can be). I don’t want to spend my time trying to change Ms. Milton’s mind. I hope that someone can, but I need to choose where to spend my energy. So when I catch myself feeling anger and disgust of her and those like her, that is the moment for mercy – for me and for her – because the path to healing the world is healing ourselves.
Second, when you find you are raging at some horrible person out there, stop and feel. Sit with the feeling, the discomfort, the anger. Can you just sit with it for 5 seconds, 30 seconds? You don’t have to do anything about that thing out there, but if you can learn to sit with your own discomfort, that too, is world-changing. Take the time to allow your own feeling without doing something to make it disappear – no shopping, no eating the cake, no raging behind the computer keyboard, just for 30 seconds. Maybe you can raise your capacity to be with discomfort for minutes or hours before you act. Then, when you do act, and we all could take actions for justice in this world, you can do so from a place of your own integrity and from greater consciousness. What do you want to create? Do you want to create more understanding and cooperation? Do you want to nurture your own joy and happiness? Do you want to help someone feel loved? This will help you do that and much more.
One of my spiritual teachers, Stephen Levine (RIP), once shared a story of poet, Paul Reps, who was trying to get into Korea during the 1950s. He went to the passport office in Japan and was told his request would be denied due to the conflict that had broken out. He sat down, pulled out his thermos and drank some tea. Then he pulled out paper and brush and wrote a poem. He handed this to the officer, who it is reported, had tears in his eyes after reading it. He stamped Reps’ passport and allowed his entry. The poem said, “Drinking a bowl of green tea I stop the war.”
If we’re paying attention, we will feel rage. But when that feeling is ready to depart, let it go, then you’ll have room for something else. There are so many ways to be, so many actions you can take, and it all starts in the moment you most want to lash out. How will you stop the war?