These days, in my short early morning drive from home to the temple, there are lots of rabbits all along the road. They so clearly reflect my feelings to me. When I am calm and peaceful, they remain still, as I drive right by them, not even moving off the road. If I am in a hurry, they scurry off into the bushes when they sense my distant car approaching. With great accuracy, they spontaneously feel me through my driving.
Last night, I was chatting with a person from the ashram. We were trying to articulate feelings and mindsets. No words seemed to work just right. What seemed to sort of work for one of us just felt blatantly incorrect to the other. There was a huge gap between the feelings we felt, and the words we used to try to articulate those feelings. The more words, the bigger it seemed the gap became. Yet I could tell that we were both feeling the same thing. Assigning words to the feelings only undermined our communication.
We humans rely heavily on words. Animals are not burdened with words. Maybe that is why so many people love their pets. With pets, we stay with feelings unencumbered, unfettered, uncompromised, undistorted by words.
When someone says something, we tend to hold on to how their words affected us. That is rarely completely consistent with the feeling, the motivation, behind those words. The words, then, take on more significance than the feeling they were intended to convey. When we reflect on the interaction, we reflect on the words that were said, that clouded the communication, not the feeling behind them.
Words are most often defining, limiting, and misleading. Feelings are pure, honest, and genuine. We do well to give lots of space around words that we share. We do best to feel what is behind those words. Sincerity lies in the feelings that lie deeper than the meaning of the words we use. Words, at best, point in a general direction.
When we try to communicate with another, we do well to pay more attention to the underlying feelings than the meaning we assign to their words.
The light of awareness heals. With so much negativity in our world, let’s take a step back and explore the nature of negativity in hopes that the exploration will illuminate the path to healing it within ourselves and our relationships. May we proceed then in the spirit of loving kindness and understanding.
From time to time, we all get angry, negative, and judgmental. Someone says or does something that upsets us and we react. That is normal and quite understandable. But there are some things about this that merit a great deal of earnest reflection.
First and foremost, many people hold on to their anger and resentment for a long time. It is as if a judgment is made and then, within a person’s heart and mind, it is etched in stone.
Now, please do not misunderstand me. It is reasonable and proper that we come to recognize how another behaves. Some may often be abrasive. Some may love to gossip. Some may frequently judge harshly. We all have our ways about us. To ignore or live in denial of those things is not wise. As we learn more and more about another’s tendencies, we act accordingly, and do our best to not trigger those tendencies or put ourselves in the wake of those tidal waves of negativity. However, to respond by reciprocating with negativity is neither wise nor constructive.
What I am addressing with this first point is the fixity of a negative perspective we hold toward another person and how damaging it is, not only to them, but also to ourselves. Our thoughts, emotions, and perspectives are things that have very real effects upon ourselves, others, and our environment.
It is one thing, and wise, to strive to understand others so our relationship can be healthy. It is quite another thing to inflame and feed negativity in this world. To be a good and loving person is not to be oblivious to how people behave. Rather, it is to recognize how another behaves, yet still see that there is a soul within them that is one with God. We must learn to let go of the hatred and negativity within us, while understanding such negativity does exist within people who hold on to it as their perspective, attitude, and ‘truth,’ thusly coloring their hearts and minds.
On a daily basis, the best we can do is to understand this, while striving to not lose ourselves to the negativity to which we see others so lost.
Relativity and Conflict
Secondly, it is important to understand that this is the world of perspectives. Fundamentally, this world is built upon perspectives. That is why it is called ‘the relative.’ The only ‘Absolute Truth’ transcends this relative world of perspectives. We could go deeply into the physics (Heisenberg) and Vedanta (Ishwara) of this, but for now, let’s stay on a pragmatic daily level. Where there are people involved, there are contradictory perspectives.
The question then is: “How do you respond (mentally, emotionally, and psychologically) to people with other perspectives?” Do you respond with polarization and negativity? Do you dig in your heels and judge them? Do you resent, criticize, demean, and scorn? Or do you, with humility, remain open-minded and open-hearted, as you strive to see what truth may be there for you to gain and learn from? As I am fond of saying: “To be wise is to under-stand, not over-stand.” You will never find another person with whom you will always agree with regarding everything. Love, kindness, wisdom, and peace all see much more deeply than that.
Friends and Affinities
Thirdly, where do our judgments come from? So often they are not a result of what we have directly experienced, but rather what we have heard. And what we hear and then believe is the result of affinities. We tend to believe our friends. We tend to believe our political affiliates. We tend to believe what we hear from those we associate with. And we also tend to believe what we have heard first, and have allowed it to color our hearts and minds. With so much negativity consuming our world, if we instinctively take what we hear as truth, we too become consumed by the negative. We do well to remember the poet’s words: “In war and peace the truth just twists”. We do well to rest more deeply into the ocean of our being… in a place that transcends the tidal waves of perspective and negativity.
Assumption and Fear
The fourth point involves assumptions. We often assume the worst of the intentions and behavior of others. We tend to think wisdom means being ‘streetwise’ and “streetwise” means to assume the worst of others. Such assumptions are not made because an individual is particularly negative. On some level, it serves us; it protects us. It is said that this is a characteristic of survival in the jungle: a deer walking through the jungle, not appreciating the beautiful flowers, but rather assuming there is a tiger behind the plants, waiting to pounce. However, at some point, such assumptions no longer serve, but instead compromise our life and our relationships.
Furthermore, it is not at all easy to recognize when we’ve lost ourself to the negativity and have then distorted our perception. Such assumptions are rooted in fear. So, within our Darwinian genetics is fear… the assumption that the worst dwells in others and the belief that to understand them is to believe that they are motivated by the worst within them. We are afraid the tiger will get us. We are afraid and assume we will be, or have been, betrayed, cheated, lied to, deceived, hurt, or worse. To be cautious is wise, but to be ‘streetwise’ is not wise. It is rooted in fear.
We do well to at least consider that goodness motivates other people, even though their perspectives may contradict our own. In times like this, evolving our relationship with our assumptions and fears is extremely important and largely determines the course of our lives. So we do well to take a step back when our assumptions and fears are triggered. Humility and self-reflection will then serve not only the situation and the other person, but also ourselves. Keep in mind that the assumptions and fears are deeply rooted in our physiologies, as if they determine the color of glasses through which we view others. Seeing past the color of the glasses is a challenging, but most rewarding, process.
The Squeaky Wheel
Lastly, let’s consider an old expression: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. We can play with it a bit to realize that what we hear the most is what we tend to believe. What squeaks the loudest is what overtakes us and negativity squeaks and squeals with volume and vigor. Wisdom, on the other hand, tends to remain more reflective, nonjudgmental, and silent. Wisdom prefers to not feed and support the churning ocean of conflict, judgment, hatred, and perspective.
Our Relationship with These Insights
On the one hand, all this may feel depressing. Yet, if our relationship with these insights is healthy, it can facilitate healing. If we lose ourselves to these points, we then actually become negative. But if we hold them wisely, we heal. May this light of understanding serve as a cooling balm to heal the state of our world. May we hold these insights in a manner that helps us see, understand, and live untainted by negativity. Yes, in a moment, we may lose ourselves to negativity. However, with this understanding, may we find our way out of entanglement within the weeds of negativity that consume so much of life. And may we thereby attain greater understanding, wisdom, peace, harmony, and love.
Mona Lisa’s portrait is famous for saying so much with the slightest smile, while not saying a word. One day, I had a Mona Lisa experience from a shrug. I was telling someone that I wanted to do some yardwork (trim hedges, landscape, etc.), but I didn’t really know much about gardening. The response was just a subtle polite shrug; nothing more. Yet, it said so much. It set me free to act from my own inner knowing. I couldn’t even put it all into words. But to say a few words, it told me: It’s just common sense. If you mess up, things grow back. Just play with it for a while and it will be fine.
I tried it and it worked great. Mona Lisa says more with a smile or a shrug than perhaps can be contained in volumes. The point is that communication is an art often best achieved not with an excessive preponderance of words, but rather through a feeling in a smile, a shrug, or perhaps a look in the eye.
When my daughter was just a little girl, I asked her if she knew what I taught in my classes. She responded, “How to be nice and not be mean.” That was so sweet, and in a very profound sense, so right.
What’s on the inside shows up on the outside. If deep inside we are peaceful and wise, then on the outside that ‘goodness’ shines through. If on the inside, we hold anger, resentment, etc., then that is what emerges on the surface.
Decades ago, it was just considered good manners to express one’s self politely and with dignity. These days, it seems vogue to do the opposite. Some say social media is partially responsible. Accusers no longer face the accused. Social media keeps people at a distance, free to lash out and vent at will.
Some say the drug and hippie wave from the 60s and 70s inspired people to act poorly, letting whatever was inside to be openly expressed. Manners and decorum were rejected. Indignant behavior was considered being true to one’s self. I say that is not being true to oneself. That is being true to one’s issues, inner demons, and inner distortions born of unresolved emotional wounds. Negativity, judgement, anger, and rage are the result of tired darkness within the human soul. We can learn how to express ourselves, but do so constructively with dignity, honor, and respect.
In this regard, being ‘nice’ means having a healthy soul unencumbered by inner emotional wounds. As the soul heals, we spontaneously express ourselves in a positive, not negative, manner. We behave constructively, not destructively. Character assassination of those we judge gives way to wise and reflective speech and behavior. We learn “how to be nice and not be mean”.
To do this properly lies far beyond the realm of suppression of our impulses. Rather it is a matter of purification of our hearts, of our souls, of our minds. That is called by various names: human evolution, psychological health, spiritual growth, etc.
Certainly, there are times when anger may be an appropriate response. But in this world, there is far too much of it rooted, not in wisdom, but in unresolved emotional issues. Certainly, it is normal and natural to have moments of anger. However, there is a problem when life-damaging bias and negativity do not soon quiesce into helpful, positive, useful, kind wisdom, communion, and understanding—what my daughter called: “how to be nice and not be mean”.
Feeling and even expressing anger is natural at times. However, if it is used to verbally attack, offend, ridicule, gossip, degrade, or condemn another, then it has crossed the line into simply being mean. To be nice is not to suppress one’s self, but rather to constructively articulate and express oneself with supportive and loving kindness, sincerity, wisdom, and understanding. Which is to say, to be in a state of oneness with all that is—in other words, the highest meaning of the word “love”—what my daughter called: “be nice and not be mean”.
Expressed in the words of an innocent young child, “how to be nice and not be mean” is the ultimate accomplishment of human evolution.
Of all that was said and done after the passing of President Bush, what had the most impact upon me was his son telling us that his dad is now in Heaven holding the hand of his wife and hugging his daughter Robin, who passed years ago. Karma separates us from the ones we love in so many ways. But Karma, though so often overwhelming in life, is, in the final analysis, superficial. Love resides deeper than Karma.
It is only the unfortunate who cling to the Karma of life. For most, at least upon passing, such superficiality drops away. The traumas, toils, conflicts, and hardships drop away. We might say they melt away. What moves to the forefront is the love we have within us. There we commune with all we love. That place within us all is called Heaven.
We love so many. We love our family, those living, and those who have passed. We love our friends and those with whom we have shared a common cause, a common community, a common stream of life. For Karmic reasons, we can, in life, find ourselves estranged from those we love. It may be due to loss of life, distance, time, misunderstanding, conflict, or circumstance. But even if, during the toil and haste of life, we are unable to recognize it, what remains after the body and story drop away, is that which underlies it all. And there, in Heaven, we all reunite through that enduring fiber of love.
What a precious gift is kindness. Don’t we all wish there was more of it in our lives! Isn’t the idea of a truly kind friend something we all cherish, but all too often simply long for?
Kindness sees, kindness understands, but kindness doesn’t judge. Understanding is not blind; judgment is blind. Understanding need not be all knowing. In fact, understanding knows that omniscience is the domain only of the divine. Yet, understanding is inherent in the kindness we mortals are capable of. We don’t have to look far to see that judgment and negativity seem to be the way of this world. Agni (fire) and Soma (water) make up this world. There is an excess of Agni in the world these days. It is the Soma nectar of loving kindness that supports and upholds the very fabric of life. Mount Soma was created to cultivate that nectar of peace and kindness. May we all hold one another in that light of kindness.
Jordan Peterson is a professor, psychologist, author, and lecturer with perspectives on many things… masculinity, religion, etc. If you would like, you can sample some of his many YouTube videos. I do not agree with everything he says, but do find some of his talks interesting and useful.
The Huffington Post just published one of my latest articles. It begins:
While recently giving a lecture in the San Francisco area, I was asked: “Would you please talk about the need to feel needed? It seems to be a very important, fundamental instinct.”
I responded by first saying it was one of the most beautiful questions I’ve been asked in a long time. I began by telling the story of two beautiful, white, draft horses owned by a friend. The horses were inseparable. Their worlds revolved around one another. They loved each other. When one of them passed away, the other, although perfectly healthy, also died within two weeks. We hear stories of long-term married couples having a similar scenario. So, let’s take a deeper look at what is actually going on here…
I just published a new article on Medium.com. It begins:
“I attended undergraduate school in the late sixties and early seventies when the hippie movement was at its peak. As a conscientious student, I didn’t have time for anything other than my studies. However, today I long for those peace and love ideals.
“Realistically speaking, what is peace and love anyway? Isn’t it far more than non-violence and free love? Doesn’t it include more than being respectful, compassionate, polite, and dignified toward all people, not just the ones you agree with?”…