What the world needs now

BE THE CHANGE

You have no doubt heard this message in various formats before: "Be the change you wish to see in the world," or "to change the world, start with yourself."

It sounds very wise and clear-minded. What does this mean, however? Do you even agree with this sentiment? 

Some who read this might respond with some anger: "What do you mean, I need to change myself? I'm not the problem, here!"

But the truth is that you are. You just don't realize it. If fact, if you are angry or hurt, you are suffering. And if you are suffering, then your world will seem like a place of pain. Let me use a recent event to explain what I mean.

 

ONE-SIDED DIALOG (or rumination)

This past week the world witnessed a horrific massacre, caused by one human being, and many innocent lives were lost. The news media goes into depth about the homicidal maniac who caused this destruction. Meanwhile, we're left with so many questions. 

Why do people do things like mass murder? How was he able to buy so many guns? What can we do to prevent such a thing from happening again?

Most of all, what was he thinking? 

These are concepts that we can't make sense of. Mentally, it can cause quite a lot of inner turmoil. For some, it keeps them up at night. I know when I have been hurt by people's actions, my mind can go into a one-sided dialog. In my fantasy I'm talking to the person: 

"What were you thinking when you said or did that?" [Silence]

"Can't you see what your action caused?" [Silence]

"How can you be so uncaring?" [Silence]

And on and on, with no chance at all of my questions ever being answered. I'm having a non-existent conversation with someone who isn't even aware I'm having it.

Who gets to suffer as a result? Me. I don't get any sleep. Stuck in this loop, my mind ratchets up my anger or frustration. In spite of the action I take (the fantasy conversation), it is all in my head and nothing gets resolved. 

So why do I do it? Because I believe I'm doing the right thing by trying to discover the answer. If I think about the issue long enough, maybe I can solve the problem. It may also be a way for me to protect myself from going through this in the future.

We obsess about the past because we’re worried about the future.

 

PRODDED TO RESPOND

This is how the mind works. At least, unconsciously.

Circumstances in your life drive your thought patterns, thoughts drive emotions, and emotions drive actions. Quite simply, we are not amoebas, but thinking and feeling creatures. When we are prodded, we don't just move and that's that. We are prodded, we have a thought about that, we feel something such as anger or fear and then we act based on our belief that we are doing the right thing.

On a primal level, responses are our defense mechanisms. It's that natural fight, flight or freeze response. We do what we need to, to protect ourselves or our loved ones. Often we do it without thinking. At times, this kind of response can save lives.

That's all well and good if you have a healthy and values-based way of thinking about the world. A man who does not value life, has no need to protect life or his loved ones. He sees only one way out: destruction of life. In other words, destruction of self.

 

YOU DON'T HAVE TO SUFFER THE WAY YOU DO

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Here's the thing: we don't all have to suffer like this. We have a choice. Even when a massacre or equally heart-wrenching event takes place. 

I'm not saying to stick your head in the sand and pretend none of this is happening.

The truth is that there are things that hurt us on a physical level. Gun shots. Violence. 

Then there is pain caused by negative thoughts. Mental illness is a by-product of ruminating on negative thoughts over and over. The reason why we can't let these thoughts go is because we haven't been able to process them. We haven't come to grips with them, so they haunt us over and over. Each time we think about them, they hurt us all over again. 

It's like having suffered a physical wound in the past. Rather than let it heal, we open that wound up again and again. We recreate the pain it caused long ago by putting our attention on it in the present.

Is what we're doing to ourselves any less harmful than what a man with a gun does? A man with a gun might shoot us once, the bullet hits. If we're lucky, we survive and it's done and in the past. With mental turmoil, we are harming ourselves over and over and over again. 

 

RESISTANCE

Martha Beck says: 

Resisting what we can’t control removes us from reality, rendering our emotions, circumstances and loved ones inaccessible. The result is a terrible loneliness, which we usually blame on our failure to get what we want.

What she is saying is that resistance to the truth of the present and past causes the painful emotions, such as rage. Acceptance and surrender allow you to let it go.

A man who shot over 500 people perhaps felt resistance to what he had or didn't have in his life. We know now that his father was in jail when he was a child. He may have felt victimized by it, felt it was unfair. Each new failing by someone in his life may have re-triggered that wound.

The man who killed those people did not feel any kind of compassion, but he also wasn't an unfeeling monster. He was not detached from the pain in the world. He was part of it and a victim of it, as much as he was an aggressor. It was his inability to deal with the pain in his internal world that led him to do the unthinkable.

 

WILL YOU GIVE UP YOUR MIND ALSO?

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The Dalai Lama was once asked about how he felt about the situation in his homeland of Tibet. The interviewer wanted to know if he was angry about the Chinese taking over his country and killing his citizens. Was he angry about the fact that he was now living in exile, in India? The answer the Dalai Lama gave was: No. The Chinese took my country and people from me. Why would I also give them my mind?

It is natural to want to get answers to things that make no sense to the rational mind. It is natural to be angry about unfairness and senseless killings and harm being done. But what good does it do?

 

Compassion

So what is the answer? I want to offer a solution by sharing a quote from Dr. Chris Germer of the Harvard Medical School, a doctor of psychology. He said this (paraphrased):

Compassion means "to suffer with." Each person in the world suffers. If we want to practice compassion, we have to see the pain behind the poison. How do we cultivate a deeper vision to see more deeply into another human being? The answer is having the capacity to see more deeply in ourselves. Part of compassion is that we can recognize that there are many parts of us. To connect to the different parts of ourselves allows us to open ourselves to others not in our vision of the world. Hold up your own struggle. That doesn’t mean that any behavior is ok. We need to act in the world to respond to injustice. The tricky thing is not to conflate self-acceptance with action in the world or fierce compassion. The more self-compassion, the more willingness and strength to make a change in the world. We don’t have power when we don’t feel the pain. When we’re open to the pain, saying 'this hurts,' then we’re firmly in our own body and have the possibility or clarity to solve that hurt. When we ruminate, we are avoiding the direct experience. What does it take to hold awfulness? It takes a lot of kindness.

A RESPONSE YOU CAN LIVE WITH

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If we continue to allow the anger, the bitterness, and the questions to keep us up at night, then we are not doing ourselves any good. In fact, we are doing very much what the man who killed those innocent people in Vegas did. We are allowing our minds to obsess about conclusions we have made about the world and then get riled up and angry. If we get angry or desperate enough, who knows what irrational actions we might take?

No rational solutions can be found when we are in a state of anger or pain. 

You can only change your response to circumstances by changing your internal dialog. That is how you change the world.

"What the world needs now." (song)

If you have any questions about this or want to find a way to detach yourself from negative thoughts that cause you needless suffering, please call me at 781.583.8242.