I’m probably not going to say everything in this essay just right. But, a realization is slowly dawning on me and I think it’s worth sharing.
A quiet little revolution has been going on in my life. I stumbled across a podcast called “5 Minute Dharma,” by Jay N. Forrest. From what I’ve gathered, Mr. Forrest used to be a Christian minister and has since then become a Buddhist teacher. And, instead of droning on and on like lots of dharma talks do, his podcasts cut to the chase. Five minutes, in and out. I highly recommend them.
Anyway, one of the things he recommended was getting a meditation timer and, in particular, he recommended an app called Insight Timer from (you guessed it) http://insighttimer.com. Well, it has proven to be fabulous. Before Insight Timer, I wasn’t the best Buddhist sitter in the world. A gazillion things would get between me and time in meditation. But, this little $1.99 app has done the trick for me. I can pick which sounds I want to start and stop with, how long I want a session to be. And, it even has an online community and a system of stars to reward me for consistency.
Yes, I am Pavlovian enough to respond to rewards.
So, today was Day 26 of consistent everyday meditation. And, it has revealed a few things. The most interesting one, however, has been my bass-ackwards entry into understanding compassion.
In my meditations, I have done my best to block out the past and the future and focus on the present. But, as anyone who’s ever tried meditation can tell you, it’s not that easy. Buddhist teachers call it “monkey mind.” Your mind wants to jump every which way and recall stuff you’ve not thought about in decades. And, among my monkey-mind ramblings, I’ve recalled some things I’ve said and done in my life that now cause me to go, “Ouch! Did I really say/do that?”
Yes, I said and did those things. Some were out of ignorance. Some were out of meanness. But, they were 100% mine.
Amazingly, though, as my monkey-mind wanders down Memory Lane, I also remember why I said and did those things. And, that brings along another thought. Ask any mental health worker and they will tell you that a good working definition of mental illness is “a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.”
Think about it.
There’s a reason why soldiers come home with PTSD and constantly check behind every door. They spent a portion of their lives where that hyper-alertness kept them alive. And, now, their brains don’t know that they are no longer on the battle field. Ergo, they continue to have a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
When you think about it, that simple definition explains a lot of society’s ills. Little girls shouldn’t have to be afraid of grown men molesting them. Six-year-olds shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming to their classroom, bearing assault weapons, intent on killing them.
And, it also explains a lot of what I want to very cautiously call . . . sin.
I don’t mean sin in the “hellfire and brimstone” sense. I mean by that our shortcomings, our mistakes, our weaknesses, and our errors.
Maybe “error” is a better word.
See, I can trace back all the things I shouldn’t have said over the years and all the things I shouldn’t have done over the years to the abnormal causes that lead to that effect or, more awfully, continued to lead to that effect long after the cause had been removed. Whatever bad I’ve done in the world is a direct carry-over of some coping mechanism that, at some point, was needed to survive. But, like Rambo, I came home from the proverbial war and simply kept on fighting-- hurting myself and those around me.
As such, I’m having to stop having those reactions and to learn to forgive myself.
But, here’s the kicker.
The logical extension of that line of thinking is that, in turn, I have to forgive everyone around me-- past, present, and future.
And, if I’m not mistaken, that’s what folks like the Dalai Lama would call “compassion.”
“Compassion” literally means “with suffering,” and thus, to be compassionate is to recognize and identify with other people’s suffering. That means I have to forgive them-- past, present, and future-- because they were reacting normally to abnormal situations in their pasts, too.
Just like me.
Gosh, that brings a quietness to the mind, a stillness to the room. It makes you want to stop for a moment and not think.
Mind you, don’t go telling everyone I’ve reached Nirvana. I still have frustrations and grudges and resentments like everyone else. I’m not blissfully wandering down the road to Shambhala. But, I think my soul may have reached a tipping point.
I’m going to have to think about this one for a while.