Paris. Beirut. Kenya.
A swirl of anger, outrage, sadness and fear has surfaced for so many of us.
Lying awake at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, my mind running a treadmill fueled by these feelings, I decided to act as skillfully as I knew how to.
On Saturday night, I led two loving-kindness meditations to help members of my community (myself included) to channel these energies productively, to send prayers of peace to those afflicted and to cultivate peace within ourselves.
It was asked of me on social media, though:
Why pray for peace when we should be mad as hell? Is meditating on love in a time of outrage an appropriate, healthy, evolved response? Is it one that honors the validity of our fear and anger without repressing or numbing them?
The answer is, it depends on the person practicing.
Yes, someone could easily suppress anger and layer over it with a facade of love. That’s called spiritual bypassing—something I feel every practitioner would benefit from getting clear on. But it is equally possible for a person to apply those negative emotions in a passionate way to the practice in loving-kindess. In this way, that practitioner may free themselves of being mired in negative emotions, which often eclipse our ability to use reason and discern the best way to act.
Here is another truth:
Love—that is, the intent to work for peace, wellness and the awakening of others—gets to the very bottom of all our afflictive feelings for this situation.
To understand why, we will blend the perspectives of both Buddhist meditation and Western psychology:
In psychology, anger is referred to as a secondary emotion.
It is a feeling we have about another feeling. The primary feeling anger is based on is one of being violated; the violation of being insulted, humiliated, or ignored, all the way up to the violation of somebody dropping bombs on the town you live in. But the sense of insult and your human worth being disregarded comes first, and anger and rage come second.
The invitation of mindfulness meditation (of which loving-kindness meditation is a natural outgrowth) is to stay present with whatever is happening in any given moment (to the best of our ability and when it is reasonable to do so). We are encouraged to lean in towards our natural experience of being alive, which can take infinite forms.
To lean in to hot emotions such as anger is tricky business, but when we do, we might just see that anger has other layers to it.
When we stay present with anger for long enough, it is possible to see the underlying pain beneath it. There is the pain of humanity being disregarded and there is also a lot of fear. The fear of things staying this way or even getting worse.
Personally, beneath my outrage at the attacks happening in our world, there is a huge fear that we have softly launched World War III. I am afraid for the “ruthless” retaliation France has already initiated—one that we all know will carry an exponential death toll.
But, underneath fear there is always something else: caring. We wouldn’t fear these things, mourn these losses, or be angry at all if we did not care.
Anger and fear are the surface level expression of a deeper caring about peace, justice, and human dignity. Therefore, we can logically and intuitively conclude that to express caring for peace to prevail gets right to the heart of the matter in times like these.
Bear in mind that only hurt people hurt people. The violence we are bearing witness to, be it from afar or up close, is part of a cycle – a cycle fueled by anger, ignorance, and manipulation. Whether someone is a jihadist or a Western soldier, to play a role in this cycle of violating the humanity others is a level of hell we cannot comprehend. Whether it was immense pain or a dehumanizing and heart numbing combat training that made this possible for them, what absolute hell, what tremendous suffering it must be enact these things.
If it is true that the personal is the political, then it is important we recognize that on a microcosmic level, there is war and conflict and micro-cycles of violence enacted inside our own minds and myriad relationships all the time. Again, loving-kindness meditation is an antidote to these wars as well. These atrocities are happening in our world, and we are not apart from it. If we want peace and an end to ignorance, we have to be that peace, we have to live that wisdom, period.
Love is always the appropriate response.
Author: Ralph De La Rosa
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock & Caitlin Oriel
Photo: Flickr/Anders Wotzke