The awful of us

Photograph of a gargoyle by Terry Barrett

I sat in my chair reading about the concept of causes and conditions after finishing a 6-week course taught by Pema Chodron. It’s not a new concept and I felt a bit arrogant, sort of like I know this, but then I read:

“When you feel you are being harmed by someone, remember that the harm that person may be inflicting on you (or someone dear to you) is the direct result of you yourself having harmed others in the past (p. 156).”

The thought of that made me pause. I felt something shift inside of me.

For a long time, I've understood the karmic concept. But when I read those words I personally felt its meaning. I suddenly saw—no, I felt—my deepest challenges as a larger understanding about difficulty and that hurting people often hurt others from a place within of unresolved pain. 

Like coming up for air after being underwater to the point of drowning, I let out a wail. In my wail, I thought, "I must have been a tiger who ate children." The thought was not literal, it was an unfolding understanding. The feeling compounded later that day when I learned of the alligator that took a boy from the shore at nearby Disney World in Orlando while the parents watched.

I saw myself as the alligator.

Having once lost my boy swung like a pendulum to me hurting a child.

In the middle of the night, dread came again. I went to my cushion.

For hours I tonglen-breathed in the pain of those parents, the pain of physical harm to a young being, and my pain of awareness about others' hurts. For each in-breath, I sent out relief, comfort. I breathed in pain and breathed out patience for all. I breathed in hurt and breathed out tenderness to the hurt and the hurters.

My drowning gulps softened into calm breaths as I better understood the many components, causes, and conditions coming together to create something and then its dissolution.

I remained sitting till a glimmer of dawn.

The horrid feelings melted and passed.

Do you know what was left?

This seems incredulous but I felt connection and compassion for that alligator, which says something because I know the loss of my own child who died unexpectedly ten years ago. 

I understand a bit more about the pain of being consumed or caught in insatiable consumption. I also better understand that within all of us is goodness - a capacity for learning, growing, kindness, love, and compassion.

Today I better understand loss. Not in a blaming or punishing way. No, not that. Rather as a deeper understanding of others' sufferings through my own experiences.

I am hurt and I am a hurter. What I mean in saying "I'm a hurter" is that though I aspire to no harm, for example my frown as I pass another has an affect. As does my smile. From a larger view, all of us—yes, all of us are the alligator. And, we are the child, and we are the parents of that child.

With gratitude for this breakthrough, I have more clarity about what it means to be patient while learning from and transforming tough experiences and the commitment it takes to become less reactive without being overcome by anger, hatred, and despair. Sitting with feelings, allowing them, and eventually analyzing them brings insight to the causes and conditions of awfulness. It seems unfathomable to me, but because of this insight, my mind and heart soften towards all.

Even those who shoot, run over, bomb, and behead. It is possible to use painful experiences to understand others.

This post was written July 17, 2016