“We can talk about ending war and we can march for ending war, we can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other.”
It is common for us to harden our hearts whenever we experience unpleasant feelings. Overtime, our minds solidify in their views and interpretations of events. We judge others, not only for who they are but for who they represent. Our fear and anger and greed consume us. We react habitually to our unpleasant feelings and act aggressively toward others and ourselves. Suffering follows suffering.
“We point our fingers at the wrongdoers, but we ourselves are mirror images; everyone is outraged at everyone else’s wrongness.”
We feed our self-righteousness and anger. We blame and doubt and fear and criticize. As long as we keep acting and thinking and feeling in these same patterns, our suffering will never go away.
“Whenever there’s a sense of threat, we harden. And so if we don’t harden, what happens? We’re left with that uneasiness, that feeling of threat. That’s when the real journey of courage begins. This is the real work of the peacemaker, to find the soft spot and the tenderness in that very uneasy place and stay with it. If we can stay with the soft spot and stay with the tender heart, then we are cultivating the seeds of peace.”
We have destructive habits within us, passed down through many generations. There is a teaching that beyond all the rigidity in our hearts, there’s a soft spot. In softness, there’s spaciousness. In spaciousness, there’s a boundless, ungraspable world.
We have to stay with what’s impermanent, letting our hearts soften in those naked moments.
While we may not control what’s outside of us, we can change our own minds, breaking apart aggression.
“We don’t automatically react, even though inside we are reacting. We let all the words go and are just there with the rawness of our experience.”
When we stay with our uncomfortable feelings, we discover that there’s no real resolution. There is nothing to hold onto. Most people are afraid of that groundlessness, fleeing to an answer, a belief, a solution. They want what’s right and wrong, what can be defined and categorized, what gives them a sense of permanence.
“You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or to let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out. That choice is presented to you again and again and again.”
If we develop the patience to be with our energy, even though we may feel afraid and anxious and nervous, something within us will die. When we can let go, there is endless freedom in the death of our opinions, our fundamentalist approach to life.
When we have thoughts, we can simply label them thoughts. We can keep returning to right now, disrupting our habits, minimizing our reactive tendencies. Otherwise we will become a slave to them.
We are humans. We cannot escape illness, old age, death, pain, and loss. When we resist these realities, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain at all costs, we cause ourselves and others suffering.
Our tendency is to seek a sense of security that will never come.
“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘How can I find security and happiness?’ we could ask ourselves, ‘Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace—disappointment in all its many forms—and let it open me?’”
Through our practice, we can become intimate with what hardens our hearts. What barriers have we used to isolate others from others, to not feel the pain of a parent’s cancer and a child's crying, to protect ourselves from rejection and depression? When we come to more subtly recognize these barriers, they will break apart.
“Becoming intimate with pain is the key to changing at the core of our being—staying open to everything we experience, letting the sharpness of difficult times pierce us to the heart, letting these times open us, humble us, and make us wiser and more brave. Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.”
We can recognize in ourselves our own prejudices and fears, guilt and shame, connecting to other people through a familiarity of going through the same things.
We can sit in meditation and know ourselves. Feelings will come and go, dissolving overtime. There is no rejection of these thoughts and feelings. They seem so consuming at first, but eventually they are like the clouds. They have no solidity after all.
In spaciousness, we can still feel sad, happy, angry, jealous. These things all come and go. Instead of reacting, we don’t take the bait. We learn how to remain present in what’s pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. With equanimity, we simply are.
“Our interpretations and our opinions are just that—our interpretations and opinions. We no longer have to be under their control, or have them color everything we think and do. Strong reactions will continue to arise, just the way the weather changes. But each of us can develop our ability to not escalate the emotions so that they become a nightmare and increase our suffering.”
Aggression begins in our minds. Violence begins in our minds. We can water the seeds of prejudice and anger, blaming others, justifying ourselves, believing we’re the only right ones. Or we could sit deeper into our own pain, completely vulnerable, breathing in and out, in and out, experiencing our changing, shifting insecurity. Then there will be only the awareness of nothing solid. These painful moments will pass through our hearts to our understanding of all people.
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently, endless opportunities to dissolve the seeds of war where they originate—in the hearts and minds of individuals like you and me.”