Question: I'm beginning to think that the conflicts raging in the world are just an expression on a larger scale of how it is that when I hurt someone with my callous behavior, I can't seem to remember how much it hurts to be on the receiving end. How do we even begin to end the cycle of conflicts on this earth? Where is compassion when we really need it? How do we forget so quickly to be the kind of person we blame others for not being when they turn on us?
Answer: To reveal the true nature of this sudden form of spiritual amnesia requires some soul searching. We must try to see, through our mind's eye, the workings of our own psychology in these moments where someone hurts us.
When someone acts thoughtlessly towards us, it is a similar thoughtlessness in us that responds. In other words, our own hostile reactions take no thought for anything outside of what they call into account for their suddenly heated existence -- so that the only awareness we possess in these times is that low level of cognizance that possesses us, making us "entitled" to attack back! And with our own aching heart or pounding thoughts providing the fuel, we lash out! After all, it is our "right" to set the record straight.
But in these moments, if we could learn to step back from ourselves -- to see and to be aware of ourselves as being but a cog in this ever-turning wheel of hurting and being hurt -- there would follow a great and liberating self-revelation. We would see, clearly, that before we rise up and attempt to hurt someone who has hurt us, it is we who hold this hurt first. And if we realize the dynamic exposed here -- how one hurt always gives rise to another one -- then we should also be able to see that each of us is always the first to hold this unwanted pain.
If we see the truth of this unconscious cycle, then we are ready for the next truth we will need to escape this circle of suffering: It doesn't matter how, or where, this dark cycle got started. It is not important any longer. Why? Because once we understand that to try to hurt someone -- even just to want to -- is to hurt ourselves, it makes no difference who did what to whom, or for whatever reasons. Once we come aware to the fact that when we hate, we feel this hatred first in ourselves, our relationship with this darkness is done. The whole issue becomes as simple as this: Hatred hurts us, not the person we blame for it. To hold a wish to punish someone begins with the unconscious embrace of the very pain we wish to inflict.
These discoveries all tell one story: Nothing grows on a battlefield except for the number of cries. Nothing can develop in us as long as the truth about our condition remains buried beneath so much misunderstanding. The point is that the pain we pass onto one another must stop somewhere or this cycle of conflict will never cease. And it must, or else the vital energies we need to grow beyond ourselves will simply be poured back into the earth for purposes unknown to us, even as we are compelled to serve conflict's dark plan through our unconscious suffering.
So, what is the alternative? Most of us already suspect what needs to be done if we are to have any hope of moving beyond the conflict so common in our relationships. Nevertheless, here is a brief description of the spiritual action to be taken: We must stop giving to everyone else the pain we cannot bear to carry ourselves. Said differently, each of us must agree to be the one who will "taste" what we would serve to our "enemy du jour " before we throw it upon his or her plate. Here is an example of how we can begin this new kind of inner work based in a higher kind of understanding about ourselves.
Whenever someone says something cruel, or otherwise does the unthinkable to us, our position towards this hurtful event is "calculated" right within our ensuing reaction to it -- a reaction that describes to us the nature of the perceived attack even as it formulates a response to it. But no negative reaction of ours can read this moment any more than a tractor can pick up a copy of Farm News and study the feed prices reported in it. Our red-seeing reactions read only the content of their own right to exist. Their report, all based upon turbulent thoughts and feelings, tells us there is no choice but to return this pain right away or perish ourselves. These lower states cannot possibly see that this person they urge us to pounce on is already in the hands of some pain or he or she would never have thrown this suffering our way. And, perhaps most important of all, this same reactionary self will never understand this one inescapable fact of its own fury: With every pain it hurls back at its adversary, all it does is condemn itself to continue cycling through the level of ignorance that produces this pain to begin with. So, with each blow this unconscious nature delivers, it just creates for itself the need for the next set of blows.
Let it stop now. From this moment forward, let it stop with you. Make it your intention to forever quit yourself from the turning of this invisible wheel-of-woe. Each time we will consciously refuse to strike back in anger or act out some aggression toward the one who hurts us, we sow the seed of a new order of a conscious life. Now instead of being used by dark forces that grow at the expense of our soul's development, it is we who use our endless differences with others to grow endlessly. And at the same time that we learn to rise above the pain of our own negative reactions, we create the possibility and opportunity for others around us to do the same.
Each time we will choose not to respond to someone's mental or emotional blow with a blow of our own, that person is left no choice but to see that the only antagonist he has is his own pain. And just as this person's awakening to the continual cause of his unconscious aching is the beginning of the end of it, so too is this true for us. Our newly awakened understanding reveals that there is nothing for us to do with our pain but to let it be nothing to us. And with each such spiritual step that we will dare to take outside the circle of suffering, so do we make a way for everyone else-- because at last the circle has been broken.
Excerpted from Seeker's Guide to Self-Freedom