Turning Poison Into Medicine

“Compassion is based on some kind of “soft spot” in us. It is as if we had a pimple on our body that was very sore – so sore that we do not want to rub it or scratch it. The sore spot on our body is an analogy for compassion. Why? Because even in the midst of immense aggression, insensitivity to our life, or laziness, we always have a soft spot, some point we can cultivate – or at least not bruise. Every human has that basic sore spot, including animals. Whether we are crazy, dull, aggressive, ego-tripping, whatever we might be there is still that sore spot taking place in us…We are not covered completely with a suit of armor all the time. We have a sore spot somewhere, some open wound somewhere. Such a relief! Thank earth!” ~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

I am mourning people I have not met. I can’t help but imagine what if it had been me. What if I was the all-star athlete? What if I was his mother? What if I was the child in the car while a man was shot dead? What if I was suddenly a widow and within hours I was on the news in front of millions trying to make sense of no sense? What if I was the one the whole world hated?

I don’t know what to say or do these days. I’ve gone through many cycles of grief, rage, depression, and numbness when I think about the families that were affected by so much senseless tragedy. I wish this upon no one. And yet, something must be done.

Many of us will find solace in solidarity. We will look for our brothers and sisters and be the voice for those who cannot speak. We will attend marches and protest and preach in our community and share our stories and we will heal together. Others may donate or volunteer or listen with their whole self like their life depended on it and it will be exactly what was needed to save someone. There are others still who will open their homes and have anyone in grief come and join them at their dinner table, to be part of their family to cry, to eat, to feel whole again. And yet some of us may be called to begin even closer to home, to our basic relationship to self.

I go through waves of hatred, of helplessness, and of despair. This is my cue to stay close to what is happening. In this moment, I am the killer and the killed. If I am willing to stay right there in the heat of the hate and witness the war within me, then real change is possible. While we may feel deeply inspired to help others, we’re no good if we’re not in integrity with our self. Whatever calling you feel drawn to do these days, please remember that your gift in this world is the all of you – your words, your body, your view, your actions. Whatever your mind is, so is your offering. Feeling anxious? This is what you give. Feeling grounded? This is what you give. Feeling hateful? This is what you give. Working with your own aggression or fear, staying right in the middle of the fire, is revolution.

I’ve learned some things about how my mind works especially in times of anguish. For one, when I am triggered, I cannot see clearly. When I am angry, I cannot take action. Because anger seeks to be fulfilled through some kind of doing. And yet I want to feel the anger but I don’t want to act on it. It’s counter-intuitive but it's how anger gets released. We must feel anger safely, without action, so that we can free it. Then whatever action comes subsequently is not a loaded gun. It is conscious, deliberate, and embodied.  

For some of us, myself included, anger is not a public affair. It's a personal one. At times like these, I must draw close to my demons. Who have I judged? How does fear work in me? What happens when I don’t understand? How have I destroyed life? Those monsters are in me too. How do I confront the rejected parts of myself and turn to them with acceptance, even love?

I am the oppressor and I am the oppressed. It is not hard to see. We are constantly at war with ourselves. We don’t like how we look or what we do or how we behave around certain people or in particular situations. And yet we carry on divided. I'll offer up this image of myself but the rest is repulsive and deserves to die. We keep that part hidden in the basement. We don’t talk about that part anymore.

There is a great deal of pain in the world these days. And many of us will be called to be part of the healing. And many of us will be healed through that calling. Whatever way we choose to engage, we must find a way to relate to the pain directly, to become intimate with the spark that fuels violence, aggression, hate, and fear. How else will we change?

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