Las Vegas. The Rohingya in Myanmar. Syria. Charlottesville. The list of atrocities grows. How can we hold such pain? What do we do with our anger? Where do we go from here?
A wise response is both external and internal. External, political action includes sensible gun regulation, like banning rapid-fire devices that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons, which are already illegal. Another external response is opposing white supremacism and dismantling the lingering effects of structural racism.
But the harder and yet most essential work is internal. Are we willing to face the hatred, fear, unacknowledged racism, Islamaphobia, and xenophobia that lurk within our own hearts? Will we own or project these shadowy denizens of our psyche?
Two weeks ago we brought home a new dog Benny, a Terrier/Havanese mix. He is a one-year old rescue and has fast become a loving companion and fierce protector of the household...perhaps too much so.
A few nights ago, he started barking uncontrollably. We could not figure out what was disturbing him. Was it the raccoon family in the neighborhood? No. Perhaps the neighbor taking out the trash, a favorite faux-threat that Benny warns us about vehemently. No.
Benny was barking at a moving shadow. We had a lit candle placed in front of a small statue of Shiva Nataraja, "The Lord of the Dance". The flickering candlelight created a dancing Shiva against the back wall. Benny, freaked out by this morphing, ominous projection, was beside himself with fear and protective anger.
What about us? What fear and anger are we projecting into the world? What shadows of the divine do we bark at, that is, what unresolved issues within our psyche do we project outward and call divine? Do we invoke the divine to justify our discomfort with people of other races, sexual orientations, religions, or political persuasions?
What do we do with our agitation and anxiety? Do we find ourselves barking uncontrollably on social media or with friends and family?
The first step toward stopping the external carnage is to face and heal the internal carnage. It's the unacknowledged darkness within that we project outward into a world already full of violence.
The way forward is to shift from projection to introspection. Notice the fear and anger. Notice the bias and bigotry hiding within. Notice and acknowledge the judgments, shame, and rampant anxiety that govern our thoughts, emotions and even actions.
And how do we heal what we notice? Consciousness and Compassion.
Consciousness.Consciousness, or the loving witness, sees all the disaster, turmoil, hate, fear, and despair, yet is not consumed by any of them. When you notice these shifting, conflicting feelings and thoughts, ask who is noticing all these changes. The "who" is consciousness, the loving witness.
Compassion. When we courageously let ourselves witness the ugliness within, we have a choice. Judge it or forgive it. Compassion, flowing from the loving witness, enables us to finally face our demons. And rather than bark at or run from them, we simply acknowledge them with self-forgiveness...and move on.
How did we get Benny to stop barking? We blew out the candle. Then we placed the statue of Shiva on the floor. Benny circled it. Looked at it. Then slowly approached and sniffed it. The barking stopped. There was nothing to fear once it was seen for what it was.
This is always true of projections. We just have to bring them out of the shadows and into the Light of Conscious awareness and Compassion.