In a teaching workshop during last year’s fall Ango at my Zen Buddhist temple, I was inspired to do a quick thumbnail sketch of an idea for an illustration. The concept I wanted to encapsulate within it I had gotten to share with the others in my group during a break-out discussion.
For a long while now, and perhaps increasingly so, I have been aware of how reactive people are becoming in and off of social media. It is a pet peeve of mine, and I am so disturbed by the data-mining greed factory that social media platforms can be. Social media at it’s worst encourages reactionism and writes carefully curated algorithms to push it along. Whatever item gets you to respond you will receive more exposure too. Choose mindfully.
I have this deep love of people, but not all the things they do. On more than one occasion in my life, and perhaps more to come, I have had to give considerable effort to pull myself back into mindful presence after letting my mind get intoxicated on some emotive reaction or another. It would be harder, so I suspect, except that there is also some very obstinate part of me that relishes the notion of not letting anything affect my decision to remain steadfast. Even then, fallibility overpowers at times, but intention wins out in the long run, with practice.
As time goes along, what would make me feel sad or angry is now more often a murmuring disappointment, that over time, becomes easier to step around. I have learned to see the suffering in the other person and it makes a tremendous difference for me. That does not mean I am hosting dinner parties for them, just that I can choose to be unaffected and hold them in my intentions.
I choose not to judge them by a bad moment, bad habit, or bad day. No matter what arrows, or words, or stings, or slights that are encountered. I choose to go on with the effort to be a calm compassionate person. I believe our compassion should be like a bridge that invites others to cross over into a state of acceptance and peaceful abiding. I do not suggest that means inviting abusive behaviors to be closer to you. You must love yourself enough to have solid boundaries. My own resolve has been tested by some really difficult situations and people. I never regret choosing compassion.
For me, compassion has been too often simply walking away and not being involved, sometimes leaning in and offering to listen deeper, sometimes just silently wishing a person what they need to heal, sometimes it’s confronting them without losing hold of intentions. It can happen with graceful ease and something as clumsy as falling backward downhill. I have dusted off my knees many times.
Currently, for me, compassion means executing due diligence to address aggressive behaviors I have had to suffer. At one point, at a spiritual retreat, an individual allowed their underlying aggression to manifest into physical action. During a ritual, while I was sitting on the floor, they loomed over and suddenly and aggressively yanked the serving utensils I was holding out of each of my hands, then hey served my next meal to me cold. To this day I have no idea why.
I avoided being anywhere near that person for about a month, which got me some criticism for my absence. At a spiritual retreat, you assume being fully vulnerable and open is safe. The last thing you expect to happen is to encounter such behavior with no indicator it could happen. Anything is possible anywhere. Eventually, almost two years later, when feeling anxious about being alone in a meeting with that person. I let them know how much a bully I thought they were, though not very mindfully in my wet sobbing grief.
Ultimately, it opened the door for me to finally try trusting the larger body of the organization enough to confide about what has been happening. This is very difficult for me and I am not sure how it will go, as relational aggression, as I was told it is, is not easy to address.
Practicing compassion sounds like it should be really easy and sweet. It is when we want to do it for people we like, but practicing it when we don’t want to with people who have been unkind and hurtful to others or our own self is not always easy, not at first. It takes some heavy lifting, but it leaves you feeling light and free in the end.
Whatever is causing the suffering that is leading to such behaviors, may it be cast out. Ultimately, that individual will have to dig down into the roots of that suffering and yank it out, just like a weed. Then it can decompose back to fertile ground.
There is no end to the arrows life throws at you. Sure, you could just isolate yourself away, but your mind will still throw arrows at you. If we are really honest about it, that is where all the arrows originate. The practice of transmuting the arrow into blossom is about keeping your heart empty enough to hold everything…. the whole universe… as it is.. right now. One flower after another.