In the West, we've been horrified to learn of the beheadings and mass killings happening in the news lately. Of course, there's always conflict, but with ISIS it's been horrendous, and now having just witnessed France go through three days of horror, and learning about those mass killings in Niger, the news is just overwhelming.
I'm definitely not an expert on the political and religious background behind any of them, but I am quite familiar with the feeling that there's not enough room in this world for you and someone who makes you feel small, and one of you has to leave this world in order for there to be peace.
When we get angry at being pushed down or silenced, we have a choice that is fundamentally available to all of us, but not obvious to the human mind. When I was a teenager, I sometimes spent hours lying awake in bed at night, thinking about why someone who made me feel terrible was allowed to walk freely on this earth. I twisted my brain into knots to square my experience with my religious conviction I had at the time that I was supposed to be "good" and what that meant for my relationship with this person. Now there are millions of kids who have suffered more than I have, but I understand the pressure on a young mind to work out the logic of injustice committed by an adult against them. There's just no reconciling it no matter how you study it, scream from the pain of it, or talk about it in counselling. At a certain age, you've exhausted yourself with trying to find answers and you just want to move on to something else. You can't really, because it's always in the background operating invisibly.
It turns out we don't have to forever go back and forth in dualistic thinking between which one of us should die. The only way I could get some relief was asking myself, "Should this person live and I die? Or should I live and they die?" But it's just an impossible question because not only do the questions not fit the moral limitations you've been given as a Christian, but there's something unsatisfying about either option. Suicide- meant to punish your oppressor into remorse- can't always guarantee you're going to get the contrition you desperately want, and even if you get it, you can't savor it from the other side because you don't know it's happening. Murder, obviously is illegal and just cascades into more pain- being on the run and then ending up in jail. The answer, I have found, is that there ARE no answers in thinking dualistically about oppression. Thankfully there's a third option, and that's the mindfulness route.
The human mind operates in a certain medium that only allows for binary thinking in terms of opposites. (This video is the explanation I've found that makes the most sense, although this understanding is part of Buddhist understanding of human nature, and has been around forever.) This is the Law of Three I talked about last week (the blog with the cartoon)- our hate and boiling rage on one hand (the id that wants to be indulged); our conscience that tells us to love and forgive the oppressor on the other hand (the superego that wants to correct); and the mediating force in the middle (the ego). And I mean "mediating" in the sense of using the body as the landing pad for this unforgiving mental ping pong between the two.
When we sense into our bodies, notice what's happening in the moment, we can see that we've gotten stiff with rage over the last few hours, that we're not breathing deeply anymore, maybe we started off shaking with fury, but the shaking has stopped to allow the mind to focus intently on the mental movie of all the times we've been hurt over the years, or noticing that we resist crying because crying can ruin the state we're in and return us to our feeling of helplessness. As soon as we notice what's happening in the moment- what time it is, the temperature in the room, how our body is feeling, if we're hungry or tired, we can start taking deeper breaths. When we take deeper breaths, we do a couple pivotal things, but the most important is we return to the moment, and to our bodies.
When we care how the painful memories affect the body, and nurse the pain in each moment- being with it-- instead of freezing (returning to the narrative, thereby shallowing the breath)-- we can eventually achieve a higher level of consciousness than our oppressor. I call it "making a triangle" in the spirit of the Enneagram's Law of Three. In the language of Carl Jung's work around alchemy, we're leaving the "scorpion" behind and becoming the eagle rising out of the ashes.
When I'm triggered by this person today as an adult, I pay attention to my breathing, how my body feels in the moment. Practicing "self-remembering" gives me a clearer mind to make the best, most healthy decisions for my life, and I'm absolved from having to make any moral judgements about how I should be teaching them a lesson or making space for myself in the world. While their presence on the earth is suffocating, with our breath awareness, we're not only creating the space we need, but purifying the air for other people as well.
As they say, the best revenge is a life well-lived, and being able to 1) heal personally from the bruising, 2) rise to a higher level of consciousness than the oppressor, 3) experience clearer thinking about the oppression than the oppressor had so you don't repeat it with your children. Mindfulness clarifies your mind to help you make the healthiest and most rewarding life decisions for you. It's a discipline, though. It's hard work that takes decades of dedication.
Yes, je suis Charlie. We all are, because we love our hard-won freedoms- but we are also the terrorists who have had enough with certain people who have taken advantage of us, and who have numbed out to whatever measure we've piled a Western consumerist life on top of the pain. When those painful memories of bullying or oppression float to the surface, if we can notice how those memories make us feel, acknowledging and "being with" the rage in the moment, I believe the West can "make a triangle" of peace inside of ISIS.