For many of us (especially those of us who are some combination of white, suburban-raised, and male), it’s easy to think of violence as a distant and alien phenomenon. It is shootings and muggings and bombings. It happens in bad neighborhoods far from our own, or in the hills of some foreign land, or in a city across the sea. We are connected to it only by the headlines, it seems. Or maybe we have experienced it firsthand, some obvious form of violence, but even then, we’d like to conceive of it as an anomalous blip in an otherwise violence-free existence. A freak accident. “Violence is not my story,” the thinking goes. “I am neither victim nor executioner. I’m just, you know, not a part of it.”
I thought this way for a long time. Still do, when I’m not paying attention. I’ve only recently begun to explore the startling truth: that not only am I capable of violence, I’m also the perpetrator of violence everyday. This has been one of the more horrifying fruits of my meditation practice – the realization that there is a madman inside my head wreaking havoc whenever he can. The madman is a conditioned thought-pattern, a way of thinking. Call it fear. Call it loathing. Call it the Devil himself. Sitting on a cushion for just a few minutes each day has become an invitation to consider the possibility that perhaps evil is not some entity outside myself. That it might be, instead, the inevitable effect of the belief in my own separateness, the conviction that I am fundamentally disconnected from you, that we are not manifestations of the same universe, that we are not, in fact, one.
Suddenly, looking through the lens of this separateness, we are in competition. We are at war. If there is you and me, then which one of us is better? Which one of us is right? There now have to be winners and losers, the ones who get to heaven and the ones who go to hell. And, of course, who wouldn’t fight to get to heaven, if there’s the threat of hell? And so we fight for heaven, and in so doing, create hell.These are the implications of a belief in separateness, of living by exclusion and division. It is, intrinsically, a violent form of perception, necessitating the suffering of someone out there.
This way of thinking becomes a way of living, and violence is the inevitable result. Most of us are living it out in our own subtle ways each day. Just watch it: the loathing or self-loathing, the competitive social posturing, the endless inner dialogue of critical comparison, how “me and you” becomes “me versus you,” over and over again. While it does not compare to the suffering created by the violence of a suicide bomber, it does grow from the same soil: the belief in separateness, the failure to recognize the truth of our unavoidable interdependence, our oneness in both spirit and matter.
By investigating our own inner violence, through meditation or other forms of contemplation, the path to healing is a bit easier to see. Coming at it from the outside in – using the wounds of the world as surrogates for our own, or projecting our inner devil onto some external bad guy – it’s much more confusing this way, seeking a solution. Turning inward, the solution becomes intuitively clear and simple.
The core question arises: What do I do with this devil inside me, this violence?
The insight follows: I can either reject it or accept it. Hate it or meet it with love. Eviscerate it, berate it, and crucify it, or instead, hold it in a gentle embrace, rocking this slimy, hissing creature like I’d rock a child shivering in fear.
This is where the solution becomes obvious, if a bit paradoxical: If I hate that thing inside me which hates, then I’m just adding more hate to my system. If I’m violent against that which is violent, it’s simply more violence. There is only one way out of the cycle: I must love it, all of it, fiercely, tenderly, and completely. A broken-open, broken-hearted, irrational, all-or-nothing love. Saying, “Thank you,” and, “I forgive you,” and, “You belong here, too,” over and over again until the pained, thrashing creature trusts you enough to melt into your embrace, to become the wild, insane love that you, too, have chosen to become.
I can see this quite clearly in my own inner experience. I can feel it, how futile it is to meet the violence inside me with violence. It just hurts more.
So what do we do with those humans among us who are so deeply lost in their delusions of separateness that they would commit mass murder in a tragic attempt to realize their flawed understanding of heaven? How do we respond to this wound, in our own minds and hearts?
The medicine is bitter, but powerful: So long as we meet violence with violence, we are just perpetuating the shitshow. If we kill they who have killed, or even hate they who hate, we have transcended nothing. Heaven does not exist until we’ve learned to love the Devil, too.