It is election season in the U.S. This means that the world gets treated to outlandish promises of grandiose action which have little to do with governance, leadership or diplomacy.
What politicians are selling is one simple premise: “the problem is ISIS/Guns/Gun Control/Muslims/Political Correctness/Demagogy/Liberalism/Socialism/the Media.” In other words, the problem is something or someone “out there.” Thus, the solution to the problem is invariably to get rid of/carpet bomb/annihilate/control/win over/build a wall around/escape whatever is “out there” and then live happily ever after.
So, how has this approach been working for us? Have we finally reached “the happily ever after?” Well, maybe next year!
It was Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing, while expecting different results. Perhaps, the problem is not something or someone “out there” but the way we look and experience the problem?
This is especially true in conflict situations. While the trigger might be something on the outside, the true source of our discomfort never is. If someone calls us a jerk and we get angry, the source of our anger is never the word “jerk”. How could it be? It’s just a powerless, four letter word. “J”, “e”, “r” and “k”. The anger is caused by our resistance to the word, a resistance that manifests itself as thoughts about the situation, like “He shouldn’t have said that to me”, “That’s not true”, “How rude” and in physical discomfort in our body. Once we entertain these kinds of thoughts, we fuel the discomfort and disempower ourselves because we disconnect ourselves from reality (which was just a four letter word). If we now take action based on our story about the four letters we are actively contributing to and escalate the conflict.
Instead of looking to “carpet bomb” or escape what triggers us, we could use the trigger as an invitation to go inward and sit with the resistance and discomfort within. When there’s no resistance to the present moment – to being called “J”, “e”, “r”, “k” – we are able to respond directly and appropriately to the situation at hand in this moment. So we might tell the other person we don’t appreciate being called a jerk or simply just ignore the remark. When we’re in contact with reality the “right” response happens by itself. This is the most effective form of action because it has not been distorted by an attempt to escape or control the discomfort (the resistance) within. This way we are truly meeting the challenge “out there”.
Sitting with our discomfort is hardly a glamorous pursuit. It is unlikely to make any stump speeches. And, just the thought of it could be scarier than pursuing any enemy “out there.” However, when we sit with – when we are the space for – what is within us we take the first step towards response ability – our innate ability to be one with life’s forces by responding, instead of reacting to them. And, when we do begin to respond, we actually realize that everything “out there” is just a fire alarm for the fire, raging within. When we put out the fire with in, we no longer need to “fix” what is “out there”. We begin effortlessly to respond to the challenges we face and let the results of our actions (or non-action) take care of themselves.