We’ve all heard this one. Think you’re enlightened? Spend three days with your family. Just back from quite a large gathering of the clan, so I can attest. Though I’m really not sure exactly what enlightenment is, I’m pretty sure I’m not. Same situation twenty years ago? There has been evident evolution. Stay tuned as I follow a thread leading us from this family reunion all the way to the devastation in Orlando.
How we suffer emotionally is explored in the July issue of Lion’s Roar. Anyen Rinpoche compares American culture with Tibetan society. “This (American) culture places value on focusing on our feelings more than the mood and energy of the people and situations around us.” Language so fundamentally molds our experience. In English we say, “I am angry.” In Spanish, as well as many European languages, it is, “I have anger.” In Tibetan? “Anger is present.” Our direct identification with the emotions coursing through us—as in “I am angry”—leaves us wide open to feeling compromised, put upon by the perceived demands of others around us. Nursing and obsessing about our personal wounds is a sure fire route to difficulty relating to or fitting in with community.
“I need more space” is such a common complaint here, one that would be foreign in a more community-centric culture. It is not uncommon for Americans to withdraw as a means of protecting their precious individuality, to remain on guard against being (oh no!) influenced by others. Little wonder that we are plagued with profound loneliness and isolation, lulled into believing we protect ourselves by closely attending to the myriad feeling states coursing through us. We doggedly believe in our feelings, convinced that being in touch keeps us closer to some absolute truth and that somehow this will boost our happiness. Actually our feelings can be as ephemeral as our thoughts. An obsessive focus could make us uber-sensitive and move us more toward unhappiness.
How to extricate ourselves from this culture-specific spiral? Dang, it’s that mindfulness thing again. We might bring our attention to three simple phenomena:
I had countless for instances over the last three days. Moments when, Tibetan-like, I noticed “irritation is present”. There it was: a golden opportunity to go one giant step beyond blaming someone else for making me irritated. Just simply notice “irritation is present.” Watch it arise, peak, fall away. Quietly notice how acting on this momentary irritation would not be in the best interest of community. Consider what heart-based contribution might create a beautiful ripple in the group energy. Anyen Rinpoche describes Tibet as a “cultural environment (where) it spoils the mood and the energy of the group whenever anyone focuses on themselves too much.”
Oh my God…at the very least, how refreshing. A culture that consciously cultivates ease and satisfaction and connection. I want that for us. And here’s where we circle back to the unspeakable horror. What happened in Orlando would not have happened in Tibet. If we logically follow self-obsessed focus on feelings to its monstrous extreme, we have a clue about the incredible violence that is trending in our dis-eased culture. Total inability to respect or even perceive the highest good. Violence as a form of emotional acting out.
Warning: this is not an original thought. In myriad moments we hear the same repeating advice. It might seem trite or simplistic or woo-woo, but it is not. There is a dire need for us to tend to the violence in our own hearts. You might wonder if that is enough and certainly I am all about better gun control. But what happened in Orlando begins with irritation. I know that feeling and I can practice not acting out on it. What can I do to prevent the next horrible eruption? Tend to the irritation in my own heart, know at all times that I am part of a large and beautiful family and just start by letting some of the small stuff go. I hope you can join me.