There are times in life when another’s behavior can really get to us, and we become oblivious to the possibility that there may be some form of mental or emotional impairment which is triggering the behavior. In my own town at the moment, there is a man with known mental health issues being sought for 2 recent murders. He is armed and apparently hiding out in the woods while police and other professionals try to gradually tighten up the perimeter of the area where he is known to be. It can be so easy for people to let their grief and anger turn aggressively towards an alleged perpetrator. What we often fail to realize or recognize is that the person who is the target of our anger or rage is often suffering him/herself. In more extreme cases, their behavior is often based on delusional imaginings.
In the past, I’ve been accused by someone who was suffering from delusions, believing that I was spying on her through her computer monitor and mirror. I’ve also witnessed psychological imbalance within people who are close to me. It is not an easy task to recognize the personal struggle the person may be having when their behavior personally affects us, or affects the community within which we live. How do we maintain an embodiment of acceptance when we are personally affected?
We recently recognized the 10 year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center of 9-11-01. If, as a culture, we had been able to sit with our feelings and perhaps cultivate acceptance in ourselves rather than working ourselves up into a frenzy of retribution, I am quite certain the world would be in a much healthier place right now.
But how does one do that? How do we move beyond our reactivity, beyond our anger, beyond our feeling affronted, beyond our indignance? I think it starts with the ability to catch our breath, to sit with our inner experience rather than having to react right away. If we pause just a moment and recognize our reactivity, we can then have more space to remain attuned to what is true within ourselves, which often can include the capacity for compassion for others. It is pleasantly surprising tome how many people here in my community still have a heart of love and compassion for the local fugitive. When compassion is present, the desire to wish ill upon another quickly wanes.
The desire for retribution, however, rests within almost all of us. I’m not sure where that comes from. Perhaps it’s our cultural formation under the auspices of a Judeo-Christian God who biblically promises retribution for various untoward behaviors. Perhaps it’s our deep-seated fear of emasculation which egoically drives us towards staunch postures and retaliation. It’s surprising how many American’s love the fact that we have a death penalty here for those who have committed more serious offenses. When people preach “an eye for an eye,” they often seem to selectively forget the “turn the other cheek” part.
Many of us don’t realize, or perhaps we forget, that emotions, even when a particular feeling may feel dominant, are not mutually exclusive. When we slow down just for a moment, we find we can hold multiple emotions at the same time – anger and acceptance,dislike and compassion, strength and sensitivity, fear and love. By doing so, we allow the totality of our experience to arise, which allows for a greater understanding of the truth of the actual moment in which we find ourselves. We can be angry at someone and still have love in our heart for them. When we recognize that, cultivating acceptance and compassion can be more realistic. We don’t have to deny our anger or our negative feelings in order to have or feel our love, and we don’t have to deny our love in order to have our anger or negative feelings. This realization is quite liberating.
It may not always be easy to “stay on top of your game” in situations such as this, but it would serve us well to strive towards openness and compassion, for everyone, no matter the heinousness of the crime or how personal the attack may feel, is worthy of love. Put a better way, each of us actually deserves to be more loving.