Friday, September 19, 2008

We Only Hurt the Ones We Love

About a month or so ago, I was at the DMV getting my driver’s license renewed. As is common there was a fairly long wait. I was sitting there, observing my surroundings and meditating a bit. A man and woman came in and sat down across from me with their son (maybe 4 or 5 years old). The boy was interested in exploring a bit, but not straying far from his parents. The father decided the boy should be sitting in a chair next to him rather than wandering about. After the boy was placed in his chair, he got bored and got up to stand in front of his chair. The father gently popped his behind and told him to sit down. The boy really didn’t want to so the father decided it was time for some disciplinary action because the boy was not obeying. So, the man took the boy by the arm and walked him down a hallway to spank him. The boy knew what was coming and started to cry, causing much more disturbance than the boy was causing before.

When they came back the boy was sniffling a bit and the father placed him in the chair next to him. The boy got up and wanted to go sit on the other side next to his mother. The father was insistent that the boy sit next to him (the mother was reading something and not getting involved). When the boy went to sit next to his mother, against his father’s wishes, the man took the boy again by the arm down the hall. This time the boy was crying much louder than before and trying to pull away. He said through his tears, “I just want to be good.” Despite the boy’s plea, the father proceeded to take him down the hall and discipline him. It was very heart breaking and frustrating to watch.

When they came back the boy went over and sat by his mother, which was allowed this time. Meanwhile, I was grappling with my own emotions over what I had witnessed. I felt extreme compassion for the little boy who was just trying to be good. But I was having problems having compassion for the father. I thought about how this man was probably raised the same way and was under the impression this was the best way to raise a child. I thought about how this child’s karmic disposition placed him in this situation to somehow shape his life in unimaginably positive ways. I thought about the mother who stayed out of it the whole time, wondering if she had been taught by her husband not to get involved.

Despite all of this, I was still feeling anger toward the man. I tried doing The Work in my mind which lead me to remember something Byron Katie said in one of her books. She was asked how she would react if she saw a mother in a store abusing her children in some way. Katie said that she would see that and remember a time when she too felt that way, angry and confused at her children, lashing out at them. She said she might approach the woman with a deep compassion and ask if she could help, or even tell the woman that she too had been in her situation.

Since I have never been a parent I couldn’t quite identify from that perspective. But then it hit me. A few days earlier, my wife Shelby, and I were out running some errands. We had stopped at a store and I was going to run in for something. Shelby asked me something about getting a bite to eat while we were out, and I said something out of frustration, dismissing the idea as I got out of the car. As I got into the store I was struck by what had just happened. I saw Shelby’s face and mood go from upbeat to defeated. I saw the smile disappear from her face. I almost started to cry when I replayed the scene in my head.

I thought to myself, “What have I done?” “How could I be so unfeeling?” “How many times have I done that and not realized it?” She was trying to be nice and I had just acted pissy. I basically reacted out of unconscious habit, which I’ve been doing most of my life, causing unnecessary suffering each time. This time I caught it and I felt the pain it caused. I got a glimpse of true compassion. When I got back to the car I apologized for my behavior and resumed the conversation I had so rudely cut off.

Once the memory of this came back to me at the DMV, I was able to look at the man and see myself in him. I have been just as abusive to my loved ones without knowing it. How could I condemn someone else for doing something I myself have done in one form or another? I then felt compassion for this man (who is me) hurting the one he loves most out of total unconsciousness. It makes me want to cry thinking back on it all.

In hindsight I can see clearly that we are all just trying to be good. But when we are punished for it we shut down. It’s a self defense mechanism to protect us from getting hurt again. We begin to put up barriers to prevent future pain, barriers which also cut us off from love.

I can look back and find countless ways in which I have hurt my loved ones, which can lead to deep feelings of guilt and shame. But guilt can be a teacher showing us that there is a better way. The better way is to become fully conscious of our habitual thoughts and transcend them. Be willing to drop the barriers we have put up. Find compassion for all of our fellow human beings.

Now, when I find myself judging someone else, I just take a quick look and see that I too have been just like that, felt just like that, acted just like that. I am no different from anyone else on this planet. I have no one left to judge but myself.
Lots of Love,