The news this morning of the ISIS terrorist attack in Brussels claiming over 30 lives and injuring 200 more reflects the hate stemming from us vs. them thinking. The concept that me and mine are right and thus it follows that you and yours are wrong derives naturally from our egos. This dichotomy presents itself in every arena of our lives: in arguments with our loved ones, in disagreements at work, and so blatantly on the political stage between Democrats and Republicans. The ego insists that of the 1,000 of Gods represented in our global history, only the one that you believe in is real, all the others are nonsense.
The ego is dichotomous by nature. It is created through a process of “I am this, but not that”, e.g., you are a girl, not a boy; you are short, not tall; black, not white. It sets the basis for all us vs. them thinking. The ‘us’ is automatically filtered as good, worthy, just, righteous and the other filtered as their opposites. Accordingly, the ego is a root of inherent racism and xenophobia.
Luckily, we are more than just our egos. We have the capacity to hold thoughts sourced from the ego, yet speak words that don’t automatically condemn those who differ from us. We have the capacity to understand that different experiences lead to different perspectives, and that one perspective doesn’t inherently trump another.
Further, we have the capacity to reach out in kindness to those who differ from us economically, racially, religiously, politically, sartorially, whateverly. We are not victims to the ego’s dialogue of separate and not equal. But overcoming the impulse of the ego takes effort.
In the mindfulness tradition, the cultivation of kindness is inherent in the practice, a necessary component of self-development. The formal practice is called ‘Metta’ or Loving Kindness meditation in which we practice bringing warm and friendly feelings to a variety of people: people we love, ourselves, people we have conflicts with, our animal friends, and all sentient beings. Through the practice, we develop the habit of meeting others with warmth, so that our thoughts, words and actions are more likely aligned with kindness.
Working with ourselves in this way, we create a ripple of kindness in the world. Our kindness touches others with whom we come into contact, and hopefully continues to ripple out from them to others.
What can be hard, if not impossible, to acknowledge, is that the hate that motivated the attacks today also is within us. Our egos don’t want to own that reality. “I am not like them” the ego declares. But love and hate are universal. We all hold the seeds of each within us. We, however, choose daily which we grow.
Next month, I will be leading a 3-week workshop on the cultivation of kindness at Anasa Yoga in Oakland. I encourage you to consider joining us. Make a conscious choice to cultivate kindness in the world, as a remedy for the flood of hate we are witnessing. The practice will help you feel more at ease with yourself in the world of chaos and give you tools to help make a difference for others. Details for the workshop at Anasa Yoga.
“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies.
My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
The Dalai Lama