What disturbs you more? A news of human life lost due to flood, famine, earthquake or human life taken by another human being? Which loss is more painful? and why?
I examined some of these questions via a very simple life experience and came to some really good realizations that I want to share with you.
A while back, I had a vegetable garden growing in my front yard. I had planted tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin and similar vegetables. The garden was thriving like anything. In between vegetables, I had planted flowers. The yard looked quite beautiful and cute. Like most of the houses in California, we didn’t have a fence in front, so the garden was easy to spot by people passing by. Being and working in the garden was a joy. Neighbors and people passing by used to stop and tell me how much they enjoy the sight of the vegetable garden. Most of the times, I used to give them something fresh from the garden, just to see further amplification of joy on their faces.
We were having plenty of harvest of many vegetables and one of the ample harvest was from a cucumber vine. We could hardly keep up with it’s constant supply of fresh juicy cucumbers.
Then one day, my daughter and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood. As we came close to our house, we saw a stranger walking fast with three of our cucumbers in his hand. My daughter pointed at him saying “Mom, look! He stole our cucumbers.” He heard it and his smiling face first flushed red then became stern and he passed us walking very quickly, avoiding eye contact. Both me and my daughter watched him in stunned surprise. He was a middle aged man and looked like a family guy, well to do, well educated. I felt pretty certain that he was living in the neighborhood. It was a shock that such a person can walk into someone else’s garden to steal cucumbers and walk away.
It disturbed me and my daughter quite a bit that evening. My daughter recovered much quicker but for me the incident just lingered in the mind longer than I anticipated. Thoughts like “How could he do that? Can’t he have a common courtesy of asking first instead trespassing in my garden like that. What kind of neighborhood am I living in? Is it safe?” . Other part of me was very surprised by my own disturbance about the incidence. Counter thoughts were “Common! They were just cucumbers. You lost few cucumbers to fungi the other day and you had to throw away few because the squirrels nibbled them. If you are okay with other species stealing your cucumbers, why are you so hung up if one of your own species stole the cucumbers?”. The point was very valid.
The disturbance was not for the loss of three cucumbers, it was for something else. I had to sit down and go deeply in that feeling, to understand what it is. The root of disturbance was my high expectation from humans. I expected decency, comradry, and respect for boundaries from a fellow human being. I don’t expect a fungi strand to know that these cucumbers were planted by me and therefore they should not infect them. I don’t expect a squirrel to knock on the door to ask my permission to nibble on a cucumber. But I expect such courtesies from a fellow human. Why? Because humans have higher level of consciousness, definitely much more so than forces of nature, microorganisms and rodents. Don’t they? Humans should know better and behave better. And this expectation, when not met in reality, gives rise to sense of disturbance disproportionate to the actual loss.
I recognized this disturbance. It is qualitatively the same one I feel when I hear stories about people inflicting suffering on others. Just put on any news channel and you will hear enough of such stories which gives rise to that same pain and frustration but in much more acutely painful form.
When I hear stories about loss of human life due to natural disasters like flood, fire or natural diseases like cancer and heart attacks, I feel sad but I feel way more worse when I hear stories about human life lost in shootings, riots, wars and terrorism.
Losing a loved one to a disease or disaster is hard and painful but losing a loved on to uncaring, uncounsious actions of another human being is much more painful, enraging and disturbing. Why is that? Because we all have high expectations from each others. We know that humans can be civil and we feel that they must choose to be so. We feel that violence was preventable, avoidable, only if a conscious being would have chosen to express his or her potential of awareness and compassion.
Humans have tremendous potential for creativity and compassion. We have everything to create heaven on earth.
The more clearly you see potential, the more passionately you expect it to be manifested.
At the same time, we have seeds of total insanity in us, which can take us over anytime and cause massive destruction. That is why human inflicted loss triggers so much fear in us because we know that misguided human intelligence can be horribly destructive.
On the other side of high expectation from humans is the stubborn human potential. Let’s think about a person in your life. A person who you think has lot of potential but for whatever reason does not want to manifest it. You see this person suffering, making bad choices, indulging in self defeating behaviors and you say to yourself, “Oh God ! Why does he do this? Can’t he see that he can get all the happiness that he wants only if he recognizes the great gifts he is carrying within.. only if he sees what I see..” And may be you try to tell him what he should do or not do with all good intentions but what you get back list of excuses or worse yet a temper tantrum. We all know such individual, may be in our family, may be in our friend circle.
The more we care about such person, more painful it becomes. It is hard to see your loved one suffer. However, many times, no matter how well you articulate to bring crucial awareness to such person, it doesn’t reach them. They don’t get it or they don’t believe it or they don’t want it. May be they are focused on short lived rewards and don’t want to commit to long term changes or may be they just don’t understand it. So you are left with watching them stubbornly unfold self destructive behavior while keeping their potential buried. As if they are saying, “I have right to stay unchanged. Anything you say can be ignored and will be dismissed. I have right to keep my gifts unopened, my potential stillborn. I have right to persist in my old ways of behaving even if it brings me and or others suffering.”
This is exactly what humanity behaves on collective level as well. Countries, societies do not take some of most simple actions to stop and prevent tragedies like deaths by starvation, gun violence to name a few. There are many big problems that can be solved easily but..we have right be stubborn, we have right remain ignorant and we have right to suffer as a collective!
Dear friend, If you are like me and suffer great amount of disturbance when you hear or see human crime, you are of course not alone. Many of us feel the same, and that is evident by the fact that news of mass shooting causes more emotional distarbance than news of earthquake. And of course we need to be disturbed so that we can do something about it. But many times our unexamined disturbance dissipates the very energy and drive that is needed to do something constructive.
So to limit the energy wasted in feeling disturbed, I find following perspective useful. Look at state of humanity, like you would look at an egg, a chrysalis or a flower bud. No matter how angry or frustrated you get at an egg, it won’t hatch. No much how much sleep you loose over a chrysalis, it won’t help it transcend into a butterfly. And no words can convince a flower bud to bloom. There is great potential for sure but that potential is just a possibility.
Potential on it’s own does not come with guarantee of it’s manifestation. But awareness of potential comes with responsibility for action to help manifestation.
So you do, what you can do. Which is to work to create conditions needed for transformation to happen while continously letting go of hard expectation that it must happen. You have to accept that not all buds will flower, not all eggs will hatch. Some will perish, some will transform on their own time, and you may not be around to see it when it happens. We need to reach a point of emotional acceptance of the state of the things, before we can try to influence them. And we need to remind ourselves that every egg has it’s own destiny, it’s own timeline and it’s own choice on whether to transform or not.
So I hope that you can channel your emotional disturbance in something creative that will help create conditions for collective transformation. You will know deep within you how you can uniquely influence the situation.
Let your influence flow with intention but without expectation.