Yom Kippur Thoughts: Dealing with Conflict


Back to the blog...

IMG 5150

I have always loved to write.  I have always kept a journal – sometimes for long stretches with extensive entries and sometimes sporadic with short notes.  As a lawyer and as a public health specialist, writing is also a requirement and many times something that I have to do rather than want to do.  But lately as I have increased my dedication to my meditation practice, I have been experiencing a shift in my basis of operation and find myself with a deeper need to write, to somehow communicate what I have been learning.  Maybe it is a way to test this new consciousness – something that I am far from comfortable with yet.  And, I find that as my way of thinking shifts, I am more conscious of what I am carrying around. Lately, I seem to be thrust in the middle of many challenging situations.  Maybe it is karma at work or maybe it is just what I need to be able to practice, and eventually get better at, this new way of being in the world.

IMG 5169

 So, I have been thinking about what it means to have conflict. Every individual is unique and has talents to deal with life in their own way; every one of us come with habitual collections of so many different experiences through many lifetimes.  So, the process of judgment differs from one person to another, due to different frames of reference, different conditional processes and simple habits ingrained from childhood. This makes interactions with others sometimes challenging and frustrating – hence, conflict.


But is the conflict really something that is related to factors outside of each of us?  The short answer is a qualified yes, in the ordinary person.  But we don’t want to settle for the short answer, because what is spiritual growth after all, but looking again  looking with fresh eyes, looking beyond limiting beliefs. Buddhist teachings remind us that the ordinary person attributes their anger to an external cause – thinking, “if this person were different or if this situation was different, I wouldn’t be mad.” With this outlook comes the need to change the external conditions in order to calm one's own anger.  But considering how many beings there are, and how all of them have different attitudes and ideas, it would be an impossible task to make them all conform to your ideas.  Shanti Deva, an 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk and scholar at Nalanda, states that it is much more practical to overcome and change yourself, taming your own mind to eliminate the anger. “If the ground is covered with sharp thorns and stones, it is more practical to protect your feet by wearing just a pair of shoes than to try to remove all of the thorns and stones.”

IMG 3356

We all get caught in this thinking trap rather than looking inside for answers.  It is the first reaction for most of us, myself included.  There is an old platitude that says, “you can’t control other people, you can only control your reactions to them.”  According to journalist Michael Pollan, a platitude is “a truth that's been drained of all emotion.”  I found this definition very powerful because it allowed me to re-examine and take a fresh look at something that I might normally push aside as a Hallmark card.  Through meditation, patience and deep listening, we can put the emotion back into this platitude; remembering that the source of the problem does not lie in the external person or situation, but in our own conflicted state of mind. As our minds react to a conflict situation, influenced by all our accumulated habits and past experiences, the whole process is entirely subjective. Isn’t it true that when our mind is full of anger, the whole world seems to be a hell realm?  Yet when our mind is peaceful, free from any clinging or fixation or grasping, we can see the complexity of these challenging encounters with compassion and a deep understanding.


Now, the challenge is to put this understanding into practice. I am far from being able to put this paradigm into practice in all my encounters. I know that I have a long way to go and that I am not always successful at looking beyond my initial emotions.  But with a new basis of operation, comes a learning curve.  I can only promise to recognize my patterns and try again next time. Let’s put some emotion back into the empty platitudes!

 © CommonFate 2018