Suffering, self, and service

The massacre in Pittsburgh is heartbreaking and awful, and another example of the extent to which society seems to be fraying.

The Pittsburgh attacker spent a lot of time on social media sites that stoked his fear, isolation and anger.  I think about the internet a lot, and while the internet has the ability to help us form a better understanding of “we” (global humanity), it can also cultivate a strong sense of “them” (the dangerous other), as this case demonstrates.

In other words, we are simultaneously increasing our capacity to understand one another through connectedness and information, and fracturing along tribal lines, increasing the sense of distance and disconnectedness.

I am no scholar of Buddhism, but have been interested recently in the Buddhist notion of the relationship between “suffering” and the “self”.  In a nutshell, the concept is: suffering is an essential human condition, and it is primarily brought about by our sense of self and how events impact us as individuals (jealousy, greed, wanting, disappointment, etc).  Meanwhile, there actually is no “self”, as everything in the universe is connected.  Therefore, if you can release your focus on the self, you can dissolve the suffering. (Here is a good overview of these concepts.)

I think about these concepts in the day-to-day: for me they manifest in all the little moments of going about my work and getting things done.  Often times, I feel a resistance welling up, often manifested as fear, which I have written about, but more generally I think the culprit is the self-centered thinking.  When this happens, an idea that works for me is actively seeking to replace thoughts of the self with thoughts of service: take the suffering that comes from seeing things through the lens of your individual self, and redirect it to the service of others.  When this happens, I can physically feel the “suffering” melt away.

My own examples are of course trivial compared to the broader environment of fear, suffering, and violence.  But I would like to think that we have the potential as humans to re-knit the ties that bind us together, somehow.

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15 comments
  • .
    Anti-Semitism is not a recent development.

    It has been a pervasive, international evil for more than two centuries going back to at least before the Crusades to Biblical times.

    It is neither an American nor a recent development.

    Many Americans fought to liberate the concentration camps and America was one of the first to recognize Israel.

    The USA has assisted Israel since 1948 to survive against the Pan Arab world.

    The Jews have been persecuted for centuries for their faith which represents no threat to anyone.

    My sister and daughter are both married to good men who both happen to be Jewish. Their choice of religion is of no consequence as to why my sister and daughter love them.

    It is a huge error to attribute anti-Semitism to our times.

    This atrocity echoes through the ages. It is the result of the same irrational evil as drove the pograms, the Diaspora, the concentration camps.

    It is hard to be a Jew. It is wrong but it did not start today.

    Godspeed, God bless. I am with you against evil.

    JLM
    http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

    • I was surprised to read (and i assume it is accurate information – please correct me if i’ve been misinformed) that a high percentage of Democrat members of the US Congress have dual nationality with the same other country, Israel. I don’t know what the rules of the democratic game are in the US. I think i do know that to become president one needs to be born an American, but can one also hold dual nationality for that highest office?

      A Congress with so many members having in theory divided patriotism seems almost ‘unconstitutional’. The Brits were booted out by ‘patriots’. What now is the state of US sovereignty and independent polity? Is it actually authentic? You recently wrote that Israel is effectively a US state. The relationship between US constituents and their elected representative seems a little bit ambiguous when that representative is not solely a US citizen. What do you think about this? Is it a democratic problem?

  • Thanks for this.

    I experienced the deep malaise of this and the fissures in my belief in humanity as deeply as you do I am sure.

    Though my response is to dig deep into the divide in this country and my own sense of separation and anger and disdain at the rhetoric coming from the WF and Republicans which gives agency in my opinion to the freedom to normalize this.

    It is in that friction and my gnawing belief that this group cannot be convinced otherwise is where my fear arrises.

    This is a top town incentivized problem uncontrollably now bottoms up.

  • to understand others brings closer an understand of oneself, and because we are all so much more similar to each other than we are not. similar in that we all have the same basic requirements for a fruitful and fulfilling life. the things that make us different from each other are marginal concerns (but for the fanatical mind they can become obsessions) in my opinion, decorative ego ‘baubles’ we choose erroneously to identify ourselves by. be it race, religion, party politics, whatever. they’re all false distinctions.

    this may seem very trivial and irrelevant, but one of the reasons (there are many) why i find professional road cycling so fascinating is that although there are teams and they compete against each other, during races riders almost always have to form temporary alliances with opponents. that’s almost unique in team sport. everywhere else in pro team sport it’s binary competition and to the death. that’s tribal. that’s dumb.

    – “where’s the empathy?”

Nick Grossman

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