A Fresh Start
Starting with ourselves, and learning to appreciate many ways that human goodness is expressed every day
by Susan Firer
I’ve had an idea running through my mind for almost a year now, I would guess. It has to do with appreciation, humanity, suffering, and compassion. So often I hear and see how people are becoming more and more focused on what is wrong with society or with humanity in general. I don’t think this is something new. In fact, I remember my parents and their generation contemplating the same questions. It’s just something each generation does. It is what humans do – we wonder about who we are and where we are going, both individually and collectively. I’m no different. Here are some of my thoughts about who we are and where we are going.
I’ll start with the idea I’ve been having: I’m not sure if I will ever actually make this idea manifest, but perhaps it could inspire some of you to do it! I’ll join in if you do. I thought a blog, or website, or whatever the current format people use to do such things, would be the place to start. What if there was a virtual place where people could go to express all of the encounters they’ve had during any given day that confirm the notion that people are basically good? It is my belief, and my experience more often than not, that we all want a peaceful uplifted society. We all want places to go to where we can enjoy nature, get away from the speediness of our daily lives, and spend more time doing things we love to do with our families and friends. We all want to feel connected to something, to have others to share and connect with. Humans long for community. This is where I like to start whenever I begin to wonder, “What the hell is going on…are we entering into some sort of bizarro world? How long will it last?”
The good news, to me anyway, is that we can start with ourselves.
The practice of meditation is what I’ve found to be the best way for me to start with myself. Meditation is not a practice tied to any one religious system. In fact, meditation/mindfulness is not a religious practice. Meditation is a tool, a very powerful one in my mind, to support whatever it is you are trying to accomplish in your life. Meditation is like weight lifting for your mind. We all understand the benefits of exercise and eating properly to care for our bodies, but we tend to think our mind is just the way it is and we have to deal with it. This isn’t so. Inherently, the human mind has three qualities (so say the meditators of the past and present): Strength, Stability, and Clarity. We forget these inherent qualities due to the circumstances of our lives. We forget over and over again that we have the capacity to work with any situation that comes our way – whether it be joyful, painful, or somewhere in between. This is the power of meditation. It can help us reconnect to our true nature.
I’m not simply plugging meditation to get people to come to Windhorse to learn how to meditate. Here is how I see it fitting in with my contemplations of humanity, suffering and compassion.
When I practice meditation in a formal setting, sitting on the cushion or chair in a quiet place, I feel my body and follow my breath as the object of my meditation. And when my mind wanders from the feeling of my breath, i.e. I become distracted, I simply bring the mind back to my breath. Sound simple? It is, but it isn’t, because it takes discipline, exertion, patience, wisdom, gentleness, and humor. So, when you are meditating, you are becoming familiar with all of those things – discipline, exertion, etc. When we are involved in the activities of our daily lives we are often becoming familiar with speediness, irritation, judgment, avoidance, fear, and aggression. I don’t mean to present such a negative view of our daily lives. I know there is a lot of joy and humor involved as well, but society as a whole is becoming more and more caught up in the negative aspects of life rather than the incredible opportunities we have to open up and become more human – to work together. We are engaging more and more in just trying to survive and to make a living, and we are forgetting the power of relationships.
If you’ve seen any of the Terminator movies, think about this image: When the Terminator (say it with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent – it’s funnier) enters into a new situation, you see his computer mind scan the whole situation, helping him to respond in a way that is appropriate to achieve the outcome he wants. We do this all the time too! We meet someone, size them up, decide what their political leanings are, what they may do for a living, what they do for fun. We judge them by their clothing, how they style their hair, their body type, and on and on. We make stuff up! Let’s face it, that’s what we do. Sometimes we are pretty accurate, and most of the time we aren’t. What if instead, when we meet someone or enter into a new situation, we remain open and we feel the energy of the situation before we conceptualize it to fit into our notion of reality?
This is how we start with ourselves. In order to be in the world this way, it is really important to like ourselves and have confidence that we belong in whatever situation we encounter. If we are secure in who we are, able to look with wisdom and compassion at our strengths as well as our weaknesses, we can accept others for who they are. We don’t view others as a threat. We feel their hearts and see our own vulnerability in their humanity. We can start to see them as we see ourselves – just trying to do the best we can without falling apart or becoming swallowed up by fear and negativity. This understanding of ourselves comes through the practice of meditation. It is not something that happens overnight, and it certainly won’t happen just by thinking about it.
I feel I may be on the verge of being too preachy so let me break it down a bit here. It is my experience that mediation is the key to how to know thyself – which so many religious traditions talk about. So if you want to change the world, start with yourself through some form of meditation. Let meditation be your lab work so when you get out there you have it to ground you. Keep learning – read, study, talk with elders and others who you feel embody something you are striving for. Keep on whatever path you are on if it is based on compassion, wisdom, and bravery. Let’s stop complaining, blaming, ignoring, and resorting to aggression of all kinds. Let’s start talking to each other, connecting with how similar we are rather than how we may be different.
Here are a few things I that believe affirm that humanity is basically good: When you are driving at night and someone forgets to turn down their high-beams, you flash yours at them and they respond by turning theirs off; someone with a ton of items at the grocery store lets you skip ahead because you only have a few items; you catch a stranger’s eye when walking and you both smile; your car is stuck in the snow and folks walking by give you a push; you’re waiting in a line and someone starts a conversation just for the heck of it; someone cuts you off in traffic, and when they notice what they’ve done, acknowledge it with a gesture; someone is walking a cute dog and total strangers converge to pet it. There are so many very, very simple acts of kindness and open heartedness out there; let’s give them some attention.
Oh, I forgot to add – this virtual site about the goodness of humanity would not have a place for comments, just a place to list your observations. 😉
Susan Firer is a co-founder of Windhorse Retreat Center, and currently serves as its manager. This article was previously published as a blog entry on the Center’s webpage.