The Worst of Times - The Best of Times

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Friends have asked me about my thoughts regarding the current political climate and social divisiveness. The question is how to understand today's difficult challenges and what actions, if any, to take. This can be approached as a "local" question related to immediate events, or as a larger spiritual question that seeks to understand the fundamental sources of adversity as guidance for right action.

To begin, we do not live in an enlightened world. It would be lovely if all individuals were awakened to the truth, goodness, compassion, and wisdom that are ever present at the source of our being. But, in the human condition, that is not how it is. When consciousness meets the human body, we are as prone to remembering our wholeness as we are to getting lost in the self-cherishing "I" with its cravings, attachments, and emotional dysfunction. Good and evil - the latter meaning the supremacy of the self-centered ego - are both human possibilities.

In my own circumstance I have certainly touched and tasted the basic sense of human goodness, mostly in meditation, service, and at times in the simple events of daily life. Yet, I am acutely and painfully aware of how easily, after so many years of studying and practice, I can fall out of my essential beingness back into confusion and a distorted pre-occupation with self. I know how it is to touch the luminosity of my being, and in no more than the time between two beats of the heart fall into a contracted world, fixed perceptions, and all too predictable reaction patterns, the old and tenacious "me."

That is the circumstance we are in, caught between the light and the dark, heartfelt truth and blind ignorance. We live in one, the other, or a shifting combination. We remember our home or forget it. That is the reality of the human condition. We should neither be surprised when we encounter darkness nor should we forget the ever present fundamental decency and luminosity of the human spirit, whose ascendancy over time is slow, rocky, and yet quite certain.

So how do we understand and respond when we encounter darkness, adversity, and challenges to our basic goodness, to our fundamental humanness? How do we understand and respond when others may not even be able to see the possibility of an experience other than self-cherishing with its fears and negative emotions?

To attain a precise and fundamental understanding, we must first quiet our mind by touching into the stillness that resides within. We must first find our inner home. It is the only level of consciousness from which we can access authentic wisdom and impartial compassion. Only from this clear and still mind can we directly see the truth of the human condition, our enduring wisdom and goodness and how this is too often overtaken by the prejudice and bias of our personal or cultural story that is enshrined in our self-cherishing or cultural-cherishing ego.

Until we understand the truth of the human condition it is not possible to understand and apply the correct remedy for our darker side. That is the purpose of meditation. Take away the incessant noise of the ordinary mind, whose CEO is the ego, and what is revealed is our underlying and ever present wisdom and truth.

From this center of our being with its unfettered compassion we see all individuals as basically good, even when under the influence of confusion. From this center wisdom spontaneously arises, leading to spontaneous and precise actions that arise from a true and compassionate understanding. It is here that adversity is transformed into wisdom, reaction to natural responsiveness, negative emotions into calm and incisive action. That is only possible in the full awareness found in the center of our being.

What I have learned is that when adversity arises inside or outside the first response must be to recover ones own wholeness, to awaken to the inner light of basic goodness and well-being. From there it is possible to see with equanimity and to respond precisely and effortlessly with actions that are appropriate to the circumstance. This is not a call for passivity, but rather a call to wisdom and clear-hearted action. The greater the adversity the deeper we most go and the greater wisdom heartfulness we bring forth and sustain. That is what I have found to be true for myself and perhaps it is true for you as well.

So, the worst of times can drive us inward with greater intensity and devotion and then outward with clarity, precision, and tenacity. It is there we reveal, once again the best of times, a wisdom, compassion, and truth of life that can guide effective action and serve as a beacon for humankind. It is from this basic well-being that we can become selfless agents of change according to our skills, capacities, and circumstance. When we stand in the light, we are a natural antidote to darkness.