Human beings all engage in conflict.
There's a pervasive tradition in most religious practices that teaches we can rise above this; that with enough work, enough prayer, enough grace, we can enter a state where we are so well balanced that we are always peaceful, always serene, ever mellow and ever gentle.
Anyone out there reached that state yet?
I didn't think so. As one of my friends said to me a number of years ago- this is a man with a years-long, deeply spiritual practice- "the trouble with us is that we think we're not negative."
And there's the rub. What is produced by the mind is part of the illusion. One cannot think one's way out of how one is. The whole physical state and nature organism would have to change in order for us to truly "lose" our negativity.
So there we are- stuck in this condition which, inevitably, produces negativity and conflict. It is a truth. Even if we did somehow rise above it all, others would not: that is to say, we would be surrounded by it and would still have to deal with it. There is no way out of having to confront the conditions imposed by inhabiting a body, living here on earth.
So we cannot actually avoid being negative- we cannot avoid conflict. We are going to encounter it. The very idea of trying to avoid it is illusory: in fact, we are meant to make an effort to inhabit this state as much as any other state, to experience it, to understand it, to accept it.
I suppose this sounds like heresy. After all, negativity and conflict are damaging to others, correct? Therefore they are "bad" and to be avoided.
Of course this labelling of the whole phenomenon as "bad" falls into the trap of a duality that Truth does not admit to, but let's just say, for the time being, that it's useful to agree that negativity and conflict are "bad." Destructive, unhelpful for our relationships with our spouses, our children, our society.
At the same time, we cannot avoid the "badness." We find ourselves filled at times with "badness." Immersed in "badness." It is all to reminiscent of the Christian concept of sin; the Buddhist idea of "bad" Karma. (can there really be such a thing? Interesting question.) Inevitably as we manifest negatively, if we are engaged in inner work of any kind, we find ourselves struggling with questions of conscience and guilt, culpability and the difference between an aspiration for divine consciousness and the brute reality of what Christians would call our "fallen" nature.
So what are we to make of this?
Here's a suggestion I have been exploring for the past week in examining this question. It is not in the act of "going into" the badness that we should ask our questions about how we are, or what is lacking in us. We cannot prevent ourselves from going into it. It is going to happen, no matter what we do.
It is the act of getting out of conflict that we take the true measure of a man. It is not about how or why we get into trouble. It is about what inner resources we draw on to get back to a place where things make sense.
So the important questions are how we exercise forgiveness and contrition. How we admit our failings, both to ourselves and to others. Alcoholics Anonymous knows this lesson all too well: the twelve steps include taking a fearless inventory of ourselves and making amends. This act is needed in every area of life: just as much in public policy as in in private engagement There is nothing more damaging than refusal: a refusal to admit the damage one does. In the moments where we refuse to admit what we are, what we have done, we invoke that deadly sin of pride.
The way in which we face up to and apologize for the damage we do is one of the paths we must fearlessly tread on the road to a more complete self knowledge. There is no shame in failure; we are all going to fail. If there is any shame, it is when we refuse to admit our shortcomings.
In public, this takes us to the place where we must admit without prejudice to another that we were wrong, and fearlessly, willingly accept the consequences, whatever they may be.
In the deepest states, this leads us to where we find ourselves on our inner knees, naked in front of the Lord, prayerful for His acceptance and forgiveness.
It's a tough work, but we can take comfort from the fact that we are all in it together. Let's treat each other that way- it's a step towards a road we must all travel together, for it cannot be traveled alone.
That road is the road of compassion.
May your deserts yield to rain, and your inner flowers bloom.