It’s interesting what happens when perspective is adjusted. I see conflict now as pointless, anger as a loss of self, a weakness of infinite depth. But Why? A push was all I really needed, maybe even for years. Scientifically, I know the brain is nearly endlessly malleable, and barring significant cases of genuine chemical or physiological distress, it can be guided to fit a specific end. In this case, I’ve long considered myself helpless to disrupt the cycles of anger that have plagued me since some of my earliest memories. But in those cases, it was impetuous youth tainted by a chain of terrible father figures and worse examples of acceptable behavior, spiced with a general lack of guidance.

Once upon a time, that in itself would have filled me with a muted rage. The truth is that few in this world receive careful instruction in happiness or rising above the difficulty of life. So many are lost and depressed, distracted and stressed, caught up in stimuli unending, baffled and terrified, completely unable to handle themselves, let alone teach another without accidentally transferring some of his or her own fears and misguided assumptions. Mom was mostly a child herself, forced to raise me single-handedly, constantly driven but perpetually afraid of failure, escaping when she could, making mistakes along the way due to her own wretched upbringing. In all, it could have been much worse, and I had enough natural guidance to avoid the worst rebellion against my lot most teenagers revel in.

But until now, this natural ability of mine to distance myself from a situation and critically analyze it has taken an unexpected toll. I’ve lost some of my humanity each time I’ve broken the magic of life, sterilized it in a construct of logic of natural psychological imperatives such that understanding negated the mystery. And seemingly every time I was hurt or otherwise upset, I withdrew further into that wasteland filled only by myself and my foibles, a past unchecked and a self image nurtured only by perceived slights. Instead of feeling true compassion for others, they became intriguing examples of misfortune otherwise lost in a sea of six billion people completing an endless and unfulfilling cycle like cognitively advanced ants, unaware of how pointless and meager existence truly is.

But in that, I’m not really unique. Compassion is a lost art in our cut-throat, every-man-for-himself society. Survive, but not live. Shambling hulks, emptily and mindlessly completing the expected motions, ever faster, racing to the end for a dubious collections of possessions sans happiness, having long since lost a meaningful goal among the din. So I’ve decided to appropriate and adapt a technique utilized by Buddhists to keep themselves centered within the world and its people; No longer will I be mentally isolated from humanity.

That technique is a type of meditation, but instead of concentrating upon an object or idea, focus is directed toward two separate configurations. Before I describe this, please remember that for the more sensitive among you, those not so far insulated from emotion, the exercise could elicit tears. I’m not quite that open, but I have nothing but time.

Imagine, if you can, yourself at your most selfish to the right of your mind’s eye. Imagine your possessions draped around you, a smug look of satisfaction unblemished by guilt. To the left of your mind’s eye, consider a homeless mother rocking back and forth on the street, crying over a recently slain son or daughter. Imagine a building recently collapsed, dozens of survivors broken and bleeding dragging themselves from the rubble. See a village of starving people barely clinging to life. Think upon a suicide, a hopeless soul so wrought in inner pain she slipped irretrievably through the cracks. Take all these things and more, any wrenching situation, all hopeless causes, and realize these people only want contentment, any kind of salvation mental or physical. Turn to the you in on the right, the dispossessed on the left, dwell on the contrast, consume the dichotomy. Feel if you can, the rampant desire to live unencumbered by distress, that both you and those you thought upon deserve happiness.

Everyone is guided by the same biological imperatives, and whether misguided or not, take whatever actions he believes will bring happiness. Sometimes this goes wrong and hurts others, sometimes our animal roots show and we react strongly to our environment and this causes yet more strife. Whatever the causes, those you imagined hurting and desperate exist somewhere. How can I be angry, knowing the possible repercussions, and that I gain nothing in the experience but annoyance and discontent? What should I be jealous of, when I already have so much? Why give into impatience and hurry, when it’s the journey that’s the most important? Why complain on the mistakes of others, letting their perceived slights upon your morality generate anger in yourself, thus giving others power to unwittingly control your mood?

Nobody has the power to control how you see the world but yourself. If someone cuts you off in traffic, their behavior is bad, but your reaction to it can determine whether your day is affected. Someone may treat you badly at work, but why let it matter? Why give him the satisfaction he’s unsettled you? Or why assume that was his intent at all? Or consider the compassion exercise: compared to that, are your troubles really so important? Your senses are your window to the universe, your mind is the master of all interpretation and meaning, and all is within your control unless you hand the reigns to another.

I’ve chosen to regain control of myself. It really is that final step I needed to take, putting my supposedly gifted mind to use being constructive instead of destructive to myself and others. But it’s one thing to understand and believe something, and yet another to put it into practice, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I still have far to travel, and much to learn, and sometimes I will inevitably succumb to my baser urges and revert to my sarcastic and negative past, but those times will be fewer and less intense until they are no more. I owe myself nothing less.

Until Tomorrow

Question of Enlightenment: Part 2
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