Sunday, 1 March 2015

Beneath the surface, all is dark

Today was a difficult day.  Even as I write those words, I realise that countless others will have had days which were immeasurably tougher than mine.  Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I didn't deal very well with the events of the day.  Much as I pride myself on my capacity for acceptance and tolerance, my personal reserves of those virtues seemed to be exhausted today.

Over the past few days, I've heard a name which I don't like to hear.  It's never an easy decision to turn our back on someone, especially for those of us who try to practise tolerance, but what if that person has been a constant source of trouble and suffering for us?  The situation is further complicated if it is a member of our family.  I'm not talking of hatred; it is simply a firm belief that letting my guard down again will lead to further trouble and suffering.  If I were to make allowances, one would be that this person was used, from a young age, as an agent for another who found my distress comical.  Unfortunately, setting such a pattern in infancy seems to have created a conditioned response to my presence, and I am seen as one who must be subjected to torment.

You might ask why I have heard this name many times over the past few days.  The rest of my family have gathered round this individual, offering their support, because she is responsible for another life being brought into the world.  Needless to say, I have stayed away, I have sent no card congratulating the new mother on the birth of her child, and the occasion means little to me.  What does mean something to me is that I find myself in an awkward position.  You see, this new mother has been a source of friction within the family many times, and those now rushing to her side have previously fallen foul of this aspect of her nature.  I hope, for their sake, that she has changed.

Ongoing problems with anti-social behaviour from my neighbour are another source of today's lack of tolerance.  To some degree, I have developed ways to cope with this issue, but the issue is still there.  When I saw examples of nationalistic bigotry today, caused by nothing more than a sporting fixture, it brought back memories of a time when I was subjected to that same bigotry on a daily basis.  Suddenly, it all became to much for me, and deeply held resentment came to the surface.

I have been reading a non-religious book by the Dalai Lama.  In this book, he writes about compassion and restraint.  Today, these were absent, along with acceptance and tolerance.  Compassion, or empathy, is the key here.  If I had made an attempt to understand the contributing factors in the behaviour of others, it may have been easier to tolerate such behaviour.  This is usually a strength of mine, but today I was found to be deficient in this respect.

Should I feel bad that I allowed a darkness from within to rise to the surface?  No.  If there had been any real damage done, I should try to repair that damage, admitting fault and apologising to anyone affected by my actions.  Beyond that, I should simply acknowledge that I did not show compassion, restraint, acceptance and tolerance when they were needed.  You see, compassion for ourselves is equally important.  We can never forget that we are only human, and we should forgive ourselves for occasional lapses from our greater virtues.

There will be some darkness within us, or, as Carl Gustav Jung suggested, a shadow side to our personality.  To deny this is to deny our humanity.  In more simple terms, it is impossible that every day will be a good day for us, without challenges, and finding these challenges difficult is not a crime.  We should practise acceptance, compassion and tolerance, not only for those who are external to us, but also towards ourselves.

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