To deal with feelings of anger and fear and frustration, we can start by finding relationality. As the Lakota Indians say, Mitakuye oyasin: “All beings are my relatives.” When I’m particularly mad at George Bush and company for warmongering, I remember that in another lifetime he was my mother, and that even the most evil people were at some point my errant siblings. That immediately takes a certain edge off the anger.
The second step is to realize that we, too, have the potential to be demonic. Given certain conditions and confusions and insecurities and fears, any of us could do bad things. It might start with an imperceptible change; we wouldn’t think we were being bad—just a little naughty here and there. Pretty soon we would take it too far and be really bad. People can become deluded like that.
Third, we develop real sympathy for the people who are doing harm, because if they bomb people, if they pollute, if they poison the food chain, they will have the bad karma of having harmed so many people.
By taking these three steps—finding one’s relation to all beings, acknowledging the evil potential in oneself, feeling sympathy for the evil person—one gets the strength and energy to be an activist and to try, by voting and organizing, to stop harm caused by others. This is cool heroism: developing a tolerant, deliberate, and wise energy.
People are afraid that if they let go of their anger and righteousness and wrath, and look at their own feelings—and even see the good in a bad person—they’re going to lose the energy they need to do something about the problem. But actually you get more strength and energy by operating from a place of love and concern. You can be just as tough, but more effectively tough. It’s like a martial art.
My wife once met Morihei Ueshiba, the man who founded aikido. After he did a demonstration where he left about seventeen big bruisers on the ground, she asked what his secret was for disarming his attackers without harming them. He giggled and told her, “A long time ago, I realized that every person was just my sister, my brother, my cousin. All those guys lying on the floor are my brothers; you are my little sister! Everybody is just one family.” That’s cool heroism.
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