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Monday, May 13, 2013

Life challenges as mirror

This morning my wife discovered that the left side mirror on her car had been smashed by vandals sometime during the night. The same thing happened to our neighbor’s car, both parked on the street.

As I later reflected on my initial response to this, I found it interesting. Sometimes, as we are making progress in our practice, change is not noticeable until an event takes place that tests us. When this happens, it can remind us of the last time a similar event happened and invite comparisons.

The most notable aspect of my internal response was a complete lack of any kind of any kind of negative feelings about the perpetrator/s. It was almost as if my wife had told me that a branch on our tree had snapped and broken the mirror. I did tell her we needed to notify the police, in case this was part of a pattern of activity, but my main thoughts in this were about other potential victims on our street.

Only when I noticed the absence of that thought later, did it begin to make me think about the perpetrator. And, when I ran the image in my mind of some imagined person (perhaps a youth) doing this, the only feeling that emerged was a sense of concern for this person. If it was a youth, I wondered what might be going on in their life.

Of course, it’s possible that a kid can otherwise have a fairly normal life and end up happy and well adjusted, even if they engaged in a number of ill-conceived misadventures in their youth. But this kind of behavior can also be an indication of deeper things gone wrong. That same lack of empathy for others can potentially manifest itself in more serious acts. Or, if the key attribute was a recklessness and disregard for how their actions might affect their own life, this might be an indication of a self destructive attitude. Of course, I cannot know the details of this person’s life, but if either of these possibilities is on base, it could mean this person is in for a life with some rough patches and the inevitable suffering that comes with such lack of wisdom – a suffering they may not even understand the source of.

My feeling in these thoughts was similar to the concern a parent might have for their child if they learned he or she were leading a self destructive life. We can get a replacement mirror, but this person has much more difficult problems.

As mentioned, this doesn’t mean we don’t alert authorities and that we don’t take whatever actions are appropriate. It is only right to support actions that would protect other victims, and to stop the perpetrator. But this can be done without damaging ourselves with unhelpful impulses and reactions. In fact, we can hope that the consequences for a perpetrator help inspire them to improve, and someday be able to enjoy the peace and contentment that comes from being a better person.

It was fortunate that I didn’t need to be reminded of these perspectives – that they seemed to have become my natural responses. There was a time when my responses would have been different, and that indicates there has been some progress in my spiritual practice. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about this, because it seemed a good way to illustrate the kind of transformation which our spirituality is about. Have you seen signs of progress is your own natural responses as a result of applied practices over time? If so, please feel free to share them!

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