One aspect that originally attracted me to Buddhism was its emphasis on the present moment. I was never one who rehashed the past, but I did spend much time and energy fantasizing the future. Buddhism taught me that everything I need to be happy is here and now. And if I can’t be happy here and now, my chances aren’t good in the future.
Living in the here and now includes being mindful of what’s going on right now — inside us and outside, too. So, for example, I might observe that I have angry and destructive thoughts. Just being aware of those thoughts reduces their impact on me and others and teaches me that I don’t need to act on them. I need to respect the feelings but not let them control me. By focusing on my now, I’m improving my future.
When we observe our thoughts with calm detachment, we learn how our minds work. I find it helpful to think of a buzzing brain-mind — which reacts in primitive, fearful ways — and a wise heart-mind, which is calm and reflective. I believe that’s where our Buddha-nature resides. I can hear the scientists out there telling me that I’m really talking about different parts of the brain, and I realize that. There are scientific names for the primitive parts of the brain and the more reflective (and more recent) parts, but for now I’ll use the imagery from my Buddhist practice.
Human beings evolved to jump when the brain-mind wants us to jump, but meditation helps us overcome that instinct and rely on the heart-mind. Our brain-mind may tell us to fear the stranger wearing a hoodie. Our heart-mind tells us to relax and offer welcome.That’s Buddhist wisdom.
Which brings me to the terrorist atrocity in Brussels. Our brain-minds are wired to react with fear. Bombs are fearsome because they are so sudden and impersonal. Terrorism in the name of religion is fearsome because it is beyond reason. Suicide bombers are fearsome because a) they could be anyone, and b) they hate others so much more than they love themselves that they are willing to blow themselves literally to pieces. And it’s easy to identify with victims, especially if they look like us, who are taking the metro or going through airport security because we have been there and done that.
So it’s natural to react with shock and fear to the Brussels bombings. But when we take refuge in out heart-mind, or our Buddha-nature, we see that we are far less fearful of many bigger threats — like riding in a car. And that brings me to Nicholas Kristof’s recent column, Overreacting to Terrorism, in The New York Times. He makes the point that if our brains did a better job of understanding what to fear, we’d be taking much of the money we’re spending on anti-terrorist activities and spending it instead on global climate change.
His column is well worth reading, and there’s no question that we overreact to the threat from terrorism. But I’m not sure that global climate change will be slowed or repaired by spending more money and hiring more consultants, trying the same techniques we use for so many other failed “wars on….” As the Beatles said:
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead
Our brains have not evolved to where we can differentiate real threats from false ones, to where we can listen to each other and formalize real solutions. We need to encourage each other to get in touch with our heart-minds. If we can’t do that, maybe global climate change is simply a turn of the karma wheel helping us evolve to beings with wiser minds.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine