It seems that each day, you can't read the news without running headfirst into more bad news. Terrorist attacks and shootings are in the forefront these days. But what is it that leads to empathic breakdowns between humans and ultimately to violent conflict?
It's easy to tick off a list of contributing factors - economic, political, religious, and social pressures. On a psychological level, however, our brains have a default us vs. them network. From an evolutionary standpoint, it's what kept us safe and allowed us to survive, by ensuring we protected our immediate personal interests from outside marauders ("them").
The antidote to this defensive, reflexive reaction is to work on feeling whole: realizing that we are all part of the same fabric. Feeling whole requires relinquishing your sense of self and melting into something much larger. While there are anatomic underpinnings that allow us to experience a sense of self, there is no single fixed center in the brain that accounts for self. The self - as we experience it - is purely a mental construct. The brain synthesizes many overlapping discrete events to create a sense of continuous reality with an apparent subject (you) - but in reality, self does not exist. It's helpful to think of all the thoughts that constitute your sense of self as just another part of the constant mental traffic - fleeting, ephemeral, inherently insignificant - that makes up your consciousness.
This self is the source of so many struggles we face, on a micro and macro level. On an individual level, it emerges prominently in the face of negative events as a reflexive defense, prodding us to feel indignant, to feel like our pride has been wounded. It's easy to see how this can have damaging effects on a larger scale, when entire groups of people harden their resolve against each other, leading to breakdown of empathy and compromise.
Some practices I find helpful to feel more whole:
1. Find a quiet, safe space where you can take a few minutes to reflect
2. Extend compassion to yourself about your insecurities, which are often related to what others think of you. Remind yourself that no matter what you do, some people will criticize you, and some will support you. The best you can do is to proceed ahead with your life, with good, strong intentions.
3. Take in the good, no matter how small.
4. Spend some time in nature, appreciating the physical sensation of being a tiny fragment of a vast universe.
5. Say to yourself: I am already whole. Whatever your struggles, you are already whole, part of an infinite vastness, including all of your insecurities, fears, weaknesses.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Thanks for reading,