Reflections on brutality and victimhood

Pain, death, murder, torture and the sickness of hate. None of us are immune to the effects of these things. Whether we have directly participated in, or have been the victims of the darkened aspects of life, the rotting scent of our diseased humanity affects us all. We live, or try to live, in a sanitized world. I live in a sweet, sanitized suburban community. It’s nice, but very sanitized. Almost gives the impression that darkness does not exist here. But it does. And that’s because darkness lives in each of us. One of the enduring lessons of the time spent with my mentor and spiritual teacher, Ken Wapnick, was to never forget that we all carry within us the need to see the problem ‘out there’, in other people, so as to avoid the guilt that would consume us, and render us helpless in the face of an empty and horrifying existence. We need people to hate in order to avoid looking at ourselves. And I’m certainly no exception.

Ultimately the world is not what it seems, but is merely an interactive screen upon which we project what we want to see, our unconscious wishes showing us what we have denied in ourselves. Many great spiritual teachers and teachings have asserted this, and interestingly, is also borne out through the startling implications of quantum mechanics, in which the myth of an objective universe – a universe ‘out there’, separate from the mind of the observer – is revealed for the fiction that it is. We are minds, and we are all connected, with everyone and with everything. And yet we try desperately to get rid of the problem of hate and separation by seeing it in other people rather than in ourselves.

I think that’s why the George Floyd killing hurt so bad, and why it still hurts. We saw the brutality up close, the maliciousness of the officer, and the helpless cries and broken overwhelm of George, and it was like a cosmic punch in the gut. The whole incident reminded us of our own broken humanity, our own ruthlessness, our own helplessness and the traumatic cries that perhaps, for us, were never heard and were never answered. It was insanely, brutally human. Hit so deep as to touch the marrow of what it means to live – the horror, the capriciousness, the pain. We usually reserve intense experiences like this to the most private aspects of our lives: births, deaths, and tragedies of all sorts, where we are confronted with the bloody non-sanitized truths of living, but in the case of George we experienced it together. And as humans do in the face of unpredictable, overwhelming circumstances, we either denied and minimized it, or expressed the pain through howling cries of grief and rage. Both are traumatic responses, based on the sheer overwhelming nature of the situation.

Yet again, as my dear Ken always reminded me, we have to look at these things, be honest with ourselves, and through our looking, recognize our common humanity. It is a humanity of pain, of darkness, of hate and viciousness. It’s unfortunate, but true. Hate is our common bond. We try to love, but we can’t, or often falter. And that’s because we are scared of our own darkness, and we run from it. But that merely distorts our ability to love because the hate and pain and guilt is never dealt with. To love truly means to include our capacity for viciousness and murder. No one is exempt.

We all carry the blood of our ancestors within us, held together through a common existence. We are one family, petty divisions notwithstanding. And that’s the ultimate lesson, I think. To see that George’s death belongs to us, as does the malevolence of Derek Chauvin. They belong to us because we are not separate from them. The ability to tolerate discomfort, especially the real-life stuff, that which revolts, disgusts and nauseates us, is to become more human. And it is only through allowing ourselves to become more human that our ability to love grows.

artwork: The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve, by William Blake

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