My dear friend and dharma teacher Katy Brennan sent the following as an email prior to leading an online meditation class. It’s so inspirational and well written (she’s a writer, so that should come as no surprise) that I asked her if I could share it with my readers.
I edited it slightly for this broader audience.
I’m subject heading (is that a verb?) this weekly reminder—which serves as a sort of blog on the power of meditation in general as well as a flag to take a timeout for a midday peace, compassion, and gratitude break—with the epigraph from E.M Forster’s 1910 novel, Howards End. “Only connect!”
Well over 100 years ago, Forster foresaw the ways in which technological advance could isolate us from one another, leading to a breakdown in authentic human connection, love, and compassion. As it has come to pass, we’ve become far more connected (after all, how could we have possibly meditated together online when there was no line to get on?) and also far more distanced…for so many reasons.
But why did I choose this line for today? Without going in to too much detail, I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday about a text exchange over a dental bill created by a bot…and delivered by a human whose work life is run by bots. In fact, most of us are subject to the power of bots every day, whether we know it or not.
My meltdown was not about the bot or the person using the bot, but the whole AI-manipulated system in which we all live right now. I’m sure it was also related to pandemic fatigue. In any case, I lost it. Meaning I lost my peace and my center and allowed my mind to become unstable, unsteady, and thoroughly unreliable.
This is where Dharma comes in. Note that I am practicing Dharma. My practice is not perfect; it’s far from perfect. I freak out from time to time. This is why I am so grateful to have the tools I need to fix a freak out.
The reversal of an uncontrolled mind is a peaceful mind…but how do we shift gears? Through wisdom and compassion…the later being, for me, at least, generally the most immediately accessible remedy.
Once I determined that there was a person—an actual human being— behind the automated text I received, I worked to connect with that human. I did not work with perfect patience (I was not in my right mind, after all; I was angry) but I did attempt to connect on a human level to another human being. This kind of connection, even if it is contentious, can integrate compassion and respect (respect being in essence, a factor of compassion.)
Ultimately, I was able to walk over to this dental office and retrieve my x-rays and records, which helped to calm me down. I was solving the perceived problem by striating myself from this particular system, but I was also connecting to human beings.
There were actual humans in the office, working, just trying to take care of themselves and their families (and, presumably also taking care of patients, though this can be lost in these settings if management is not careful or focused on care). There were patients in the office, just trying to be liberated from their pain and take care of their future selves (as we do with preventive dentistry and medicine).
Being there, physically, helped me to cultivate my compassion and let go of my anger. It was (and is) a process. It can be gradual and slow. But the more I was able to focus on compassion, the less hold the anger had on my mind, the clearer I felt; the more liberated I became. Whew!
Letting go is not suppression or repression. I was not able, in that instance, to just drop the anger like it was hot (because it was and always is! It’s painful and, actually, the true source of all pain). I needed to work through—with my mind and my body—what the actual object of my anger was and where, in fact, I was directing my wrath.
People are not the problem. Anger is the problem. We need to get to a place of peace before we can do anything meaningful and anger prevents us from feeling peace. So how do we use compassion to let it go?
In the meditation we generally do on Tuesdays, we use our connection to inner peace to
move towards a greater understanding of interconnectedness as well as our love and compassion.
It all begins with peace…which leads us back to compassion, love, kindness, generosity, patience, concentration, and, ultimately, wisdom. All good qualities come from peace.
Sometimes, as I hope I’ve illustrated in this personal story, compassion can lead us back to peace…and therefor to wisdom and a greater potential for more compassion and more peace. The idea is to keep making this connection until it becomes our “go to” practice even, and especially, when we are feel triggered or provoked.
I know that I can say, with all sincerity, that I am looking forward to connecting with peace and compassion—and with all of you, on some level—in today’s meditation.