Infants scream, toddlers tantrum, and adults sulk when they don’t get what they want. Disappointment at a frustrated need or desire can result in an intolerable emotional state in humans of all ages. Often the resulting mood reflects a bipolar state of either happiness, if there is a change of fortune, or rage and depression at continued frustration. The ability to regulate and tolerate emotional extremes is a true sign of maturity.
This inner state of emotional challenge is often reflected in distorted, all-or-nothing reactions to other people. If an individual’s thinking reflects one’s own, that person might be liked. However, if that same person says something disagreeable to one’s own sensibility, they made be suddenly viewed as all bad, not a good person. The ability to tolerate the tension of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities in the same person is often lacking. The result is a literal splitting apart of the other person, as either all good or all bad.
Often, intimate relationships suffer the brunt of splitting perceptions. If a couple are in sync with a desired activity, things flow smoothly. However, if they individually seek opposing activities this can result in an abrupt mood change and withdrawal from the now ‘bad’ other. Should the other give in to one’s want, there can be an instant positive mood shift, as the partner is restored to ‘goodness’.
Often, the partner who acquiesces to the other’s need creates a split within themselves. Though they smile and proceed outwardly, inwardly they carry a pocket of resentment that doesn’t allow full connection with their partner. This inner emotional stalemate can result in anxiety and depression, though outwardly all appears well.
We live in a time that has encouraged splitting on a grand scale. The political polarization of our time has resulted in roughly half the population viewing the other half as all bad. Either one agrees with the other or they are seen as all bad by the other. There is no tolerance for mixed feelings or beliefs. This is further exacerbated by the lifting of the social norm to suppress one’s angry or disappointed feelings.
This release of suppressed rage is cathartic and a relief from the constraints of political correctness, much like psychoanalysis freed the repressed sexuality of the Victorian era. Nonetheless, in both cases, primal release of repressed emotion does not result in emotional maturity and, in fact, often fuels an endless addiction to emotional excess.
The results of splitting are a divided self, a divided relationship, and a divided country. Though compromise might be a valued step in the resolution of conflict, it does not necessarily reflect true unity. True unity can only be achieved if there is full acceptance of other, perhaps as captured in the suggestion to ‘turn the other cheek’.
Jesus’s suggestion to turn the other cheek is fundamental to the shamanic practice of freeing oneself from the burden of self-importance. To not be offended by another’s behavior, however outrageous, allows one to tolerate the existence of the other. True, one may need to defend oneself from the behavior of the other if there is physical threat, but this is not driven by personal offense at the behavior and values of the other.
Beyond offense are the split, polarized attitudes of a world fatigued by Covid. One side clings protectively to the safety of retreat. The other lurches boldly into the right to live freely, even if it means death. Can we all not find both attitudes active within ourselves? Are we all not challenged with the conundrum of safety vs adventure, as we navigate the most basic decisions of daily life? Does it serve us to resolve that tension by becoming one-sided, projecting the rejected ‘evil’ opposite onto others?
Buddha proposed loving compassion for all. All includes evil. Rather than split off evil as something to be repressed, evil is granted its place in the flow of all that is. The ability to tolerate both the good and evil within the self sets the stage for unity of self. This, of course, requires a high degree of maturity and responsibility for managing and balancing the opposite tendencies within the self.
Tolerating the evil within the self can allow for acceptance of one’s partner as a being who sometimes pleases and sometimes disappoints. Accepting the evil within the self lessens a reactive emotional charge to others who act upon their own evil impulses. Loving compassion does not preclude necessary boundaries, but with loving compassion those boundaries are not driven by divisive hatred.
Buddha arrived at the unity of enlightenment through the meditative practice of stillness and not grasping at any offering that presented, ranging from the most seductive to the most horrific. To achieve this, one must find deep calm, regardless of what thought presents from within or what scene is presented from without. The equanimity of this kind of detachment actually reflects total acceptance of everything, the key to unity.
To practice this meditation in our current world environment is to bring oneself to calm, within and without. Whatever appears, go to the breath: loving compassion on the inhalation, release of tension and judgment on the exhalation.
Intend unity; heal the split. As within so without.