The space between skin and skin
The space between souls
makes the space between skin and skin
The truth is hidden
and yet its whisper reaches us
in the sweet luxury of a smile.
In the brief consumption of embrace.
It tells you to look deeper…
To look deeper.
Look beyond the space between us all and
that you are that smile.
You are that embrace.
You are the civilian
whose life was lost to hatred.
You are the man
who strapped a bomb
to your own body,
and in the name of hatred,
took those lives.
You are the earth
that held them both
and converted their bodies
into new life.
Your pain is a congress of tears
called the ocean.
Your joy is a collation of light
called the sun.
The whisper of truth
tells you to look deeper…
To look deeper.
Until the truth is revealed
that there is no space
between skin and skin.
That there is no space
It is a strange time to be alive. It feels like every morning we wake up to discover what new terrible thing happened in the world while we were sleeping. Like so many times these last years, I awoke this morning to the news of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Manchester England. It was an attack that claimed 22 lives and wounded 59. The attack has been claimed by the Islamic State... again. Ironically, last night, I spent the whole night out of body in Kabul (a Muslim city).
Every time these attacks occur, people seek solace with teachers and leaders, like myself, to deal with what has happened. They post messages on my social media walls. They write me e-mails and letters. And I wish I had something comforting to say. The truth is that it is difficult to know what to say. It is difficult to speak truth relative to these events, rather than to simply provide Novocain for the masses. I want to take the pain away. But awareness is our only hope of thwarting these attacks in the future and awareness is not often comfortable.
I believe that the human race is capable of doing what it will take to end the battle between us all. But the fact that someone is capable of something does not immediately guarantee that they will do that thing. This is just the beginning of this trend of terrorist attacks. This is the new climate of the world.
We may know that oneness is the ultimate truth of our universe, but it is nearly impossible to be on the receiving end of such an attack and see the attacker as yourself. It is instinctual if you have lost loved ones or if you have lost the safety of your streets to such a person or people to push them away from yourself. It is instinctual to want them to pay for what they did by losing their own life. It is instinctual to hate them. And I think it is cruelty to ask people who are suffering on the receiving end of such an attack to either forgive them or to love them. Which is why, in this blog, I am not addressing the people who have directly been involved in the attack. Instead, I am addressing everyone else. I am addressing those of you who woke up to read about this event in the morning papers.
It is inevitable that under enough pressure, anything will break. When we see a man strap explosives to his own body and use his own life to take the lives of others, we are looking at the kind of pressure that makes a person break. I have tasted those emotional spaces myself. Spaces where the pain is so intense, it doesn’t matter anymore. Your life doesn’t matter and other lives do not matter. All that matters is relief. Enough pain will make a man do anything. And anyone who does not understand that has not been in enough pain to know this truth.
We all have a collective problem that creates this kind of event. This collective problem belongs to both the perpetrator and the victim of any crime. The problem is on both sides of the gun. I will speak about this later on, but it is a problem that requires a much more conscious approach than the majority of people are ready for. For that reason, I’m going to begin on a much more ‘grounded’ level. On a grounded level, the problem that needs healing is on the other side of the gun from where we are usually focusing.
No baby is born suckling on mother’s milk and thinking about how wonderful it will be when they get the chance to kill a crowd full of people along with themselves in the name of a cause. They reach adulthood with this thought because of the circumstances they encounter along the way. And these circumstances are not circumstances of love and belonging. They are circumstances of loneliness and ineffable pain.
Hatred is merely a cover emotion for hurt. Think about a time where you hated someone. Think about a time when you hated something with every fiber of your being. Can you see that below that hatred the truth is that they hurt you in some way? This is the vulnerability that hatred is protecting.
Like all religious doctrine and even more so cultural doctrine, there are beautiful aspects of the various Islamic faiths and there are aspects of the Islamic faiths that are downright dangerous to the human mind and human heart. Inherent in so much of the culture of religious communities is “us vs. them” thinking. This is the danger of any religion thinking that they have the ‘one and only truth’ and that all other people are wrong and lesser. This kind of thinking leads to an indoctrination of distrust and fear and superiority within the minds of children being raised in these communities. But this is not enough to create the kind of hatred that pushes a person to commit desperate acts of hatred. For that, deep and personal pain must be experienced relative to a situation where there is “us vs. them”.
Last month, the United States dropped the largest nonnuclear bomb in Afghanistan. That same month, Syrian planes enacted a chemical attack on Khan Shaikhoun. I will never forget one of the headlines I read: 13 year old lost 19 family members in Syria Chemical attack. As usual, governments and radical groups wage war with each other and civilians are the ones who pay the price for it. Perhaps this boy will grow into a man who teaches about love instead of war. But I can’t help but see the shadow potential inherent in his story.
Putting myself in this boy’s shoes... I have no family left. I have nowhere to belong. I have been hurt so badly that grieving is almost impossible. I cannot swallow even half of it. The powerlessness to the pain exacted upon me naturally converts itself into hatred. Perhaps when I meet other people who share that same hatred, I have a place to belong. Perhaps when they tell me of a plot to destroy the very people who killed my family and took everything from me, I feel less powerless to my own pain. I feel a sense of purpose. The truth is, I have nothing to lose by destroying them. My pain now has a direction. And with that much pain, my dedication is strong enough that I don’t care what sacrifices I have to make for it. Even if that sacrifice is my own life. I feel the promise of relief. I would pay any price for that relief, even if it only comes with my own death.
I cannot tell you how many people who have grown up in the Middle East over the last few generations have stories like these to tell. I cannot tell you how many people, who have been born to parents who grew up with these kinds of painful stories to tell, carry on that legacy of family pain. This is the danger of any war or conflict. The mark is left on so many generations after the first that experiences it. We cause hurt to each other that breeds hatred. And then we wonder why these kinds of attacks occur.
Any “simplistic” answer given to these world conflicts are ignorant. For example, it is simplistic to say that we should merely stop invading other countries. It is simplistic to say that we should merely kill all extremists. We need to stop long enough to comprehend the pain on all sides of the equation to see the problem that really needs addressing… The problem that is under the surface of our conflict. And we will never be able to see the root problem (which is pain) if we continue with this ‘good guy and bad guy’ thinking. It is easier to not think of terrorists as people. It helps us to sleep at night when we see nothing of ourselves in them. It is easier to sleep at night when we put them behind bars, just like we did with the aspects of ourselves that are anything like them.
The collective problem that creates this kind of event is fragmentation. Our wholeness is short lived when we are born because we are born relationally dependent. Being born relationally dependent into families that socialize us into a society that is not fully evolved yet, spells trouble. Basically we learn that some aspects of ourselves are acceptable, and others are not. What is acceptable vs. unacceptable depends on the perspective of the family you’re born into. The aspects of us that are seen as unacceptable (both positive and negative) are rejected by our family (pushed away) and the aspects that are seen as acceptable are not (included). Essentially, we are only shown love in response to things that people around us want to include as part of themselves and their lives.
Being relationally dependent and in the name of survival, we try to gain control over our environment and preserve ourselves by doing anything we can to disown and deny and suppress those aspects in ourselves that are disapproved of whilst exaggerating those that are approved of. We dissociate from what we disapprove of. This creates a split within the person that we call the conscious and the subconscious. This is the birth of the “personality”. It is ironic because this self-preservation instinct is in fact our first act of self-rejection (fragmentation).
We develop a “this is me” and “this isn’t me” attitude. Our “Us vs. Them” thinking about the world outside of us is nothing but a reflection of this internal fragmentation. It is why the world is fragmented. It is why we can read the headlines in the newspaper and feel immediate hatred towards “those Muslims”. It is why we can enslave or segregate “those blacks”.
Through our life experience as well as socialization, the thing that we learn is the most unacceptable thing within us, is vulnerability. The truth is that your personality is a coping mechanism designed to hide and mitigate your vulnerability. We cope with the threat to our vulnerability in the world by seeing our own vulnerability as “other” than us. It is buried, rejected, disowned, denied and masked.
What is the solution? We have to stop disowning and instead re-own aspects of us. Especially our vulnerability. We have to reverse the process of fragmentation within us. We have to see “other” within ourselves and take care of the hurt within us that is behind that fragmentation so it does not turn into fear and into hatred.
The first step we have to take individually, which will reverberate out into society is to step squarely into awareness, which is in between these two polarities and hold them both. Neither is bad and neither is wrong and neither can be cut off from us because both are a part of us. We need to see the good intentions in the protector and ensure it that we are capable of taking care of the aspect that it is hiding, which is vulnerable. Then we need to acknowledge and take loving care of that pain and hurt belonging to the vulnerable self and begin to meet its needs.
The need of the vulnerable self is not to have the threat be killed or brought to human justice. The need of the vulnerable self is to be kept safe and to be loved. It is only when we become aware of the vulnerable self that we can become aware of its actual needs and begin to meet them.
If we do not start to become aware of this split within us between the vulnerable self and the self that is protecting that vulnerable self against the world, the world will merely continue to mirror it externally. We will only feel the stirrings of that vulnerable self when we see the death toll of the victims of attacks like we saw this morning. Instead of becoming conscious enough to mend the split within us, we will protect those victims by turning against the perpetrators of these attacks. We will lock them behind bars. We will eradicate them in the name of keeping ourselves safe. We will simply play into the current unconscious and instinctual strategy of our own protector self, which is to eradicate harm by treating it as “other”.
It is a kind of fate that until we mend this split within ourselves and begin addressing each other’s vulnerabilities, the world will be nothing more than our protector selves waging war to keep our vulnerable selves safe. And in doing so, we will be making the opposition feel the exact same terror that our own vulnerable selves feel. The grenades will go back and forth, back and forth… endlessly.
It is a kind of fate that by doing that, our vulnerable selves will be more deeply buried and more in danger than they ever were before. And that is why I see that these attacks are not going to cease. Instead, they will continue to increase, like they have been. Until the day that the reflection in the mirror grows large enough that we either have the courage to see it, or cannot avoid seeing it any longer. You are the civilian whose life was lost to hatred. You are the man who strapped a bomb to your own body and in the name of hatred, took those lives.