I grew up in a small upstate New York town in the afterglow of WWII when the US was economically flourishing. I had the good fortune to live in a peaceful neighborhood, with loving parents and a stable home environment. Because of their example, I grew to value loving kindness, generosity and respect for others.
The children I knew came from families who had recently immigrated from various countries around the world. I was a second generation Arab. My friends were Polish, German, British, and Italian. We good-naturedly kidded each other about our heritages. I enjoyed being the “camel jockey.” Some of our parents, of course, had prejudices.
My father owned a corner grocery store, a common business at the time for people of Middle Eastern descent. I was proud of my dad for befriending the only Jewish businessman in our little town when many others treated him with contempt. Even though we were of Arab descent, with ancestors who would not have welcomed a Jewish neighbor, my father’s respect and friendship for this man taught me to break the mold of prejudice regardless of what others thought. Even as a boy I was sadly aware that his kind attitude toward a Jew may have cost my father friends as well as business.
Lately I have begun to realize that, due to my parents’ kind attitudes and the relative simplicity and prosperity of my surroundings, I grew up quite naïve. Ensconced in safety and love, I assumed the world and its people were generally safe and friendly, too, despite the trouble caused now and then by a few “bad guys.”
Our illusions –– by definition –– prevent us from seeing our world clearly.
Recently, I have found myself seething in anger and frustration, and strongly tempted to wish ill to certain people –– those willing to cause great harm to countless others merely for their own gain.
I don’t like it when I let these angry thoughts carry me off in the direction of hatred. To calm myself down and get perspective, I think of role models like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., US Congressman John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Viola Liuzzo, and many others who kept their heads and stayed true to acting out of loving kindness as they strived to right social wrongs even at the risk of losing their lives. And I think of my father.
Like most of us, I feel a tendency to want to look away from my negative thoughts and feelings, or repress and deny them (I’m not “supposed” to feel this way). But from hard experience, I know that denial and repression will ultimately hurt me and those around me. Not an option.
So, what are some helpful options?
I want to offer some insights that help me keep an inner calm as well as the clarity needed for taking constructive action. It is my wish that these tips will help you as well, to keep your sanity, return love for hate, and act appropriately to ward off harm.
6 Ways I Keep a Calm, Constructive Mind
1. Remember we all share the miracle of life and intelligent consciousness and that we all are mortal, desire happiness, and are subject to suffering. I find it helpful to remind myself I’m experiencing human feelings, needs, and thoughts that all human beings share. These are not unique or personal (shameful) experiences.
2. Respect your anger and concern –– they are a sign that your humanity is alive and your innate intelligence is working. When you feel that initial flash of anger, it is your body’s recognition that something requires your attention. “I’m feeling a flash of anger now. My body is telling me something needs my attention. I’ll stay curious and listen to what it’s trying to say.”
3. Break the automatic judgment that anger is bad or is only a weapon for attack. Look inside to see what need is triggering the anger and concern.“I don’t need to say or do something while I’m upset. Let me see . . . What do I need right now?”
4. Direct your heartfelt prayer (no belief in God necessary) that hearts filled with hatred will open to loving kindness. The primary benefit here is strengthening and exercising your ability to be kind and encouraging. You’re not expecting some immediate, magical result. You’re adding loving psychic energy to the atmosphere. It helps me to recall that research studies have shown a reduction of violence in areas where groups of meditators gathered to generate loving energy.
5. Act against others’ harmful actions, without hatred, in whatever ways make sense for you. I ask myself, “What else can I do to support constructive action for positive change?”
6. Be kind and patient with yourself when you have hateful or vengeful thoughts toward people. I, too, have said and done harsh, destructive things that I now see were wrong. But those mistakes don’t make me undeserving of loving kindness. I also don’t condone the harsh, destructive actions of these people I’m seeing now. But I can recognize them as human beings who need love just like I do and everyone else does. I relax, breathe, and hold them in my awareness as I consider how to replace negative thoughts with compassionate thoughts and actions.
I hope these insights and practices will help you, as they have helped me, when you encounter chaos and negativity whether in your immediate environment or in the wider world.