Stop the War Within
We human beings are constantly in combat, at war to escape the fact of being so limited, limited by so many circumstances we cannot control. But instead of escaping, we continue to create suffering, waging war with good, waging war with evil, waging war with what is too small, waging war with what is too big, waging war with what is too short or too long, or right or wrong, courageously carrying on the battle.—Ajahn Chah
The unawakened mind tends to make war against the way things are. To follow a path with heart, we must understand the whole process of making war, within ourselves and without, how it begins and how it ends. War’s roots are in ignorance. Without understanding, we can easily become frightened by life’s fleeting changes, the inevitable losses, conflicts, disappointments, the insecurity of our human lot with its aging and death. Misunderstanding leads us to fight against life, grasping at false security and seeking permanence in things that by their nature can never be truly satisfying.
Contemporary society fosters our tendency to deny reality—we seek to protect ourselves from any direct difficulty and discomfort. We expend enormous energy denying change, covering our insecurity, fighting pain, death, and loss, and hiding from the basic truths of the natural world.
We use addictions to avoid painful feelings and to deny the difficulties of our lives. Advertising and media urge us to keep consuming, buying, smoking, drinking, and craving food, entertainment, money, and sex. Our addictions serve to numb us to the real problems of the world and keep us busy with our fixes.
Modern multitasking demands life at double time, and numbs us to our own experience. In such a state it is almost impossible to settle into our bodies or stay connected with our hearts, let alone connect with one another or the earth where we live. Instead, we find ourselves increasingly isolated and lonely, cut off from one another and the natural web of life. That is the most pervasive sorrow in our modern society. Not only have individuals lost the sense of their interconnection, this isolation is the sorrow of nations as well. The forces of separation and denial breed international misunderstanding, ecological disaster, racism, tribalism and an endless series of conflicts between nations. When we are at war in ourselves, it shifts to the outside and we become warlike people and warlike nations.
Mindfulness and compassion practice can help us cultivate a new way of relating to life in which we let go of our battles. When we step out of the battle, we see anew. We see how our minds create conflict. We see our constant likes and dislikes, the fight to resist all that frightens us. We see our own prejudice, greed, and territoriality. All this is hard for us to look at, but it is really there. And underneath these ongoing battles, we see our feelings of insecurity, incompleteness and fear. Taking a breath, establishing a moment of mindful loving awareness, we can see how often our struggle with life has kept our heart closed.
With mindfulness and compassion we can let go of our battles and open our heart with kindness to things just as they are. Then we come to rest in the present moment.
This is the beginning and the end of spiritual practice. Only in the present moment can we discover that which is timeless. Only here can we find the love that we seek. Love in the past is a memory, and love in the future is fantasy. Only in the reality of the present can we love, can we awaken, can we find peace and understanding and connect with ourselves and the world. Stopping the war we become present and kind.
To come into the present means to experience whatever is here and now with tenderness and mindful awareness. Most of us have spent our days caught up in plans, expectations, ambitions for the future, in regrets, guilt, or shame about the past. When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life around us again, but we also encounter whatever we have been avoiding. We must have the courage to face whatever is present—our pain, our desires, our grief, our loss, our secret hopes, our love—everything that moves us most deeply. This is part of our common humanity. As we stop the war, each of us will find something from which we have been running—our loneliness, our unworthiness, our boredom, our shame, our unfulfilled desires. With loving awareness we can learn to face these parts of our human life and hold them with great compassion.
In this way we stop the war, and we can embrace our personal griefs and sorrows, joys and triumphs with love instead of denial. With the same courage of heart we can open to the people around us, to our interconnection with family and community, with the social problems of the world, to our collective history. We can live in harmony with the truth of life.
This is the purpose of a spiritual practice and of choosing a path with heart—to stop the wars inwardly and outwardly, to discover peace and connectedness with all, to learn to love.
Practice: Meditation on Stopping the War Within