Reading Hafiz, or hearing Jesus speak of “loving our enemies”, leaves one with the inkling that love is, perhaps, the key to The Big Answer. But it’s very easy to dislike things. It’s easy to complain. I titled this article the way I did because one of the things Rebecca and I can struggle to love is McDonald’s.
We certainly don’t eat there. But our dislike can run deeper than that. McDonald’s can become, in our minds, the epitome of what’s wrong in this world, and we could easily go on a rant about this mega-corporation that is essentially poisoning people with toxic “food”. The “food” is priced cheap and addictively laden with salt, sugar, and fats that are probably manufactured in a lab. This is food that is linked to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Not only that, but this corporation spreads itself over the entire world, so that once-healthy cultures that subsisted on fish and vegetables now find themselves drawn to the seductive smell of McDonald’s poison. Clearly the corporation is evil, and the people who head it up are evil, and one could probably say something about the people who actually go and buy the stuff.
But that’s all hatred. Does it really do any good?
There are some that say yes. Some who say that if we’re not outraged, we’re not paying attention. And yet one must consider whether the peace protesters outside the White House are really bringing peace, or rather embodying the essence of opposition, “opposing” the war and thus standing for the same principles that the war-makers stand for. For violence is not just a matter of shedding blood. The roots of violence run deep, and dig themselves deeper every time we feel that outrage, every time we feel how “wrong” other people are.
Actions, Not People
It was my mother who first shared with me, long ago, the profound difference between saying “that person is acting rudely”, and saying “that person is rude.” In the first example, we can disapprove of the actions of a person, yet retain our love for them as a human being. In the second, we’ve solidified the person into something we disapprove of.
Regardless of whether we’re creating a “real” separation or not, when we separate a person from their behavior in this way, we open a door to compassion and understanding. If we define a person by a single behavior, we may fail to realize that the “rude behavior” we’re witnessing is really our own judgment. We may fail to realize that a person’s behavior may be influenced by circumstances that we’re not able to perceive. We may fail to realize that every person is a growing, evolving entity that is deserving of our love, our compassion, and our best attempts at understanding.
But If We Don’t Condemn, We’ll Never See Change!
This is the unspoken mantra of many people who are activists. We need to fight back. And when someone like Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of loving even those who are engaging in the act of enslaving others, we can think — is he crazy? Those people are evil!
This is the endless cycle of our world, the dark and the light always doing battle, neither ever gaining significant ground (unless you’re evil, in which case you probably think that good is gaining, or unless you’re good, in which case you probably think that evil is gaining). Both sides continually engage in violence against each other, and the cycle never ends.
What if things are different than we think? What if a peace march only works if every marcher is marching with love in their hearts? Would this make things different? I can’t say for sure, but can only suggest that our current methods have merely perpetuated an endless cycle of violence. Or what if, to get woo-woo on you (and none of us can prove this isn’t true), the world you perceive is yours alone, a creation of your own mind and heart? What if the world you perceive is a reflection of the peace or violence you hold within yourself? There are certainly traditions that state just this — that you are the creationary force of your own universe, and that when you see “evil” in the world, you are the one enacting that evil. What would happen if you cleansed yourself of all hatred, all violence? If you loved everything? Would your world change?
There is only one way to find out.
Loving the Golden Arches
For Rebecca and I of late, our practice has been in loving McDonald’s. We still don’t eat there, but we try to see the sign with clear children’s eyes, appreciating the yellow curves. We try to allow the smell of the burgers and fries to enter our world as a smell — unjudged, and simply experienced. We try to open ourselves to the possibility that our own judgments are creating, or at least coloring, the reality that we’re experiencing.
We’ve noticed something interesting as we experiment with this. Whenever we focus on something that we don’t like, it seems to grow in potency. It could be the news we’re hearing of far-off wars, or it might be the behavior of someone close to us. And whenever we turn our love onto something, it transforms in unexpected (and sometimes miraculous-seeming) ways.
A key thing to remember is that loving something does not mean that we can’t help it evolve. Using my mother’s lesson, I can remember that if someone is acting rude, I have the choice to label them rude and be done with them, or I can choose to speak with them, coming from a place of love, and perhaps aid them in understanding how their behavior is perceived by me.
In the same way, I can love the politicians even if I disagree with them, and I probably have a better chance of initiating change if I approach them with love in my heart. Consider it from your own perspective. Imagine that you were having a bad day, had snapped at someone, and then they came up and started telling you what a jerk you were. How would you be likely to respond? Conversely, what if they came up and shared with you, gently and lovingly, how they had perceived your behavior, and asked if they could do anything to help you feel more easeful? How would you be likely to respond?
This is the question, really. If we can acknowledge how we’d react, then why do we so often rant against others who we perceive as doing “bad”? What reaction are we likely to create?
You guessed it. More anger, more resentment, more violence.
Why don’t we give something new a try? Now is the time for Love.