Question: How do we feel or acknowledge a negative state without giving ourselves over to it? When it is present, how can we not be affected by it?
Answer: There’s an old Chinese saying, “The birds of sadness may fly over your head, but they don’t have to build a nest there.” Our spiritual task, when affected by negative states, is to be aware of their effects and not allow them to continue their ruinous resonance within us. The pain in any negative state is never in its entrance through us, but in our resistance to it or embrace of it wherein we are then identified with the state. Then the same self that identifies becomes divided and tries to hate the very hatred it’s embraced. You must see this, and you will if you’ll do the work.
Question: My 15-year old stepson purposely causes trouble when he comes to visit. He has colored hair and chains around his neck connected by small locks. He smokes, and speaks in a stream of four-letter words. He says he hates God and reads about witchcraft. He is rude and shows no respect for others. He will not help or clean up after himself, and yet his mother defends him. Any suggestions for me?
Answer: Children are no more than sponges in their early days of personality formation, and by the time they begin asserting themselves, these impressions they have come to incorporate in themselves (and express) are on their way to becoming hardened habits. The only hope such a child has — who may be aggressive and cruel, showing no consideration for others and beginning to exhibit dangerous anti-social behaviors — is for an adult to lay down some laws of rightness and respect. Without these guiding principles — established out of love but maintained with toughness — the child is little more than an animal with a human body who will, one day, harm himself and others in a fit of some sort. Each of us must weigh what we will and won’t do in the face of truth. I can’t tell you what to do with such a child, but I will tell you that if I had attempted to make kind and necessary corrections to this child and he or she would not obey, I would never let such a child in my house.
Question: How can you stay peaceful when you are with people whose lives are really in distress, especially when they are close to you?
Answer: You must ask yourself a different question. I’d suggest the following: What could be more healthful and healing to those around you who are distressed than your calm detachment from their pain? The distress you feel around such people is not born from your wish to be peaceful, but rather is a form of identification with the very pain you would address.
Question: How does one “identify” with another person’s pain? Do you mean we take it or feel it to be our own pain as well?
Answer: To identify is to vest one’s sense of self in that thing, person, or with whatever the subject may be we are identified with. When someone we care about is suffering, they need (our) compassion and not our unconscious identification with their pain. Why? This state in us — of identifying with another’s distress — serves only to help make their pain more real to them, as well as helping to make the sleeping “I” in us seem real.
What makes someone a master is not that he or she possesses some unattainable skill, but that these individuals have first realized the existence of, and then made contact with, a world above them that wants to pour its more perfected understanding into their own.