Civil War

At the end of a discussion about the conflicts and tensions that people encounter, a participant asked, “What in your experience is the root cause of our conflicts?”

“We’re disturbed because we run away from who we are and try to become who we are not,” the sage replied. “We keep attempting to reach for what we can’t get while ignoring what is always available. We’ll find stillness only when this civil war has ended.”

(Francis J. Padinjarekara: A DEWDROP IN THE OCEAN – Wisdom Stories for Turbulent Times. Awareness Arc Books, 2009. pg. 222)

Everybody seems to want to change and become somebody else. Short people often wish to  gain a few inches and those who believe they are overweight wish to shed a few pounds of their weight. The curly haired ones look for straight hair and the straight haired people want to straighten their hair. Where fair skin is at a premium all kinds of creams and lotions are available to achieve the desired complexion. Where darker colours are preferred, the standards and efforts shift in that direction. Where thin is the prevailing standard of beauty, those who feel they are beyond norm may try even through starvation to arrive at a desirable level of thinness and acceptability.

This alone would have been sufficient to keep a multi-billion industry flourishing. Add to this our search to change our personalities and inner states. When our anger lands us in trouble,  we may want to become gentle. If we are tightfisted we may wish to become generous, if we are selfish we attempt to become selfless. Sinners try to become saints and neurotics want to become self-actualized. The relentless search for personal growth and inner transformation has created not only a huge supplement to the cosmetic industry but also a great deal of conflict and intolerance of ourselves.

The paradox is all too often missed. We are trying to find peace through conflict and growth through self-rejection. Every effort we make to become someone else takes us away from the reality of who we are. Besides, it is also the path of inner conflict and disturbance.

Understanding and acceptance of reality, however unflattering and unpleasant it may be, is the only way to peace and lasting change. It certainly is the first step towards growth and freedom. As Anthony de Mello repeatedly points out in his teachings, the path of awareness is indeed the way of acceptance.