If God is speaking, then it must be at all times, and through everything, right? Little synchronicities are everywhere, often for me in the lyrics of a song, an overheard conversation or simply finding the right book for today the moment I walk over to the shelves in a library.
Today I finished a lovely, silly, poignant little game called Undertale (spoilers from here on!), which has as one of its most interesting features a deliberate inclusion of the ‘pacifist run’: you can run away from fights, or solve them by finding non-violent ways to resolve them, more akin to a puzzle. While this sounds quite dull, it is in fact more difficult, requires more creativity and patience, and results in much more fun outcomes. The game even highlights this later, judging you for the level of violence that you inflicted on the other characters. Many of the characters do not want to be violent, but they see no alternative in the face of aggression, or are so enraged by the thoughtless aggression of others that they react in anger.
Owen Becker of the Hamilton Project said that in the end, the only real effect enlightenment has in the human sphere is to make you more kind. You cannot avoid difficulty, you can’t avoid your personality; you can’t avoid anything, really, and that is the whole point. My practice does seem to be less about not suffering and more about just trying to do the right thing. I’m in fact afraid to suffer less when suffering is what is pushing me, in my stubbornness, to change. I find it very hard to do the right thing, at times, or even identify what the right thing is, but if it seems unkind, or seems unkind later, I know I’m on the wrong track. Sometimes the right thing is simply to direct a bit of compassion towards myself for the nastiest mistakes, or to accept there’s no right answer.
And this was the point of the silly, lovely game I completed earlier. When the more vicious characters continue to attack you, becoming angrier by your refusal to fight, ending up screaming: Why do you persist? What are you trying to achieve by not fighting? One of them even calls you a fool for sparing them, saying that they will come back and destroy everyone you love. “I’ve learned nothing,” it says, tellingly, as it recognises there is wisdom there for the learning. This kind of reactivity and refusal to take the peaceful, easy route is something I recognise in myself: up for a conflict, enjoying the buzz and drama of the adrenaline, afraid to de-escalate because I know I will have to give up something. It’s usually my pride, not anything of true value, but in some neanderthal way it gets linked to some survival instinct.
Ambition and expression and efficiency are all well and good, but when they are not imbedded in kindness, then at least tonight they seem worthless to me. I cannot fix the whole world, nor foresee its outcome with certainty; and so even the most well-intentioned project must be given up to God’s hands or it will have some level of desperation and clinging in it. I pray for the courage to give up this sense of future goals and instead recognise life is a raft being endlessly rebuilt, the materials being my actions, the sense of purpose and direction largely an artefact. To the extent that an action is unkind, will it perpetuate whatever ill I am trying to improve; or to say it more positively, to the extent that an action is kind, will it bear permanent fruit: as Peace Pilgrim says, evil has the seeds of its own destruction, but it is up to us how quickly that evil ends. This seems to be in stark recognition that this might be measured in cosmic terms, with the Bodhisattva vow that calls the task of perfecting the world endless, and yet determines to complete it.
‘If you want to know your future, look at your present’, goes the highly motivating saying, and I look at the kinds of people I admire the most and see they are all supremely kind, not necessarily supremely successful. The desire to be one of those people is massive at the moment and I’m wondering whether it isn’t metta practice that shouldn’t replace my obsession with vipassana, especially during this particularly penitential, purgative period of my life so as to not turn it into a period of counterproductive self-flagellation. I have enough mindfulness now to catch my intentions from moment to moment and gently flag them as kind or unkind without it becoming too discursive in my own head. At the moment my conscience is raw and the proud, unkind, selfish things I do and say make me cringe inwardly.
I think you’ll hear more from me in the next few days and weeks about loving-kindness practices, right speech, and my attempts to make the right effort to perform both, but I’ll leave you with a prayer: If I am to be remembered as anything, may it be as kind.