A few weeks ago, one evening whilst at home, I felt cold and so went into my room and picked out a jumper. It was around this same period that the atrocities from Afghanistan where coming to the surface and for me personally at least, I felt that out of all the landslides we've faced the last 18 months, this one struck a chord that was palpable in the pit of a my stomach.
As I reached for my jumper I was overcome with a sense of presence. A sense of orientation - who I was and where I was. Not in a dramatic Hollywood 'and I realized at that moment I was going to become bla bla bla', but a serene, grounded presence that allowed me to feel the depth of my fortune.
At precisely the same moment, women, men and children not just in Afghanistan but all over the world were fearing for their lives.
Take just one second - wherever you are reading this from - to cast your mind into the shoes of someone who's priority it is to merely survive. To run, to flee, to shelter, to hide from imminent threat.
A split second and we can only imagine what our fellow brothers and sisters experience in these frightening conditions.
Thoughts Give Rise to Emotions
Now, if just for a moment you've tried that small thought experiment then it's likely two things may have arisen.
1. You felt guilty and;
2. You felt resistance to allow your mind to go there: it's too painful.
If this is true for you then here's what we can take from guilt and resistance.
Firstly, why resistance? Well fundamentally our own egoic minds are primarily concerned with avoiding pain and maximizing pleasure. Our mind also likes to focus on that which it 'thinks' it can control not with what it cannot.
Therefore to look at other people's pain is the anthesis of the mind's wants and needs.
Except you're not your mind, nor am I.
We have to realize that beyond the resistance is that which we need to see.
Resistance creates context.
The context of contrast.
If I have resistance toward looking at the suffering of others, it is because it is not familiar to me. In other words, that level of suffering is not present in my own life - and therefore, for this, I should be extremely thankful.
So this resistance doesn't have to be a burden but rather an ally. An ally that allows us to acknowledge the depth of our own good fortune and existence.
But what about the guilt? What if it's persistent?
Well I believe like many emotions there is a spectrum in which we can conceptualize it.
Guilt can be debilitating or it can be liberating.
When viewing the injustices are we to sit and wallow - consumed by guilt? Does this lead to anything?
Or, in much the same way we can share in their pain, just maybe can they share in our joy?
If we do have a life of relative ease and comfort in comparison, is there any point in us having this privilege if we don't celebrate or acknowledge it?
If we stay too long in a sense of debilitating guilt then we produce our own type of mental and emotional suffering and yet what all of us want - every single person on planet Earth - is to be happy and free.
Therefore we should exercise some liberation from suffering.
Recognition in the Heart
I put on my jumper that evening with the biggest array of mixed feelings. Sadness, joy, contentment, guilt - the whole lot. But one thing I held closely was not taking anything for granted.
I cherished putting on that jumper with as much care and love as I think all those on the other side of the world would if they put they had the opportunity to so. I put this jumper on with them in my heart.
And as unsatisfying as this may feel to that part of me that wishes to help or do more, it's the best I can do for now. It's all we can do sometimes. Holding them with love is definitely better than lashing out at the world with anger.
Be grateful for guilt. Not only does it means we acknowledge our good fortune but it also means we have a conscience. And, to have a conscience is to have a great hint toward your divinity.