The recent sexual harassment revelations in our society have left so many contemplating "how is it possible?", especially when it comes to iconic figures who preached truth to power and moral and ethical righteousness above all else. Our hearts are broken, our systems are shocked, and our minds are reeling. More and more victims are coming forward and it seems there is no end in sight.
Just before the 2016 election, I remember sitting down with one of my regular yoga classes following a Presidential debate during which I, like many others, felt sadness and anger at the tone and commentary offered in the debate, especially as it related to women. I offered a meditation around awareness and enlightenment: when the negatives arise, what can we learn from them and how can we see the light at the end of the tunnel? For me, in this case, the Presidential election had given new rise to the public debate on women's rights. We were gaining new awareness, we were becoming more enlightened.
A couple of months later, millions joined hands during the historic Women's Marches in D.C. and around the world. And now, more than a year later, we are experiencing unprecedented revelations about sexual harassment in corporate America, national news media outlets, the Congress, even Lake Wobegone. I cannot say if the victims would have had the courage to come forward under other circumstances. It already has taken decades for some of them to feel safe enough to speak out.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Not necessarily because there is some magical energy pulling the puppet strings of the Earth (or maybe there is...), but because all circumstances in life offer us an opportunity for reflection, which can give us new awareness - new "reason."
These past few weeks my mind has wandered around universal human suffering. We all suffer in one way or another - some of us from disease, some of us from our environment, some of us from other people, some of us from ourselves. I have thought a lot about how our own unique ways of suffering might lead us to do things we would otherwise regret. We often think that those who suffer show up as sad, ill, weak, or distraught. In fact, suffering exposes itself in many ways, all the time.
We show our suffering when we lose compassion - for ourselves and for each other. When we curse at someone for cutting us off on the road, when we snap at our partner for not hearing us the way we wanted them to, when we lose confidence in ourselves to speak up about something important to us, when we choose to subject another human being to our will, when we lose our sense of responsibility and respect for other people, and when we assume grandeur and impermeability to consequences. These are all manifestations of human suffering. We suffer because we all lack - in different ways and measures - the most important ingredient to end universal suffering: loving-kindness.
The actions of perpetrators of sexual harassment - or other injustices toward another human being or society - are inexcusable. Their suffering and lack of loving-kindness for themselves and for others has only created more suffering. This spiral of suffering is painful and it is showing us how we must change as a society.
But we are on the path. The path toward new awareness, new enlightenment, new reason to unite together under the universality of loving-kindness. Universal suffering will not end, but universal loving-kindness is also omnipresent and we can each choose to shift the balance away from suffering by creating more loving-kindness in every action, every deed, every word, and every moment.
“The Sunshine Behind The Clouds
...We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering. We must recognize that we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate. If you know this, then when it rains you won’t be desperate. You know that the rain is there, but the sunshine is still there somewhere. Soon the rain will stop, and the sun will shine again....”
Excerpt from “Anger” by Thich Nhat Hahn