Suffering, self, and service

The massacre in Pittsburgh is heartbreaking and awful, and another example of the extent to which society seems to be fraying.

The Pittsburgh attacker spent a lot of time on social media sites that stoked his fear, isolation and anger.  I think about the internet a lot, and while the internet has the ability to help us form a better understanding of "we" (global humanity), it can also cultivate a strong sense of "them" (the dangerous other), as this case demonstrates.

In other words, we are simultaneously increasing our capacity to understand one another through connectedness and information, and fracturing along tribal lines, increasing the sense of distance and disconnectedness.

I am no scholar of Buddhism, but have been interested recently in the Buddhist notion of the relationship between "suffering" and the "self".  In a nutshell, the concept is: suffering is an essential human condition, and it is primarily brought about by our sense of self and how events impact us as individuals (jealousy, greed, wanting, disappointment, etc).  Meanwhile, there actually is no "self", as everything in the universe is connected.  Therefore, if you can release your focus on the self, you can dissolve the suffering. (Here is a good overview of these concepts.)

I think about these concepts in the day-to-day: for me they manifest in all the little moments of going about my work and getting things done.  Often times, I feel a resistance welling up, often manifested as fear, which I have written about, but more generally I think the culprit is the self-centered thinking.  When this happens, an idea that works for me is actively seeking to replace thoughts of the self with thoughts of service: take the suffering that comes from seeing things through the lens of your individual self, and redirect it to the service of others.  When this happens, I can physically feel the "suffering" melt away.

My own examples are of course trivial compared to the broader environment of fear, suffering, and violence.  But I would like to think that we have the potential as humans to re-knit the ties that bind us together, somehow.

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