Misanthropic (adj.) - mis·an·throp·ic | \ ˌmi-sᵊn-ˈthrä-pik
marked by a hatred or contempt for humankind.
Bodhisattva (n.) - bo·dhi·satt·va /ˌbōdiˈsätvə,/
a person who has attained Enlightenment but, because of their profound love for humanity, chooses to delay Nirvana in order to help others attain Enlightenment.
Polarity is the engine of evolution. There can be no light without dark. Your greatest joy could not be possible without your deepest sorrow. Your suffering drives you forward to greater complexity, and to closer union with the Source.
Grief deepens the soul.
“What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?”
-Tao te Ching
A poisonous, bitter weight pulls at my heart. I know I should love my fellow humans, but damn it, they can really piss me off.
I'm so disappointed in us. I'm so frustrated and angry with us. I'm so tired of the willful ignorance and hatred, of the selfishness and thoughtlessness, of the greed and dishonesty. Every day there's another avalanche of reasons to be outraged and horrified.
I can't even tolerate the minor stuff: the tailgaters, the bullies, the internet trolls, the basic run-of-the-mill assholes. Forget about processing the major stuff! How can anyone's love for humanity endure after learning about the more ghastly sections of our collective resume: the genocide, murder, human trafficking, rape, sexual assault, hatred, bigotry, and on and on? The mind reels when considering the depths to which we're capable of falling.
It’s enough to make me want to give up on us. To write the whole damn species off as a failed experiment and wash the world clean with a wrathful wall of flame.
I go out into the world and I meet people, and they are not monsters. No, far from it.
I go to work and almost everyone I meet is friendly and cooperative. They’re just doing their best to find meaning and improve the lives of their families. I smile and they smile back.
I talk to strangers and I’m struck by how rich and vibrant their inner, emotional lives are. They love and suffer, and just like me, they get tangled in the confusing territory between the two.
I hear the lush tones of a soulful singing voice, I see a canvas painted by a master artist, I read the words of a great writer, and I’m moved to tears at the radiant beauty of our creative spirit.
Suddenly, humans don’t seem like such a pestilence anymore. Quite the opposite! Now I see us as a masterpiece of evolution, an achievement so sublime and astounding that my mind can barely contain its amazement. We are so beautiful it hurts.
Never mind about that wrathful wall of flame. We’re not a failed experiment, we’re Divine! We’re a perfect expression of the Universe’s infinite love and creativity, and there’s nothing we can’t accomplish! Hallelujah!
I’m back at work and some toxic son-of-a-bitch has just rattled off some entitled, hateful, selfish nonsense, and I want to scream. I’m on the freeway and some asshole has almost run my family off the road. I’m reading the news and look, there’s a new parade of atrocities to mourn.
The poisonous weight has taken hold of my heart again. The cycle has started over.
It’s all in you.
That’s really the difficult truth we have to confront, isn’t it?
It’s easy and oh so tempting to sit back and itemize your neighbors’ flaws. From your privileged position you can see their weaknesses and missteps with crystal clarity. After all, you’ve figured out all the correct opinions, chosen all the correct ideologies, and atoned for all your mistakes, haven’t you? If only those bastards could only see how irrefutably RIGHT you are, all this conflict and suffering would just disappear!
But despite your stubborn insistence, the world and its people just won’t budge. They continue clinging to their insane beliefs and destructive behaviors, and they rage at the slightest suggestion that they could improve.
Your judgment is not only wasted, it’s slowly corroding away your heart and soul. Do you really want to waste more time wishing in vain that they were all different? That they somehow would just align with your standards and expectations? Do you really want to keep drinking this poison?
No, there must be something else going on here.
Maybe you’ve built your walls up so high because, underneath the cold bitterness, you’re afraid you might actually feel some compassion for these people. That judgmental part of you can quickly choose who’s worthless and who isn’t, but there’s a larger voice within to remind you that everyone is the way they are for very good reasons. That’s when things get complicated.
Perhaps that toxic son-of-a-bitch is so abrasive because his parents abused him for years as a child. Maybe that asshole on the freeway is rushing to the hospital to see his wife one last time.
At the root of human cruelty, you can almost always find trauma. Practically no one decides to harm others because they think it’s the best choice, they do it because they’re so broken themselves that they don’t really have control over their actions. There are sociopaths and antisocial personality disorders, but those people, too, are just sick and broken. They need help, even if they don’t realize it.
Maybe you’ve built your walls up so high because judging these people is easier than facing the truth: that there’s an ocean of trauma and suffering within every one of us. Including you. That, instead of being neatly divided into the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, we’re all just sad, hurt little children, cast together onto this strange and dangerous planet with no one but ourselves to guide us.
When you’re confronted with those thoughtless bullies, those selfish jerks, those political opponents, the last thing you want to consider is forgiving them. But that’s the only thing powerful enough to make lasting change possible.
No, of course you don’t sit idly by and allow them to cause harm. No, you mustn’t be silently complicit in injustices and atrocities.
But you can’t let this poisonous, bitter hatred drive your life anymore. You have to forgive, and you have to start letting love guide your words and deeds.
It really is our only hope.
You won’t be able to forgive them until you can forgive yourself.
You won’t be able to forgive yourself until you take a long, hard look in the mirror and accept that you’re not perfect either.
You don’t have a perfect understanding of the world and its complexities, do you? You can’t see all the invisible currents driving your fellow humans’ thoughts and actions, can you? Hell, you barely understand all the subconscious forces driving your own actions!
It’s all too much for a single human mind.
It’s okay. You don’t have to be ashamed of this. None of us can see the whole picture.
If you’re really ready to let go of the poisonous weight of judgment and contempt, then you have to first let go of needing to be right. It’s time to choke down a slice of humble pie, and turn within to that larger voice inside your heart.
That voice is Life. That voice is the Universe itself. It dwells within ALL of us, but most of us can’t hear it. Most of us choose not to hear it.That voice is the intelligence that operates your unbelievably complex human body. After all, YOU (the little “you”) aren’t really in control of that, are you? Are you consciously deciding to replicate your DNA, transmute your food into energy, attach oxygen to your blood cells, and all the other millions of processes that are happening inside you right now? No, of course not! Your body just knows how to do these things, without any effort on your part.
That intelligence within you is Life, and we all share it. It knows more than you do. And yet, it IS you. There is no boundary between you and It. You are an expression of Life, and you are inexorably connected to it. You are a wave and it is the ocean.
If you can turn humbly to this voice within, if you can let go of your ego’s need to be in control, then you can draw from its strength and its wisdom. It will guide your thoughts, words, and actions. You will become far more powerful and effective, and you will have lost nothing. You will be more truly yourself than you ever were before.
Life wants us to live from love, to treat each other as we would hope to be treated ourselves. After all, now we can see that we are not separate at all. We are all waves on the same ocean of Life. We really are all One. Those other people, whom you had previously condemned, are actually part of you, your real self. From that perspective, it’s only natural to treat them with love and patience.
Life wants you to live from love, but it is perfectly willing to make you suffer to learn it.
It’s a constant dance. It’s a lifelong journey. You must constantly choose it, over and over again. Even in the most extreme difficulties, even when you’re faced with the most horrifying atrocities, you must STILL choose it. This is strength beyond what most of us can imagine. Remember when Jesus said “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”? He was literally being killed and tortured at the time, and he STILL chose love and forgiveness. That’s why his message endures (although, yes, his message has been terribly co-opted and distorted by some, but that’s a subject for another day).
Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t try to force it. All you need to do is quiet your mind enough to hear the voice of Life within. It will guide you the rest of the way.
Don’t try to change everyone around you. Change yourself, and the light of your example will ripple outwards endlessly.
Choose love first, and the rest will follow.
And now (finally), about the painting:
You probably get the spirit of the thing by now, but I bet you want to know some specifics. What do the goats mean? What do the dragons mean? Does he have horns because…Satan?
I’m sorry, there are no answers to those questions. There isn’t a neat little equation I can give you to have this piece make sense.
Just like our journey from judgment to love, there isn’t a final resting place where we can dust off our hands and say, “okay, now we’re finished!” This painting is designed to always be a little out of reach. To lure you into a place of questioning, to loosen the grip of the ego and guide you to a place of wonder.
This piece is about the charged dynamism of polarities. It pulls you from one end of the spectrum to the other, endlessly.
I wish I could say I did this on purpose, but I didn’t. The inner voice of Life gave me the idea, like it gives all artists all ideas, and I just followed along. In many ways, it’s as mysterious to me as it is to you.
A few final thoughts:
If suffering drives our evolution toward love and a union with our inner Life, then will it ever end? Are we trapped in a cycle of pain for all time?
I don’t claim to know that answer, personally, but Buddhism teaches that there is actually an end to suffering: Enlightenment. That once we can consciously experience the oneness of all Life, that suffering ceases to be suffering. For those of us who aren’t spiritual masters, we may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of this place once in a while. When we reach that place, the most incredible thing happens:
It all seems worth it.
The struggles, the pain, the loss, even the atrocities. It all seems worth it. When we glimpse the bliss and majesty of our eternal oneness with Life and with All That Is, our human suffering pales in comparison. It’s like the most satisfying payoff of all time, God’s most brilliant punchline to the cosmic joke that is humanity.
Most of the time, I forget that. Most of the time, I’m pulled back down into the world and it all seems so heavy and difficult.
Maybe that means it’s time to give myself more love and care. To quiet my mind and reconnect with the voice of Life within. To practice what I preach.
Fellow human, dearest traveling companion, I hope you find your peace. I hope we make it through this era of unconsciousness and realize our true potential.
I hope we have the strength and wisdom to choose love.
Best of luck,
(PS. No, I’m not claiming to be a Bodhisattva. I’m just an artist trying his best.)