Impossible without Zen

Warning. This post deals with rape and other forms of violence and abuse. Clicking on the link about rape will lead to an article that may trigger flashbacks or awful feelings.I have published four articles on The Good Men Project in less than 72 hours. While it was an enormous amount of work, all of the articles were spontaneous, barely premeditated. They erupted out of me while I proctored exams and engaged other tedium. The articles range in emotion, from the comic Men Have Multiple Brains to the very personal, exhausting and painful Giving a Rapist a Public Platform. Then there was the critical Marriage Isn’t the Problem—We Are. I want to reflect on the composition of the rape article. It tells the story of my wife’s rape, a story I had been wishing to tell and make public for a very long time. I never felt I had the forum for it, and I did not want to tell it only to have it rejected by multiple editors. When a controversy erupted at The Good Men Project and colleagues were attacked, I felt compelled to tell my story, as I have a personal angle and felt I could shed a certain light on the subject. The article has been trending on the website now for over 48 hours and has attracted multiple commentators. If you are curious about the controversy, it will become obvious to you if you investigate. This article would have been impossible to write without my Zen practice. If I were unable to look mindfully at my emotions—had it been impossible for me to flash back to those hours I spent overwhelmed by feelings and mental plays that crushed me into the space of an atom without being able to “step out” and observe them, sit with them, realize that they were only parts of me, not the whole of me—I would never have made it to the article’s end. While I feel that the images I recall even now—violence and torture, revenge and hatred—are violations of precepts, primarily “no killing” and “no indulgence in anger”, I know I am not a hateful person at my center. I’m struggling with the overwhelming force of the pain. But I’m doing it in a way that allows me to engage it, release it, use it as a teaching tool. In a way, I notice simultaneously, and this is an amazing realization, that I have learned enormous lessons from my practice, but I am still in need of further lessons, as I am far more ignorant than I ever knew. This embrace of ignorance is a form of self-respect that I have never known, ever in my life, and it allowed me to release energies that had once choked me, even from telling the truth to myself. That I can feel gratitude towards my wife’s aggressor, even a sliver of it, for offering me this opportunity to practice mindfulness with the most severe emotions, the most distusting feelings, a form of dehumanization that no one should experience, should probably leave some people accusing me of heartlessness and cruelty. I understand this sentiment, if you have it. Prior to starting my practice, I’d most likely have loathed any person who’d write a post such as the one I’m writing now. But today during meditation, I felt a glow of compassion for the most vile criminals. It wasn’t compassion that left me naive, wishing to release them from prisons or to place them in positions where they might further harm others; instead I felt compassion for their unskilled minds, for the tragedies they have endured that led to a state in which they could feel no love or sensitivity for someone as beautiful, giving and sincere as my wife. I looked at my wife from my accuser’s position and saw no beauty or generosity. Instead I viewed a world utterly devoid of love, a demon dark space full of howling hatred for everything, even the self. I was blind to beauty in that moment, an annihilating experience. Then at the other end of it, with a single breath, I came out of the meditation to see specks of dust on the carpeting, and I felt they were so beautiful and fascinating. This will be extremely difficult for some readers to understand, but the beauty of those specks of dust, on a carpet in need of cleaning, was possible because I was not trapped in a mind that could not see how amazing specks of dust are. How can you be expected to perceive the beauty of my wife when you cannot see beauty also in specks of dust, in the laughter of a child, in the innocents you’ve sent before firing squads, in the kids you abuse or molest, the animals you torture, homes you spray with bullets? In short, you’re a tragedy. There will be no way to communicate with you, and you will not understand any sentiment of warmth, see any value in anything you cannot control or harm. I am left wishing so strongly that you could. Because when you find yourself fascinated with specks of dust, you also find yourself able to sustain life and feel gratitude for a lesson that had once been invisible, impossible, part neither of a dream nor a wish.

by Karolis Zukauskas