I’ve been thinking about this question for a few weeks now. What is the true nature of beings? Is it to be loving or cruel? Is it a mixture of both? Are we nothing but reactions to our circumstances?
My questioning started a few weeks ago as a Philadelphia man made the news because he caught a ball at the baseball game, gave it to his 3 year old daughter and she promptly threw it back out onto the field. Looking shocked and somewhat horrified as he is a life-long fan, he immediately hugged and kissed her after realizing ( he’d state in reports later) that he looked in her eyes and realized she was immediately afraid she’d done the wrong thing. So, rather than scold her for tossing his beloved souvenior, he realized what was more important was reassuring her that the baseball really didn’t matter, it was that they were there having fun.
A few days later, the news was filled with the latest celebrity blunder ( Kayne West shuns Taylor Swift on stage for Beyonce) and then in past weeks, we’ve had the beating of an honor student in Chicago, the rescue of Jaycee Duggard after years in captivity, the raw testimony of Elizabeth Smart.. the list goes on and on. So, what is our true nature? If you kiss your kids good-bye in the morning and then on the way to work, cut people off in traffic swearing and cursing them for driving too slow, does that make you a bad person?
In Buddhist teaching, “true nature” is a synonym of Buddha nature, which is meant to describe the original face, the original mind, reality and being. Buddhism teaches us that we are all nothing but true nature but if we aren’t aware of what we have, we won’t realize it. And to realize it, we need to be in our dharma, that is our actions that are closest to what we were born to do. I know from my own experience, it’s a lot easier to be in ‘true nature’ when I’m doing something I’m passionate about rather than doing something I have to do or am forced to do .
So how do we reconcile the actions of people we know (or those we don’t) when they seem so inconsistent with true nature, even in the most basic ways? I was watching a most marvelous movie last night, “Moonstruck,” which is what you’d most likely consider ” an oldie but goodie.” Olympia Dukakis, faced with the reality that her husband is having an affair, starts asking other men in her life, “Why do men chase women?” She gets a few responses but she finally hears the one that resonates with her: “they fear death!” “Yes,” she exclaims, as her daughter’s suitor finally affirms her personal position on the matter. ” They fear death,” she nods knowingly.
I bring this up not to draw a parallel but to point out that our actions are almost always driven by something deep inside. Whether it’s a deep rooted fear or feeling of sadness, jealously, anger, hurt, shame.. they all are the fire that stokes the engine of our being. We can look at the outside but really, it’s the inside that gives us the clues as to the reasons for our actions. That’s why resisting getting to the heart of any matter will only cause us to struggle, in life, in our relationships, in our work, in everything.
So what do we do? We must take steps to always be processing our feelings and moving things through us. The more permeable we become, the more we let things flow through rather than taking residence up in our muscles, bones, hearts, minds and souls, the more hardened we become. The more we avoid dealing, discussing, facing, confronting, the more we only avoid the path to health and wellness. So, how do we do this? We breath, we take the first step and for many of us, it’s on the yoga mat where we do the hard work of processing our feelings. There, in our pure essence, with nothing more than our bodies and breath, we can start to really hear ourselves very deep inside and begin to realize so much of what we do is just a series of reactions from past experience. The yoga mat is foreign to you? Go for a run. Sweat. Take a walk in the woods. Go skiing. Go to the beach. Take a bike ride. Go to your favorite place in nature and just sit. The point is, you must stop and listen to nothing but your breath in order to start to heal. And you must make this part of your life every day.
I’d like to think that I have practices in my life that help me stay close to my true nature. But there are many too many times I am that person in traffic, that person that does not say hello to a passing stranger on the street, the person that does not have that hard conversation for fear of being left alone. But what I do have, and what I wish for everyone is a willingness to try. To be open. To be willing to do the work to realize one’s true potential.
In that, is what I believe we will our true nature.