I've been thinking a lot about conflict, lately.
In the last few years I have tried to focus more of my energies on self-reflection and personal growth; I want to be aware of how I move through the world. How do I engage with others and how do I want to engage with others? How can I more actively work on becoming the person that I want to be?
Conflict, unfortunately, is a part of life, and certainly a part of mine (at least recently). I have found that conflict is a weighty gravitational center around which many of these self-reflective questions orbit. How we behave in conflict is, I believe, a better measurement of our self-awareness than how we behave in peace.
I am a pacifist. But unfortunately, that does not mean I have healthy conflicts; rather, I have all too often sacrificed my own emotional well-being for the sake of keeping peace. I am trying to learn to break these bad habits... but it has been a painful process. Learning to say no - especially to stronger personalities, and those who are not accustomed to being told no - is far from easy.
I am a reader (and big fan) of a free online publication called The Rumpus, founded by writer Stephen Elliot. I subscribe to an email list of his, and lately he has been sending little pieces of phrase to my inbox that really strike a chord for me:
So much of conflict is the urge to respond to things that don't require a response.
...Ending conflict isn't necessarily related to forgiveness but anger is definitely engagement. Conflict is engagement.
There is a place between engagement and forgiveness.
Now, I want to be careful here. I am not trying to put forth the idea that we should withhold forgiveness. I don't subscribe to the idea of walking through life carrying all our slights with us, letting them weigh us down, making decisions for us that we otherwise wouldn't have made. The Buddhist idea of "no ego" resonates heavily with me, though of course I am far from an ideal practitioner. But I for one am not always (in fact, rarely) strong enough to separate myself easily from hurt, to pull back and see the big picture and the far distant future.
This idea of Stephen's, that there is a place after engagement, but before forgiveness, sounds to me like a resting place. Like a small island in the stream. If we don't have the strength or courage or endurance to get to forgiveness immediately, but we long to disengage from conflict. There is a place to rest, out of the current, to gather the strength to reach the other shore.
So where is this place, and how does one get there?
How does one disengage with conflict, how to find that quiet personal space to flee to?
What do you do?
Do you drink tea? Do you sit quietly? Do you sleep? Walk? Paint? Run?
How do I reach this place between?
(I wish I weren't writing this post. Honestly, I do. I wish I was less focused on conflict and more focused on making, I wish I had the peace of mind to be designing quilt tops right now, and practicing my knitting, or so many things. I promise to return to your regularly scheduled programming shortly. Thanks for listening.)
("May all beings everywhere be happy and free.")