Horrendous things happen every second on this planet. People and animals are harmed, or even killed. Plants are going extinct. Property is destroyed. Natural disasters wreak havoc. People become homeless, lose their loved ones, or become permanently disabled. The list of awful things that can happen is endless. Seeing or hearing news about things that seem bad can be very stressful. It can cause feelings of powerlessness, panic, anxiety, sadness, anger, and fear. Understanding your reaction to bad things will help you find a place of peace inside, regardless of what is happening around the world.
The first thing to realize is that all form is impermanent. People die. Animals die. Buildings will all eventually crumble to the ground. Even mountains are in a continual state of eroding back into the earth. There is no form that exists that will not some day be destroyed. It is the way of form. As humans, this is hard for us to understand. We want life to be predictable, safe, humane, and everlasting. We suffer when we lose things that we love, that keep us safe and comfortable, and that we are familiar with.
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The painful emotions that you feel when something bad happens, even if you are not directly affected by it, are due to feelings of powerlessness over, and attachment to, form. Your ego wants form to remain. It wants your loved ones never to die, your home to never burn to the ground, and for bad things to not happen. This is not the way of our world, though, and to fight it with negative feelings only makes you feel bad and has no direct affect on keeping bad things from happening.
It is your attachment to things, people, and places that cause you to suffer. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “Attachment is suffering.” Since form is not permanent, any attachment (emotional, physical, or otherwise) that you have to form will always disappoint you. Your car was clean and you were proud, and now a bird has shat upon it. Do you become angry and frustrated? Or do you let it go? Your wife loved you, now she has left. Do you become despondent, angry, or sad or do you let it go? Your ability to let go of attachment is one of the key ingredients to peace of mind.
Your thoughts are the only thing that makes a difference in how you feel about bad things. It is that simple. First comes a thought, then an emotion. An emotion is your body’s response to your thoughts. This works for both things that you think are good in your life, and things that you think are bad. When bad things happen in the world, it is your thoughts about it that make you suffer, not the bad thing. It is your attachment to bad things not happening that makes you suffer.
So, you may wonder, “What do I do when bad things happen?” The thing has happened completely out of your control. You can accept that it happened and eliminate any thoughts about it from your mind, or you can think about it endlessly, feel bad, and lose sleep. But realize this: your feeling bad, crying and losing sleep does only one thing: it makes YOU feel badly. It does nothing to change the bad things that have happened. And your bad feelings will affect the people around you: your children, friends, co-workers, and everyone that you come into contact with. It will do nothing to keep future bad things from happening, and it will do nothing to help those who are currently suffering.
Perhaps as you read this you are realizing that there is some guilt in you about not feeling badly. Maybe you are thinking, “But if I don’t feel badly when bad things happen to other people, does this mean I am not compassionate? That I am callous? That I am selfish and self-centered?” No, it does not. The best that you can be for the world, your loved ones, and the people that you come into contact with every day is to be at your best. If you are focused on the bad thing that happened recently, and talk about it, and feel bad about it, how can you help those who are closest to you be at their best? How can you be at your best?
Letting go of attachment to form is one of the quickest ways to a higher state of consciousness. You realize that form is impermanent, and you accept that you have no control over it. You can own form, and have relationships with form, but form will go away at some point. It may affect you directly – your car is in a crash and now you don’t have one. Or, it may affect you indirectly – you hear on the news that some people have died. Either way, it is done. Your car is gone, and the people are gone. It is your choice – you can be mad about the car, or you can simply start making a plan to replace it. You can be sad about the people who have died, or you can accept that people die every day, sometimes tragically, and that is the way of the world.
To take this a step further, the only thing that is permanent is love. If you are feeling badly about things that have happened, focus instead on the love inside of you. Love is the only thing that is permanent and it can never be taken from you. It is an energy that permeates everything and connects us all together. As you discover more about your attachment to form, you can start experimenting with feeling love instead of anger or resentment. Love really is the answer. It is the only true emotion, all others are simply some sort of fear. Fear and love cannot live in you at the same time. Fear is a projection of an imagined future that you don’t want. If you are feeling something other than love, look deeply and track the emotion back to the source. You will undoubtedly find fear if you look deep enough.
A couple books that I often recommend to people who are struggling with fear-based thoughts and emotions are both by Gerald Jampolsky: Good-Bye to Guilt and Love Is Letting Go of Fear. These books will help you begin to understand how your emotions have led you astray from your true self.
But in the mean time, if you are feeling overwhelmed by current events, go inside of yourself and find the love in your heart. Focus only on feeling that powerful feeling of love. Do whatever it takes to generate that feeling inside yourself: imagine someone that you love, or doing something that you love. Once you get that love feeling inside of you, it will push out all other bad feelings and bring you right back into the present moment, which is all that there is anyway.