As the US prepares to send more troops to Afghanistan, I find myself contemplating the meaning of war and wondering if it is an inevitable part of the human condition. If life consists of a balance of opposite qualities, as I believe it does, then perhaps war is the necessary flip side of peace. For how would you know peace without war? (Or good without bad…up without down…happy without sad?) If you are “for” peace and “against” war, then are you not at war with war? We are all warmongers and peaceniks in our own ways.
What if, instead, people realized that the world around them is simply a reflection of what's going on inside them? The result of living a one-sided life – seeking only happiness, prosperity, peace, love, and pleasure – means that the opposites qualities of unhappiness, poverty, war, hate and pain get projected “out there” into the wider world. They are reflected back to us as a reminder that they are being ignored and need attention. If, on the other hand, we embrace our own darkness and seek to understand it rather than condemn it, we can harness its wisdom. In therapy speak this is called “withdrawing projections.”
Think of these rejected qualities as a frustrated toddler pulling on your coat trying to get your attention - the more they are ignored the louder they get, until you’ve got a full-blown tantrum on your hands. However, give them your full attention and they are appeased. The same is true of our unwanted emotions – ignore them and they may blow up at the most inopportune moment, acknowledge them and they deliver their wisdom then dissipate.
We go to great lengths to avoid feeling or expressing unwelcome emotions. We drink too much, eat too much, watch too much TV, and so forth. But what if the despair we are keeping at bay is an important message about the state of a marriage? We practice habitual niceness, but who are we benefiting if we ignore a gnawing sense of dislike (an inner alarm bell about a stranger’s intentions?) by covering it with politeness and a pleasant smile?
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The great epochs of our life are at the points when we gain the courage to re-baptize our badness as the best in us.” This indeed takes a brave heart, as resurrecting what we’ve been conditioned to believe is unacceptable can be a very scary and painful process. But being willing to love our suppressed selves is vital to begin living an authentic life. It may also be the key to peace on earth.
Love your WHOLE self and stop the inner war, then perhaps the outer ones can stop too.