I’ve been asked to share my thoughts about the recent shootings in Santa Barbara involving Elliot Rodger. If you haven’t heard the story yet, feel free to Google his name if you want to know the details. Normally I don’t like to comment on current events because I prefer to write more timeless content, but this one feels more meaningful to me because it ties in with the speaking I’ve been doing lately regarding helping men and women to connect more authentically and lovingly with each other.
This is a post I’m writing largely for myself, so I cannot say whether its message will resonate with you as much as some of the other articles I’ve written. But perhaps if you read it anyway, you may see some elements and ideas that you can potentially relate to in different ways.
Beings vs. Objects
The way Elliot described his relationship to women reminds me a lot of how humanity relates to animals. We treat them as objects, we see ourselves as more powerful than they are, we exercise that power with agendas that give rise to great cruelty, and we feel entitled to their bodies. We deny their beingness and turn them into products. If they resist, we overpower them.
I see animals and people as beings, not objects — different kinds of beings, but none superior to the other. In a subjective sense we’re all part of the same whole, inseparable. Humans are a part of the animal kingdom. We are a species of animal. But is it really a kingdom? Do we claim to be royalty in this network of beings?
When people or animals are viewed as objects or products instead of as beings, then it’s easy to rationalize doing as you please with them. You are god over objects. Objects are pawns that you can manipulate. A different set of rules applies to objects vs. beings. Once the beingness is removed, you’re free to do whatever you want. Objects aren’t subject to ethical or moral considerations.
To me, it’s the same perspective that allows people to say: “No big deal… he was a Jew anyway” or “Ahhhh, she was a slut and probably had it coming” or “Oh well, it’s just a dumb chicken.” All of these can be used to relate to other beings with cruelty.
Oneness vs. Separation
We all have this potential for cruelty within us to one degree or another. An event like the Santa Barbara shooting incident serves to remind us to look at that more consciously. It’s easy to say that Elliot was crazy nutso and that he is nothing like us. He’s an anomaly. His parents must have raised him wrong. He must have had a defective brain. Let’s distance ourselves from him. Let’s make him an outcast, even after he’s already dead.
But isn’t the perspective that Elliot shared just a more exaggerated version of one that we also hold? For some people all it takes is to examine what’s on their dinner plate to see what they’ve been denying about their own choices. Are you not objectifying and dominating other beings to some extent?
To me the way we relate to all beings is deeply interconnected. I’ve seen that by improving my relationship to animals (including no longer eating them), it changed how I relate to people. If I can objectify animals and if I do that pretty much every day, then is it really such a stretch to extend that to groups of people? If I’m activating my brain’s objectification circuitry every day with living beings, then of course that pattern will only get stronger. And it won’t be fully restricted to animals.
I still recognize within myself the potential for disconnection, objectification, and cruelty. Those thoughts are still there, generated in parallel next to other alternatives. I’ve simply trained my mind to substitute more compassionate actions instead. But that doesn’t erase the disconnection-based thoughts. They’re still there; I’m just not acting on them.
The Disconnected Mindset
I can remember a time in my life many years ago when I had few friends and felt very disconnected from people. I saw people as separate objects that were very different from me. In those days I could steal with impunity. I did a lot of social engineering, which involved having manipulative conversations with people to direct their actions, so they’d unwittingly help me achieve my agenda. No beings were being hurt. I was just manipulating objects. I felt no remorse for what I did.
That perspective is still within me. I’ve long since adopted other perspectives that I found more empowering, so I no longer act on the old perspective, but I can still access it if I choose to.
At the time I held these darker perspectives, I never connected the dots between my ability to manipulate people, how I related to animals, and the lack of deep connection and intimacy in my life. I was intimacy starved, although not as badly as Elliot to be sure. And so I replaced that lack of connection with something that made me feel strong — stealing. That brought me some notoriety and attention and actually made me more friends, but the connections never ran too deep. No one really understood what I was like on the inside. I never had a girlfriend during that time. Perhaps the stealing made it easier to justify the lack of intimacy as well. Who’d want to be in a relationship with a thief anyway?
Turning Our Backs on Darkness
Today I find myself challenged by the opposite perspective. How can I maintain a sense of oneness with the darkness I perceive in others?
When I’m connecting with a friend and then I see that person eat animals, casually denying the beingness of those animals and reducing them to consumable products, I often feel disconnected from that person. I don’t want to see that kind of cruelty. I left that kind of behavior behind a long time ago. Why should I need to see it in my reality? This limits how closely I’ll want to connect with this person.
Maybe I should only connect with other vegans. At least then I don’t have to witness such violence when we share meals together.
Sometimes that is what I do because it’s easier. It’s easier to label animal eaters as violent and crazy and avoid them altogether. It’s easier to label the Elliots of the world as “not me” and to steer clear of them. But is this a growth perspective?
In my world, acts of cruelty resulting from objectification of beings are everywhere. All I need to do is go to a typical place where people are eating, and it’s unavoidable. I can’t help but notice the stench of death in the air.
Instead of distancing ourselves from it, perhaps it’s better for us to face this sadness and disappointment, to let it carve out a deeper space within us.
It can be very blissful to connect with another person’s light. But do we also connect with their darkness? Do we reveal our darkness to others?
Are you able to share the part of you that’s the thief, the liar, the rapist, the mass murderer? Do you deny that this part of you exists? Do you sense its presence but feel that it’s unworthy of love? What part of yourself are you still ashamed of?
Bringing Light to the Darkness
On my lifelong path of growth, I’ve often found that denying and suppressing my dark side doesn’t work so well.
When I sought to overcome my shoplifting addiction, initially my approach was to try to live a normal life for a while and not do anything illegal. I suppressed and denied the part of me that loved the thrill of stealing. I adopted a very mundane and unexciting life for a while. I felt that the thief part of me was too wild and uncontrollable, and I could never let him out again. I had to kill him off or at least suppress him. Otherwise he’d eventually land me in prison.
That approach seemed to work okay for a while, but many years later, I still felt that something was missing from my life. I’d recall the spark of aliveness I felt when I was stealing, and on some level I lamented its absence. I was married with kids, flowing forward along an easy path. But it was too easy. That wild and uncontrollable part of me was still there, just caged. There was a part of me clamoring for some form of expression, but I wouldn’t consciously let it express itself.
Eventually I realized I needed that part of me. I didn’t fully trust it, but I didn’t feel I could be fulfilled unless I came to terms with it. So I began to dialog with it. I journaled about it. I wrote about it publicly. I acknowledged its presence. I forgave it. I looked for ways to reintegrate it into my life through action, tempered by more conscious awareness and compassion. I embarked on a process of reintegration.
That same energy I used to put into stealing is the energy I use today when I want to communicate a message passionately to an audience. It’s the part of me that loves to experiment. It’s the part of me that will speak his truth even if I expect the message will be unpopular. It’s the part of me that loves to travel. It’s the part of me that was able to acknowledge an unfulfilling marriage and transform it into an ongoing friendship. It’s the part of me that can handle being in an open relationship. I gained a richer and more satisfying life when I reintegrated my dark side.
Connecting With the Darkness
What possible light is to be found in Elliot’s situation? For me the message is a personal one. I need to resolve my relationship with the darkness I perceive in other people, not just with the darkness I perceive in myself.
Presently there are aspects of humanity where I see little or no light. Just as people are dismissing Elliot as a crazy violent lunatic, I’m increasingly tempting to do that with others when I see them commit acts of cruelty. Every time I see someone eat animals, there’s a part of me that’s deeply disgusted by such behavior. Sometimes I’m tempted to eject from any further connection with them. My first inclination is to run from violence.
I find it easier to see the light within fellow vegans; I usually feel lighter, more peaceful, and more relaxed in their presence, even when no food is involved. I find it easier to explore greater depths of intimacy with people whose values are close to mine. I feel especially fortunate to have such a loving and like-minded girlfriend. She’s such a wonderful source of support for me on this journey. Our relationship is stimulating to be sure, but it’s also very relaxing and easy. I feel completely at ease in her presence, in ways I don’t experience with most people.
I find it difficult to connect with the side of people that can so easily turn animals into objects, especially when those same people express shock and outrage when human beings are objectified in much the same manner. Part of me wants to roll my eyes at them for the glaring double standard. If you can deny an animal’s beingness and turn it into an object, is it really such a stretch to do the same to a woman? Or a Jew? Or anyone else? Of course it’s not a stretch at all, and so quite predictably, we have a lot of objectification in our world, and it’s all interconnected.
Even within the subset of human-animal relationships, there’s incredible schizophrenia. Cats and dogs are beings and should be treated with compassion, except when they’re claimed by pet stores, in which case they’re products… while cows, chickens, pigs, and fish are objects and should be treated as consumables. Yeah, that makes sense!
How would you feel if someone took your pet and shipped it off to a factory farm to be turned into a consumable? If someone killed your pet and ate it, would you care? What if someone did this to a friend’s pet? A stranger’s pet? How can you love one animal and exhibit such cruelty and apathy towards others? Do you not acknowledge that this will infect your human relationships with a similar type of schizophrenia? Do you pretend that this won’t affect the degree of kindness, compassion, and intimacy you experience in your life? Of course it will have an effect!
This aspect of humanity strikes me as ridiculously unintelligent and disconnected — as dark as darkness gets. At times I doubt that I’m actually a member of the same species that’s capable of this insanity. I don’t want any part of it.
The shock that people feel from an event like the Santa Barbara shootings — I feel that kind of shock whenever I see people eating in a typical restaurant. What for some people is an exceptional event, well… for me it’s a fairly routine occurrence. That’s the consequence of caring. If you care, you invite sorrow. If you care more, you invite more sorrow.
Joy and Sorrow
The irony is that it’s the connection to this sorrow that is also my greatest connection to love and joy. One aspect of my relationship with Rachelle is that we both feel challenged and sometimes overwhelmed by the cruelty we see in the world. This shared sorrow actually deepens and strengthens the connection we share with each other.
One way we deal with that is to create a safe space for ourselves. My house is an environment that we can carve out as our sanctuary and not feel dragged down by acts of cruelty or the stench of dead flesh.
When one of us feels a bit overwhelmed by what we see in the world, we take time to comfort each other. We share our thoughts and feelings. When we feel infected by darker energies, we help each other release them. We hold each other and restore our vibes back to a place of love. We focus on our light, and the darkness fades.
What I haven’t yet resolved though is how to relate to people who objectify others. Where I perceive beings and acts of cruelty, they perceive objects and products. So do I join them in their objectification of the world and try to turn down the volume on my sensations of compassion and morality? No, I can’t do that. I feel I’d lose too much of who I’ve become on this journey. That would disgust me to such a degree that if I had to choose between doing that and choosing death, I believe I’d choose death. I am simply not willing to live as a man who doesn’t care about animals and people alike.
Another option is to turn my back on such energies and avoid them as much as possible. Connect only with like-minded individuals. That would be pretty difficult given the work I do in the world. I love my work, especially speaking, so I don’t see how it would be practical to avoid something that’s so ubiquitous in the world… although if I moved to a different country where there aren’t so many McCreepy’s around, it might be much easier.
When you see someone you consider fairly attractive, and then that person lights up a cigarette and takes a puff, does that affect your level of attraction? I know many people for whom this would immediately downgrade the attraction because they find smoking unhealthy, unintelligent, or just plain disgusting. I experience a similar perception, although probably to an even stronger degree, when I see someone eating animal flesh. My attraction to that person usually takes a hit. Depending on my mood, I may have to exercise some discipline in order to continue a conversation with them… just like you might have to do the same if you find yourself in a conversation with someone who’s smoking while you’re talking and you’re choking on the smoke.
Where’s the Light?
I recognize that if I objectify and condemn people who eat animals, then of course I’m setting myself up for disconnection from them. But if they objectify animals, then on some level they must also be objectifying themselves because they’re animals too. In order to objectify other beings, you must also objectify part of yourself. So wouldn’t that imply that the most honest way to treat them would be as objects, since that’s how they’re treating themselves?
But if I’m also unwilling to objectify myself, then I can’t so easily dismiss and disconnect from those that I perceive as performing insane acts of cruelty. I can’t just run from that. I have to get back into alignment with oneness and realize that like it or not, we’re all connected… including to Elliot… and including to McCreepy’s.
Yet how can I continue to grow my compassion if I feel dragged down by a society that I perceive as lagging in that area? To me it feels like a step backwards to re-engage with this part of myself. But I also note that at one time, it also felt like a bad idea to try to re-engage with the part of myself that was a thief. My attitude changed when I finally saw the value in that part of myself.
Perhaps that’s what I’m missing. I don’t see the value in cruelty. I don’t see the value in turning beings into products. I only see the harm, the waste, the disconnection, the environmental damage. I have zero appetite for any part of that world. It seems completely disgusting to me from end to end. The entire animals-into-products industry is on par with Elliot Rodger’s people-into-targets rampage.
The only good I see in those elements is the transformational effect that can occur from perceiving these incidents as messages or wake-up calls and transcending them.
But that isn’t the solution I used with the darkness I found in myself. I tried transcending it at first, but that only got me so far. Reintegration worked much better. Does that imply that at some point, I may need to learn how to engage in a dialog with my own cruelty and somehow reintegrate it back into my life, instead of continuing to apply the transcendence paradigm? Maybe that is what I’ll do someday, but for now I don’t see enough light in that direction to seriously explore it. I do know, however, that life has a way of dangling solutions at me that I’ll initially reject and eventually embrace when the time is right.
If I want to continue exploring intimacy and relationships, then how can I continue that journey if I find myself unwilling to connect very deeply with most people because their daily behaviors are morally unconscionable to me? Is it possible that the solution really is to reintegrate my own cruelty, such that I can better relate to what I perceive as cruelty in others? Hmmmm…
This is an area where I’m still actively exploring, learning, and growing. It’s an area which for me, still remains very raw and unresolved.
There is a deeper principle which guides me here though, and that is trust. Over the years I’ve cultivated an unshakeable trust in this reality. I don’t fully understand that nature of this place within which I find myself, but I trust it implicitly, and I don’t allow myself to doubt this trust. I always hold the belief that there is a positive purpose for this journey and that no matter what happens, I can always, always, always trust the universe. In fact, I believe I have no choice but to do so.
So in each struggle I find lessons. In setbacks I discover opportunity. In tragedy I seek deeper meaning.
The billions of objectified animals of this world have touched my heart to such a degree that my sense of compassion remains wrenched open. I find it impossible to turn that part of myself off. I can’t help but feel for them. I’m unable to watch someone eat animals and not feel some sorrow.
Even those people that I perceive as committing heartless, cruel, and evil acts — I still don’t see them as separate from me. I know there’s a part of me that still has the capacity for cruelty.
The pain that animals endure each day serves as a constant reminder to allow myself to feel the hurt and pain of others and not to turn my back on that. This becomes an invitation to engage in my own form of activism, which is one way to transmute that sorrow into joy. I share this part of myself openly when I can, which invites many rich connections into my life. I get up on stages in different cities to encourage others to find and follow their path with a heart. I do my best to help people escape unfulfilling jobs and enjoy richer and more fulfilling career paths. I invite people to connect more deeply and to share more hugs in my presence. To me these activities are all connected. It’s no exaggeration to say that if I didn’t learn to care about animals, I wouldn’t be doing any of this work today. I simply wouldn’t care enough to do it.
Caring… compassion… fulfillment… abundance — they’re all connected and inseparable.
It’s the same mindset that turns an animal into a consumable product, a human being into a corporate slave, a woman into a sex object… and yes, a person into a target. If we want to move beyond this type of behavior, we need to release the entire beings-into-objects perspective and replace it with more conscious and empowering paradigms, such as the perspective of oneness and our inseparable interconnectedness.
How can you deserve and invite more freedom for yourself if you don’t respect the freedom of other beings? Respecting and even celebrating the freedom of other beings serves to enhance and expand your ability to exercise your own freedom. These are parallel, interconnected, and inseparable journeys.
Despite the challenges of this journey, I feel very inspired to continue. I have an unshakeable faith that there’s a greater intelligence at work behind the scenes, helping us evolve into more intelligent and compassionate beings. I wouldn’t label that as coming from any kind of god. Even the word Source sounds a bit hokey to me. Rather I would say that it’s the combined energy of our collective desires that we’re tuning into. I think that we’re the source of this unfolding transformation.
I know it’s a tall order to open our hearts and expand our compassion as we grow, but if I can embark upon this journey starting out as a thief, I know you can do the same. Since we’re all interconnected, we can’t deny that some part of us want to embrace this journey, while another part of us wants to resist it.
Let Elliot serve as a reminder to keep following your path with a heart, and know that it’s not just about you. As much as we’d like to, we cannot turn our backs on the darkness of others, or on the darkness within ourselves. We can try transcendence. We can try re-integration. We can explore other solutions. But denial is beneath us.
October 21 - 23, 2016
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