The Nature of Cruelty
Sometimes it’s almost inconceivable that so many people are capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty. Some of them are very visible – abandoned pets, beaten up kids and domestic abuse. Yet some are inflicted on us by our own selves: constant negative rumination and beliefs that we are ‘not enough’. This is cruelty.
Cruelty means showing indifference to suffering. It can also mean actually inflicting it, or in some very clinical cases, taking pleasure in inflicting it.
There are forces that drive this cruelty – unconscious dislikes or just a feeling of being uncomfortable with something. This all inflicts suffering.
We can be all ‘nice people’, but still inflict suffering to ourselves and/or others.
We need to make conscious efforts to acknowledge our dislikes and see that another person does actually suffer. This awareness or mindfulness of suffering brings understanding and kindness to our own selves and others. You simply cannot move to eliminate cruelty without a better understanding of yourself and others. When you do understand and accept, the unconscious feelings lose the grip over you and do not trigger cruel intentions or actions.
Therefore, cruelty is the enemy of compassion. Any unkind responses are to be avoided. Yet it is very challenging because of the internal and external pressures that actually trigger such responses.
Why is it important to recognize cruelty!
When are aware of those causes and can look deeper into them, we can befriend them and move on. This brings a lot of generosity to ourselves and others, feelings of compassion and kindness.
Without a recognition that it is our own discomfort that causes the suffering of others, we cannot escape and eliminate cruelty.
Let’s hear from Ajahn Sumedho, a Buddhist monk, who said the following in his book “Peace is a simple step”.
‘We kill because of basic ignorance, this unreflecting human mind that tells us to annihilate what is in our way. However, with reflection we are changing that; we are transcending that basic instinctual, animal pattern. We are not just being law-abiding puppets of society, afraid to kill because we are afraid of being punished. Now we are really taking on responsibility. We respect the lives of other creatures, even the ones we don’t like’.
Meditation cultivates awareness
Meditation is a tool that helps us to condition our own minds, so we can let go of the ingrained hard-line views and many fixed ideas, but instead, open up to our own selves and the world around us.
Mindfulness meditation, when practiced in a disciplined fashion, trains our self-control. The latter, on the other hand, helps to deal with short attention span and hatred.
One great mindfulness exercise that you can employ during your meditation or simply during your day is to feel your emotions in your body.
What it means, when you feel hate or an intent to be cruel, simply pause and visualize your emotion. Breathe and feel where in your body this emotion ‘lives’. In example, you can maybe feel it in your throat or near the belly button. Turn your attention to it, observe and accept it as it is. This will make it subside and you can exercise your self-control over it. This is how awarenesses and attention to your own self help you to live without cruelty and hatred.
Violence vs Calmness
Psychologist David Hume long ago tried distinguishing ‘violent’ passions and ‘calm’ passions. When you practice meditation and employ this mindfulness exercise described above, you cultivate calmness and emotional stability. You do not change who you are, you are just living as a better you.
There are countless implications to living with a lot of hatred and cruel intentions. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ writes:
‘high hostility scores predicted not just myocardial infarction and death from high disease but also increased risk of death from cancer and other causes as well’
We at Ahimsa Meditation have also been reporting on multiple studies that link poor nutrition to violent behaviors (Nutrition of Nonviolence), so you can see that it is all interconnected and you need to employ a holistic approach to better your life.
Paying attention to your nutrition, being mindful about your feelings in your body and living a calmer and kinder life, all this contributes to health and happiness.