Peek Into the Human Condition
Joanne Sales – February 2010
That night I awoke about two am. In my belly, there was a big
pool of anger. For days, I had not been dealing with a situation
very well. But at this particular moment, I was awake and detached
enough to observe, “Oh look. There is a pool of fury. Lying
in my belly. Like a pool of molten lava. How interesting.”
I felt like I was watching a sleeping lion that had plans to eat
me in the morning. I knew that if someone came along and pricked
at that pool with a sewing needle, it would explode all over both
But at the moment, the lava was contained, so I could calmly observe
how rotten it felt. There it is - anger - the human condition
that inspires us now and again to go out and kill each other.
Underneath anger, we usually find sadness, frustration, powerlessness
and fear. But at the moment when anger feels like fire, that is
what it is. Fire in the belly.
In the morning’s light, I felt no anger at all, yet calmly
warned my family. “Don’t cross my path. I’m
dangerous.” It turns out it was a very full “blue”
moon, Jan 31. Heaven knows why, but we humans tend to be explosive
just before the full moon. Car accidents, violence and crime rates
Our inner turmoil and suffering hurts very personally. Very personally.
The fact that billions and billions of humans had experienced
anger before me didn’t make me any more comfortable.
I’ve been reading another wonderful book by Karen Armstrong,
A Case for God. She passes on the absolutely brilliant thoughts
of those who slept on the ground, used outhouses, held up their
baggy pants with honeysuckle vines or dressed in sheets; perceptive
observations on life by those who never imagined airplanes or
cell phones. These humans of the past were by no means stupid.
The depth of their perception, quick wit, perseverance, courage
and resilience often astounds us. Many of these people of history
lived lives and thought thoughts that are quite beyond us.
As I lay in bed watching that pool of anger, I felt a connection
to those people of the past. The emotions we feel have not changed
for millions of years. As we watch our emotions, we watch human
history. We peek into the human condition.
The Bible says Jesus got angry. That was 2000 years ago. The Buddha
labeled the three poisons: ignorance, greed and anger - 2500 years
ago. In the Illiad, King Agamemnon and Achilles quarreled - 3000
years ago. Obviously, there’s absolutely nothing original
My brother Kurt died in Viet Nam. When very young, he imagined
Russian soldiers sneaking up through the woods behind our house.
Russians? Yes. Enemies and allies are always shifting positions.
It was the Cold War, East Coast USA, 1950s, and we hid under our
desks in elementary school while air raid sirens went off. It
was practice - just in case we were going to be blown from here
to Kingdom Come that afternoon.
Decades later, I saw a picture of Russian mothers wailing because
their sons had been killed in Afghanistan. I felt this picture
was worthy of headlines: “News Flash! Stop the war! Russian
mothers love their sons.”
How obvious, and yet, not obvious at all. We so easily forget
our bond with all other humans, across the continents, enemy lines
and across history. We all share the same broken hearts, despair,
anger, fear, longing, hunger and loss. It is a reason for empathy,
and can and should influence our political decisions. “The
enemy is us.”
But it is also reason to observe our own inner turmoil with compassion.
Oh, this is grieving. This is the feeling of betrayal. This is
anger or greed. These are tales as old as time.
If we can feel these human emotions without freaking out and knocking
our neighbor over the head with a two-by-four, we are doing important
work. If we can peacefully uncover and harmlessly diffuse these
emotions, we help more than ourselves.
We’re all at work on “the human condition.”
We’re not substantially different from those at the Wailing
Wall, behind bars, in the midst of earthquakes and wars. Your
progress and mine, in living and transforming these emotions,
helps us all, backwards into history and forwards into what will
one day be history.
These are stressful times. It helps, in the middle of the night,
to know we’re not alone, no matter which of the overwhelming
humans emotions we’re experiencing. And, these emotions
will rise and fall, shifting like the moon, as we watch.