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A 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 of us.

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 increase.

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 about anger.

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.