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  • Writer's pictureHugh Willard

Learning to Dance with Conflict

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror ever be polished?” — Rumi


After many years of distant running and playing basketball, my right knee told me it was time to properly tend to it with arthroscopic surgery. Being the curious person that I am, I decided to have local, rather than general, anesthesia, so I could watch the procedure on a nearby monitor. The surgeon explained what he was doing along the way. The last thing he did, after internally suturing a long tear in my meniscus, was to take what looked like a cheese grater and aggressively scruff up the impacted area. He noted that this would stimulate the healing process.

I have spent the length of my life in search of peace, and indeed, I have found it. In moments. In periods of time. And then, each time when the peace promptly left, I ardently searched for its return.

The work of my life is learning to dance with conflict. I am finding the more adept and at ease I become in this dance, strangely, the greater peace I experience. This feels like an odd twist on the Buddhist orientation of acceptance in and of all things as the path to peace.

One of the earliest accounts in the Torah and the Bible is that of Adam and Eve. As the story goes, the pair lived a serene existence before being cast out of Peace. This is a conflict that we, their heirs, continue to grapple with today. But if we go back and consider the account, Adam and Eve were already in a state of disconnection before they were expelled from the garden. Being cast out, read conflict, was the result of a facet of their subjective human nature. The conflict was, and is, the necessary ingredient to the path back to wholeness.

Conflict is as natural as the moon's gravitational pull on the oceans' tides; the tidal force, pushing and pulling, creating and sustaining the base of the entire world’s harmonious ecosystem.

In accepting conflict, I would do well to remember that anger and conflict are two completely different experiences, albeit ones that are highly frequent bedmates. Conflict and anger are both voluble, active energies. But anger most often has an unhealthy fear as its wellspring. For the conflict that is an inherent component of life, fear has no place in the calculus. Peace, on the other hand, while also voluble, is a receptive energy. Peace is a state of resolution, a state of acceptance that requires conflict, just as light requires darkness. Each defines the other.

So I come to find that the real work of my life is understanding my anger. The Dalai Lama once said, “An angry response to anger does nothing good. It simply just fuels the fire.” Not surprisingly well said, Your Holiness. So, if I’m understanding this correctly, considering my inherently subjective nature, I need to accept my anger, accept my fear. And as an extension, in the great paradoxical way that is the bellwether of all Life, when I do so, I will in fact disarm and diminish said anger and fear.

Greater acceptance of all that is, especially to include conflict, leads to greater peace. Sounds good to me.

Hugh Willard is a member of Sympara's writing group, Aging for the Common Good. A psychotherapist, retirement coach, author and musician, he lives in North Carolina.


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