Fourth in a multipart series addressing how those on a spiritual path can encounter, make meaning of, and respond to terrorism.
A Course in Miracles teaches that in every moment each of us confronts the choice between love and fear. It’s relatively easy to choose love when things are going well. Our relationship or marriage is good. Our children are healthy and thriving. We have enough money and a satisfying job. At these times choosing love feels natural, expanding, fulfilling. But when the opposite happens—divorce, an ill child, financial distress—fear feels most “natural.” At such moments fear, and the accompanying contraction and negativity, don’t feel like choices. They flow from us with power and immediacy.
Yet at such moments we still have a choice. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has long taught that happiness is a choice. He has earned the right to make this statement, having lost his country and so many of his people to oppression and hatred. Yet his response remains compassion for all, love for all.
Choosing love over fear is the secret to happiness. Nobody can take this choice away from you, even a terrorist. Once again we awaken to a violent act of terrorism. Innocent people dead and maimed. Once again each of us faces a choice. Will I allow this terrorist act and those who planned and perpetrated it to “cause” me to choose fear, “cause” fear to triumph over love…or will I still choose love?
I can grieve for the lives cut short. I can hurt for the suffering of the injured. I can hold compassion for those who lost loved ones. And, as noted in previous entries in this series, I can hold the perpetrators in my heart with love and forgiveness. In other words, I can still choose love in the face of this terrorist act.
But can I also say no to the terribly strong impulse to fear? Will I choose not to travel? Will I choose to suspect my neighbors who happen to practice the religion in whose name the perpetrators mistakenly claim to act? Will I contract myself and my life, become less than I was, in response to this act? Or will I say no to contraction and continue to choose love?
Why does this choice matter? Why does it matter if for a time I contract, act out of fear? First, if I do, then the terrorists will have won at least a portion of the victory they seek. They seek to undermine the very way of life of those whose society they attack. Continuing to live an open, fearless and loving life defeats the terrorists more powerfully than almost anything else could.
Second, it is so very human to feel fear. We are wired as biological and social organisms to feel fear and react out of it. When we evolved on the savanna, a fear response to a prowling lion, and the accompanying flood of adrenalin, provided survival value and became selected for genetically. It feels natural. And that is the point for those on a spiritual path. We aspire to rise above our natural, genetic, biological reactivity to something greater, something more loving. Doing so is the path to a life of joy, peace, and, yes, love. We achieve this path not in the easy moments but in the crux moments that define who we are and how we will live this life.
Third, part of pursuing a spiritual path is aspiring to serve our fellow human beings. If, as the spiritual masters have taught for millennia, we are all part of a single, shared consciousness throughout the world, when any one of us chooses fear instead of love, we contribute to lowering that consciousness. If instead we choose love over fear, in that moment we contribute to raising the consciousness of all humanity.
For all these reasons and more, in the face of each terrorist act, the choice you make between love and fear matters. You decide whether love or fear wins. And nobody can take this choice away from you.