I can't say for sure when it happened. I could name a few events, some major and many minor, that may have contributed to the situation. But, really, I can't provide a single outstanding event that has made me the way that I am today.
I am cold, callous, insensitive, distanced, isolated, and aloof. I see innocent people die in silly wars on my TV and I debate the philosophical implications of cultural clashes. I watch people starve amid tribal warfare and I condemn the UN for not doing its job. I see immigrants who have died trying to find a better life in a nation that hates them and I feel nothing but anger toward politicians.
I see the world and its suffering and I don't let it in, not really.
It's so much easier to remove myself to the intellectual realm, as I am doing right now. I see all these horrors in my world being perpetrated on other human beings, and I don't cry or feel my heart breaking -- not usually. I get angry, frustrated, and bitter -- all things that are thinking, not things that hit me in my gut.
How does this happen? When I was a kid I couldn't watch Wild Kingdom and see a lion kill an antelope without crying. I was sensitive in the ways most kids are sensitive -- until it was crushed. How did that die? What killed it?
We should feel each other's pain. We should not be able to watch an entire group of people wiped off the face of the earth in Darfur or Somalia and feel nothing. We should not be able to watch hundreds of innocent people die as collateral damage in an unjust war and simply rant about our corrupt government.
I am not satisfied with being callous and cold and distanced.
Life is dukkha. Buddhism teaches -- and observation confirms -- that the world is filled with suffering. That's not all it is, of course, but there is war, sickness, injustice, brutality, hatred, death. We are surrounded by these things and we generally choose not to pay attention. And it is a choice.
Clearly, there is more to life than suffering, but until we become too uneasy, too uncomfortable, too pained by the suffering in the world that we no longer can tolerate it, it will persist.
When I sit in tonglen I can feel that pain. I can breathe it in . . . and breathe it out . . . and feel it in my gut. When I watch West Wing episodes (and I have all of them), I am often moved to that place where I feel instead of think. When I read great poetry, I am moved to that place.
Why do I need to seek out depth of feeling? When it did cease to be my natural state?
Am I the only one who feels this way?