Everything arises out of causes and conditions is a familiar refrain within the world of mindfulness meditation. And, I can't help but ruminate upon it each time I read the newspaper, watch the news, chat amongst friends, and reflect upon my life. Recently, I re-read Frankenstein after watching the alluring bio-pic, Mary Shelley. This book brilliantly illustrates the profound grief, madness and complexities that arise when causes and conditions collide against each other.
I do a great disservice in offering up this hasty summary, but it provides the context for the quote below. In his insatiable thirst for scientific prowess, Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster whom he quickly disavows the second he brings the creature to life. The monster aches for a felt sense of companionship and, after bouts of dispiriting rejection, he becomes violent and seeks revenge upon Dr. Frankenstein for all he has been denied. Throughout this psychological thriller, Mary Shelley shrewdly gives the reader both Dr. Frankenstein's perspective as well as the monster's perspective. There are multiple deaths and (SPOILER ALERT) one of the last deaths is that of Dr. Frankenstein. In the last few pages, the monster kneels beside his creator and defends himself against the judgment of his newfound companion, Robert Walton.
"Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings, who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of bringing forth. I was nourished with high thoughts of honor and devotion. But now vice has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No crime, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I call over the frightful catalogue of my deeds, I cannot believe that I am he whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness... You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. But, in the detail which he gave you of them, he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured, wasting in impotent passions. For whilst I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were for ever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?"
This is a heartbreaking and cautionary tale of abandonment and the universal need to feel seen and loved. Every action has a reaction, and we cannot dupe ourselves into believing otherwise. When our most primal needs - feeling safe and loved - go unmet chaos ensues and violence reigns. Nothing happens in isolation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expanded upon this notion when he wrote the following words from the confines of his cell in Birmingham, Alabama.
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Mindfulness practices, specifically the practice of metta/loving-kindness, can help us become aware of this "inter-related structure of reality." Through this practice we can wipe away the dust and grime that's clouded our perceptions and created this sense of separateness. But, we can't stop there. We must allow this awareness to sift into our actions. By grounding ourselves in this practice, we can respond to injustice with calm strength instead of adding to the chaos and violence. We all want to be safe. We all want to be healthy. We all want to be content and fulfill our potential. Despite all our differences, we still have this in common.
Wishing you all a happy 4th of July!