I’ve been staying with my dear friend Kathy and her adorable dog Coco recently. The other day our little household swelled temporarily from three to four when Coco’s best buddy, a darling white pitbull named Cloudy, came for an extended visit.
Cloudy is a big snuggly ball of sweetness encased in 65 pounds of hard-packed muscle. And when he smiles – which is often – it’s literally from ear to ear. So delicious you could eat him with a spoon.
He has no idea why anybody would ever be afraid of him.
Pitbulls get a bad rap, in my opinion, and they don’t deserve their rotten reputation. The fact is, I’ve never met a pitbull that wasn’t sweet natured; it seems to me if you really want a mean pitbull, you’d have to go pretty far out of your way to train him to be that way.
To pretend a pitbull isn’t capable of great violence is to do the dog a disservice. The fact is, pitbulls were bred specifically to clamp down and hang onto other animals with those powerful jaws. That instinct is buried deep in the DNA.
If I were to assume this dog was a harmless jello baby made strictly for lovin,’ I could put him (and maybe also the neighborhood cats and Chihuahuas) at risk. In the wrong sort of threatening or confusing situation, those deep down genetics just might kick in.
A pitbull can’t help what he is. It’s up to me to see the dog clearly: To see past the unfair reputation so I can appreciate the cuddly nature, yes — but also keep one realistic eye on those fearsome jaws at all times.
• • •
And, in a rather roundabout way, that brings me to the topic of humans.
Like the folks who unfairly characterize all pitbulls as vicious thugs, I used to only see the worst in our collective human nature.
Oh sure, we were capable of great art. Great leaps of spirit. Occasional acts of selflessness, even. I acknowledged these anomalies grudgingly — but mostly I saw us as irredeemably miserable bastards, out to ravage the Earth and each other. And despite my best efforts over many years of spiritual practice, that attitude toward the world persisted for a very long time.
In fact I used to shake my head in bemusement at those eternally rose-colored optimists who insisted (despite all evidence to the contrary) that mankind was essentially noble and good. And that given the opportunity, we humans could be counted on to do the right thing most of the time.
Well. Clearly we can’t be counted on for any such thing. Our minds aren’t hardwired that way. And yet (just like pitbulls) when it comes right down to it, we’re not the slightest bit evil, either. We happen to have some nasty jaws on us, sure… but deep down we really just want to be loved.
Yet I was unable to truly feel any of that compassion for us in my heart. I could cut a dog all the slack in the world, it seemed, but when it came to humanity I just couldn’t seem to forgive us our trespasses.
• • •
Not to change the subject, but this has been a hell of a year for me. Deep spiritual crises followed by even deeper spiritual openings. The fledgling emergence of a profound new Self I never knew existed…which is totally awesome, at least on paper. But these shy introductions to this wise, powerful Carrie 2.0 have turned my life completely upside down. Let’s just say I’ve been both shaken and stirred.
But uncomfortable as it’s been, I wouldn’t change a minute of it.
Getting to know this eternal Self has caused some amazing shifts in perception. Suddenly I can step outside many of those deepest (conscious or unconscious) beliefs that have caused me pain and kept me imprisoned in my own mistaken stuff for as long as I can remember.
And one of those deep beliefs – not just deep, but miles wide – was my casual certainty that the world was evil. That humanity was irredeemable. It wasn’t something I ever thought about consciously; I didn’t have to. The bleak facts of our existence, and our endless catalogue of crimes spoke for themselves. It was undeniable.
One day a few months back while I was brushing my teeth, my newly emergent eternal wisdom unexpectedly asked this gentle question:
What if I’m wrong about the world?
As in: What if nobody’s actually guilty here? And what if every assumption I’ve ever made about our inherent evil is completely baseless?
(As is often the case with such communiqués, the words were accompanied by something much bigger and altogether wordless: A perfectly neutral snapshot of humanity as a whole, an overview of us as we’ve trundled along throughout our messy history — but witnessed now from beyond my own dark and narrow vantage point.
It was an invitation to see more clearly. To notice our deadly jaws, as it were, but to look beyond them for the very first time, to appreciate our inherent sweetness. Our yearning to know God, even if we often don’t call it that. And to let a lifetime of rigid fear and judgment melt away in the process.)
It was an opportunity, if I wanted it, to entertain an entirely different possibility about how to live in this world.
This was staggering. It had never before occurred to me that my attitude was mere opinion, subject to interpretation. I was so certain of the world’s evil, I had never even bothered wondering whether or not it was true.
(I know. WTF, right? I wrote a book all about self-inquiry; all about revisiting our deepest assumptions and asking ourselves if they’re really true. And I practice and teach A Course in Miracles, which is all about the world’s innocence, for God’s sake. Well. What can I tell you. I knew all those things in my head, but sometimes it takes frigging forever for such important information to travel from the head to the heart.)
And now, I’d experienced firsthand that the world was neither good nor bad. Wow. I realized that everything I had ever done, everything I was up until this point, had been constructed with defense or preemptive attack in mind.
How should I start to behave now that the world wasn’t evil? This would surely change everything.
• • •
And it has. Just by acknowledging the possibility that I was wrong about the world’s nature, a spontaneous release of my old crusty stuff seems to have taken place.
Nowadays I mostly feel tenderness and empathy for us. I can see our hurts, our skinned knees where we’ve repeatedly fallen down on sharp gravel; I still have days when I’m appalled by our antics, but mostly I just want to clean the scraped knee, kiss it and make it better.
Yes, I acknowledge it’s possible one of you might pop me in the back of the head with a slingshot rock the moment I turn away to grab a clean bandage. Humans are like that – we haven’t stopped acting like little bastards. But knowing this, I watch carefully for signs of possible bad behavior and go on dressing the wound anyway. Because we’re all in this together.
Violence is programmed into our genetic code, but I’ve found if I look carefully beyond that surface aspect of our collective makeup, very quickly our truest nature begins to shine through. And you know, it ain’t half bad.