You Are Not Alone
In the Buddhist wisdom traditions, there is a teaching about the three poisons — craving, aggression, and ignorance. These three poisons are associated with three objects — people, places, and circumstances. These poisons and objects then lead us to the three virtues — non-attachment, tolerance, and acceptance. All of this provides a context within which we might develop true compassion.
Michael J. Formica is a board-certified counselor, integral life coach, teacher, and self-development expert who writes and lectures extensively on spirituality, psychology, and related disciplines. He attended Columbia University’s Teachers College, among others, and, in addition to three advanced degrees in psychology, has been awarded degrees in both theology and philosophy. Michael has had training in the Theraveda and Mahayana Buddhist traditions and is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.
Editor: Sehrish Sarfraz
The three poisons — aggression, craving, and ignorance — might be considered meta-containers for all of the feelings that we feel. The intention of this teaching, and its associated practice, is, quite simply, to feel your feelings.
In terms of craving, we might think about addiction, obsession, or competition. In terms of aggression, we might think about anger, frustration, resentment, or impatience. In terms of ignorance, we might think about passive-aggression, enabling, or agency.
The key here, as is true of all traditions that speak to spirit or the psyche, is to get to know the entirety of oneself, rather than to deny any part of that. To that point, one of the great misconceptions about Jung’s concept of shadow is that it is something that exists in our unconscious, a container for the attitudes and behaviors of which we are unaware. In point of fact, the shadow consists of those parts of ourselves that we would reject. If you’re a Democratic, your shadow self is Republican; it’s that simple.
In opening ourselves to deep and abiding introspection, we integrate into our conscious state aspects of ourselves that we might otherwise reject. Feeling your feelings and getting to know yourself are the core elements associated with cultivating compassion because, once we see those things in ourselves, we can recognize them in others, leading us to the realization that we are, in fact, not alone: rather, we are stewards of a shared experience of emotion.
So, the three poisons are provoked by the experience of the three objects — people, things, and circumstances. The three virtues both feed and are fed by the development of compassion, as the very seed of compassion is taking a moment to recognize that you are not alone; you are experiencing something that all people are experiencing. That anger, that craving, that frustration, that passivity, and even that suicidality are things universally shared and not something to which you, alone, claim ownership.
Recognizing that each of us is part of the fabric of humanity, the threads of which are all the same on some level, is the foundation for developing the compassion that allows us to accept ourselves, and accept what goes on around us with grace and alacrity. It is the engine of running into the fire, for taking what is painful, prompts suffering, or causes discomfort and using it to fuel our self-development.