Most people dislike conflict. The reason we avoid conflict is that we view it as something negative and avoid it as much as possible. We avoid conflict in many different ways. From pleasing another person so that we do not need to confront them, to keeping quiet even when we deeply disagree with someone else. It also includes totally tuning out of something we disagree with. We may even keep silent, and that could be taken as a sign of agreement to something we oppose in our hearts. Conflict avoidance doesn’t solve the issue or make it go away. Keeping silent while revolting in our hearts regarding an issue only makes it snowball. When we don’t approach the challenge at the start, we tend to have a bigger reaction later. Instead of disliking or avoiding conflict, we can learn to transform conflict into a lesson to know ourselves.
What is conflict?
It may seem like a mindless question to ask what is conflict. We all know what is conflict – conflict happens as something external to ourselves, caused by something or someone who disturbs our peace. But if we were to believe that conflict is caused externally, we are going to blame others for our unhappiness. By blaming others for our unhappiness we don’t take responsibility for our inner conflicts.
It may seem odd to you that conflict is from within us. For instance, you may ponder, how can it be your fault for being mad if you are late for an appointment because of another? Well, if we look deeply we can find that conflict is not from another person. If we have the intention of making it to an appointment, we would be there on time no matter what. Therefore, we cannot fault another person for our lateness. If our lateness is caused by the traffic, we need not be upset too, since we have no control over it.
Conflict occurs within us because we feel we are helpless to the situation outside. So we show our displeasure and unhappiness for things not going our way because of others. But it need not be so. Conflict arises because we want to be in control. But in life, we seldom are in control because it contains other people and their decisions.
What causes conflict?
If we want to transform conflict as an opportunity for self-development, we need to know its cause. Seeing that conflict begins in ourselves and not from external factors is good news. That means we can learn to change and use conflict as a teacher in our lives.
There are numerous conflicts in our world. If quarrels and unpleasantness are always caused by others, there is no way we can transform our world into peace since it’s almost impossible to change others. But, if we all recognize that peace comes from our own hearts, then harmony is possible in the world.
Conflict is not limited to wars, gun fights, and quarrels in our world. Conflict is this uneasiness we have with negative emotions in our hearts. What do we choose to do with our discomfort with impatience, restlessness, anger, and other painful feelings? We often vent these feelings without awareness that we are spreading our moods to others. Have you observed how your friends’ melancholy or impatience affect you? If you have, you wouldn’t be venting your anger or bad moods onto others.
Our pain or conflicted feelings (wanting to do good yet inflicted with a bad mood) come from not accepting things as they come. Things such as bad traffic, a crying baby, and annoying colleague to the war. If you observe people walking on the street, you will find how conflicted humanity is with restlessness, impatience, boredom, and a lack of ease.
How to transform conflict into a lesson worth learning?
Conflicts are teachers and allow us to look deeply into our hearts. Our hearts are tangled in knots. Knots cause stress and unhappiness. Conflicts show us where our hearts feel knotted. In almost all cases, we feel conflicted when things don’t go our way – such as losing a loved one, being in situations, or with people we dislike.
These situations tell us our ideas about ourselves. We mostly think we are in control of things. Beyond us is nature which is always changing. We are unable to control nature. We are a part of nature too. When we go against the laws of nature, we suffer its effects. There is always change going on around us. Even when things are going well, they will change sooner or later. A friend recently shared with me that her partner of more than a decade left her, while her business partner also took her clients and split. Everyone including herself thought she was all settled down in her private and business life.
All the conflicts we face from people and situations are to teach us to accept that we are unable to be in total control of our lives. We can’t control our life spans, and we cannot control anyone from making a decision we dislike. Our control is limited. Therefore, every conflict teaches us to let go of wanting to control.
Not being in control is not the end of the world
Not being in control does not mean we totally give up and do not care. It only means we can transform conflict into ease. How is that so? When we are working towards a goal and encounter obstacles, we can acknowledge that we don’t have total control and this teaches us to be flexible. We can see the difficult people in our lives as showing us where we want and expect control. If we give up wanting control over them, what can change?
Knowing we cannot always get what we want allows us to start allowing things such as failures and loss. Instead of reacting badly to these things, we understand that besides life and victories, there are also death and losses. When we allow things to unfold, we begin to be flexible. When we are flexible like trees that bend in the direction of strong winds instead of against them, we are at ease.
The only way to recognize whether we are going against the tide or with the tide is by having presence. Presence is a quality of attention. We cannot have attention unless we have trained our minds to stop, observe and act without judgment. Instead, we train our hearts to have intentions that produce ease in the heart. And that is the purpose of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an experience of experiencing reality, without our illusory belief that we can control, or that conflict is an external cause. Mindfulness is the training of our mind to look into itself. If you are interested in learning to transform conflict into a lesson where we can learn to be at ease, check out our mindfulness courses.