The Dharma on the Front Lines: How to Work with Conflict

Peace sometimes feels impossible to find. It is there for a while then something happens and conflict or friction returns. It may be conflict with ourselves, in relationships to people close to us, at our work place, or between social groups. Often we can feel despaired that despite much dharma practice and meditation, conflict keeps arising. Further, we are living at a time when conflict and insecurity are on the rise, and we need new ways of dealing with it. Those of us who are active socially often find that it is an exhausting and endless struggle for which we do not have the strength and persistence. 

Practices and teachings derived from Buddhism, the dharma, offer a deep understanding of how conflict or peace arises in us and others, how it is sustained and how it can be dissolved. I have been using these ways in leading peace work in the Middle East for many years. The primary practice is the development of mindful awareness which helps to shift the mind and heart from reactivity and defence, from the mind of conflict, to the mind of peace. We can see our connection to the ‘other’ and notice their life, experiencing the joy of togetherness rather than the pain of distrust, labelling and insecurity. As we meet them with deep listening, presence and an open mind and heart, empathy grows, and empathy allows compassion. Metta, universal friendliness, when consistent in our daily life, will melt boundaries and soften hostility and insecurity in others. 

Dharma practice gradually matures as greater and greater equanimity. This is based on anatta, stepping out of identification, taking ourselves more lightly and seeing the impersonal nature of the arising of events. This is not about switching off or indifference. Equanimity is our capacity to ride the waves of change and the unexpected. We are touched by life, but not knocked over. It offers an inner, invisible protection which is instead of shields and character armour.  We then find ourselves in the eye of the storm: not in its path, neither running away from it. You can imagine how equanimity helps us radiate steadiness and friendliness which will radically change testing situations of disputes, or fears or projections during daily life encounters. Equanimity is so much needed in these difficult times.