Explosions from Within

Some people once lived in a compound. They were often attacked by invaders who shot arrows of fire into the compound. When the arrows were shot, huge explosions went off in the compound. The people living in the compound were frightened and agitated by the explosions, and would focus all their energy on attacking the invaders and stopping their arrows of fire.

But no matter how much they stopped the invaders, inevitably some arrows would break through and there would be devastating explosions in the compound. In response, most people in the compound spent their time figuring out more and more elaborate attacks on the invaders. Yet each time they felt they would destroy or at least control the invaders, an arrow would pass through and the compound was rocked with explosions yet again.

Finally one person realized that there was dynamite all over the compound. And it was really the dynamite which was causing the huge explosions. He saw that when the arrows of fire fell on empty ground, they were relatively harmless. But when they fell on dynamite, there were huge explosions.

So he removed all the dynamite from the compound. Confident there wouldn’t be anymore explosions, he was unperturbed by the arrows of fire and was able to focus on how best to deal with the invaders.

A wise person is like the person removing the dynamite from his compound.

An unwise person is like the people ignoring the dynamite in their own compound and looking outward for the cause of the explosions.

Normally I try to not be angry or frustrated or upset when interacting with others. When I am feeling grounded and calm, it feels like I am ready and poised to thwart and not be overcome by any arrows others might shoot towards me.

And yet, no matter how poised and on guard I am, usually at some point, there is an explosion. The hull has been breached. There is an explosion from within. While I am looking out for attacks from outside, fire explodes from within me – destroying my equanimity and filling the air with dark clouds of negative, painful, frustrated emotions.

At that point, panicked for myself and confident that the bomb which exploded in me was thrown from someone on the outside, I focus all my energy in retaliating against that person.

But did the other person throw a bomb or was it the dynamite I carry within me which exploded?

An unwise person gets surprised every time he becomes angry or depressed or frustrated. He asks, “Where is this emotion coming from? Who is triggering it?” And he looks out at the world to find the cause. He keeps looking until he pins the cause on something out there. So he can focus his anger on that and release the anger in that direction.

A wise person is unsurprised every time he becomes angry or depressed or frustrated. He doesn’t ask where the emotion is coming from, or who is triggering it. He knows right away that the emotion is an explosion from within. That it is his dynamite which went off. And that the explosion will cloud his judgement and make him look outwards. But instead of falling for that illusion, he turns away from the outside. He looks towards himself and focuses on removing the dynamite he carries within.

The unwise person looks at the wise person and sees a fool and a coward: “Look how he is not attacking the enemy in righteous fury and is running away, navel gazing at himself! Not to worry: I will find the enemy out there and destroy him!”

The wise person looks at himself and sees a diligent worker. Methodically removing the dynamite from within himself so that he can be free of pain.

3 thoughts on “Explosions from Within

  1. Very nice. A couple of thoughts. First, even when I know that it is the dynamite within me that exploded, I get so mad at the person firing the arrows that, despite knowing better, I stay mad at the other person, or worse, I get mad at myself for my inability to focus on myself to remove my dynamite because I’m upset at the other person.

    Second, it is worth thinking about what removing the dynamite from within oneself means. For instance, some people focus a lot of energy on figuring out what happened in their past, and what the original wound was, that causes them to get triggered. But it’s not completely clear that tracing the history of how the dynamite came to be within oneself is useful for removing it. Indeed, looking into the history can be a way of distracting oneself from the task of actually removing the dynamite. In other words, it’s not clear to me that when we are triggered, that it’s productive to try and find the root cause or source of that trigger; might that just be another way of not being with the emotions in us? Removing the dynamite at the time of the attack might entail that we be aware of the emotion within us, and stay with it till it runs out of steam. Once one is calm, then perhaps one can ask what wound is present within them that was triggered by the external arrow. But knowing the source of one’s triggers is not a substitute or a requirement for removing (i.e. dealing with) the dynamite.

    Studying philosophy and/or psychology makes one very good at describing the vague or the intangible; in the context of this metaphor, one can get caught up in accurately describing the dynamite in question, its source, and the explosion. But these intellectual descriptions are often attempts to control an avalanche of emotions, and don’t work for long–dealing with emotions isn’t (I suspect) done intellectually in this way; one must be physically present with them, and be aware of them, and recognize that they will pass.

    A great description I heard recently is that we shouldn’t identify ourselves with our emotions, for we are like an ocean, and the emotions are just the waves on the surface of the ocean, they come and go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Removing the dynamite at the time of the attack might entail that we be aware of the emotion within us, and stay with it till it runs out of steam. Once one is calm, then perhaps one can ask what wound is present within them that was triggered by the external arrow. But knowing the source of one’s triggers is not a substitute or a requirement for removing (i.e. dealing with) the dynamite.”

      Excellent point.

      Removing the dynamite = being aware of the dynamite as within us. It is not a multi step process, of (1) finding the dynamite, (2) understanding how the dynamite works, and (3) removing it. It is just a single step: being aware that the explosion is coming from within. Of focusing here, within, rather than there, outside. And even of focusing within not with the aim of discovering why I am getting triggered. The why is either relatively obvious, in which case no point looking for it. Or it is pretty subtle and deep-seated, in which case looking for it feels like mining within oneself even while explosions are happening in the mine (not safe or productive!).

      Understanding the deeper causes of the explosions happens gradually and over time as one recognizes the dynamite is within oneself. But the understanding is not a prerequisite to being aware of where the explosion is coming from. One doesn’t have to understand how dynamite works before one removes it from one’s house.

      Related to your first point. Once the explosion happens, it can last a while. Sometimes much longer even after one recognizes the explosion is from one’s own dynamite. One wants to put out the explosion right away, and being unable to do that leads to a series of further explosions. Sometimes smaller in scale, and sometimes bigger, with the inability to stop the fire leading to greater and greater explosions until one’s emotions are all out of proportion to the situation. The only solution again is awareness. True, unflinching awareness. Just awareness. It is like a water hose turned onto a fire.

      The mind resists: “But I am aware of it! That’s why I want to find out who started it!” This is only surface, momentary awareness – an awareness which functions more through looking away. The way one is aware of a taboo, of something not to be done, or something not to be looked at directly. Hence this awareness leads to focusing attention on something else, away from the explosion. But the healing, necessary awareness is the penetrating gaze which confronts the heat of the explosion, and looks directly at it. Just looks and is aware of it. Mindful it is happening, and accepts it is happening without drawing any inferences of who is to blame or how I could be so stupid as to let this happen, or why I am not different or the world isn’t different. Those further thoughts, in that moment, are further explosions waiting to happen. Simply being aware of them, without judgment, and without looking away, is painful in the moment, but also healing and soothing.


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