I dislike conflict. Most of us do. But it’s natural (and unavoidable) that situations will arise where we perceive things differently from one another. We each cherish a differently composed montage of principles and our views are uniquely coloured by individual traumas.

Blind anger has never solved a dispute. Rage turns back on its host with snapping teeth and ruinous effect.

Another biproduct of conflict is anxiety. Rumination and catastrophizing are close cousins, also unconstructive and self-injurious—yet so easy to fall in with when the way to resolution is unclear. “The tail is wagging the dog,” I say when my mind loops around that track. This phrase returns me to where I want to live, in the moment. I should be directing my mind’s thoughts, not the other way around.

A copy of Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo recently found its way to me. He writes about applying Japanese philosophy to the art of guitar playing. I’ve been reflecting on how to apply these same philosophies to coping with longstanding conflict.

He tells a story from ancient times, when a monk was called to play his flute for the Japanese emperor. He played one note and left, yet the emperor was pleased. The monk had displayed enlightenment by understanding that “every note and every space between notes has equal importance because there is no sound without silence and no silence without sound.” Without discomfort, we wouldn’t understand comfort. I’m also reminded that inside the space of a sound or a silence is a new opportunity to change my inner dialogue and return to calmmess.

Sudo’s book shares the concept of carrying an empty cup. When we approach new learning situations, we should empty our cup of what we think we know for sure, and drink openly of new knowledge. If we bring a full cup to conversations, there is never room to pour in new understanding. I think of the empty cup as a space to welcome different perspectives for the sake of peaceful relations. We can empty our minds of how we feel wronged and of all the reasons why ours are the only valid opinions. If we leave room to drink in the other person’s point of view, compromise is possible. Maybe tolerance can grow. But if the other person doesn’t arrive at the discussion with their cup empty, what then?

“See the glass as half full,” Sudo writes. “Understand that as you try to fill it, the glass will get bigger. Endeavour to make harmony from disharmony.” In the context of my reflection, the glass getting bigger means that positivity begets positivity. Optimism is a habit in direct opposition to catastrophic thinking. Now when I forecast a negative event, I stop and plant two positive possibilities in its place. Light crowds out the dark. Harmony replaces disharmony from within.

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