Are We Wasting Too Much Time on the Slap?
3 spiritual takeaways from that fateful Oscar moment
Everyone is talking about “the slap that was heard around the world” when Will Smith gave one to Chris Rock during the Oscar Awards.
But I haven’t heard a single person speak or write about it from a spiritual perspective.
As long as we look at intense moments like this one from an ordinary view, it keeps us on the merry-go-round of judgmental mind.
So instead of getting stuck in the “right and wrong” of the slap, let’s look at how we can use the occurrence as a spiritual reminder.
1. The Dangers of Ego Identification
I use the word “ego” in a spiritual context, meaning the attachment we have to a sense of a continuous, independent self.
It’s not bad to have a strong sense of self. A spiritual warrior needs a strong sense of self to stay aligned with their mission. Think of any great spiritual being—the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Gandhi. They all have/had a strong identity.
But they also knew the ego self is no other than mental concepts, momentary arisings we have learned to identify with and call “the self.” In reality there is no central, continuous self. We’re just a flow of awareness. Experiences arise within this larger field of awareness.
“Self” is a convenient label that helps us to function in the world. It can lead to positive outcomes when we direct our awareness in good ways.
But a strong attachment to self often leads to negative outcomes, behaviors that harm, ourselves or others. This is what we witnessed with the slap.
I don’t know what went through Will Smith’s mind in that moment. I don’t know if he made a conscious choice or reacted from his emotional brain. But clearly his attachment to his ideas about himself as a man and a defender of his wife led him to get angry and act that emotion out in aggression.
But spiritual teachings don’t instruct us to act out in violence, do they?
Jesus said not to retaliate when attacked or insulted. He advised, “Turn the other cheek.” This sentiment is alive in all spiritual traditions because violence more often than not begets violence.
It’s not easy to refrain from impulsively acting on one’s emotions. We’re so attached to our ego self and subject to all the strong emotions it creates. For most of us, it takes years of spiritual work to be learn to detach and not take things personally.
I’m not saying that Will Smith does or doesn’t have a big ego in the conventional sense. But in a spiritual sense, he’s just like the rest of us. We all operate from a strong attachment to self unless we make an active commitment not to do so. We have to make a conscious decision to learn to work with our emotions rather than act them out.
2. Getting Lost in the Judgmental Mind
I don’t condone Will Smith’s behavior. But getting lost in judgment about another person’s actions doesn’t build your spiritual heart.
Who among us has not lost their temper?
Interestingly, quotes from Jesus keep coming up in my Buddhist mind. So, as Jesus said, let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.
I’ve read Will Smith grew up in a traumatic environment. His father abused his mother. As a child, there was nothing he could do about it. We may not condone Smith’s behavior but we can have empathy for him. That kind of childhood leaves scars.
Money, fame, and success does not resolve trauma. Fortunately, we now have effective therapies for trauma. But it can still take years of internal work to heal those deep wounds.
Instead of taking sides, strive to have empathy for everyone involved: Jada Pinkett-Smith who struggles with a tough auto-immune condition, Chris Rock, who, wittingly or unwittingly, made an insensitive joke, and Will Smith, who reacted in a violent manner, perhaps triggered by a remnant of the abuse he witnessed as a child.
3. Stay in Your Own Lane
The Buddhist teacher Penor Rinpoche offers potent advice about looking at your own mind instead of criticizing others:
“It’s very important to keep examining your mind at all times and be aware of what occurs in it. We have this habit of criticizing others; we are very good at pointing out their faults, but we have a hard time being aware of our own flaws. Examining the faults of others will not benefit anyone and only leads to more disturbing emotions, blocking our path to liberation. Whatever anyone else does, let them do it. It’s not your business to find other people’s flaws, and even if you do point them out, there is no way for you to correct them. On the other hand, it is very important to watch your own mind and train in subduing and reducing your own disturbing emotions. Analyze your mind, constantly watch your thoughts, recognizing whether they are positive or negative, and become aware of your faults. If you constantly observe yourself and analyze your thoughts, you will eventually be able to tame your mind. Since we haven’t been able to purify our karmic and emotional obscurations, our gross disturbing emotions can come up anytime, and whenever these emotions come up, we should apply the antidote by looking into our mind and trying to understand that all phenomena are emptiness. If you leave your mind in a relaxed state without contriving anything, disturbing emotions will cease.” — from Ocean of Blessings, Heart Teachings of Drubwang Penor Rinpoche, p.49
Think of the countless hours people have spent discussing the slap and arguing about who was right and who was wrong. Our collective reaction to this one slap has mostly led to more aggression and more separation.
Wouldn’t that time be better spent working with our own minds as Penor Rinpoche suggests?
We can learn and grow through discussing dramatic events. Sometimes, it’s necessary and helpful.
But let’s be cognizant of how much time we spend on such matters. Let’s ask if the time spent is truly beneficial for ourselves and others. Let’s not waste our precious time on the unimportant and transitory.
The slap heard around the world is just another transitory experience in this dream-like existence. Don’t give the transitory more attention than it deserves.
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Until Next Time
I’m ending this week feeling a deep exhaustion. I just want to get under the covers and do nothing. I probably will do something like that. When I do, I find it doesn’t take long to feel rejuvenated.
I hope you’ll enjoy some lovely self-care this weekend too.
Thank you for reading!
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Until next time, stay safe, be happy, and let your love flow.
Sending you all my love and best wishes.
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