Due to the nature of my work, I interface with a lot people. Lately it seems like a lot of the folks I have been interfacing with are feeling quite distressed about what is happening in our country.
I feel distressed too. If you are reading this and don’t feel distressed, that’s great and I hope that you will still find my article useful, as I am attempting to write this from a place of love and from spiritual practice, and not from my own distress.
When I was in my early 20’s, political activism was of great importance to me. Over time, however, I found that it was making me miserable. I was extremely angry inside and often inadvertently threw that anger at those around me. It was not a healthy way to live.
Then I found yoga, and when I did I realized something; we actually do have to BE the change that we want to see in the world. (That’s a pretty cliche saying nowadays, I know. However, if we can look beyond that for a moment, it’s also a deep, important truth). When I realized this truth I became a different kind of activist. Let me explain:
For an political activist to do their work they might feel that it’s important to go to a march or protest, or to write letters to a Senator, or to give money to the causes that need their support. All of this certainly makes sense.
However, if an activist is unaware, for example, of how they have subconsciously internalized sexism, they might go march at a Women’s March and then come home and defer to their husband in front of their kids without even realizing it. In this scenario I would assert that they have done more harm than good on that day (despite their participation in the march).
Continuing with this same example, if an activist can see that sexism is a problem in this country, then the other thing that they also must realize is that sexism must be or (must have been) a problem within themselves.
If their own sexism is something that they have already examined and worked with within themselves, then that’s great. If it’s not, however, then it’s important for them to pause for a moment and look inside.
This is just how the Universe works; the world we see outside of us is always a reflection of our internal world. Those qualities that we dislike or disapprove of in others are also within us. (Sorry for bad news.)
Many of us do not want to take the time to look inside and see how we may have internalized qualities that we believe are bad or wrong. Using the same example once again, it’s a lot easier to be angry at the “other people” who are sexist. However, if we really want things to change, we have to be willing to stop blaming everyone else and instead attempt to change ourselves.
Getting to know, learning to love and learning to negotiate with the parts of ourselves that are sexist, racist, homophobic, hateful, etc. is the most powerful kind of activism. Why? Because until that happens, those parts of ourselves will be showing up in our unconscious behaviors and habits.
Like the water after a pebble has been dropped in a lake, the effects of those unconscious behaviors and patterns ripple out in all directions and affect everyone around us.
Let me just re-iterate that I’m not against rallies, or marches, or protests, or writing letters or donating money or speaking out. I think all of these things are super-important, but what I am saying here is that if we are not concurrently doing our inner work, our efforts to change the external reality will just not get us very far.
To do our inner work, we must connect to the capacity of our hearts.
“The heart is a thousand stringed instrument, that can only be tuned with love” writes the Mystical Sufi poet Rumi. What a lovely verse. Doing inner work is a complex and ever-evolving process. We truly do need a “thousand-stringed” instrument to be able to navigate through it successfully. The parts of us that have internalized sexism, hate, racism, etc. are parts of us that desperately need our own love in order to heal, and it is only with the heart that we can access our ability to love all parts of ourselves.
It is also only through this thousand-stringed instrument of the heart that we can evolve as a country.
I recently learned that someone whom I very much respect is a Trump supporter. (In case you haven’t guessed, I am not). When I first found out, I actually thought that they were joking (which just goes to show what an insulated, liberal bubble I am living in). Anyway, after I figured out that they were serious, I was shocked and even slightly repulsed.
This was my emotional response. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but because this is a person I respect, I really pushed myself to look a little deeper, beyond my emotions and opinions. This was not an easy thing to do; It’s natural to want to just draw a line between oneself and the “bad guys” and call it a day. It’s easy and a hell of a lot more comfortable to assume that those we don’t agree with are stupid, ignorant, bad people or just plain wrong.
The thing is that most of the people who voted for Trump were generally feeling afraid, unwanted, insecure and/or left behind. Their experiences were real. Just as real as the experiences of those who did not vote for him.
For more information on this, I suggest checking out this episode of NPR’s podcast called Hidden Brain. In this episode, the host interviews a woman who went and lived in the Deep South to try and understand where Trump supporters are coming from. It’s a great listen.
If you don’t want to bother, I will summarize by saying that she found people who were suffering, people who were discriminated against, taken advantage of and feeling “left out” of the American dream.
Perhaps you yourself have also felt this way before. I know that I have. Ironically, I would imagine that many immigrants to our country probably feel this way as well.
If we dare to go beneath the surface and look beyond our emotions and opinions, we begin to see that everyone is just doing their best to be happy and not to suffer, and it’s nobody’s fault and there is no one to blame. Our individual, often contradictory world views are a result of what we have been taught and what we have experienced, which is largely based on luck and circumstance.
Can we learn to tolerate the discomfort that comes from meeting someone with a different worldview than our own? Certainly, doing so will threaten our egos. It might even threaten our worldview (which our egos have worked so very hard to construct!).
I think this ability to tolerate, let alone try and understand and have compassion for, people who have different opinions and world views than our own, is something that we have collectively lost touch with as a nation. However, it is the only true way forward.
I may think, feel and swear up and down that I am right, and the other person is so, so very wrong, but that doesn’t really change anything. Why? Because other person feels the exact same way; they are certain that they are right and that I am the one who is wrong.
We are all convinced that we are right.
In the end we must be learn to go beyond the dualistic experience of the mind, which is responsible for judgements of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad”, and connect with our ability to understand one another, which is based in the heart. Otherwise, we will just have more and more division, which will be our undoing as a country and maybe as a species.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have our opinions. Let’s have them, and let’s express them too. However, if we are expressing our opinions in a way that creates division of any kind, then we are a part of the problem, no matter what our opinions may be, or how righteous and justified we think we are.
The solution, as I mentioned, lies in the capacity of our hearts to hold it all. The Sanskrit name for the heart is Anahata, which translates to “unstruck” or “unbroken.” This is referring to the hearts’ innate capacity to hold anything and everything, including seemingly opposing truths.
When I connect with the capacity of my heart, I can be mad at someone for acting in a way that I find morally reprehensible and yet still understand that their experiences, stories and opinions are just as valid as my own, and that it’s all okay; it’s okay that I’m mad at them, it’s okay that I think they are wrong, and it’s okay that they have their stories and opinions. From the vantage point of my heart I can understand that everything we are both experiencing is totally valid, and that it’s all just a part of the human experience.
We must learn to hold the opposites in this way if we want to heal and move forward as a nation. We can have our opinions, our emotions and our feelings, but we must also be able to understand and even love the “other”. This starts with the “other” that is within our own self (i.e. our internalized sexism, racism, etc.) and then can grow into loving the “other” who is outside of ourselves (i.e. the person who has different opinions and viewpoints than our own).
This is not an easy task. There are a lot of extremely strong emotions and energies flying around right now; The Universe has really raised the bar for us. In order to heal our way through this, we must choose to trust the wisdom of What Is Happening, roll up our sleeves, and strive to clear this high bar.
It’s a wonderful and important time to be alive.
Out beyond our ideas of right and wrong, there is a field.
I will meet you there.