We’ve all seen this famous image. Is it two white faces looking at each other? Or is it a black vase? See how you have to shift your lens to see one or the other? It’s almost impossible to see both at the same time, isn’t it? But if you pull back far enough, you can almost see that both are true at the same time. It’s two white faces, and it’s a black vase. You can’t quite see them both at the same time. You can flip the lens of your perception back and forth faster and faster until they almost collapse into both at once. But you can’t quite do it.. When you focus on one perspective, it’s hard not to lose the other. Such is the mystery and wonder of holding a paradox.
My guidance is very clear that this is what we are being asked to do right now- to hold paradoxes, holding multiple points of view and perspectives as equally true and valid. Are you comfortable holding a paradox?
Earlier this week, when I tuned into the collective, the energy was so disruptive that I felt called to offer two posts about comfort (here and here and a post about strengthening your emotional resilience here). That disturbed, chaotic energy is still present, and we all still need comfort, but today, I feel called to switch gears and draw attention to something else I feel in the collective, something in the shadow which is calling to be brought into more light. It’s a paradox. We need extreme measures of comfort right now—the nurturing, compassionate aspect of the Divine Feminine. But we also need to wake the fuck up, and waking up sometimes requires the extreme scalpel of truth of the fierce feminine.
So let me ask you this, and please know that I ask it from love.
I live in Marin County, so I’m surrounded by a bubble of people who consider themselves spiritual, liberal, all-inclusive, open-hearted, generous, loving, non-judgmental people. Yet, over and over, I am witnessing a bewildering phenomenon. Why are these same people spewing anger, judgment, and intolerance at Trump voters? If you are an honest, hard-working, conscientious American who exercised your democratic right to vote for who you believe will best help our country, isn’t it understandable that you’d be defensive if half of the country is judging you, shaming you, and writing you off as a racist, sexist, ignorant pig?
Trust me. I’m not a Trump fan. I did not vote for him, and I am viscerally and emotionally wrenched by the choices he’s making as the President of my beloved country. I am also not trying to employ some spiritual bypass by preaching about unconditional love, tolerance, and acceptance right now. I’ve held my protest signs alongside others who are horrified by what is happening.
We are all vulnerable to this war-like consciousness because it is how we’ve been conditioned. But I am doing my best to resist the temptation to participate in it, even as I hold the paradox of actively speaking out and standing up for what I believe. Will you join me in shifting our consciousness from one of war to one of peace? Right now, it feels like we are at war with one another. This is why I left Facebook, because Facebook has become a war zone of people attacking one another because their opinions differ. I’ve encountered this war-like consciousness on Facebook before, especially if I dare to write about my opinions about things like vaccines, male circumcision, or abortion. But never before have I seen the divisiveness and pure hatred being slung back and forth mercilessly like it has been this past year.
What is happening to us? When did differences of belief and opinion become a justification for war-like consciousness, even among those who call themselves “spiritual?”
One of my readers told me that she and her husband are getting divorced over this election. They have often voted for different Presidents, and they simply agreed to disagree. But this time, they cannot agree to disagree. They both see it as a “make it or break it” issue. Neither will back down. Thirty years of marriage down the tubes. They are heartbroken but resolute in their righteousness.
This hurts. And it makes me wonder what hurts inside of both of these people. Aren’t you curious? What if it’s not as simple as one of them is “right” and the other is “wrong?” What if we’re dealing with two white faces and one black vase here? What if it’s a paradox? What if both sides of the divide could be right at the same time? What if it’s true that Donald Trump is a glaring boil on the planet, representing the most vile aspects of patriarchal, right wing, racist, misogynistic, materialist, greedy, corporate, reality TV culture? What if it’s also true that Hillary Clinton represented an entrenched, corrupt establishment that ignores the needs of working class Americans, dismissing their needs and glossing right over these unmet needs and fears with self-righteous language of social justice, equality, and moral superiority? What if both are true at once? Wouldn’t that make neither voter “wrong?”
The Politics of Dividing the Collective
As Charles Eisenstein wrote in his wonderful essay The Election: Of Hate, Greed & A New Story:
For the last eight years, it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress. A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain. The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.
When Fear Spirals Us Into “Othering”
I’m on the mailing list of a spiritual teacher who teaches “non-duality” in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, and the first newsletter he sent out about the election was an “us” versus “them” letter of duality! There wasn’t even a mention of how there can be two (or more) seemingly conflicting things that sit side by in paradox from the non-dual perspective. The whole letter was about those bad guys who voted for a corrupt President who was violating spiritual law. The letter vibrated pure fear. It was all about what Findhorn leader Lisette Schuitemaker calls “enemy-making” or “othering.”
This way of being and behaving is a recipe for war. We’ve been conditioned by our culture to go to war with anything we don’t like—the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on cancer, the war on the self. But the consciousness of war only breeds more war. The terrorists ramp up their war on us. The drug lords armor up to fight back. The cancer cells become resistant, at war with the chemotherapy drugs, requiring stronger and more expensive drugs. The war on the self fuels a multi-billion dollar self-help industry aimed at going to war with the parts of ourselves we judge and reject. There seems to be no end to how we inhabit this war-like way of being and doing in modern culture.
If we’re ever going to find peace, we have to exit the consciousness of war and be willing to try to understand what those we deem “the other” are thinking and feeling. We have to ask the terrorists, “What hurts?” We have to be curious and wonder about the drug lords, “What had to happen to make you do the things you do?” We have to ask the cancer, “Why are you here? What made me susceptible to you?” Instead of turning rejected parts of ourselves in refugees, we have to love and accept the parts of ourselves we exile. As Matt Kahn says, “Whatever arises, love that.”
The Consciousness of War
Charles Eisenstein and I have been comparing notes about the state of the love revolution on our planet, and in our latest exchange, he wrote, “In the mindset of fighting evil, when you are losing, you feel helpless, victimized, despair, futility, depression. Your primary tool for making change happen [force] is useless. The enemy is stronger than you, and you can see no future but a descent into evil. When you are winning, you are inflated with self-righteousness and blind to the humanity of the defeated enemy. Thereafter, you want to consolidate your power and dominate all who oppose you because, after all, you are the good guy. That’s how the good guy becomes the next bad guy. It is as in the interpersonal victim-abuser-rescuer triad. The rescuer inevitably becomes the new abuser.”
But we have a choice. We can step outside this narrative of war altogether, to be a curious outsider, looking in on it, rather than participating in it. This moment in human history is calling for us to do this now more than ever. The call to action is actually a call to love.
What Is It Like to Be You?
In a recent blog , Charles wrote:
“I am concerned for my country…when I see opposing groups of people, each imagining themselves to be the champions of virtue, swollen with self-righteousness, marching off to do battle with the enemy. Yes, I am horrified by racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the rest of the ugly sentiments that have erupted in the USA in the last year. But if we really want to change these things and not just feel righteous about being on the right side, then we have to address the ground from which they spring. To do that, we have to let go of war thinking with its accompanying dehumanization, and enter the question that defines compassion: What is it like to be you?”
What is it like to be a working-class white guy from Alaska who has been shamed by feminists and blamed for the patriarchy his whole life? What is it like to be an indigenous elder willing to give his life for his people’s sacred land if they move ahead with building the Dakota pipeline? What is it like to be a single mother who just left an abusive marriage, who will do anything to have even the promise of more safety, security, and protection from the terrorists that scare her? What is it like to be a feminist who marched fifty years ago in a women’s march and is now carrying a sign that says, “Do we still have to protest this shit?” What is it like to be Donald Trump? What had to happen in his life to make him who he is?
Charles also wrote:
“As we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.
We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.
We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?
Look for Paradoxes
Right now, as you notice yourself dividing, be curious to see if you can inhabit the expansive lens of paradox. Maybe things that seem to be in opposition are not necessarily opposites. Maybe two things can be true at the same time. Maybe it’s true that we are all One and it’s also true that we get triggered and feel separate and divided when someone we love disagrees about something that feels like a core value. Maybe it’s true that Donald Trump is a scary, disruptive, destabilizing, dangerous force, and maybe it’s also true that there is Divine perfection in what is happening, that Trump is doing an excellent job showing us our collective shadow and shattering age-old systems that no longer serve us, going “nuclear” on the establishment in order to open space for something brand new, something mysterious that we can’t even imagine yet. Maybe love prevails when we stop “either/or” and we start expanding into an eagle’s eye view of “both/and.”
Perhaps the mind cannot hold paradoxes. Perhaps only the heart can. Perhaps we have to lose our minds in order to inhabit our hearts.
So what can we DO? This is part of the challenge of coming into right relationship with uncertainty. Often, we don’t know what to do. We are in the space between stories. We can pray. We can trust in a benevolent universe. We can surrender to Divine Will. We can wait for spiritual guidance to show us inspired action with open hearts. We can let the current take us wherever it’s going and hold hands with our fellow journeymates as we enter the mystery together. We can trust that when it’s time to do something, we will know what to do and we will have the courage to say yes to this calling.
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