I drafted this blog post a while ago, and slated it for today. I have just re-read it, and given what is currently unfolding in the US, wondered if it felt relevant. I believe it is – and may even be more relevant than I could have dreamed.
I realise this message may not sit well with those caught up in the emotional drama of the US election – and I count myself among you. I spent most of yesterday in a simmering state of fury and frustration which I am finding it hard to pin down, but for now I would say it’s a combination of indignation that the process of democracy is being so egregiously assaulted, disgust for the individual who is the perpetrator of that assault (and assaults on so many other values that I hold dear), and concern for the future – for the safety of my American friends, for the environment, and for the rest of the world, because all of us will be affected to a greater or lesser degree, even in the best case scenario, and like Umair Haque and Van Jones, I’m not that optimistic about that scenario coming to pass.
But I’m doing my best to reframe this into something I can handle. I’m doing my best to take a longer term view. I’m doing my best to understand the sense of disenfranchisement and struggle that has led some people to vote the way they did. I’m trying to believe that everything is exactly as it is meant to be, no matter how non-obvious that may be to my ego-mind right now.
The card I drew from my Taoist oracle deck this morning seems fitting: Treading.
“When you feel impatient or irritated (my note – that’s putting it mildly!) with someone or something, it is a sure sign that the ego is agitated by the possibility its desires won’t be met… The essence, on the other hand, is so self-assured and at home in its own skin that it has no need to prove itself by advancing its own goals against the goals of others… When you act from essence, in other words, you act with awareness and sensitivity to all the variables in play, including the feelings of those around you, the demands of the times, and how your actions might best promote a greater sense of harmony and understanding.”
This medicine is hard to swallow, but I’m working on it.
Now onto what I had previously drafted. Wherever you are in the world, and whatever is going on for you right now, I hope this helps. And/or see if you can find some time to hang out in nature too – it’s always a good idea, and never more so than when the human world seems to have gone berserk.
There has been this assumption, on the wing of the liberal, sustainable, equitable, political left, that we will win because we think we are right. This assumption is clearly not working. So then we wonder – should we use the same strategies that are working so well for what we regard as the conservative, exploitative, unequal, political right? – because apparently they are winning.
No. We should not.
This judgement, this “othering”, this polarisation, can never succeed. We have to recognise that we are all, individually and collectively, all of it. Everything is connected. I am you, and you are me. We are them, and they are us. We are all inseparable, all aspects of the one interconnected web of being.
While we imagine separation, we are doomed. When we envisage connection, we may yet survive.
Personally, I don’t believe this is a moral universe. During the hundreds of days and nights I spent on the ocean, I had no sense of it being benevolent, malevolent, or even indifferent. These words anthropomorphise the ocean, and even if it turns out that the ocean has some form of consciousness, I don’t believe that it has morality, nor any opinion about what happens to those who dare to venture across its waters.
My view is that the law of the cosmos is not moral law; it is scientific law. Even if I did believe that the arc of the moral universe tends towards justice, to quote Martin Luther King Jr., whose justice would that be? Who gets to decide? (Cue a Game of Thrones moment, when Daenerys Targaryen claims the right to decide what is good, and the others don’t get to choose – leading Jon Snow to come to his own decision…)
This, I believe, is the point of free will. Sam Harris and others might argue that free will does not exist, but as the saying goes, even if we don’t have free will, we have free won’t, i.e. ideas suggest themselves to us based on our experiences and conditioning, and we choose from the options available. I am good, and I am evil; I contain both polarities, but I can make conscious choices about which pole I express. It is the consciousness that we bring to it – if we accept the responsibility of being conscious beings – that determines what the future holds.
In a recent newsletter from the Centre for Action and Contemplation, the mystic and Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, quotes the final poem from Thomas Keating’s The Secret Embrace, “What Matters”:
“Only the Divine matters,
And because the Divine matters,
She describes this as “a powerful new incentive for a compassionate re-engagement with our times”, and goes on to comment:
“In this short poem of eleven laser-like words, Thomas smashes through centuries of theological barricades separating God from the world and contemplation from action, offering instead a flowing vision of oneness within a profoundly interwoven and responsive relational field… Practically speaking, the map affirms that our actions, our choices, our connections bear more weight than we dare to believe. We are neither isolated nor helpless but immersed in a great web of belonging in which divine intelligence and compassion are always at our disposal if our courage does not fail us.” [her italics]
So this is what it comes down to. How much power do you have, or do I have, to make a difference in the world?
More than we think. And getting some kind of accurate understanding about the extent of our power is really, really important.
If consciousness is fractal, then anything I (or you) think, say, or do, has an impact. Imagine a single drop of ink falling into the ocean. It won’t change the colour of the ocean a lot, but it will change it an infinitesimal amount. Everything we do makes a difference. What kind of difference are you making?
It’s one of life’s challenges to understand where the boundary lies between what we can control or influence, and what we can’t. If we try to control things that are actually beyond our control (like Covid), we get frustrated.
But if we don’t control or influence the things that we can, then we’re being unnecessarily helpless, a bystander to our own lives. As Jim Rohn says, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.”
So how do we get this right? How do we know where the boundary lies?
For better or worse, believe that you have a lot more power than you think you have. Our world is now so interconnected that we never know what impacts we have. A good starting assumption is, as Scott Page says, “An actor in a complex system controls almost nothing, yet influences almost everything.” Plan accordingly. Impeccability is a very high standard, and none of us will reach it, but we can try.
Marianne Williamson’s most famous quote hints that we know, on a deep level, just how powerful we are, but too often we choose to play small, because our power scares us:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So try that idea on for size. I hope you find it empowering, rather than paralysing. Interesting times are already here, with many more ahead, so it behooves us all to be everything we can be.