The majority of people in this country are concerned, even despairing, about where the nation is going, because of the election through the electoral college of a minority-chosen president who is impulsive and appears to stand against many of our better values. We don’t know what he will do – but we fear what he says. Fear and anger is arising on both sides. The anger of fear and the anger of defensiveness.
The appointments for many agency heads are people who have in the past been against the major practices of those agencies, and in many cases have no experience in the field they will be managing. There is a huge flaw in the federal government that allows people to be elected into leadership with no stated qualifications for office. Among other actions, it would help to promote changes in this model.
This political upheaval (not the first in our difficult history) is an opportunity for the majority to stand up for what we believe. We need to find a positive way to express what the majority want, but include what the “other side” needs. We need to stand for rather than against, because pushing against only strengthens resistance on the other side. We need to show these people we are afraid of that we will value them when they make choices for a healthy community, a clean environment, decent salaries, good education for everyone, or women’s rights. Money is not the problem – values are. Even rich people can love, find creative solutions, appreciate health and nature and enjoy appreciation. We need articles in the press that continually show the advantages of greater wealth and safety in the country that will follow in an educated and fully healthy society and environment.
It is easier to rage against what we fear than it is to promote inspiring change – this is why our politicians rely on fear to get voters to the polls. It is time for the people to promote creative change and mutual support of persons and environments in communities, states, businesses, schools – in time those elected would want to be part of it. Can we find in ourselves that which we want to promote and protect, and speak up creatively. I found in my past that when I was depressed it was because I was not doing what was meaningful to me. I had to act on the desires of my heart to rise above the heaviness of spirit. Eventually I found my way to a deep internal peace. Acceptance is not passivity – it is the beginning of clarity and right action. We need to encourage this evolution in one another. We can benefit from the will to do what is good and loving for ourselves and others. And so can the country.
The Mother, a great spiritual companion of Aurobindo, believed in the evolutionary potential for transforming human minds into an awakened loving presence. She once said that “When there is a great darkness in someone, you can be assured that underneath it is a great light. “ The state of the world is primarily because we do not recognize what we really are. Today is the time to ignite this light in ourselves and others.
Those who long for love, compassion, universal equality and protection of the environment as a foundation of society are likely feeling despair today over an election that has forced us to see the shadow of our country in its willingness to support fear, bigotry, misogyny, ignorance of science and lies in a man who will become the acknowledged leader of the free world. But the worse thing we can do to ourselves is fall into the abyss of fear caused by our own projections of what will happen next.
Each of us, no matter who we supported in this election, was born with the capacity to create the energies of fear and anger in our bodies. This is a body/mind dynamic built in for protection in times of danger that is activated in the face of physical or psychological threats. Even the thought of threat can make us ill, but when the threat is only in the mind’s image and not in the immediate now (when we may need to run from a bear or a flood), it festers like cancer and destroys our capacity to do anything creative in our lives. We might feel paralyzed. We might run aimlessly even though we know we cannot successfully escape our own minds. We are part of a collective and just protecting oneself is not enough. We feel for the whole. The tragedy of 9/11 showed us we can hurt for everyone.
I recently listened to a Sufi talk about chillas. Chillas are challenging tasks a spiritual seeker requests from a Sufi Pir or teacher that force one to discover or develop new capacities within themselves, an inner strength they did not realize they had. It brings forth a new perspective that serves a spiritual seeker in finding his or her inner spirit, growing inner strength and awakening to the sacred in all of life. They are sometimes very challenging, such as going to an unfamiliar country with limited funds and finding someone, or walking through a desert. In ancient times they lasted 40 days and 40 nights but today they can be more condensed. They may be as simple as giving public talks when you are frightened of speaking or serving the poor for a few weeks.
It was a synchronistic talk for me because instead of falling into grief today I am seeing this event as a chilla for all of us. It is an event that will challenge all of us to grow through our personal and collective shadows by starkly meeting them, and finding new ways to live in love and truth despite the existence of our own fear, bigotry, ignorance and dishonesty. It will challenge us to see the darkness in our own political structures and their impact on the world. If we are all One, then this country and this world is all One, including all the shadow that we desperately wish was not there. How do we find the will to overcome our personal and collective shadows? How do we find in our autonomy the courage to stand directly for what an awakened heart and intuition is encouraging us to express?
Our personal darkness is fed by fear. To the extent we let this energy overwhelm us we become helpless and victims of the shadows. Out of this victim identification we risk becoming perpetrators, when our ego claims we must destroy those who think differently than us. But how do we stand up against our fear?
Michael Singer, in his book “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” has offered some guidelines on living with fear. He says to be free “You must first accept the fact there is pain in your heart.” But he points out that joy, beauty, love , peace and even ecstasy and freedom lie on the other side of fear. He writes that freedom and greatness is available when we find the courage to relax with the pain instead of blocking it. It calls this the core of spiritual work. We can use our pain to become more open rather than contracted and closed.
This may seem paradoxical – as most true spiritual teachings are. But think of the freedom gained with complete acceptance of tragedy and trauma, darkness and pain. When we are able to connect with the deep center of Truth and Love within ourself no matter what the world throws into our path, we become free inside from the grinding, suffering, and resistance of our ego and let go of our personal demands that life be as we want. Because every life will have tragedy and loss not matter how we try to protect against it, no matter how good we are, or even how awake we are.
Our internal survival depends on our ability to overcome the downward spiral within ourself when these events occur, and to use this new-found strength to create change where we are able, rather than falling into paralysis, hatred or revenge. If our house burns down we must clean up the mess and create a new house. If our environment is threatened we must find within ourselves our unique role in protecting it. Life (or God, if you prefer) works through us but we have to let go of our noisy demands before we can hear the whisper of what it can enable us to do
Our minds believe we must fight in any way we can for our beliefs or when we feel we are “right” and others are wrong. No matter which side of politics you are on this is likely your motivation. No one fights for someone else’s beliefs. But this battle of the egoic stances denies wholeness, denies freedom, and energizes the fear and despair, the least helpful psychological qualities in our lives.
When awakening happens there is an opportunity to step out and back, to align with a sacred witness that sees the division in our human world without identifying with it. This does not mean an awakened person has detachment with indifference to the problems of the world. A deep awakening brings love for the whole and asks for our deepest, most authentic, unselfish and creative response to what is needed. We won’t find this if we succumb to fear and anger. We have to acknowledge our human fear – but choose not to let it be the decision maker and ruler of our spirit. We must find something greater, more inclusive within ourselves that brings forth our contribution to the greater good.
We have to refuse the projections of the mind about what will happen and face change day by day, acknowledging there is as much good as there is ignorance and greed in our world, there is as much light as darkness, and that both are within us, but we can choose, because we are awake, not to let the fear drag our life down into the shadows or allow despair to limit our lives and the acknowledgement of the sacred within and around us. Only then can we move forward and face change with integrity and compassion for others, and become effective agents of positive change in our collective consciousness.
I’ve always loved a comment by The Mother, who was the partner in the spiritual teaching of Aurobindo, and the founding of Auroville in India. She said that if there is a great darkness within you, you can be sure that at the core is also a great light.
Perhaps by seeing the shadow of our country with clarity and compassion we can contribute to bringing forth the light. If it be the will of the universe it will be done. We will all do it.
Have you ever taken a step away from your mind long enough to notice the relationship between stress and the thoughts you carry in your head? Can you imagine the release if you only could stop all thoughts for a few minutes?
Of course we do this every night for a few hours. We realize that if we were to stop sleeping these same thoughts that maneuver us through the day would force us into mental bankruptcy and we would lose our minds. So we try to get our sleep.
Most westerners live in an internal world fueled by an inner urgency to get things done, to do it right, to perform well for others, and to frequently self-reflect on their own inadequacies. They sometimes become exhausted and ill under the weight of their own demands and self-judgment. Between living up to the pressures of both work and home expectations they collapse at night in front of a TV or computer that throws forth more stress in the form of world news, violent visions and commercials that emphasize things they are supposed to want and need, and then fall into bed wondering why they cannot easily go to sleep. In the back of many minds are the thoughts if they could only do life better, make more money, say the right thing or feel more energized then life would be easier and stress would go away.
The mind with its great gift of assessment and division greatly interferes with the true potential of the human spirit to be at peace. How do we break the grasp it has on our freedom to simply be ourselves and enjoy life as it is? How can we step away from self-imposed stress? Here are a few possibilities.
Recognize that thoughts are simply neurons firing, and the messages are generally based on negative past conditions. Brain researchers have found that our brain holds the impact of dangerous or bad encounters much longer than positive ones. (Possibly forever!) This is a human reflex based on the need to protect ourselves from danger, but translated psychologically it becomes a tendency to worry about everything from how we handled a phone call to whether we will get to work on time. To become more free we can develop a thought-witness, a part of us who does not take so seriously every thought crossing the mind (millions in a day). Very few thoughts are true — and most of these are the practical ones such as “The car needs gas in the next 10 miles” or “The baby is crying now.” Mind tends to take simple thoughts and move into a worry about all the possible scenarios before determining a specific action, when often just responding to what is in front of you is all that is needed. The mind’s tendency is to wander and associate every bad thing you have ever heard with every circumstance. It is often irrelevant. Make your thoughts irrelevant unless there is an obvious immediate response. Leave room in your head for inspiration.
Recognize worry and catastrophic thinking for what it is — an energy drain like taking the wrong trail on a long hike and ending at a dead end.
If the tendency to worry is a cause of stress for you then schedule your worrying time. Pick a time of day to worry about a specific problem, and every time the thought arises tell it you will think about it then. When the time comes you have the choice to use it in a constructive way or let it pass until the next day.
If you are overloaded with responsibility let go of it. You can be very busy without feeling so responsible and it is much easier. This is called living in the moment. Finding enjoyment while doing the dishes. Having the kids tell you a joke as they get ready for bed. Clearing out the to-do list on the desk. Being fully present with a client or friend. Postpone worrying about the kids at work and worrying about work when with the kids. One reason we become exhausted is that we are often not where we are, but doing two things at once, one with our bodies, and the other with our minds. Soothing music may be helpful while driving; listening to world news may not be.
If there is one thing that awakening spiritually has to teach us all it is to be present now, where the spirit and consciousness actually sit. It is to be the presence that is so much bigger than thought, so much more willing to be in the moment, and so at peace when in the midst of life. This is the way to find happiness in the small moments of life, which give us energy to face the greater needs. Simple presence is the way to find clarity of mind and invite inspiration and intuition into our lives. As long as our head is crowded with worry and stress where is the space for something fresh and new to arise? We need moments of pleasure and emptiness to allow creativity and vitality to arise.
Taking moments for yourself — just sitting and feeling into your body, your connectedness to your chair, the floor, the colors and textures of your room, the sensate feeling of being you, the beauty of something natural outside your window — the sound of a bird or the shape of a flower, the smile of a baby — these are ways we refresh the spirit and slowly awaken ourselves into life. Put something you love to look at in every room of your home, and in your office space — something that soothes the spirit. Eat something that feels nurturing and calming rather than loading up on sugar and caffeine. Remove yourself from toxic people and energies in your environment.
While it may help to release stress if you restructure your life, cut out the most toxic circumstances, accept the challenges you cannot change, and change the things you can, it is most important to expand inner space. Stress is in the head and then gravitates into the body with headaches, stomach problems, back aches — all the common maladies of the day. The body tells us what it needs — freedom from worry and negative thinking, relaxation, beauty, quietness, and presence or simply being with what is. What (other than television or computer games) can you give your full attention to for 20 minutes without distracting yourself with thoughts? Music? Dance? Cooking? Gardening? walking in nature? Try it and see how it feels. It is like training a new muscle, learning to allow the presence you are to be present where you are without interference from the past and future, only here now.
For a further exploration of spiritual awakening see my book “The Awakening Guide” , available at Amazon.com and Kin