Finding Our Way Between Worlds

You may have noticed, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air these days.  Since Trump surprised us all (or most of us, anyway), and won the election, it sort of feels like anything can happen.  Maybe aliens will land and greet us soon.  Why not?  For many, it wouldn’t be any less shocking.  One thing has become very clear - we are living in unprecedented and unpredictable times, and the world seems to be changing faster than any of us can keep up with, and in ways we can’t fully understand.  What made sense yesterday is not guaranteed to make sense today, and who knows what tomorrow will bring.  It’s like we’ve all been cast out to sea, with no safe harbor from this storm.  These are intense times, indeed, and I believe everyone is feeling it in one way or another.  As we navigate this turbulent terrain, I think it’s vitally important to remember context.  Context is everything.  Context helps us to keep things in perspective, to understand the bigger picture. Understanding allows us to accept, forgive, yield, develop compassion, and ultimately, to love. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Understanding is love’s other name.  If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”  So let’s try to understand what is going on right now, in context, so that we can not only survive these stormy seas, but learn to love them.

For starters, we are in a great transition as we move from the end of an era to the beginning of a new one.  Humanity is at a turning point, going through a major growth spurt, an evolutionary leap, and is embarking on a new adventure which is nothing less than the birthing of a new world.  What that means, really, is that we are going to experience a new kind of reality, a new way of being and doing and relating, which can understandably be both terrifying and exhilarating.  We are going to experience ourselves and our place in the world in a much different way than we are used to. This will not be easy, but rapid growth seldom is (which is why we call them "growing pains").  The old world, and it’s old ways of doing business, which we have grown quite used to, are now breaking down right before our very eyes.  The new world is on it’s way, but has not yet arrived, and so we occupy this uneasy, in-between state, which Charles Eisenstein calls, “the space between stories”.  In this space, it is easy to feel uncertain, confused, or distraught about what is happening, but that is because we can’t see the whole picture - we don’t have the full context.  It is also challenging because the destruction of the old always has to happen before the creation of the new, and that can be tough to bear witness to or to be a part of.  It’s important to remember this because we so often get caught up in appearances, in what’s happening in our day-to-day lives, that we may look no further than the seemingly terrible things happening right around us, or even globally, and not understand why they are happening, or what they are leading to, and become convinced that we must be doomed.  I am here to tell you, we are not doomed.  Quite the contrary, we are waking up to the truth of who and what we are, and this realization is what will ultimately bring about the new world.

The story of the old world, as Eisenstein calls it, is “the Story of Separation” - the belief that we are all separate, cutoff from each other, and in competition for scarce resources.  The new story that we are creeping towards, according to Eisenstein, is “the Story of Interbeing” - a new cultural narrative in which we will see ourselves as connected, and needing to work together in a cooperative spirit.  This idea of interconnectedness is something that the indigenous tribes and shamanic cultures have known since time immemorial: that everything exists as a system within a greater system.  For example, you have a cell that makes up part of your fingernail, which makes up the whole fingernail, which is a part of your finger, a part of your hand, a part of your arm, a part of your body.  We could keep going to say that your body is part of the system which is your family, which is part of a community, part of a country, planet, solar system, galaxy, etc.  There really is no end.  There is only the end of what we understand, what we’re looking at, what we’re measuring, or what we have discovered so far.  This also works in the reverse, to say that things keep getting smaller and smaller, or that every system has a sub-system.  We used to think that the atom was the smallest unit of measurement (which is why we called it an “atom” - meaning “indivisible”), but then we discovered quarks, gluons, electrons and neutrinos.  On and on it goes.  Will it ever stop?  My guess is no.  We just lack the ability to understand it, at least for now, but new discoveries are always being made.  The point is, when we examine anything, be it a cell in our fingernail, or the galaxy we live in, we are not seeing the whole picture.  We are, by definition, looking at it out of context.        

So to truly understand anything - a person, place, or thing - we need to understand it's greater context, the systems it exists in, as best as we are able.  For example, to understand Trump, we need to understand his family system, his parents, his upbringing, the times he grew up in, the place he grew up in, his education, his friends, his business relationships, and the various businesses he has chosen to entangle himself in, for better or worse.  When we look at things in this way, we see not only Trump, but Trump in context.  We may still not like him, but it should give us a better understanding of him which can lead to developing compassion for him, realizing that he isn’t just a bad man independently existing in a vacuum with a nefarious agenda. He is a complex human being existing in a complex world, just like us.  The same goes for Hillary Clinton, who got much flak for being a corrupt, untrustworthy politician, in that, she does not exist in a vacuum either.  She has been, for all of her adult life, party to systems which have rewarded her for looking out for her own self-interest, making backdoor-deals, power-grabs, and compromising her integrity all for personal glory, as it does with all politicians.  She is hardly the only corrupt person in Washington, as we all know.  Trump said that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington, and I can’t help but wonder, if he did, who would be left?  It paints an incomplete picture to talk about corrupt politicians without examining the corrupt systems they exist and operate in, and yet this rarely seems to be part of the discussion.  Until we look at things systemically, we are only dealing with the symptoms, leaving the core wound untreated.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter: When we really dig deep and seek to understand the fullest and greatest context of life, we will invariably arrive at the same conclusion as the indigenous tribes of the world - that nothing is separate from anything else, that everything exists as one massive, incomprehensibly interwoven system with many, many subsystems, and many, many meta-systems.  It is a beautiful dance, and this is where the nuance, subtlety, difficulty, and joy of existence comes into play, as we navigate and explore these many systems.  The heart has no problem with this, and sees the whole, recognizing the truth of our oneness, while the mind likes to separate and chop it up in order to understand the parts that make up the whole.  There is nothing wrong with using the mind, in fact it is a wonderful gift, but it can become problematic when it becomes disconnected from the heart, and from the understanding that it can never truly make things separate, it can only observe them that way.  Perhaps the best way to explain the shift we are going through would be to say that we are shifting from a head-dominated culture to a heart-led one.  The goal then, is to stay connected to our hearts first and foremost, and let the mind work in service to that.  This will yield the knowing that we are only one thing, one interconnected organism, One Consciousness, experiencing itself subjectively through many individualized parts.  The mind's job is to examine and enjoy all of these parts that make up the whole.  As the great Alan Watts said, “Parts exist only for purposes of figuring and describing, and as we figure the world out we become confused if we do not remember this all the time.”  He also said, “Your body knows that you are one with the universe…” which, to me, perfectly sums it up.   The mind thinks, but the heart knows. 

As we go forward from here, the heart will be the only reliable compass to help us navigate our way through the dissolution of the old world and safely into the new one.  The mind will struggle to make sense of what's going on, and will find many things incomprehensible as various systems continue to break down.  The heart knows why this is happening, the necessity of it, and what lies on the other side. That doesn't mean there won't be challenging times, but if we remain anchored in our knowing, and not our thinking, we will find ourselves taking the appropriate action every step of the way, ensuring our safe passage into what Mr. Eisenstein calls "The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible."  (which happens to be the name of his last book. Check it out here.)

I'll meet you there.  



Enough With The Tough Guy

As a young man growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was heavily influenced by the movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson - the tough guys.  These were the Hollywood heroes of my generation that took center stage to become the cultural icons of cool for young boys like me to look up to.  They all generally played the same character over and over with minor variations.  They were typically lone-wolf types who play by their own rules, take charge, show no fear, take no prisoners, make some quips, and solve all their problems with violence, aggression, and/or domination, often in an effort to save the helpless girl, who in these stories often exists only as a thing to be saved.  But even when I was young enough and impressionable enough to go along with these stories, I still felt that something was missing, some pertinent piece of the puzzle.  For as much as these heroes got the job done, they almost never showed their feelings, or exhibited kindness, compassion, vulnerability, empathy, or gentleness - qualities that, to these macho dudes, were decidedly feminine, and therefore associated with weakness.  I wasn’t able to understand this, let alone articulate it, as a boy, but now, as a 37-year old man, I can see that these characters, and the actors playing them, were not necessarily demonstrating what a real, healthy, and balanced man looks like.    

The show-no-feelings tough guy has been around for a long, long time - John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Clint Eastwood, just to name a few - and has, of course, existed long before the dawn of cinema - although the advent of movies has certainly elevated this archetype and given it a cultural prominence it may not have otherwise had.  These days, it seems to me that the unchallenged acceptance of our tough guy role models has become a danger to our growth and evolution, a stumbling block in our understanding of what a man can and should be.  I feel that it is time to move on from this outdated model, to update it, and allow it to evolve. In order to do that, we need to heal it, and embrace a different understanding of what it means to be a man, and in particular, a healthy man.  And so, to these heroes of my youth, I wish to say, “Thank you, but your services will no longer be required.”  

I don’t mean to imply that tough guys are inherently bad, or that there is no place for them in society. There are certain times and places when we may benefit from having a tough guy around.  But having them exist as the standard by which all men are judged, or holding them up as the pinnacle of masculinity, seems to no longer be serving us, if in fact it ever did. In creating this standard, we have collectively warped our views and understanding of what an ideal man is, in particular to our young boys, who grow up thinking this is what is they should aspire to, or what is expected of them.  For example, how many boys are told not to cry growing up?  All of them?  I know I was.  “Be tough.  Suck it up.” Why is that?  Because Rambo never cried?  A truly healthy man can be tough sometimes, and cry at other times.  He doesn’t have to be all tough all the time.  He doesn’t always have to suppress his feelings.  But the tough guy doesn’t want to relinquish his control, his power, his impenetrable facade, and so he asserts his dominance whenever and wherever he can.  This is most clearly seen right now in the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, a man whom, I feel, represents many, if not most, of the distorted and imbalanced qualities of the masculine principle.  He is not quite the action hero of yesteryear, he is acting more the villain of those movies.  So why is he so popular?  And what does his political and cultural relevance here in 2016 tell us?        

For starters, he is highlighting and presenting to us in no uncertain terms much of what still needs to be healed in the collective, particularly in the masculine, showing us these issues in a clear and often painfully ugly light.  For example, look at his treatment of women.  If you have a distorted masculine principle, it will consequently have a distorted view of the feminine.  With this understanding, it makes sense that Trump has owned, or co-owned, 3 different beauty pageants.  It makes sense that he’s been married 3 times, cheated on one of his wives, and that his current wife is a former model who also happens to be 24 years younger than him.  It makes sense that he has been known to lash out at women who are in positions of power.  The tough guy prefers a woman who is quiet, pretty, loyal, submissive, and ideally wants to sleep with him - not an authority figure.  The only time is it acceptable to have a woman in authority is if she has limited authority, with a man still overseeing her. This is but one example of the old, outdated model of the male-female dynamic.

His popularity also shows us why the tough guy has been revered by so many for so long: He'll save us! People often want someone to come in and save the day, cleaning up their mess for them.  I certainly understand why, it is much easier than taking care of our problems ourselves.  Perhaps this explains, at least in part, the current popularity of superhero movies, as well as the expectancy that many Christians have around the second coming of Christ.  We sit around waiting, and hoping, that someone will come and make it all better.  Unfortunately, this is not the way the world works.  We all must do our own work, clean up our own messes, and save ourselves, so to speak.  As the Buddha said, "No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path."  This is the only way to really learn the lessons we need to grow, and to change, ensuring that we won't need to be saved again in 5 minutes or 5 years from now.  Until we take this responsibility for ourselves, we are stuck in our smallness, giving away our power, waiting for an external savior, and delaying the inevitable processes that we all must face which will help us to truly evolve into our own saviors.  We manifest our own inner tough guy, so to speak.  This is the well-kept secret that the tough guys and authority figures of this world don't want you to know. We are all latent superheroes, or sleeping Christs, with the potential to awaken, and save ourselves.  

We have lived in a patriarchy for a long time, and many feminists will readily tell you what a terrible thing that is, how it needs to be destroyed, torn down, replaced, etc. and I’m not here to necessarily disagree with them.  Many heinous things have happened, and continue to happen, to women under the rule of the tough guy, but we have entered the dawning of a new era where this paradigm will be changing. If you look around, it has already begun.  Women are finding their voices once again, reclaiming their power, stepping up, and speaking out - slowly, albeit surely.  As this process unfolds, we are collectively becoming ever more aware of the injustices we have and continue to perpetuate on our women, and there is, of course, still a long way to go.  (Does anyone want to talk about the fact that 1 in 4 women will be sexual abused in her lifetime?  No?  Okay, I’ll wait.  But we’ll have to eventually…)  With all that said, I don’t think a patriarchy is an inherently bad thing.  I don’t think all men are power hungry monsters.  I do, however, think that this version of the patriarchy we are living in has become grossly distorted, imbalanced, and generally very unhealthy to most, if not all, of us.       

Many feminists will argue that we should have a matriarchy instead (I even walked by a woman on the street recently wearing a t-shirt that said “Matriarchy Now”, a clear sign of the uprising of the suppressed feminine), and while I can see the merits of that argument, I think a matriarchy could also become distorted in time.  I think our best bet to create the highest and most evolved society is to work together.  We don’t need dad in charge, and we don’t need mom in charge.  We need mom and dad working together.  This will allow us to have the best of both worlds, sharing in our strengths, while allowing the masculine and feminine to find a unity and a harmony, and to do the jobs that are best suited to them, restoring balance to our very imbalanced world.  

At this moment in history, we have an extraordinary opportunity to learn, to evolve, to grow, to forgive, and to begin to create a healthy partnership between the masculine and feminine.  To do this, at a very basic level, we need to talk about our issues, because as we are silent on them, we are complicit in perpetuating them.  I am delighted that we have a woman running for president against Tough Guy Trump, as this drags so many of these issues out into the spotlight, making them unavoidable, and easier to start a conversation around.  We don't have to do it in an abstract way - we have real world examples to work with and learn from.  I encourage you all to take advantage of this opportunity, as uncomfortable as it can be.  Growth is seldom, if ever, comfortable, so let's not let that stop us.  

The higher truth, that, to me, is frequently missing from this dialogue, is that we all have an inner masculine and inner feminine principle.  We are all a dynamic mix of male and female on the inside, regardless of our biological body-type.  This is easy to see out-pictured in the world.  We all know women who present more masculine sides, and men who appear softer and more feminine, and all variations in between.  Everyone has some combination of these two energies dancing within them.  It is a universal principle.  But we get fooled by our body types, and our inherited social roles. We respond to peer pressure, and the way people treat us.  We become, not who we are, but who we think we’re supposed to be, and in doing so, we do not always honor both aspects of our nature. Subsequently, we are unable to work with our own inner male-female dynamics, and unable to find a healthy expression of it.  This is where we must start.  This is where we must always start, with the self.  The world only changes as individuals change.  So, while we can learn from the example of Trump of other tough guys, our efforts will be in vein if we are focused on changing them.  As Buckminster Fuller so famously said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."  We are to become that new model.

So what does a healthy man look like?     

There is no one way a healthy man should be.  The beauty of men, and of all people, is in their individual and unique expressions.  But the masculine is best represented as it exhibits strength, protectiveness, generosity, dynamism, and taking action.  The negative expression is what we have been witnessing for a long time now: violence, control, aggression, and domination (see: all action movies).

The positive aspects of the feminine are seen in its openness, receptivity, nurturing, support, and balance.  It’s negative expression can be chaotic, unappeasable, and manipulative.  

A healthy man will have both aspects of the masculine and feminine expressed as and through him, in different ways, in different times, and in different situations.  He should be capable of being strong and nurturing, protective and open, sometimes taking action, and sometimes yielding.  It should go without saying by now, that the reverse is true, and a healthy woman will also have both aspects represented in her.  Whoever you are, and however you identify through your gender or sexuality, you still have these two principles within you.  But for now, I wanted to keep my focus on “traditional” men, or what I’ve been calling the “tough guy”, as they are the ones that are seeming to have a hard time letting go of the old paradigm, allowing the feminine principle to truly rise up and step forward in all of her beauty and power, taking her place as an equal partner to the masculine.  It will happen in time, I have no doubt.  But we’ve got a lot of work to do, and some of it may be messy. But that's okay.  We can start just by becoming aware of our own masculine and feminine sides, and taking responsibility for the ways in which we express them.  We can strive to find our own healthy balance, whatever that may look like, and lead by example.  When enough of us do this, the world will change, effortlessly.     

Forgetting To Remember

“There is only one question. And once you know the answer to that question, there are no more to ask. That one question is the Original Question. And to that Original question, there is only one Final Answer.
But between that Question and its Answer, there are innumerable false answers.
Out of the depths of unbroken Infinity arose the Question, Who am I? and to that question there is only one answer – I am God!” -Meher Baba

I was in an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru on New Year’s Eve of 2008, and as it began, the curandero leading the ceremony said a simple prayer that has stayed with me all these years.  He prayed for all the people around the world who were celebrating the new year with alcohol, “forgetting who they are”, he said, while we were gathered in this sacred ceremony trying to remember who we are.  I had never thought of it quite in those terms before, but I felt the truth of what he was saying, and as the years have gone by, it has begun to take on a larger meaning in my life.  I’ve started to see it as an appropriate way to look at life as a whole.  We can see everything we do as either remembering who we are, or forgetting who we are.  Framed this way, it seems obvious that we would all naturally strive to remember who we are, and yet, so much of our human behavior has the opposite effect, reinforcing our forgetfulness.

What does it mean to forget who we are?  In a nutshell, it’s forgetting that we are all Spirit, all connected, all One.  It’s buying into the illusion of separation, the world of forms, and thinking we are our names, our bodies, our histories, our thoughts and feelings.  We forget who we are when we identify as a separate-self.  This isn’t to deny that we are all having an experience of seeming to be separate, it’s just that we don’t need to cling to it, reinforce it, create an identity around it, or derive our sense of self from it.  We experience ourselves to be an individual, but in truth we are much greater than that.  We are Infinite Beings.  Having a body, as we all know, is a temporary experience, but the Infinite Being that resides within us all exists outside of time.  So naturally, it would make more sense to identify with that unbound, eternal self rather than with the limited, temporal self, would it not?

This is much easier said than done.  Why is that?  In some ways, it is because we have designed it that way.  We wanted to get lost in the illusion, at least for a while.  Alan Watts has a wonderful description of this:

“God likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people of the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.
Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that’s the whole fun of it- just what he wanted to do. He doesn’t want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self- the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.”

There you have it.  It’s all a game of forgetting and remembering, facilitated by asking “Who am I?”  The external world of forms, or what we think of as “reality”, is in fact, not real.  The body you inhabit is also not real.  This plane of existence is set up like a game-board, or maybe more like a video game, that we have collectively designed to enable us to pretend to be a separate-self, and to have a wide range of experiences, from the beautiful to the horrific, the exciting to the mundane.  Even though it is an illusion, it is, as Albert Einstein said, "a very persistent one", and we get lost in it, the way some gamers do, and forget that we are playing.  We merge with the game and assume the identity of the character we are playing.  We forget that it is supposed to be fun, uplifting, joyful.  We forget that it is a game at all.  We stop feeling free and having fun the way we do as children, and start to take ourselves too seriously.  This is all symptomatic of identifying as a separate-self.  Alan Watts says, “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”  Children know this truth, but as we indoctrinate them into our “serious” world, they too, begin to forget who they are. 

In the end, we voluntarily forget because of how much fun it is to remember.  We go through the pain of separation in order to experience the joy of reunion.  It’s all a game, a learning game, and as such, we are free to play how we like, to learn the lessons and pursue the experiences we desire.  We are free to remember who we are, or forget who we are, for as long as we wish.  But as lost as we may get, and as deep into illusion as we may go, we cannot alter the truth of who we are.  We cannot be anything other than our true divine selves.  The Infinite Being that resides within us will patiently wait for us, for as long as it takes, to realize this, and to start the process of awakening.  Until then, it is only the separate-self that suffers, or appears to, and it is usually only once the separate-self has suffered sufficiently that it will even desire to find the way out, and begin to relinquish some of it’s control.  But even this suffering is ultimately not real, which is learned (or remembered) in the process of re-identification as the Infinite Being, or the Spirit-Self.  It will simply fall away, like Alan Watts says, as it does when we wake from a bad dream.    

Each in our own way, we are being asked to wake up and remember the truth of who we are.  Collectively, we have been forgetting for such a long time now, that we have created, and continue to create, so much fear, violence, suffering, chaos, division, and tragedy, much of which seems to be escalating now in an effort to rattle us, to really wake us up to the truth of who and what we are.  It’s as though we’re in such a deep sleep that we really need to be shaken before we can start to arise.  But once we are ready and willing to give up our identities as a separate-self, and to remember who we really are, we need to cultivate a practice and a discipline to support this remembering.  We need to learn to watch our thoughts, our feelings, and even our language to see if they support our forgetting or remembering.  We need to question everything we have learned, been taught, and conditioned to believe.  Over and over again, we need to ask, “Who am I?”

As our eyes slowly begin to open, we gently and gracefully pierce through the veil of illusion that has so long obscured our vision, and we begin to witness the world in a new way.  We see all things in their perfection.  We accept all things as they are.  We live in the present moment.  We forgive others, and ourselves.  We know that there is only Spirit.  We embrace unity.  As we make this shift, we claim who we are in truth, and the separate-self, while it doesn’t cease to exist, does cease to have power over us.  It is unable to control us anymore, because we no longer identify as it.  Then it will return to it’s proper function, as the means by which we operate on this plane.  Once we allow ourselves to make this shift, all that is left is all that was ever really there to begin with. 

May we all remember who we are.