SPIRITUALITY VERSUS POLITICS???
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I have been struggling with my new dual role as a dream and social activist.
It puts me in a place that is confusing at times. There is a core belief in our work with dreams, that change.….
… begins on the inside. There is also a core belief in our work, that the world in itself can often be a distraction from what is true inside ourselves.
Both of these beliefs have tended to incline me away from social justice work.
Add to that, the conflict that is inherent in social justice work of any kind and honestly there is a part of me that has wished it would all go away. Some part of me was glad to believe that my marching days were over.
Apparently they are not.
It is still true that change, at least on some level, begins on the inside. And it is still true that the world can be a distraction from this inner work.
It is also true that if your house or your neighbor’s house is on fire – you don’t ignore the fire. You may respond in a way that brings presence to the situation. You may respond anchored in your inner experience.
But still – you respond as needed.
I have seen in my work with my own dreams and with the dreams of others, that on some level the world that we live in is on fire.
That is a hard thing for me to say.
For starters, I am sitting here in my office with my cat purring on my lap. It is snowing outside. It is quiet. I am surrounded by beautiful houseplants.
It does not feel like the world is on fire – at least not to my eyes.
But the reality is that I am sheltered from the fire in ways that many are not. This is what black activists are speaking about when they speak of my white privilege.
Maybe not as sheltered as I sometimes think but sheltered nonetheless.
Last week, I was walking to our local coop, that is just a couple hundred yards from where we live. I passed this black man and I said “Good Evening” to him. He paused, more than I expected and seemed to fully take in my greeting. He looked me in the eye and said something back, to the effect of “Good Evening …………”.
I don’t remember now what he actually said beyond “Good Evening”.
I just remember the feeling, that he in some way paused and treated me like a friend and I felt touched by the interaction. It stood out from the usual, occasional hellos, I still sometimes share with strangers here in Vermont.
That same man was murdered on Sunday, about a hundred yards from my home.
I don’t know why he was murdered.
My guess is that his life situation as a black man likely put him closer to that literal line of fire but I do not totally know. The murderer has not been caught and the police do not seem to have any information. What I do know is that I live in a whiter, slightly more prosperous – and as usual safer part of town.
What I do know is that I was not surprised to find out that he was a fellow mental health worker, who was loved by his co-workers. What I do know is that he left behind a partner and a beautiful child and yet another Go Fund Me Page that should not have to be.
What I am reminded of – yet again, is that the fire is not so far away, as part of me would like to believe.
I know that the word “fire”, is a loaded work to use, in regards to all of this.
I do not want to promulgate the implied idea that you should drop what you are doing and panic in some way. I do not even want to promulgate the idea, that lives within many spiritual traditions, that you need to be “of service” as part of your spiritual practice.
I do not pretend to know what anybody “should” or “should not” do.
I do not believe that “should” is even helpful in this regard. What I am saying is that we can learn to be more honest about the hurt of the world, in the same way that we are learning to be more honest about our own hurt.
What it then means for each of us, to face this hurt with love, is something that we each need to find within ourselves.
The simple truth in all of this, is that we live in a traumatized and alienated culture.
This is what I mean when I say that the world is on fire. Being honest about the situation in the broader world does not negate our inner work. Nor is it inherently in conflict with our inner work.
On the contrary – it is our work.
We work with dreams partly because truth has been driven underground in our culture. That obfuscation affects us all, in our personal and spiritual practices. We live in a culture that pretends that everything is fine when it is not.
Many of my clients often wonder why their healing work is slower than they expect.
I also often wonder about this for myself. Why does it all seem so hard sometimes? Yet, I know the answer to this one. The simple truth, is that in doing depth work of this kind, we are all going against centuries of denial.
The truth is that our healing work is not going slow.
It is just hard for us to let in what we are truly up against. Change is not necessarily hard and slow. Change in the face of a culture that is basically comatose, to the level of suffering in our world is hard. It makes personal, social, ecological and spiritual change hard and slow.
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It also makes people feel like they are crazy.
This is why the term gaslighting, often used in social justice work now, is also such an important term for our inner work.
Here is a definition of that term from Wikipedia:
“Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature.”
While we may not all directly face “misdirection, contradiction, and lying”, I have never met anyone that has not struggled in their inner work, with our culture’s almost blanket level of denial of anything negative.
We have all at some point come up against the cascade of people saying “I am fine” when we know, all too often, that they are not. We have all come up against the pressure, to respond in kind – and say “I am fine, thank you” when we are not.
It is a disservice to us all, to deny truth.
And it is to all our benefit to speak truth to this denial – personally, socially, ecologically and spiritually.
Everything that we do with dreams, the core reason we work with dreams, is for that purpose – to bring truth out of the depths of our unconscious and into consciousness.
Much of what we do with dreams, is bring into consciousness the ways that we learned, usually from our families, to survive – often in large part through denial of what was actually true for us.
If we are to try to pretend that these family dynamics are separate from the social issues that drove our families to act in these ways, then we are living in a fantasy world. If we think that we can face these dynamics, without at least, on some level, facing the way our culture continues to promulgate these dynamics of denial, then we are sadly mistaken.
Sorting out what is really true for each of us, in the face of that denial, is a challenge that goes far beyond the current discussion about “fake news”.
But it is a challenge that is an inherent part of our inner work.
It is an inherent part of facing our own blindspots, on every level and sorting out how we find discernment within ourselves
So yes, I struggle with my own sense of what is true for me, in regards to all of this.
And as I struggle with this inside myself, I am choosing to make being part of these broader social movements, a part of that exploration.
And as I said in my post on Martin Luther King Jr, I do this all as best as I know how, from a place of love. I do this all, as best as I know how, in a way that feels true to me and respects what might be true for others.
I struggle with it all and I am confused at times and I also feel hope kindled in a new way.
For despite what we are up against now and what really have always been up against, I feel less alone with it all. I take courage from those people who are speaking truth to the denial of reality – in whatever way they speak that truth. I feel a place in me, that is awake to my own need to ally with broader movements – but I also feel my own need for allies in my own work.
So when I read Shaun King and Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates, I don’t pretend to think that I could understand the experience of an African American person, anymore than I could understand the experience of a woman. But what does resonate, ever so deeply in me, is the struggle we share in regards to the denial of experience, that permeates our world.
In that way these writers and social activists are also my spiritual teachers.
In some way that I don’t pretend to fully understand, this broader work supports and strengthens our inner work. In some way that I don’t pretend to fully understand, my hope is that our work will be a contribution to this broader movement toward consciousness – personal, social, ecological and spiritual.
With love and respect,