Doesn’t the whole spiritual love positivity be the change unity thing start to sound like mumbo jumbo after a while? Is it just me?
I know it’s well-intentioned and even a desirable way to be. I even strive to be it sometimes.
But there are maybe three people on the planet who are capable of staying highly informed and maintaining a Zen state, remaining blissfully unaffected while our Department of Homeland Security is telling us there is a very real threat of domestic terrorism occurring right now. Our senses are heightened, even while enduring nearly a year of pandemic lockdown and a kind of living we could never have imagined.
If I could mainline a steady dose of Amanda Gorman poetry potion, I would gleefully watch it flow into my body. Maybe that would stave off all the fear and negativity. Any spiritual leader worth their salt will tell you the solution to what many of us are feeling is love. Not the squishy kind represented by the big teddy bear holding a pink heart balloon I saw in a café recently, but the kind that is ideally our default setting in life; it involves compassion, grace, forgiveness, openness and more.
That’s a hefty request right now. A divine ask, some might say. And frankly I’m heading into an emotional space where I want to heed it. I want to rise to this.
Something important to remember — we’re not all going to be on the same page simultaneously. You might get to a forgiveness phase before me. I might feel compassion around what leads people to a hate movement and you may find that to be simply making an excuse for bad behavior. Your need to limit what you consume might look to me like your head is in the sand. My penchant for glass-half-full thinking might be annoying and unrealistic to you, maybe even offensive, as if I am not fully acknowledging all that has taken place in our nation.
Keeping all of this in mind, I’ve turned to my bookshelves for wisdom. After all, I’ve written an entire memoir about how this practice helped me after September 11th. Why not now, when terrorism has reared its head so tangibly again?
I pluck Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life off a shelf.
“Love is always the answer to healing of any sort,” Hay writes. “And the pathway to love is forgiveness. Forgiveness dissolves resentment.”
I believe this, but still wonder how to get there. Then I turn to The Lessons of St. Francis by John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey.
“The safest remedy against the thousand snares and wiles of the enemy is spiritual joy,” said St. Francis of Assisi.
The authors explain, “Francis makes it perfectly clear that one of the main reasons he experienced deep joy was because he intentionally walked away from the things in life that steal our joy.”
Hmmmmm. OK, but that sounds like avoidance. Can we practice that without consequences? Are we fully alive when we shut out normal, vital aspects of emotional life?
Turns out Marianne Williamson addresses that in A Return to Love using a metaphor from a spiritual teacher in India. It basically says that there is no such thing as a gray sky; the sky is always blue but sometimes covered by gray, much like our minds.
So what are we to do with our fear, our anger, the clouds that cover the love inside us? … Yelling into pillows has become popular in certain circles, and for good reason. … Our anger stands in front of our love. Letting it out is part of the process of relinquishing it. The last thing you want to do – ever – is to buy into the insidious delusion that spiritual lives and spiritual relationships are always quiet, or always blissful.
Pema Chodron takes us a little deeper into that concept in When Things Fall Apart. She poses this question: “How do I communicate so that things that seem frozen, unworkable, and eternally aggressive begin to soften up, and some kind of compassionate exchange begins to happen?”
Then she answers it thus:
Well, it starts with being willing to feel what we are going through. It starts with being willing to have a compassionate relationship with the parts of ourselves that we feel are not worthy of existing on the planet. If we are willing through meditation to be mindful not only of what feels comfortable, but also of what pain feels like, if we even aspire to stay awake and open to what we’re feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best we can in each moment, then something begins to change.
This is how my personal spiritual path goes. I must allow myself to feel before I can even begin to process and work myself to a place of resolution, peace, or, as our new President strives for, unity. Each day that goes by I seem to be closer to the self I was before I started to feel clenched and hardened by leadership that opted for exclusion, division, and cruelty, the opposite of everything I want for our country.
Williamson gives me something to strive for in this place I find myself:
Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world. Surrender means the decision to stop fighting the world, and to start loving it instead. It is a gentle liberation from pain. But liberation isn’t about breaking out of anything; ‘it’s a gentle melting into who we really are.
I am a person who wants to see this as a teaching moment, as a time when our nation’s frailties and flaws have been exposed. Surely it is that, because everything is that.
I just need a little more time.