HOW DID WE GET HERE? AND WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?
I think it’s very important for us to examine how we got to this point. Of course, the factors of any such event are much too complex for us to ever completely understand. But we can identify crucial pieces of it. We, the human race, have collectively made a huge mistake with allowing TrumpleThinSkin to become president of one of the most powerful and most confused countries in the world. All of us living beings participated in this, in some way or another, consciously and unconsciously. That’s just how human history works.
We vote (or don’t vote.) We pay taxes. We buy stuff. We take advantages of all the countless benefits of living in a country with a government. We might criticize law enforcement for its biases, but we also depend on it. We criticize the founders of the country for their ignorance about racism and sexism and colonialism. And yet we hold the U.S. Constitution up as a guiding set of principles. We might not actually pull the guns’ triggers or push the buttons that drop the bombs or make the decisions that keep us at war with countries and organizations much smaller and weaker than ours. But we keep on living while all of this goes on. We participate. We are complicit. We are each playing our role in the human experiment on this planet, that includes all of this mess the election has dredged up.
This analysis isn’t about blame or guilt. I’m not saying we should have done something different. From my point of view (inspired by Buddhist teachings on interdependence and karmic momentum) there’s no way any of us could have done anything different than what we did. There’s no way that this couldn’t have happened. Creation has unfolded lawfully, in the only way it knew how at every moment, eternally.
And as an aside here, I’ve been thinking a lot about eternity, in my quest to trace the causes that led to our current condition. It seems we usually think about eternity as in the future: “This could last for all eternity,” or past “has this mishigas been around eternally?” and stuff like that. However, the only place we can experience eternity—the only thing this word can really refer to is right now. Eternity doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It doesn’t have a sense of time. Time is about concepts. Time is about beginnings and endings. Time helps us conceptualize what happened before and how we want to behave going forwards. It helps us know how to set our alarm clocks and plan our day. But really, eternity is all there is. And it’s only right now.
But back to my analysis not being about blame or guilt. Instead, it is a call for us to widen our circle of identity. One of my most important teachers, Ram Dass talks about identity existing on multiple levels at once. There’s the basic physical identity that includes skin color, biological sex, height, weight, age, health, abilities/disabilities, freckles, birth marks, etc. Then there’s the psychological identity: happy, sad, optimistic, pessimistic, depressed, anxious, balanced, unbalanced, and so on. There’s cultural and national identities. There’s astrological identity, based on what day of what month you were born and what the planets were doing at that moment. There’s the identity of the soul, at the level that we are all individual bits of the same cosmic unity, like drops of water in the ocean. Then there’s the identity of oneness, where we are all “I” and I am writing this post so that I might read it with my other human bodies later on, and send an email to myself to argue about what I wrote, and then reply to my own email.
Then there’s the identity of nothingness. This one is tricky. The identity of nothingness is not about “nothingness” being a thing that is different than “somethingness.” The identity of nothingness is a recognition of all thoughts and identities being just concepts, and that the true meaning when we say “We are all One,” is also “We are all Nothing.” If we’re all One, there’s nothing to compare the One to, so it’s not different than anything, so it doesn’t exist. Our notions of our existence are based on separation and distinction. We can’t know what darkness is without knowing light, etc. Buddhist teachers point to this with teachings about emptiness and co-dependent origination. In Judaism we have reminders to not try to say God’s name, because it is ultimately beyond all names and concepts. So the nothingness identity is really just the flip side of the oneness identity.
Of course there are infinite other ways to hold identity. One of the primary points Ram Dass makes is that we need to learn how to exist simultaneously in more than one level of identity and reality at the same time. That way we don’t get caught up in or try to avoid any of them. They all exist simultaneously and none are better or worse than the others. Can we hold them lightly? Can we hold more than one at once? More than two? While we are angry and afraid about what the new administration will do, can we also remember that none of this is really happening because nothing really exists?
When I say that we humans made this huge mistake electing TrumpleThinSkin, I mean that when we draw the circle of our identity large enough to include all humans, we have to take responsibility for all that any of us do. The good and the bad. So, we did this. And while this approach can be confusing and uncomfortable and painful, I believe it is a pointer towards how we can heal ourselves and our planet. We need to hold our individual identities more lightly and remember our shared human identity more often. (And a little extra Oneness and Nothingness wouldn’t hurt at each step of the way.)
When we dedicate ourselves to hating Trump and white supremacists or to fighting and resisting what our “enemies” are doing, or when we feel like we lost this one and someday we’ll win—we are strengthening the momentum of conflict, righteousness, aggression and confusion. We are fueling the pendulum effect. It’s not that we don’t need to fight and resist and try to win, but that we need to do so while simultaneously holding our larger and more spacious identities.
Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General speaks of engaging our “opponents” rather than our “enemies.” In some ways it’s just semantics, but words can be very powerful. Thinking of Trump and his crew as opponents reminds me that I don’t agree with what they are saying or doing, and I’m gonna commit to countering all the small-minded moves they make, but that I also remember that underneath it all we are One. Thinking of them as enemies makes me feel fundamentally separate from them. As opponents I can engage them in Aikido-like techniques of non-violent conflict resolution.