It’s a painful time, isn’t it? The 2016 Presidential election brought all of our demons to the surface in a way that is scaring us all. It doesn’t matter which side of the election you’re on (seriously, it doesn’t matter, and I’ll get to that in a minute), the temperature of our world changed this fall and we’re all stuck dealing with it.
As for me, I’ve had some really difficult-to-swallow things happening in my personal life that I’m not going to talk about today – but I will say that the rocky, shifting ground we’re standing on publicly is very similar to the personal ground I’m standing on.
How about you? How’s your personal ground? How are you feeling about the world these days? And how are you dealing with it all? Are you feeling stuck in helpless rage? Or are you discovering a new layer of resilience you never knew you had? Is your purpose becoming clearer to you? Are you finding yourself rejecting people who believe differently from you? Or are you discovering an underlying unity between you and other people that you never allowed yourself to experience before?
I throw all these personal inquiry questions at you because whenever life goes badly (as in, not according to our personal wishes!), we are faced with a choice.
We can use what’s happening as a chance to deepen our self-knowledge.
Or we can fight reality so hard that we lock ourselves into an identification with what’s happening and wind up trapped – and unable to feel peace, calm, joy, connection or trust unless life suddenly starts adhering to our commands.
But … is life something that we can control?
The New Age Law of Attraction movement would have you believe so. And how many religions rely on prayer as a means of attempting to control the outcome in life?
But, well, life would seem to tell us otherwise, wouldn’t it?
I love what Viktor Frankl has to say about this (he was the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, a concentration camp survivor and a psychiatrist). He talks about how we’re constantly demanding things of life, but refusing to recognize that perhaps Life is asking something of us.
It blew my mind when I first came across that idea. What, you mean life isn’t here to give me the perfect, “best” life?? You mean Life might be asking something of ME??
When things don’t go the way we want them to – we get older, a lover leaves, someone dies, our business fails, our candidate doesn’t win the election – we have a moment of existential crisis that, when mined for revelations, carries with it an incredible potential.
It’s the potential to see ourselves more clearly. To notice where we’re still identified with the shifting sands of life. To see how connected we really are to the underlying spirit of life (I call this getting God-aligned, but you can use any phrase that suits you).
Between the election, my response to other people’s reactions to the election, and the craziness that has gone down in my personal life in recent weeks, I found myself in exactly that place.
I reached for the booze first – a delicious two night private extravaganza of fresh-made whisky sours accompanied by a few American Spirit cigarettes and Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban country music. Then, to get myself off the sauce, I promised myself ice cream. A few weeks of daily ice cream eating ensued (and I’m not completely done yet).
But, even as I took care of my panicking inner little girl, I also made sure to set aside some time to actually process what was happening for me.
That meant that last weekend I took a friend up on her offer to dog sit at her remote farmhouse, out of cell range. I hit the library up for all the spiritual books I could carry out, and got ready to sit in silence, to wander the woods in the snow, to keep my feet to the inner fires of panic, fear, doubt, grief, sorrow, and rage.
I didn’t react to any of. I wasn’t screaming at anyone. I wasn’t binge eating (the ice cream was a soothing medicine, not a covering up, do you get the difference?). I kept myself off the internet for 48 hours. I didn’t call up any friends and complain.
I just kept myself in an extended encounter with my inner experience. I questioned everything. I raged and I cried. I laughed at the absurdity at it all.
And, slowly, a picture began to emerge. Of old beliefs that were still haunting me. Namely that Life owed me something, and that I was a failure if I didn’t get it.
That I believed there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way for things to go down, and that I was extremely uncomfortable and unhappy about much of what was going down in my personal life, and out in the world.
I’ve seen those kinds of beliefs – and the horrified reactions by their owners when life does not conform to their standards – in living color on social media since the election. People whose candidate won have gloated like mad. People whose candidate lost, have been directly questioning the sanity of those on the other side.
People have been judging each other openly and harshly like I have never seen before.
Curiosity and connection have been nowhere to be found.
When I attempted to bring a little bit of reflection to the conversation on Facebook, I was met with blind rage and acting out, or attempts to convert me to a side.
I have my own political views, opinions, and preferences, and I voted in this election. But I also am very clear that until we know ourselves better, and are willing to know and understand the other side fully and completely, we will continue to do battle – both inside ourselves (anytime you punish yourself with a self-destructive behavior) and out in the world (hate crimes, war, believing it’s us against them).
Why is it so hard for those who saw their values and personal selves reflected in the Obama presidency to recognize that there were many people who didn’t, but who now see themselves reflected in a Trump presidency?
Why do we all cling to the idea that one side is right, the other wrong, and join in a violent, raging battle against each other?
Again, this is exactly the same thing you experience inside yourself when you are filled with violent self-loathing that leads to unprotected sex with strangers, marriage to someone your mom likes, but you don’t, forty years in a career that’s safe but soul-killing. You are denying a part of yourself. You don’t have inner unity.
What about people who have the belief that there is a certain standard we need to have in our first family? People who thought Jackie O was classy, and that Melania Trump is not, and that somehow that is wrong/bad?
I mean, maybe you have a preference for what you’d like to see in your First Lady, but is there a rule about it?
What about women who feel represented by Melania, who see themselves reflected at last in the new First Family, in a way they never have before? Is that wrong or bad?
I’m going to share what a friend wrote in response to a post I put up suggesting that slut-shaming our new First Lady is simply not cool (in case you aren’t aware, Melania Trump has posed nude and some people who are not on her side have been weirdly excited to condemn her for it).
Ok, so here’s what my highly educated, world traveler, feminist, Democrat friend had to say:
“My disdain for our new FLOTUS’ involvement in soft porn is neither misogynist nor partisan because I apply the same standard to men and Democrats. Suppose President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, had agreed to be photographed naked with his bare, erect penis hanging out and a come-hither look. My respect for him would have been diminished–no matter how “beautiful” or “natural” his body is.”
What do you think?
Because it got me wondering (aside from the wildness of the comment, itself!):
Who decides the standards? If America is built on the ideal that it’s a government by the people, for the people, who gets to decide which people? When I suddenly don’t feel like my personal identity is represented by my government, is that the moment that I try to take the government down? Or am I willing to stand up and insist that everybody be represented at all times?
And when exactly is disdain useful? If I’m a feminist, don’t I have to make sure that all women feel safe to self-express? And not just express themselves according to my personal standards of “decency”?
Do you see the irony at play here?
Another friend, same description as the first, said this about Melania:
“She may have used her youth, beauty, and sexuality as a commodity, perhaps she didn’t feel she had anything else to offer or any other means of power. She has power now and a platform, maybe she can send a message that a woman’s self esteem and power can come from her spirit, her mind, her intelligence, her strength, her deeds. Wouldn’t that be great?”
But what if all of that is good? What if expression via the human body is an equivalent to using our spirit, mind, intelligence, etc? Why do we so love to rate things on a scale of good or bad? Why are we so excited by and attached to judgment?
What this election has highlighted is that we – as those fabulously self-identified creatures, human beings – still hold tightly to the belief that life is supposed to be a certain way.
Namely, life is supposed to be all about me and my clan and our very specific and narrow perspective.
But what of our capacity to expand how we define “us”? What if we’re all “us”??
Why are we so afraid to lay down our identities for a moment, and listen, really listen to the other side? Why has this election polarized us even more, so that everyone is grasping ever more frantically onto their identification with certain political parties, ways of being human, and to the belief that there’s only one right way to do anything?
I actually find this moment rife with potential and more than a little bit exciting. Just like the craziness that’s erupted in my personal life.
This moment, this polarized, electric moment, is the exact moment we’ve all been waiting for. This is the moment in time where we can see ourselves reflected clearly. To see where we’re stuck in a stagnant identification program. To see where we’re limited by us vs. them/right vs. wrong.
This whole dualistic system that starts with black and white thinking and manifests as a two-party political system is what we’re being asked to take a long, hard look in the mirror at.
Not to mention how dualistic black and white thinking shows up in our relationship to ourselves. I mean, how many times have you told yourself you were a failure because you ate ice cream or drank booze? And where did that condemnation get you? I know when I was living inside that wonderful paradigm, that way of thinking got me so full of hate for myself that I would binge eat and vomit. How’s that for productive?
What’s the world stage equivalent of bulimia? It’s the hate crimes in reaction to the uncomfortable feeling that not everybody is like you. And I would like to emphasize here that there is absolutely zero distinction between someone who perpetrates a hate crime and someone who lies and says a hate crime was perpetrated against her. They are equally committed to the paradigm of hate.
And if we want new solutions, we need to walk ourselves right out of that worldview.
How do we do that?
We walk directly into the pain of it all without reacting. Without making anyone wrong. Because it’s hard to confront difference with openness. It’s hard to look at ourselves without judging. It’s hard to accept other people just as they are. It’s hard to take the high road and be the bigger person.
But what if doing exactly that is the portal to shifting the way things are showing up in the world?
What if the pain of being an us vs. them is exactly what Life is asking us to encounter and transform right now?
If you like what you read here, please pass me along to your friends!