the one tool we need

It’s Thanksgiving night in the US. It’s a beautiful, bright, strange, majestic, painful holiday.

It’s all the things.

It reminds us of the places in our lives we are radically grateful for. We sit together to feast, of course… so many side dishes. But many of us also feast upon appreciation. We reflect on the love of our families and friends, and bask in the goodness that the mind so often skips over, in its chronic negativity bias.

In my world, our extended families are far away. Gabriel’s family is classically diasporic. Many are in Cuba still, but some are far-flung. Some in Brazil, some in Budapest, some in Luxembourg. My family is in Colorado, and Mexico. So our ritual is to join with friends. We spend part of the day in a gorgeous county park, high in the hills above the city, picnicking. We spend the afternoon in Santa Cruz. We are earth worshippers, at our best. Today, as is our custom, we ended the day at the beach, bidding the sun adieu. The Santa Cruz coast feels like the edge of the world. It feels like nothing matters but the salty air, and the orange-pink sky, and each other. We chase the children, and get knocked down by rowdy dogs. We laugh, and forget our many grievances.

This holiday is also painful. It reminds us of the contortions in human consciousness. We look at our nation’s ugly history of genocide. This year, we see it obscenely recapitulated on the world stage. We’re doing a tremendous amount of grieving right now. This grieving is appropriate. If your nervous system is on edge, be gentle with yourself. Attend. Attention is a love force, a field of connection.

We all arise from one field of consciousness. When we see each other in pain, we are inside that pain. We are not our individual selves; we are a field of connected awareness. But our histories belie this knowing, and create a mind-numbing contradiction. Why, if we are so infinitely interconnected, do we repeatedly eat our own tails? If we are indeed ONE, our ego-driven violence towards each other is a strange psychic cannibalism: each time we fall into discord, we are hurting ourselves as much as we hurt each other.

The mind’s susceptibility to grave errors in perception has constantly contorted human history into a tangle of violence. This is relevant because the field of perceptual error is precisely what the yogi’s path seeks to disentangle. If you despair to hear this — if you picked the yogi’s path thinking it was a love-and-light-only kind of experience, you’re definitely on the wrong path! The yogi’s path includes ALL of it, because consciousness is infinitely free, and explores every possibility. It explores all the bliss, all the opening. And it explores ALL the mayhem.

Given that consciousness includes every arising, the light and the dark are all mixed together. Even as we heal, and open into radically new possibilities, we have one foot in the door of contraction. We are creatures that chronically contract into resistant, tight, small versions of ourselves. To see beyond our smallness, we depend upon being able to see into it! If we cannot see the madness within – the capacity for contraction, for grudges, for skittish nervous system responses and icy shutdowns — we block the door to possible healing.

We can only be free if we are willing to pay attention. There are actions we can take and calls we can make and ways we can help. But our most important job – and our one shot at transforming this madness — is to pay attention.

Read the Beck quote once again: A zendo is not a place for bliss and relaxation, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions. What tools do we need to use? Only one. We’ve all heard of it, yet we use it very seldom. It’s called attention.

But HOW do we pay attention, when our systems are so fraught with tension, and the “outer world” on the dashboard of our perception is so wracked with drama?

Inward seeking is essential. We need to look within, because the inner is a microcosm of the outer. Trauma lives in our own bodies. If we pay attention we see how immensely outsized our responses can be to tiny, even imaginary affronts. Is it so surprising that humans still try to annihilate each other when the violence between their people stretches back generations?

Resmaa Menakem teaches that annihilation is a trauma response. Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn, Annihilate. All trauma reactions are deeply embedded in the body. So we heal through the body. In the here and NOW. Breathing. Putting a hand on the heart. Feeling the belly. Softening the jaw. Rocking the pelvis back and forth until the seizure of pain passes. HERE. We heal it here, now. We can try to avoid future suffering, in our own lives as well as geopolitically. We can try to put safeguards in place; draw up treaties. Personally, we tend to plan our lives around avoiding suffering, or skillfully navigating around it. But the next spasm of pain will eventually come. We cannot control how strong it will be, how big the feelings will be, when we will get triggered. We cannot control much. But we can be with it, when it arises, and hold ourselves in presence. We can be with the pain and drop the story, over and over again.

Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately: What if the conversations in our minds don’t actually have much to do with us? What if all the conditioned narratives that we run — especially the fear-soaked narratives that are so causative of suffering, are actually not personal? What if the ambient suffering we are processing is precisely what is available to be healed, at the level of the collective, and we are tapped in to that collective? What if these stories of war and violence and fundamentalism are not a sign of our hopeless delusion and imminent downfall, as a cynic might see it, but rather, the dying bleat of an old world view, that is only arising in awareness because we are healing it? What if the disasters are dissolving as they meet the broader light of a collective consciousness that sees into them fully?

I don’t know, of course, if any of this is true. I do know that each of us is a locus of consciousness who gets to hold this world in our own awareness. How we do so feels so important right now, as this giant tension is rippling through our awareness, as we watch the violence unfolding in the Middle East. So many of us are feeling the pain on all sides, holding our breath as we await the news of hostages to be released. So many are calling for a permanent cessation of violence. So many are grieving.

So for a moment let’s pretend that this arising of violence in the world is a confrontation with our shadow that could carry us towards healing, and that our grief is a sign of a greater awake-ness. Let’s accept that this violence is nothing new; this is what humans have done throughout history. But let’s pretend we’ve come to a critical juncture of attention. Our willingness and our technology has converged to allow us to wake up to this world in a way we never have. Let’s pretend that the human heart is ready to break through, and we get to participate in the experiment only through our own willingness. Let’s experiment with growing that muscle of willingness; dropping our analyses for a moment, and softening the heart. Let’s just be with the grief together, and hold the heart of the world in our attention, together.



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