In my last article, I talked about wholehearted living as an evolutionary spiritual act. That is, living in courage, vulnerability and authenticity. This might seem like a grand statement, but I believe it to be true. I believe we are all currently living through an accelerated state of spiritual evolution, with many more people looking for alternative ways to find meaning in life.
For many meaning is found through our social interactions. The people we choose to spend our lives with. Many have reported their entire world view changes when they first lay eyes on their newborn child. Their meaning in the world shifts.
As social creatures, we are bound by the need for connection. Studies have shown that one common killer in the elderly is loneliness. Lack of connection can kill. Take a moment to let that settle in.
we require connection. And we need to find meaning in the world to make life more joyful, more understandable, more worth showing up for. Meaning and connection; the two are inextricably linked, as much as courage and vulnerability.
Yet there is a prescribed way of life that we are taught from a young age. Schools are essentially built around a certain set of values that leave the status quo challenged. The subtext is don’t buck the trend.
I have always marveled at others reactions to alternative ways of living. Isn’t it funny that some people will choose to shit on other ways of finding meaning and connection? Whether it is Yoga, Meditation, studying astral charts, nudism—it is about the experience. It is about the path it takes you on and all the news things you discover. But it is also about the people encountered along the way. You recognize a light of understanding in each other, and you want to get closer. Because that light doesn’t make you feel exposed. It makes you feel warm, loved, accepted.
I am not asking for blind acceptance. By all means, discuss and ask probing questions, don’t be afraid to challenge. Debate is healthy. But to denigrate choice based on your own world-view? It seems redundant to me.
In modern society, however, this view is more and more muddied by fear-mongering and shaming. In our current climate, social groups are splintering. As we struggle to shut down negativity and find some peace, we increasingly turn away from each other in the absence of healthy debate. Simply put, this is because vast numbers of the population, and our leaders, have ceased to be able to engage in intelligent discussion.
I have talked about blame and shame in politics. How it is used to disarm opponents and shut down discourse. When blame is weaponized, opponents have no choice but to defend, meaning there is no time or energy left for discussion of the facts. If people meet each other with curiosity rather than outright disbelief, anger or hatred, then we can begin to understand each other’s positions. To find some middle ground.
The political landscape has seen some pretty interesting curveballs in recent years. Most notably the election of Trump and the ongoing ‘Brexit’ fiasco have thrown vast swathes of people into such disarray that the emotional ripples have become tidal waves. One side shouts victory and grumbles at the supposed ‘sore losers’. The other side feels that we’re being duped through underhand tactics. Many are so confused they simply shut down. Things have not settled. Time has not healed.
So, how do we find positive meaning and connection in societies that increasingly feel like they don’t belong to us? And how do we do this without cutting ourselves off from society at large? We cannot continue to live in a world where we only allow ourselves interaction with those who share our worldview. Community is about different people coming together.
Issues such as Brexit, Trump’s wall, gun crime, general violence, religious extremism, and terrorism have increased our fear. The media and politicians have extrapolated and harnessed these fears. Otherness has once again become something to be afraid of, rather than intrigued by.
This is why people look for their own tribe, to feel safer. On the healthier side of the scale, doing so creates a thirst for knowledge. When you seek alternative lifestyles you are more inclined to think for yourself. You question and examine everything, no longer taking what is handed to you. In a world where democracy seems to be taking a turn to Animal Farm, this is so completely necessary.
So many people in the world are currently suffering from mental health issues. There are myriad factors causing this, too numerous to list here. But I am confident that within all factors, there is the constant of living in an increasingly technological age, feeling unheard in our communities, coupled with the growth of instant gratification. That which—we all know—is used as a numbing tool. Through social media, we can build a world where an online community supports all our views if we choose. And if we have a tough day, we can numb with Instagram, Facebook, Tinder, Netflix.
Using technology allows us to build our own reality, or ignore it. Forming communities of people who understand our view cuts out pain. It alleviates shame. There is no harm in this. Yet in disengaging from other people and differing worldviews, we stunt our own capacity for growth.
We need to stop seeing vulnerability as a weakness and start seeing it as a necessary part of courage. True we do not need to be vulnerable with everyone we meet. Simply, we need to understand that vulnerability is not a dirty word. To understand this can end the cycles of shame felt when it is seen within us.
In his brilliantly insightful book, ‘A Road Less Travelled’, Psychiatrist M Scott Peck M.D. defines spiritually evolved people as incredibly competent “by virtue of their discipline, mastery and love…called on to serve the world, and in their love they answer the call.” (New York: Touchstone, 2003, p75)
Here, Peck and Brown strike an incredible chord with each other, albeit decades apart. For it is a discipline to be courageous, vulnerable and authentic, to examine yourself and the world, to know the work is never done. To take joy in that—rather than wish to sink into your beliefs and live there unchallenged.
Brown talks about discomfort being a necessary part of growth. Our comfort is not at the heart of our interactions. Peck talks about pain being a necessary part of our spiritual and mental growth. It requires us to question, leave parts of ourselves behind, challenge and change. This can be difficult, but even more destructive is remaining stuck in our outmoded values. This is the position from which most politicians and leaders seem to leer.
Through heeding the words of these great academics, finding our own ways of being, and meeting others with love and understanding, we can begin to transcend this ridiculous status quo we have found ourselves in. Then maybe we can start to move out of this dystopian nightmare and into something approaching a utopia. One where ideas are freely shared and explored without fear of reprisal or shame. There will be pain, there will be discomfort, but once you accept this, it won’t feel so terrible. It’ll simply feel necessary. Surely we can all welcome that with open arms.
I will leave you with a quote by theologian Sam Keen. It is a life rule we could all live by:
“The second step requires that I go beyond the idiosyncratic and egocentric perception of my immediate experience. Mature awareness is possible only when I have digested and compensated for biases and prejudices that are the residue of my personal history. Awareness of what presents itself to me involves a double movement of attention: silencing the familiar and welcoming the strange. Each time I approach a strange object, person, or event, I have a tendency to let me present needs, past or experience, or expectations for the future determine what I will see. If I am to appreciate the uniqueness of my datum, I must be sufficiently aware of my preconceived ideas and characteristic emotional distortions to bracket them long enough to welcome strangeness and novelty into my perceptual world. This discipline of bracketing, compensating, or silencing requires sophisticated self-knowledge and courageous honesty. Yet, without this discipline each present moment is only the repetition of something already seen or experienced. In order for genuine novelty to emerge, for the unique presence of things, persons, or events to take root in me, I must undergo a decentralization of the ego.”
New York: Harper & Row, 1970, p28