Finding Our Way Between Worlds
You may have noticed, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air these days. Since Trump surprised us all (or most of us, anyway), and won the election, it sort of feels like anything can happen. Maybe aliens will land and greet us soon. Why not? For many, it wouldn’t be any less shocking. One thing has become very clear — we are living in unprecedented and unpredictable times, and the world seems to be changing faster than any of us can keep up with, and in ways we can’t fully understand. What made sense yesterday is not guaranteed to make sense today, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. It’s like we’ve all been cast out to sea, with no safe harbor from this storm. These are intense times, indeed, and I believe everyone is feeling it in one way or another. As we navigate this turbulent terrain, I think it’s vitally important to remember context. Context is everything. Context helps us to keep things in perspective, to understand the bigger picture. Understanding allows us to accept, forgive, yield, develop compassion, and ultimately, to love. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.” So let’s try to understand what is going on right now, in context, so that we can not only survive these stormy seas, but learn to love them.
For starters, we are in a great transition as we move from the end of an era to the beginning of a new one. Humanity is at a turning point, going through a major growth spurt, an evolutionary leap, and is embarking on a new adventure which is nothing less than the birthing of a new world. What that means, really, is that we are going to experience a new kind of reality, a new way of being and doing and relating, which can understandably be both terrifying and exhilarating. We are going to experience ourselves and our place in the world in a much different way than we are used to. This will not be easy, but rapid growth seldom is (which is why we call them “growing pains”). The old world, and it’s old ways of doing business, which we have grown quite used to, are now breaking down right before our very eyes. The new world is on it’s way, but has not yet arrived, and so we occupy this uneasy, in-between state, which Charles Eisenstein calls, “the space between stories”. In this space, it is easy to feel uncertain, confused, or distraught about what is happening, but that is because we can’t see the whole picture — we don’t have the full context. It is also challenging because the destruction of the old always has to happen before the creation of the new, and that can be tough to bear witness to or to be a part of. It’s important to remember this because we so often get caught up in appearances, in what’s happening in our day-to-day lives, that we may look no further than the seemingly terrible things happening right around us, or even globally, and not understand why they are happening, or what they are leading to, and become convinced that we must be doomed. I am here to tell you, we are not doomed. Quite the contrary, we are waking up to the truth of who and what we are, and this realization is what will ultimately bring about the new world.
The story of the old world, as Eisenstein calls it, is “the Story of Separation” — the belief that we are all separate, cutoff from each other, and in competition for scarce resources. The new story that we are creeping towards, according to Eisenstein, is “the Story of Interbeing” — a new cultural narrative in which we will see ourselves as connected, and needing to work together in a cooperative spirit. This idea of interconnectedness is something that the indigenous tribes and shamanic cultures have known since time immemorial: that everything exists as a system within a greater system. For example, you have a cell that makes up part of your fingernail, which makes up the whole fingernail, which is a part of your finger, a part of your hand, a part of your arm, a part of your body. We could keep going to say that your body is part of the system which is your family, which is part of a community, part of a country, planet, solar system, galaxy, etc. There really is no end. There is only the end of what we understand, what we’re looking at, what we’re measuring, or what we have discovered so far. This also works in the reverse, to say that things keep getting smaller and smaller, or that every system has a sub-system. We used to think that the atom was the smallest unit of measurement (which is why we called it an “atom” — meaning “indivisible”), but then we discovered quarks, gluons, electrons and neutrinos. On and on it goes. Will it ever stop? My guess is no. We just lack the ability to understand it, at least for now, but new discoveries are always being made. The point is, when we examine anything, be it a cell in our fingernail, or the galaxy we live in, we are not seeing the whole picture. We are, by definition, looking at it out of context.
So to truly understand anything — a person, place, or thing — we need to understand it’s greater context, the systems it exists in, as best as we are able. For example, to understand Trump, we need to understand his family system, his parents, his upbringing, the times he grew up in, the place he grew up in, his education, his friends, his business relationships, and the various businesses he has chosen to entangle himself in, for better or worse. When we look at things in this way, we see not only Trump, but Trump in context. We may still not like him, but it should give us a better understanding of him which can lead to developing compassion for him, realizing that he isn’t just a bad man independently existing in a vacuum with a nefarious agenda. He is a complex human being existing in a complex world, just like us. The same goes for Hillary Clinton, who got much flak for being a corrupt, untrustworthy politician, in that, she does not exist in a vacuum either. She has been, for all of her adult life, party to systems which have rewarded her for looking out for her own self-interest, making backdoor-deals, power-grabs, and compromising her integrity all for personal glory, as it does with all politicians. She is hardly the only corrupt person in Washington, as we all know. Trump said that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington, and I can’t help but wonder, if he did, who would be left? It paints an incomplete picture to talk about corrupt politicians without examining the corrupt systems they exist and operate in, and yet this rarely seems to be part of the discussion. Until we look at things systemically, we are only dealing with the symptoms, leaving the core wound untreated.
And this brings us to the heart of the matter: When we really dig deep and seek to understand the fullest and greatest context of life, we will invariably arrive at the same conclusion as the indigenous tribes of the world — that nothing is separate from anything else, that everything exists as one massive, incomprehensibly interwoven system with many, many subsystems, and many, many meta-systems. It is a beautiful dance, and this is where the nuance, subtlety, difficulty, and joy of existence comes into play, as we navigate and explore these many systems. The heart has no problem with this, and sees the whole, recognizing the truth of our oneness, while the mind likes to separate and chop it up in order to understand the parts that make up the whole. There is nothing wrong with using the mind, in fact it is a wonderful gift, but it can become problematic when it becomes disconnected from the heart, and from the understanding that it can never truly make things separate, it can only observe them that way. Perhaps the best way to explain the shift we are going through would be to say that we are shifting from a head-dominated culture to a heart-led one. The goal then, is to stay connected to our hearts first and foremost, and let the mind work in service to that. This will yield the knowing that we are only one thing, one interconnected organism, One Consciousness, experiencing itself subjectively through many individualized parts. The mind’s job is to examine and enjoy all of these parts that make up the whole. As the great Alan Watts said, “Parts exist only for purposes of figuring and describing, and as we figure the world out we become confused if we do not remember this all the time.” He also said, “Your body knows that you are one with the universe…” which, to me, perfectly sums it up. The mind thinks, but the heart knows.
As we go forward from here, the heart will be the only reliable compass to help us navigate our way through the dissolution of the old world and safely into the new one. The mind will struggle to make sense of what’s going on, and will find many things incomprehensible as various systems continue to break down. The heart knows why this is happening, the necessity of it, and what lies on the other side. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenging times, but if we remain anchored in our knowing, and not our thinking, we will find ourselves taking the appropriate action every step of the way, ensuring our safe passage into what Mr. Eisenstein calls “The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” (which happens to be the name of his last book. Check it out here.)
I’ll meet you there.