How Do You Live In Dissonance?

By Taking the Less Traveled Road

Fireworks. Image:@hborgespics

When you take the less traveled road, you learn to live in uncertainty, understanding and accepting the complexity of life as it is. You let go of the need to control what you can’t control, accept the cards that life is handing to you, and try to do your best under the circumstances that you are experiencing. You get in touch with your emotions and befriend your fears. You dare to act when your heart tells you so, burying once and for all the would’ve and should’ve of your acting because you are learning from your mistakes. And you try, fall, raise, dust off your clothes and continue your journey because now, you are wiser than before.

How do You Live in Dissonance?

Two weeks ago, the Teoría U en Español team presented to the Presencing Institute´s Global team, a compendium of the job that we had done since the launching of the GAIA Journey in March 2020. When we went to the breakout rooms, I found myself welcoming Deniz Cengiz, Géraud Bablon, and Otto Scharmer. Otto took the word and said: “there is so much that I was not aware of, and the word that can describe it is ‘dissonance’. Then, he asked me: “how do you live with dissonance on a day-to-day basis?” I thought about an experience that I had two weeks before, and I said: “by having frequent breakdowns”. When I said that, Géraud expressed: “it sounds to me like the controlled burns that the forest firefighters set to prevent larger fires”. Then, a thought came to my mind: “Controlled breakdowns!”

“Cognitive dissonance is a theory in social psychology. It refers to the mental conflict that occurs when a person’s behaviors and beliefs do not align- Medical News Today.

What I said in the breakout room was a first-hand testimony of how living in dissonance looks like when you are a citizen of a country experiencing an extreme state of disruption. However, it wasn’t always like that.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Venezuela had a stable democracy, while most of the other countries in the region were under military dictatorships. Today, those countries have democratic governments, while Venezuela is suffering a profound disruption caused by an authoritarian regime that has ruled it for the last 20 years.

I think that the cause of the cyclic disruptions that are evident in the ecological, social, and spiritual divides, from Mexico to the Patagon, is that we, Latin-Americans, at the collective level, are not aware of the dissonance that we constantly inhabit, consequently, we may keep repeating the same patterns of the past in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

Flashback

Let´s rewind for a moment. Over the years, especially the last ten, I have grown personally and professionally, and have obtained a deep knowledge of the What, and the Why of personal growth, the search for meaning, and systems-change. But it was in 2015 when I stumbled onto Theory U, that I found the How. Consequently, for me, the U journey has been a discovery trip deep inside my Self - with capital S - of what my true place and role are regarding the complex challenges that we, as human species are facing at this moment in history.

I have written extensively about this journey, which has been long, deep, and fruitful. In that search, I have discovered the force of intention, the ectasis of flow, the will of the Social Field, the serendipity of letting go, the price that you pay when you take the most traveled road, and the psychological cost of living in dissonance.

Dissonance to the N Power

Now, let´s zoom in on my country, on myself, and on my particular dissonance. My wife and I were ready to travel to the USA with our brand new resident visa, when in March 2020 Covid-19 locked us down in Venezuela. Helplessly, we watched our visa expire with no chance for renewal. Even worse, when giving us the resident visa, they nullified our visitor’s visa. To exacerbate things, we have to wait two years to have an interview for a new visitor’s visa to the USA. Consequently, we are outcasts in a country where my wife’s only sister and the rest of her family reside, and we are stuck in a mafia state sliding into anarchy. In addition to experiencing one of the longest hyperinflations in history, Venezuela is suffering from a chronic political crisis, a complex humanitarian emergency, and to make matters worse, an out-of-control Covid-19 pandemic.

On the positive side of the story, the happy would-be migrant to the US was a relatively unknown writer and change-maker until March 2020. In that month, I read an article by Otto Scharmer, felt the urgency to translate it to the Spanish language, sent the translation to Rachel Hentsch at PI, and my life changed radically. Otto’s article went off the charts, and consequently, my translation too. The rest is history.

Making Sense of Dissonance

For me, Covid-19 has been and a blessing and a curse. It has been a blessing because it made me a known bilingual writer and change-maker, and opened new career paths and opportunities for me. And it has been a curse because I am experiencing the day-to-day hardships of living under chronic disruption. In other words, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, while I live in the gutter, I am looking at the stars. Yet, living like that is not easy because every day, while I am pulled by the circumstances of a day to day living, I need to overcome my fears and willfully make a commitment to my life’s purpose, not for the distant future, but for today.

The first thing that I need to remind myself of is that what is happening to me might be separate, because it is caused by something out there, but I need to integrate it in my psyche and in my body because they are happening to me. Nevertheless, the human psyche and body can endure extreme circumstances for so much time, until a breakdown takes place. Yet, I think that the reason for manifesting a breakdown is that I can become aware of what is going on under my ordinary cognition, and be able to put a remedy to a situation that is not sustainable anymore. Accordingly, when a breakdown happens to me, I look for inspiration, and I find it in teachers like Viktor Frankl, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose”. For this reason, I believe that our task when we live in dissonance is to find meaning in our circumstances. Notwithstanding, this is easier said than done.

Two weeks before our presentation to PI’s Global Team, my dissonance metastasized in form of a piercing headache. I felt like an ice picker was making a hole in my brain right between my two eyes. I was desperate because the pain was so profound that I could not think or do anything, and I was paralyzed and scared because I had never felt something like that before. Somehow, I concluded that the pain that I was enduring was caused by the contradictory life that I was living. In other words, my body was expressing, in the form of a piercing headache, the profound dissonance that I was experiencing. He was trying to tell me something very, very important.

My Pain Guided Me Through the Less Traveled Road

I call the U journey, the less traveled road because it takes you on a path of expanding awareness.

When you take the less traveled road, you learn to live in uncertainty, understanding and accepting the complexity of life as it is. You let go of the need to control what you can’t control, accepting the cards that life is handing to you, and trying to do your best under the circumstances that you are experiencing. You get in touch with your emotions, and befriend your fears. You dare to act when your heart tells you so, burying once and for all the would’ve and should’ve of your acting because you are learning from your mistakes. And you try, fall, raise, dust off your clothes and continue your journey because now, you are wiser than before.

“You are not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in a drop”, as Rumi says. Therefore, I know that everything that happens to me, even though I can´t make sense of it sometimes, is teaching me a lesson, and as I learn the lessons of life, I advance in my learning journey as a human being. I also know that if I look within, I will find all the answers.

Thus, I went within, began speaking to my pain, and realized that an inner dialogue emerged and evolved. It was my pain talking to me! When I noticed that, I took a pen and paper and began writing the conversation, which started to take the form of a poem. As I was writing the poem, I felt the pain receding. When I finished writing it, my pain was gone.

The U journey. Image: Presencing Institute

I just sat there for I don’t know how much time, trying to make sense of what had happened. After a while, it became clear to me that I had gone all the way down the left side of the U when I opened my mind to what was emerging, instead of downloading with a reaction against whatever I was feeling. Then, I had sensed that something wanted to be born, and I let go of my need to control the pain. At the bottom of the U, I observed myself presencing the whole episode as if I were another person. Thus, I witnessed how everything crystallized when the pain dissolved like a caterpillar, giving birth to a butterfly in the form of a poem. Looking back, I realized that I had just prototyped… a poem out of a piercing headache!

Ode to a Piercing Headache

Thanks for appearing,
to pierce me one more time,
when I couldn’t make it,
even though I tried

You lock up my thoughts,
when they seek to fly,
away towards the future,
while the present eats me alive

You pierce hard
when I aim to write,
feeling the contradiction
between should and want

They say I am resilient
that my writing touches lives
you raise from the shadows
to tell me, make a dime!

You are ever-present,
between my two eyes,
when I try to find
a reason why

You appear in the moment,
that full of doubt,
I take one more step,
not certain where to advance.

You put lead in my dreams
when they try to lift,
tied up to my kite
in the afternoon breeze,

You patiently wait,
while I try, try, try,
and ask, am I going to make it,
any time before I die?

I watch people,
friends and foes alike,
fall by my side,
left and right

With no time to rest,
I sometimes nosedive,
and raising again,
once more, I try

You, piercing headache
show up when I fail
but now, you are a reminder
that I must rise, again

Don’t you see my friend?
that when you manifest
even though it hurts,
I see your true face?

Indeed, when I feel
the pain between my eyes
it is a reminder
that I am still alive

While I write you away
a thought comes to my mind…
“to live another day
means another chance to try”

I am deeply grateful to Otto Scharmer, who is the creator of Theory U and is a source of inspiration to hundreds of thousands of change-makers around the world. Rachel Hentsch, who invited me to be part of the Teoría U en Español team. She is an example today, of the kind of leadership that will be mainstream later in the XXI Century. Manish Srivastava, who inspired me to create art out of pain and sorrow. The Teoría U en Español team members, who have been my unconditional friends, and partners in crime: Laura Pastorini, Dayani Centeno-Torres, Florencia Estrade, Viviana Galdames Wilson, Andrea Fernandez, Elizabeth Pérez, Andrea Fernandez, Vivianna Rodríguez Carreon, Mónica Sulecio de Álvarez, and Edinson Castaño. Maria Antonieta Angarita and Marietta Perroni, my partners at Proyecto Híkola en Venezuela

Warning: This is the story of a very personal experience of how I made sense of my dissonance. Please, if you feel that you are experiencing distress due to factors beyond your control, see a specialist.

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