From Inside the Darkness

Martha Beck
Nov 9, 2016 · 7 min read

I didn’t wake up on the morning of November 9. I hadn’t slept on the night of the election, had lain in bed still and frozen, more devastated than I’d felt since September 11 became another name for horror.

This is not like other elections. We all know that. This is a victory for greed, dishonor, deception, profanity, blood lust, and narcissism. The very qualities that have created oppressive and corrupt regimes throughout history. The qualities America was created to avoid and repair.

Last night, staring into the darkness inside the darkness, I asked myself — and my higher power — what we are to make of this. I asked why this is happening, and what I should do. What, if anything, I can do.

For hours, there seemed to be no answers. My mind was too full of fear, anger, and heartbreak to hear any broadcast from love and justice. But as I grew wearier, less able to stay in fight-or-flight anxiety, and finally too exhausted to do anything but surrender, the answers began to come.

First, I remembered something I didn’t believe until I’d had to learn it over and over: that we are all connected — one soul, one Consciousness — and that we all contain traces of everything humanity is and everything humanity does. That is not a metaphor. It is literally true. What we are, I am. What appears around me is always a mirror of myself.

The hardest lesson came to me while I was living in a community overwhelmingly dominated by a religious majority. I had been violently hurt by a powerful representative of that religion, someone everyone around me held up as a hero. As a teenager, I fled. Later, I found myself returning to the very place I feared most, driven by a force of healing I didn’t understand. I had to go back into the source of my own darkness, so that the trauma lodged in my brain, my body, my soul could be forced to the surface. Only then could I heal.

This is called a “re-enactment compulsion.” We create scenarios around us that mirror and trigger the darkest aspects of the self, the ones we have not yet learned to love, and who are therefore outcast, desperate, disenfranchised, enraged.

This is what I believe is happening to our nation. On November 8, 2016, we as a population created a scenario that has thrown all our darkness up onto our television screens, our politics, our relationships with other nations.

The horror rises in order to heal. And we heal by facing situations like those that cause our darkness, but this time, offering a different response, creating a different ending.

The horror of this election lies not only in its winner, but in the millions who put him in power, who turned out to vote for a vicious, blustering tyrant. They seem to believe that such a person will attack only those they perceive as oppressors, while giving them a better life. History shows, with monotonous repetition, that this is how despots come to power. As Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

So here we are.

This feels overwhelming, obliterating, to my small self. But lying in my numbness last night, I felt something deeper in me, and it knows better. It knows there is a well of power in humans that lies deep beneath the surface, and that in stillness I can draw water from this well. There is something we can do, friends. Something much, much more powerful than it may seem.

In the wee small hours last night, I began. I set about the same task that saved me back when the very community I’d loved all my life seemed determined to blot out all the goodness within me. First, I chose to believe that this election, like other horrors in my life, is forcing every broken part of me to the surface, where I can’t avoid seeing it. Second, I began tracking down every last fragment of brutal patriarchal power within myself, knowing that once I find it, I can heal it.

Is there nothing in me that resembles Donald Trump, his cronies, his voters? I wish. All night I felt the blind, amoral terror that festers in the heart of every tyrant. All night I raged like something trapped and beaten. All night I was saturated with the kind of despair that crushes all benevolent creativity. All night I wanted someone big and powerful and ferocious to come along and make everything all better. All night, in fear of them, I was one of them.

Turning against these qualities in myself — shaming them, repressing them, trying to crush them — is just another version of the same stupid brutality. This is how I responded to my memories of abuse. I wanted to fight, to destroy something, to do anything but accept what had happened. It didn’t work. It never does. The only thing that works, I found after endless anguish, is to find some way I can love the most broken parts of myself.

When we see with our real eyes, with our Consciousness, we find ourselves sitting by that deep inner well of genuine power. As we draw from it, we hear what we’ve always known at some level: that creation destroys destruction. The ripples we create move outward, reformatting us, then those around us, and then — if we persist — everything.

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A few weeks ago I was talking to the spiritual teacher Byron Katie about the election. Although she was a Hillary supporter, she found Donald Trump fascinating — such a caricature of venality. “Look at everything he’s doing to bring our attention to the power of self-realization,” she said. I responded, “But if he wins…” and Katie said, “Oh, my goodness, can you even IMAGINE the opportunity that will create for us to know ourselves?” Katie is that almost inconceivable phenomenon, a human with a completely clear mind. She knows that we can never know what’s best for us, and that any arising darkness is just the photonegative of the light that wants to enter the world.

Around the same time, I spoke to someone who, filled with pain and rage, once tried to physically attack Byron Katie. “The closer I got,” this person told me, “the more I felt her innocence. There was no counterattack, just peace. Love. By the time I reached her, there was no more violence in me.”

This theme flows through other stories of people who have used fear and pain to catalyze healing. Immaculée Ilibagiza spent the three months of the Rwandan genocide hiding in a tiny bathroom, listening to Hutu mobs killing her loved ones and hunting her by name. Immaculée spent her time in prayer and meditation — what other option did she have? The first month, she slowly found her way past unbearable fear into acceptance and peace. The second month, she deconstructed her anger and discarded it, piece by piece, seeing that it would only make her another vessel of murderous rage.

Immaculée Ilibagiza was finally rescued by French forces, only to be dumped, along with a few other Tutsi women and several children, on a road crowded with genocidal Hutus. They gathered around her, waving machetes, screaming threats. She faced them with all that hard-won clarity. No fear, no anger. The killers tried to advance. And then they backed off.

This sort of mastery doesn’t come through easy victories and happy stories. It comes from having the worst aspects of our own natures shoved into our experience, and using those experiences not to join the darkness, but to illuminate it with something truer.

My job today is to feel all the parts of me that are like the darkest parts of my profoundly divided country, my profoundly divided species. It is to listen to them, to understand them until my own fear, anger, and sorrow dissolve into the light of compassion.

I can only do this inside myself — but that will be enough. It will be enough because one healed person broadcasts an energy that can pull dozens, hundreds, millions of people out of their own darkness.

Nelson Mandela did this in prison. He found his own Apartheid, his own hatred and anger and injustice and violence, and he healed himself. From a tiny cell where he was unjustly imprisoned, he generated the clarity to heal a nation even more divided than ours is now.

I was in South Africa when Mandela left office. I felt the same chilling dismay I felt on November 8. South Africans were all frantically wondering who would be the next Mandela. As I left the country, looking down from a jumbo jet, a voice inside me that was not just me said, very gently, “They are all the next Mandela.”

We are all the next Mandela, if we can bring ourselves to do what he did, what Immaculée Ilibagiza did, what Byron Katie did. If we find the parts of ourselves locked in the lie of fear, and insist on seeing through it to the truth.

Compassion, friends, is the most revolutionary power on earth — not simpering and weak, but magical, powerful, the very force of Creation. Our darkest corners are being shoved into our attention, our deepest fears made manifest. That gives us the opportunity to clear them, deeply and permanently.

After my experience healing the wounds of my childhood, I felt like a fugitive from the religious believers who thought I’d deliberately — just by speaking my story — set out to destroy them. They still think so. But living with their hatred, finding any trace of it still mirrored within me and clearing that away, brought me into a peace far stronger, far more durable, than anything I could have gained by winning in courts of law and public opinion. And I am committed to deepening that peace now. Committed to cleaning out every iota of myself that still is Donald Trump and his supporters.

Sometime around five in the morning, I felt myself turn a corner. My soul had begun its search-and-clarify mission. And I could feel how that — just that, one little person staring into the darkness — was already changing the equation for everyone, for everything.

Join me. Heal the despot in yourself, the one who taunts you, calls you names, shames your sexuality, hates your differences, shouts lies and threats. Start now, in the midst of grief and fear and anger. As the Buddha said, just before slipping out of his body and back into the sea of spirit, “Make of yourself a light.”

Shiny Objects

Martha Beck’s preoccupations

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