The Middle WayJan 20, 2022
People talk about how divided we are right now, with tightly held views on any number of controversial issues. The truth is, we live in a world of duality - hot/cold, high/low, black/white, good/bad - with a whole lot of gray in between the extremes. The ultimate duality is love/fear - (hate and anger being an outgrowth of fear.)
Duality arises out of oneness. It’s the ultimate consciousness that can be thought of as love because there is no discrimination, no preference, no us/them. That also describes the highest level of compassion, an all-encompassing offer to every sentient being. “Sentient” means the ability to perceive or feel, and I would also add the ability to respond to that. All of nature and the earth fit within that description!
This dualistic experience helps humans to analyze, break things down into parts and note differences to better understand our material world. The duality of emotion lets us understand joy because we have experienced sadness or grief; to be grateful when we have experienced loss or lack; to understand the power of forgiveness after holding a resentment. This emotional range is experienced by all humans, and we can’t just pick and choose the “good” emotions without letting the bad have their day.
This explains why nations, tribes, and clans have gone to war; acting on fear, with a hope that action will lead to peace or harmony. Yet letting fear (actual or perceived) override any rational response to a situation does not lead to peace or the imagined positive outcome. It may temporarily shift a situation or dynamic, but the anger goes underground and elicits more of the same. Repression of what is feared, both individually and collectively (think of Catholics and sexuality) does not make it go away. Wars fought over religion have not ultimately been successful at changing hearts and minds.
It’s understandable to experience fear for our physical safety and an actual lack of the basic necessities of life. Fear can also be about the potential loss of material goods, money, power, and influence. It can drive people in situations of relative abundance to resent what they don’t or can’t have (tantrums over supply chain luxuries, like the favorite cheese not in stock?) Greed and lust are versions of the fear of not enough. Is what we have available, right now, at this moment, good enough?
People can be ruled by their fears. One politician recently observed that FEAR is the greatest motivator, and it clearly can be fuel for action against others. Love is a powerful motivator too, but it requires self-reflection, intention, and effort to carry out. It is much easier - and faster - to release fear through physical action. Creating change through peaceful means takes time and patience.
This week, we are called to remember American leaders of non-violent civil disobedience. Civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis were people who didn’t just go along with the status quo of fear, hatred, and oppression.
There have been others throughout history who have exemplified this path. Mahatma Gandhi led the movement to overthrow English control of India, and promoted peace between Hindus and Muslims. The Dalai Lama promotes peace even after the Chinese invaded Tibet, murdered thousands, and tried to destroy their religious heritage. Change through peaceful means is the most threatening of all responses to power.
We are not all created the same (thankfully!) but deserve equal opportunity, treatment, and consideration. These are the characteristics of an evolved society. We can appreciate and even be enriched by our differences, but it requires us to move through our reactive emotions.
Whenever fear or anger comes up, allow yourself to feel it. Taking the time to explore its origins can be enlightening. What are you really afraid of in the situation? Is it warranted? (It often explains a lot for me. When we don’t push away what seems negative and recognize its origin, it’s easier to “rise above it” and make a different choice. Buddha talked of a “middle way”, navigating our extremes in all things. We could live in a world of security, abundance, and compassion for all. Let’s try to truly create a “more peaceful union”!