The alarm has gone off…and the snooze button has been running not just 2 or 3 times, but hundreds of thousands of times for decades, centuries and over many lifetimes: The alarm of inequality, injustice, unconscious harm to sentient beings for the gain of another. How long until we’ll all wake up? How much sleep does the human race need before we realize we’re accepting this bad waking life as all there is? Or is being born nothing more than bouncing between a life of pain and pleasure? Or is this exactly HOW we learn to wake up to our individual purpose and life lessons which ultimately unify all by recognizing universal consciousness? Actual sleep isn’t the issue, that’s necessary and the mind needs that space to unwind and heal. It’s sleeping through this life and not being awake to the tremendous possibilities we all have in our hearts and hands to realize our true nature. What if all who are able to wake up from these alarms, can arise from our own comfortable sleep of ignorance and do the best we can do to be a part of the movement of a new day? For our own sake, for the sake of those who are struggling to get up, and for the sake of a world that’s evolving to accommodate the expression of the majority.
I’ve finally stopped asking myself the question — why does it take some of the worst to happen until we demand for a change for the better? I’ve landed on an answer that I understand. We are largely a product of the limitations and habits of our own mind, body and culture with the subtle yet powerful potential to awaken to our unified awareness. That’s my answer for now. Our culture advocates a certain type of perfection of being and there’s actually a much messier and less desirable story of what it means to be human and the truth wouldn’t be as profitable. We will always err and have spills on aisle 3 to clean up. We will always find a broken part of ourselves that can either be mended, distorted or feel like an asset. We will always explore the dark recesses of being and wonder about the light and bounce back and forth in our deeply designed world of duality until we remember or recognize the radiant, often hidden message within that knows this duality is the illusion and teacher towards oneness, towards a mind that is steady and centered on peace. This is possibly how we’ve begun and how this works to be human. Working against the forces of all life to push for everyone to follow one path might be setting ourselves up for more suffering versus accepting that these differences of seeing and choosing are a part of this dynamic, ever-changing world.
The next question I often ask: Why would one sensitive being want to harm or overtake another one? What got intertwined in the body/mind evolution that said you and I are separate and I win, you lose? Maybe we truly are more like animals than we accept. Or we’ve simply forgotten the distinction of being able to share our stories and help raise awareness and collaborate to share knowledge and inspiration. Or on the flipside, that we have the ability to self-destruct and convince others of enacting abominable behavior. Is survival of the fittest the driving force and the desire to side with the strong at all costs? (Read additional points in the article, “Why Do We Harm Each Other” in www.psychologytoday.com) Or, more directly, have we desensitized just enough to justify the senseless killings of another animal or human being? Whether for sport, revenge, real or presumed survival or some financial, political or other gain. There’s a feeling of no value or there exists a higher desire that can somehow overrule rational thought. Or somehow, there is desensitization because of learned behavior, so killing ends up being easy, or paid for or acceptable and even advocated, twisting the value of life and sacred honor for all life.
In the choice to carry life or take life, someone has to suffer at some stage and truly all experience some amount of suffering, there seems to be no way around it. Certainly, a mother’s birth of her child can become one of the most joyous moments and feels liberating beyond any other experience. It can be argued that at some stage of awakening and owning one’s actions from taking life or the one who’s life was taken, the suffering leads to awakening and acceptance, leading to liberation of one’s soul (especially in the buddhist and yogic perspectives). Into the farthest reaches of our history, humans have suffered in the name of survival and advancement. Could it be that this painful process is all we know and is deeply set in our bodies memory code? From the raping of land from indigenous people to forcing people into slavery, a world of inequality is what flowers from ignorance, made by the seeds of human fear, disguised as progress or celebrated as achievement of power. At one of the recent protests this week, I saw a woman carrying a sign that read: My privelege is stolen power. Giving it up is going to suck. It’s worth it.” Coercion and wartime are at the foundation of the earliest civilizations and have never not been part of a civilization. All but one story that I’ve ever heard, the Indus Valley Civilization where no weapons or divisions in society were found in the unearthing, though translation of this ancient cultures written language may prove differently one day. (Read more on newscientist.com and bbc.co.uk)
Slavery has been seen in ancient cultures across the globe. It’s well remembered in my Jewish upbringing as the Israelites were enslaved by Egyptian Pharoahs in the 1700’s BC. And seen still to this day, there are many forms of slavery from arranged marriages to child slavery in the most disheartening ways. Forbes noted in an article on Aug 2019:
Sadly, the 21st century has not rid itself of slavery. In fact, in 2017, a research consortium including the U.N. International Labor Organization, the group “Walk Free,” and the U.N. International Organization for Migration released a combined global study indicating that 40 million people are trapped in modern forms of slavery worldwide.
If we look further at human behavior, we see continuing acts or harm with the torture and killing of animals. Somehow that rarely can be a lasting topic because of our addiction to what we call food. Will Tuttle wrote, in “The World Peace Diet” that until man stops greedily killing, torturing, mutilating and demoralizing animals, he won’t stop doing those same behaviors to fellow human beings. I believe that strongly to be so. (Great essay that speaks of this with a connection to slavery on worldpeacediet.com)
As obvious and clear this is for me, I never had faith that this would ever be able to significantly impact the world. During this coronavirus, this is the first time I’m able to imagine people actually becoming willing to shift more and more towards a plant-based diet. What if more viruses threaten us and the fear around eating meat rises in the desire to survive? Will it happen, not very likely, but it’s at least a vision that I couldn’t even allow in my mind and now I can. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers have been shown to largely be reversable and preventable. I know many say this isn’t possible, and I don’t have more than what I’ve researched (Dean Ornish on mdedge.com) to defend myself. But I do understand that a diseased body isn’t our natural state or destiny and heart disease, obesity and some cancers are a relatively new epidemic that have some relationship with diet and health. At the very least, I’ve found that plant-based diets offer many benefits and eating meat and dairy can be problematic in many ways and aren’t a necessary diet for any or at least every day of the week.
Maybe we’re willing to go blind to the cruelties of the world because we’re still in such a trance, just like the liminal state between the alarm and each snooze button that causes us to keep pushing it over and over again until finally something inspires us to get out of bed, usually some urgency! But this list of humandkind issues is much, much harder to confront than simply getting out of bed. What truly is the source of making people suffer for the benefit of someone who essentially is equally afraid of suffering?! Again, if the answer is the survival thing, that’s so basic. But yet, that’s the nature of our basic selves. Only when we can raise our basic awareness of what it means to be on this planet, do we yearn for something greater than what the material world can possibly offer. What we deeply long for isn’t more land, more material gains, more fame or more financial assets. We can use those to feel like we’re satisfying the deepest longing, but these will always lead to some form of suffering because they aren’t permanent. Fine to enjoy and celebrate the fun of life, but not to get limited with that being the meaning of life. What if what we actually long for is a connection to something permanent, changeless, formless and without knowledge or ability to reach that, we accept anything else?
In many ways, I’m not judgeing any of the responses to injustice and ignorance as a right and a wrong way to react. How do we expect the loop of violence against someone made to be less-than, and the cry and outrage of the one being violated, to ever resolve if we keep telling someone they’re wrong? Are we actually listening and asking questions or do we keep telling how someone should feel? Where did the pain start? Is the one craving power suffering in a deeply unconscious state and so more power at all costs feels like the only way to survive? Is the one being harmed the messenger to help wake up the unconscious one? What comes up is that we each have our own ways that we need to navigate through this journey based on cultural, philisophical, moralistic and other personal rules, and none of us can know what that fully is for the other.
There does seem, in a very loud way though, to be a collective desire for equality, for compassion, for acceptance, and for peace. Whether you fight and steal for it, whether you sit and meditate for it, whether you scream outloud or hide silently in pain. Even with those that search for opportunities to create violence and fear, I truly believe that’s an outcry and a best response to the injustice of the world that wasn’t given better tools to express that at some earlier time. Being seen, being heard, being recognized as valued has been a driving force behind any wrongs in the world. We’ve seen this with the Black Lives Matter movement, Equal Rights for Women, equality for the LGBTQQ community and many more across the globe. The hateful, oppressive and silencing of rights has never been the final answer though our time is showing us that it also hasn’t gone away and many cries have yet to be heard. Even in the seemingly good times, we know that these forces exist within us and all around us.
We must take action in some way, if even in our own hearts to make space for a changing world that desperately wants to wake up. And it’s like our parent or partner or pet that’s trying to get us out of bed even though we may not want to…but they know we’ll do better once we’re up and getting the lifeforce to move through us. Once we see the sunlight and even feel the rain. Once we feel the connection to things that can remind us of this sweet gift of being on an amazing planet that is capable of recovering from whatever awful negligence we show her. It’s not the Earth that needs saving, it’s us. And by acknowledging our harm toMother Earth and showing some respect and care, we are rewarded with her beauty and feeling part of the ecosystem versus an intruder working to strip the land for our own benefit, ironically leading to our own demise.
I’m quite positive that we’ll always see the horrors of this world exist for many decades and that the peace I can imagine is far, far off in the distance of likely never to happen in our human lifetime. But that doesn’t stop me from working towards it. It’s the natural evolution of our existence to move towards a better life. Even if we ourselves don’t experience it, it seems there is a longing to reach for it and possibly even a memory of having once experienced it. From what I understand of the spiritual teachings in yoga, this is the permanent, changeless, formless part within all of us that we long to attain. Maybe a brilliantly awake part of ourselves holds an awareness that we’re helping pave the way for this great change to happen. There are those who’s own version of that change is to see the world’s demise being the path to liberation — Armageddon style. At the core of that vision, is the same wish but somehow was taught by someone to be a reasonable method for surviving. I’m not totally clear how to make space for that way of thinking except to consider that is someone’s path and Truth is One, Paths are Many (Integral Yoga), but I do know we each have our own path that can lead to being fully aware of the interconnectedness of all beings and such a place that would mean no harm to anyone or anything. That requires looking inward more than looking outward for answers and is a powerful yogic journey of ahimsa.
Like the caterpillar that goes into a cacoon to carry out the metamorphosis process and dramatically reorganizes through liquifying, it seems to be a response in nature to learn by going inward, which can seem painful as it dissolves and loses what seems familiar. The process must make it through it’s stages in order to emerge as a beautiful butterfuly. If it were to be encouraged to open sooner or torn open prematurely, the unformed liquid stage would be released and the process would end there. (Learn more at scientificamerican.com). This current pandemic of COVID-19 has been like a massive inward and reflective time to see what’s inside…inside our homes, maybe our relationshiops, our hearts, our minds. And while it was a forced practice and for many a devastating one, the potential to recover is high, particularly if the right environment of support and protective care is given.
If our hearts are crying for us to take some action to be seen and heard or better yet, to be or service, then that’s part of your transformation process and it’s a call to go! Taking some action is often better than not participating in the calls from your heart. And at the same time, can we give ourself the space and time to move with the serenity prayer? G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. It’s a practice of not causing harm in order to right the wrongs of harm. Again, I don’t know what everyone’s lessons are in this lifetime, so how can we say what should or shouldn’t be happening. How many of us have felt silenced or felt like we didn’t belong in this world. How many of us have seen far too much racism, homophobia, sexism, inequality and injustive happen that it feels doubtful anything more can come from this structure? Growing up gay, Jewish, and Asian-American and even an artist, I feel there was a small window into this, but it’s no where near the pain endured by our black brothers and sisters as I saw growing up in Cincinnati, OH.
The voices we hear from as our leaders of change and peace, have always asked for non-violence yet also said we must speak up. What is the right way to do this? Maybe there is no right or wrong, just the knowingness that some action is needed and then actions have consequences and we learn. I saw a video of a black community gathering with a young girl expressing how she felt from the recent murder of George Floyd. She was so strong and brave and at one point she lowered her head and started crying. The crowd supported her, cheered her on and even one women said encouragingly to her, “Don’t stop. Do NOT stop!” At first it seemed too strong, but then it was that voice of strength and courage from an elder that was being given to this young girl. That woman knew that the young girl needed to say what she was feeling, to let her feelings out in order to help empower her and to not let her sink in any shame or weakness. She knew the impact of letting that young girl share her voice, to move out of the shadow of oppression. It was inspiring all around. It was another testament of the human spirit that says we deserve to be treated equally and to be seen as part of the solution, not part of any problem. It was a powerful expression of the wisdom of young people who understand, feel and want a better world and we can help support them to create it.
Voices of support from around the world echo the notion that we are not alone. When we see support from those who in a way, aren’t even in the middle of the event, it feels like relief! It’s like any movement that creates rings of support around the smaller voice so that we recognize this is a human issue more than anything. And this is all about the human condition that has been born into a world of fundamental imbalance yet is created from the cosmic elements of equanimity. It’s been that way, continues to be proven that to be so, and simply because the subtle memory of our true nature is so easy to forget, will be this way. BUT, we have made the most amazing progress in many ways which shows that yes, we are evolving in the right direction, it’s just that this house we’re cleaning has many more floors above and below that we maybe didn’t account for when we accepted this job! So we need to remember, we’re cleaning and clearing this house together in the ways we’ve been guided and awakened to do.
Will we ever see what we hope to see? Does it depend where we’re looking? Does it depend on the color of our skin and what our eyes have seen or not seen? Being free, building a conscious connection to something greater than the self is open to everyone, regardless of race, creed, sexuality, gender, economic status, etc. We simply need access and perspective. We need those that have gone before us, our wise seniors or those young souls that are old souls, to be our guides. The most impactful resources I’ve known to turn to are the teachings of yoga or any eastern or indigenous cultures. Why is that? The worst of human nature has been seen, this is not a new era of bad humans. There has always been a need to have tools to deal with the bound mind and body and it appears that these tools have helped each generation find their way. The 12-steps of recovery in many ways, have equally been an amazing tool for me to see beyond the powerlessness of the self and to tap into the higher power within and beyond the self. I’ve appreciated that the 12-step recovery model isn’t one of perfection, but one of progress towards living a life free from destructive behavior and a life led of service. Only by some practice that helps us access the highest wisdom within wisdom, that which illuminates our true self that shines through and beyond our limited, individual self, will we be inspired and awakened to accept the humbled, human condition and from there, move with the soul’s message of Peace.
Regarding the voices of leaders – We’re missing a leading voice of reason from Mr. 45th right now, in more ways than I can count, and it’s causing a divided response in so many ways. Again, no surprise and yet another display of humans gone wild and more accurately humans gone deeply ignorant. But it could also be a major ingredient in this perfect storm recipe for all of us getting up from being asleep and taking action. Action that will hopefully keep us feeling energized and empowered to make this day the best day it can be well knowing that it all happens slowly. Evolution is not a fast-track to sudden change. And sometimes what was successfully built slowly and positively, falls into digression, slowly and without very conscious intention. Here’s an excerpt from a writing by Anne Applebaum, published in the Atlantic regarding the “erosion of values and the growth of corruption” titled, “History Will Judge the Complicit”:
It takes time to persuade people to abandon their existing value systems. The process usually begins slowly, with small changes. Social scientists who have studied the erosion of values and the growth of corruption inside companies have found, for example, that “people are more likely to accept the unethical behavior of others if the behavior develops gradually (along a slippery slope) rather than occurring abruptly,” according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. This happens, in part, because most people have a built-in vision of themselves as moral and honest, and that self-image is resistant to change. Once certain behaviors become “normal,” then people stop seeing them as wrong. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/trumps-collaborators/612250/
Getting out on the streets, rallying, speaking out and demanding systemic change might all be a part of the snapping out of the trance we’ve been guided into. Others find meditation, prayer, spiritual practices, healing and creative arts to be the resource that empowers right thought and right action. From the words of the woman mentioned earlier who encouraged the young girl, I support a rising voice of justice and peace for all and say Do NOT Stop! Doing something helps the deepest part of our longing for peace to feel like we’re part of this journey together. Balancing that with staying safe, honoring the limitations of this body and doing whatever will help you turn off that buzzer of endless sleep is a good thing to figure out and wake up to right now. Enjoy this COVID-19 inspired version of Waking Up is Hard to Do on youtube.