There comes a point in both communal and individual life when what we have created no longer sustains us; we are often disoriented when we realize that this is so. Similar to immersion in a coherent piece of music, we have been going along in a certain octave and key, and the flow of that music carries us well enough.
But sometimes we reach a point when we need to change octaves or shift to a different key. The piece of music that has carried us is no longer sufficient, no longer true. Yet, nothing new has been written. We experience the loss of the old without anything to replace it. In Greek mythology, the phoenix burns down to a pile of ashes before it rises. This pause between a destructive cycle and rebirth is most difficult.
Anyone who has lived through this kind of disruptive change knows its pain. Destructive cycles strip us down, revealing what is unprocessed and buried, revealing untruth. In this moment, facing a pile of ashes, we often feel profoundly alone.
In the West, there is a tendency to see this as punishment. This is what we get for our terrible imperfection, for our self deceit, for our mistreatment of each other.
Prior to election day I held a retreat exploring the destructive side of human existence. Half of the time the moon waxes and the other half it wanes. What would it mean to no longer resist the waning moon?
The cycles of existence—birth, sustenance, concealment, decay and death—are a law of nature. Nothing in creation stands outside of this cyclical law. Yet, most of us have a natural resistance to concealment, because we are not able to see what is at work, and to decay and death because we rightly associate it with some level of suffering. Although the suffering that comes with the waning cycles of existence is unavoidable, there is a a much greater suffering that stems from our deep resistance to it.
Prior to the election, many of us knew that our trajectory as both a nation and a world is not only unsustainable but terribly destructive. Our habit of mind and culture is to find someone to blame. We identify the victimizer, the victim, and the rescuer, a wedded trio that has been appropriately named the triangle of disempowerment. For many, this way of characterizing a destructive cycle is all that we know, and the story repeats itself over and over again.
But what would happen if, just for a moment, we laid down our blame? Where would be begin? We would find ourselves terribly disoriented. We would find ourselves knee deep in grief.
But what would happen if we didn’t fight that disorientation? Didn’t push away that grief?
When Westerners speak about karma there is an assumption that, if there is such a law, it is here to make us pay for our bad deeds. But there is another way to understand this, and that is that karma, even when difficult, is a return, providing an opportunity to deepen understanding and supporting the evolution of consciousness. From this perspective, karma is an expression of love. And love, in order to be true, is sometimes fierce.
There is so much about this time in history that is actually served by a cycle of decay. But to embrace this we must be willing to be disoriented, to simply not know.
We can begin by refraining from crippling ourselves with blame, as this unexamined response generates self-hatred which often gets projected onto others. The triangle of victimization is disempowering primarily because it is steeped in a cycle of blame. Perhaps this is a part of what needs to die.
To refrain from blame does not mean that we no longer stand up for justice or seek the truth. On the contrary, by withholding our blame we pause long enough to listen both within and without, to receive a deeper truth, to turn inward and let our sorrow and disappointment and grief teach us another way.
The victim, victimizer and rescuer live within all of us. By turning towards these parts of ourselves with an attitude of inquiry, we open up the possibility for a deeper understanding, both individually and within our collective humanity. There is in this depth of understanding the potential of finding a great compassion.
It is my sense that the change in octave, the change in key, that we are collectively attempting to make is a greater and deeper compassion. To get there, we need to recognize what, in our own hearts and minds, keeps us wedded to the profound sense of separation that is at the core of our collective consciousness.
Replacing blame with inquiry opens the channel of understanding, the only gateway to true compassion. This means relinquishing the guard that has so beautifully and valiantly protected our heart. It means finding a way to understand how each of us has contributed to this moment of profound breakdown. It requires a willingness to stand in that terrible and precious vulnerability that arises when we recognize that we are all, fundamentally, the same.