There’s a huge difference between being activated/reactive and being awake and effective. You don’t need to fan the flames of righteous indignation or fear in order to stay awake. Becoming over reactive, winging yourself up, may create a temporary feeling of power, but it reduces your effectiveness. This is as true in civil discourse and political action as it is across the breakfast table.
You can use your awareness of the difference between being activated and being grounded to help you stay the course over the long term rather than riling yourself up, spinning out, and burning out.
In the wake of the election, I see many well-intentioned people fomenting fear as a strategy for making themselves and others safe. A state of chronic fear depletes us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Fear is not sustainable, and fomenting it won’t make us safe. As we look around us, fear may arise, but let’s not fuel it. We don’t need to feed fear to be safe. We need to be awake, tell the truth, and love each other.
Though it might seem like we need to make a choice between anxiety and an insight that can see through or behind our moment to moment experience, we really don’t. Awareness takes care of things without effort or intervention.
The title says it all, except for this: “No, really.” In every situation, including horrific ones, worrying doesn’t help. Caring helps. Love helps. And the less we worry, the clearer our minds and freer our hearts to express caring and love.
One of the many memorable scenes in “The Wizard of Oz” shows Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion finally standing before the Great and Powerful Oz. They have come to present him with the broom belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West after having conquered her with a bucket of water. Oz thunders at them mightily and tries to put them off, but as he blusters and blasts, Toto, Dorothy’s tiny dog, pulls back a curtain and reveals that the wizard is just an ordinary man pulling levers in a magic show.
There’s always a man behind the curtain
The same thing happens whenever we see through the illusion created moment to moment by our thinking. One minute we are gripped by the certainty that the feelings and perceptions before us are real, and in the next, we see that they are projections of our amazing power of thought. One morning last week I had a realization about a long-standing story I sometimes live about not being a good-enough sister or friend or neighbor. I noticed how I’ve resisted and resented and avoided that story, and how that sets up a tug-of-war inside of me, an internal argument about being kind. I took out my notebook and made a simple list of related stories that came to mind.
They need me.
I should do more.
I am not thoughtful.
I burned the list. It was funny. The paper in that particular notebook must have a special coating. It resisted burning. On top of that, it was a windy day. I used up half a book of matches failing to burn the list on our burn pile. Finally I got a ceramic bowl and found a place by the front door relatively sheltered from the wind. It still took at lot of matches, but that sucker is burned.
Back to the Wizard
In the movie, after the curtain is pulled back, the phony wizard is able to endow each of the characters with his or her wish. How does a phony wizard pull that off? He does it by revealing to each of them that they already had what they sought. The Scarecrow may have thought that brains lived in the diploma, which the Wizard granted him, but we know that his intelligence was there all along. The Tin Man’s heart was apparent throughout the movie, long before the Wizard gave him a heart-shaped clock. And the courage of the beloved Cowardly Lion shone through repeatedly as he shivered and shook, but stayed the course in spite of his fears. Clearly his courage was not the result of receiving a medal. And Dorothy? Dorothy wanted to go home. Home, a place that lived right there inside of her.
The magic worked by the Wizard is ours every minute of every day
You could say that the magic of the Wizard was to show each person that they themselves were the power behind the illusions they had been living, and that they had equal power to see through those illusions and come home to their wholeness and wellbeing. We have that same magic at our disposal. Whenever we see through our thoughts to the intelligence and wellbeing of which we are made, we come home. We encounter our intelligence, our compassion, and our courage.
What I noticed after burning those stories
After burning my stories about not being nice or compassionate or caring enough, I continued to reflect on those qualities. After all, I do want to be kind, compassionate, and caring. I noticed that thoughts about care and compassion can come from many sources. When it comes from an identity that is attached to being good enough, an identity that wants to be liked, or any other identity projected from a sense of insufficiency or incompleteness, thoughts about care and compassion are rooted in those things. But there are other times when those thoughts seem to stem from a different identity, one that is resourced in lovingkindness and that is not afraid or attached to outcomes.
Our hearts can always tell which identity is at work behind the curtain
Our personal thinking can get very confused about this, but our hearts can tell in an instant when we are operating from lovingkindness, which is another way of saying that we are connected with our true nature. It was good to see that what seemed to be the same drives or intentions can be generated from quite different sources. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have been trapped in my stories because I was afraid of losing something, like the will to be kind. How lovely to see the difference between the root of kindness, which can never be lost, and my stories about kindness, which can sometimes be quite distorted.
Burning didn’t dispel my stories
I burned my stories as a physical expression of an inner knowing: that the stories that I live are made of smoke and mirrors. It was satisfying to witness their return to smoke, but in no way necessary. The freedom we seek from our stories is ours as soon as we see that we are always the man behind the curtain. Have a wonderful, wonder-filled week, and please let me know what you’re discovering by sharing it in the comments.