“Inner social action” is necessary in order to make our outer actions productive. — Ram Dass
This is why I’ve been silent, or rather, nowhere near as prolific a writer and podcaster that I proudly proclaimed I would be in 2020 on January 1st.
When I don’t know how to respond I’m not in the right place… Yet.
It’s relatively easy to be a prolific writer or podcaster if you keep your topics general, or if you’re always on the defensive and speak to polarizing subjects. Take a look at Fox news and some of the unmentionable show hosts and pundits on that platform and you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Give an angry person a microphone or a platform and they will publish multiple times a day.
But when it comes to a thoughtful response, one that comes from a place deep inside of you that some might term spiritual, a place of perfect equanimity, such wisdom is rare because of the required emotional labour and humility.
It’s easy to read the news, then record a podcast or write an article that stands in direct opposition to the viewpoint I disagree with. To be fair, the issue is often that my words, tone, and argument are just that; argumentative and defensive posturing. Oh yay, look at me, I’m a social justice warrior! I see this all too often in LGBTQ focused articles and in comments on Medium, and of course in my work as well — as much as I am trying to make that a feature of the past.
How can we have an opinion about something without defending it?
“The most pressing issue is the polarization of our fellow humans with whom we vigorously disagree. We may find it nearly impossible to have any constructive dialogue with those whose views we oppose. This creates a kind of divergence within us that gives power to a sense of righteousness.” — Ram Dass
It is incredibly challenging, and sometimes it even feels impossible, to respond to an attack from a place of loving-kindness and acceptance for the other person as a human being, while maintaining the emotional integrity to offer an alternative solution that improves the situation and the humanity of the interaction.
“If I identify with any side of any position, then that attachment to that side makes me see the opposite side in terms of an object, as “them.” Seeing another being as “them” is what the problem is, that’s what it boils down to.”
“I see that the only law or rule of all human relations […] the only rule of the game is to put your own consciousness in a place where you are no longer attached to a polarized position even though you may, by the nature of the game contracts you’re involved in, be forced to play out a polarized role.” — Ram Dass, “Internal vs. External Responsibility”
How can I — how can we as a society (especially within our so-called tribes) — seek to practice equanimity, empathy, and open-hearted response in the face of so much destabilization, polarization, division, hatred, racism and prejudice?
“What happens in the presence of that destabilization, where there is human unconsciousness is that people get frightened, and when they get frightened, they use certain mechanisms; they go into denial, they become more fundamentalist; they try to find values they can hold onto, to ward off evil. They cling and become more ultra-nationalist. There’s more ethnic prejudice, there’s more racial prejudice and anti-semitism. It all increases, because this fear isn’t just in us, this is a worldwide thing.” — Ram Dass, “How do We Respond to Cultural Destabilization?”
How do we calm our fears? How do we find a safe place within ourselves to find solutions; ultimately a new approach, a new way of looking at our problems through a new way of thinking and consciousness.
Study, Reflection, Practice, Silence, and Meditation.
Studying is something I’m great at.
If feels like I have been studying most of my adult life. I’m currently engaged in a year-long program about neuroscience and how that applies to my work as a coach.
Reflection might be my forte!
One of my best friends has told me repeatedly that he thinks I’m one of the most self examine the people he’s ever met. Sometimes it feels like a curse, but not in a bad way. I mean, that I am always thinking, analyzing my thoughts, reviewing my actions, behaviours, and patterns. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in self-observation.
Practice is something I’m very good at practicing.
If I’m working on myself, or working with another coach, or working through a training program, I will take action on what I learn. I will take action when recommended to try something new. Why not? If I’m investing in improving my skills or self-awareness, not practicing would be a waste of time and money.
Silence is an essential quality in my life.
It’s something I can easily find and practice. Whether that be the time I have to myself at home when my partner is at work, or very early in the morning when I’m journaling after having just woken up, there’s a calmness in the silence that pervades not only the room but my sense of being. Reflection I can easily go for a walk in a lovely neighbourhood near where I live and find my way into a couple of beautiful, peaceful parks. I can even lay down without distraction and let my mind do whatever.
Meditation is the thing I find most challenging.
Sometimes I sustain the practice for quite some time. In 2005 I went on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat which was possibly one of the most physically and emotionally challenging commitments I’ve ever made. I fluctuate between using Sam Harris’s meditation app, waking up, and just trying to sit in stillness. When I accomplish a positive outcome with meditation the benefits are tremendous.
Ram Dass offers his insight on the value of meditation even when you think you should be out fighting for what you believe in, for rights, protesting against injustice, and so on.
“Then I began to see that staying alone in that room at that moment was confronting me with an internal battle which was much fiercer than any external battle I had ever fought before. And until I had found some way through that internal battle, all I could do was get sucked into the external manifestations of it in such a way as to perpetuate them.” — Ram Dass, “Internal vs. External Responsibility”
Meditation shows us — without filter — our state of mind and physiological state.
There is no hiding or suppressing a lack of emotional balance, proper rest, open-heartedness, clear-mindedness, or equanimity. This is the reason it’s so challenging for many people and often why people give it up or refuse to do it. They don’t want to see the state of their mind! They don’t want to see the dark. The truth is that the only way through the dark is to shine light on it. Ignoring the dark allows it to manifest and eclipse the light.
All off this is what I’m trying to better understand, practice, and thus improve and evolve about myself. There is no end goal of achieving a perfect state of mind. There is only a steady practice that allows one to become more adept at quickly going into the gap, going into equanimity and seeing that they are out of their mind. By out of one’s mind I mean that you are no longer in the human or thinking part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex. When you are out of your mind you are in reaction, doing what the ancient, behavioural animal and reptilian brain need to feel safe and secure.
Most of us spend most of our time feeding the animals.
Our human brain is like a spectator on the other side of the cage at the zoo. Perhaps a more ironic way of looking at it is that the human brain is the one in the cage because most of the time the animals reign free. This is why there is so much anger, divisiveness, and a lack of civility. When the animals are roaming free, stressed out, scared, and insecure, they are only looking out for themselves.
Yet knowing this about ourselves can help us to understand that everyone else is just like us. When we are on the defensive the posture, the mindset is us versus them. What they did to us or how they wronged us. But the truth is that,
“They aren’t “the other.” They are part of our tribe and that’s what is frustrating to us. We need to engage with a deeper listening; we need to understand and appreciate the causes and conditions that created this particular landscape. We need to learn what produced the story line in which we have become invested and in which we are intractably bound up.” — Ram Dass
Nothing productive in the way of human achievement, goal setting, or philosophical debate happens until humans get their basic, primal needs met first. Only then will those older parts of the brain settle down and allow for thinking brain to take control — albeit temporarily. Only then in those brief moments we must seize the opportunity to lead queerly and evolve our collective, human consciousness.
“A big lesson that we have learned is that social action is effective when spiritual quietness, listening, and the Witness are present. With the cultivation of spiritual values like compassion, love and wisdom, all actions have the possibility of a positive outcome. We can’t make a difference when we are enraged.” — Ram Dass
Download my new book, Think Queerly: Meditations & Critical Reflections On Liberating Humanity, a collection of short aphorisms and reflections that read like a modern-day Tao Te Ching written from a queer perspective.
Post title & opening podcast soundbite: Ram Dass on Instagram.