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  • Writer's pictureRishika

Which side are you on, anyway?

Black and white.
Beware of false choices.

I have wanted to address the riots and the government response for a few days now, but have found that doing so from a place of Presence is incredibly tricky. From a yogic perspective, whenever we respond to something, especially with resistance, we reinforce its apparent reality. This is why people sometimes say "I won't dignify that with an answer" as a way of invalidating a specious question.

So how does a Present and Self-aware Yogi speak, witness and participate in civic life at a time like this? Because this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak -- in times of strife and chaos, our practice is truly tested.

And I'll freely admit to you that there are times when I have no freaking idea. Rishika is able to watch the protesters and the brutal government response and think, dispassionately, "This is what they all came for. This is the inevitable outcome of the karma all have been creating. It is neither good nor bad, and cannot be otherwise."

Kathleen, on the other hand, feels her own simmering darkness beginning to approach a boiling point. It's been a recurring task on my path to deal with my habits of perception, left over from a career in journalism and 30 years of intense political engagement. When the president made a speech June 1 about "law and order" and encouraged violent suppression of mostly peaceful protests, then had police use rubber bullets to clear a path to a church, where he posed holding a Bible, the hypocrisy and gaslighting were enough to push me to a level of outrage I hadn't felt in years.

Do I simply sit and witness? Should I vent this energy into a Facebook rant? Should I really retweet the latest scathing meme? Or should I instead do the "yogic" thing, rising above it all to invoke a higher witness with images of peaceful coexistence and quotes from Mother Theresa or Gandhi?

I believe in peace, but I also believe in justice. However, I must continually remind myself that justice is not mine to decide. Even in my righteous anger, I understand that the ultimate meaning of what is unfolding now will not be appreciable for decades, and cannot be known from our limited perspective.

What I do know is that we are all of the same Consciousness, and thus we participate in current events whether we "want" to, or not. So if nothing else, we can dig deep and use this opportunity to further our self-understanding, to deepen our awareness of how we contribute to and subtly encourage their unfolding. We are ALL complicit, however noble we think our motives may be. To think otherwise is to separate ourselves from the Truth, to think that we are better, more evolved, kinder and more "just" than our opponents. That idea may hold some validity in the most superficial sense, but it's not the whole story.

When we talk about our "demons" in spiritual work, they're not always the ones driving such behaviors as substance abuse or sexual acting out. They are also the ones we pretend aren't there because the ego needs to preserve its opinion of itself as "good," or perhaps more accurately, "better." We think, "I would never be so cruel. I could never steal. I would never hurt or kill that person." But violence, cruelty and competition for resources are in our DNA, and ignoring that reality can cause as much harm as acting on it.

Because the ego can't bear to see or identify with our less attractive traits, we assign them away to some other person, group or social structure in order to avoid knowing the ways in which we, too, are “guilty” -- and in this way our denial/resistance reinforces those energies both in ourselves and in the world. We must therefore try to locate the parts of us that actually find peace boring, that are titillated by the sight of destruction, that relish the non-stop shock and gore that we're being served by our media right now. We need to see how conflict actually serves and preserves the ego, and upholds its false sense of superiority.

And then we accept whatever darkness we find. We acknowledge that we contain the full spectrum of human energies and thereby heal our relationship to them in ourselves. The saints were not saints because their souls were spotless (although they are, as are all of ours) -- they were saints because they understood that no one can choose correctly if they are unaware of the forces within that shape their choices.

Apropos of this topic, one of my teachers once told me, "Go look up Milarepa." (Imagine if ancient spiritual seekers had had the luxury of Google.) Milarepa, a murderer who became a great Yogi, had decades of searching under his proverbial belt and lived in a remote cave. He survived by foraging, and one day upon returning to his cave, he found that demons had taken over the place -- lounging on the rock where he slept, making a mess of his belongings, devouring what little food he had.

First, he tried to reason with them, and they laughed at him. Then, he tried to force them out, but they only grew stronger and more destructive. Finally, he approached the most vicious demon and said, "Very well, if you won't leave then you may as well just eat me," and placed his head in the demon's mouth. At that, the demon instead bowed down before him, then disappeared.

We cannot defeat the demons of others any more than we can "defeat" our own. However, we can acknowledge that we contain them and thereby render them harmless. We can practice compassion for those who are not yet aware of the forces that drive them, and reserve judgment, for we have been no different. We can affirm instead our allegiance to something Higher, something truly invulnerable that lives in all of us, including those with whom we war.

None of it is easy. The situation appears to demand a choice -- who do you march with? What color is your flag? What slogan or hand gesture or uniform defines you? The choice is ultimately an illusion, but we are still free to make it. In choosing, however, we should maintain the awareness that anything we vilify lives in us as well, and in rejecting it we reject a part of ourselves. The only true choice, therefore, is to align with Truth itself.

Namaste, Rishika


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