Witnessing the Death of a Civilization

I was born the month that Hitler invaded Poland. As a result of Hitler’s invasion, World War II was launched.  Even as a child I was preoccupied with the issue of evil—what made people hate other people so much they wanted to kill each other?  When I was a little older, I read everything then available about Hitler and his Holocaust:  How could this terrible racist tyrant have come to power in a democratic country with a noble culture and history?  My drive to understand the origins of evil—and how we collude with evil, like the “good Germans” did—eventually led me to the Pathwork and its profound teachings about evil.

Through practicing the Pathwork, I came to deeply experience my own “lower self”—the intent to separate from others out of self-will, pride, and/or fear.  I came to understand in myself the evil of numbness that is a defense against pain and which allows us to hurt others because we have walled ourselves off from feeling their (and our own) pain.  I opened up to emotional pain, feeling deeply what was in my heart, and discovered that love and compassion flowed.  I came to see the mask of superiority (pride) that defended my deepest feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  The mask dropped, the pain of inadequacy was felt, and the result was a humbler, realer connection to others.  I observed the stories that fear wove and that gave rise to the impulse to control or suppress what was imagined as the outer source of the fear.  I let the stories drop, felt the raw fear, and then trust flowed and fearlessness began to blossom.  I am so grateful to have found a way to deal with evil by turning inward to its source in the egotism and fear that live within each of us.

I never thought I would witness in my lifetime the re-creation of Hitler’s rise to power in my own country.  But that is, essentially, how I see the current rise of Trump to his position as a presidential candidate.  He is feeding on and creating dark scenarios about the threatening “other,” just as Hitler did, and just as every other tyrant in history has ever done.  He is trying to convince his audience that only his strong-armed authoritarianism can make them safe from the fears they carry in their minds.  Many Republicans have already become the “good Germans,” enabling an unstable, tyrannical, and crassly egotistical man unsuited for the presidency to lead their party.

What is even more remarkable is that the United States in 2016 is not Germany in the 1920s, when Germans understandably felt oppressed and resentful due to the harsh terms that the Allies had imposed on Germany after World War I.  The educational and work opportunities and the standard of living in United States today are the envy of the world.  The jobless rate is the lowest. The stock market is the highest.  Crime is down.  Illegal immigration is much less of a problem today than it was during the Reagan era.  Injustice toward African-Americans is no more egregious now than in it has been for the last two hundred years; there’s just a lot more recognition of that harsh reality.  Even police killings are down from the time of Reagan.  There’s just a lot more negative publicity, and Fox news has played a ghastly (and immensely profitable) role in stirring up fears and prejudices.   The only demographic group that is actually worse off today than in 2008 when Obama became president, are poorly educated, white factory workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas by businessmen like Trump.

Bernie Sanders, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, has also painted a dire picture of America and the crumbling of its democracy.

But it does not seem that America today is on the verge of economic or social collapse, even though there are serious problems, including that “big money” threatens our democracy and including that some people definitely are hurting economically.

It seems right to ask now the kinds of questions that the Pathwork teachings direct us to ask.  What are the deeper reasons for the un-ease many people feel which make them susceptible to the promise that a dictator could take away their fears?  Can those of us who make a practice of self-inquiry look within to the source of our own fears?  Can we take responsibility for and feel the fear rather than pretend we know what is wrong and how to fix it?

I’ve found in myself compassion for the fears others may be feeling.  Fears arise as old identities crumble, and the dissolving of fixed ideas (what the Pathwork Guide calls the “edifices of error”) is a constant theme of my (any) spiritual path.  Culturally we used to define ourselves based on limited patriarchal Euro-centric thinking, where roles and rules (our personal outer reality) were based on gender, class, ethnicity, and religion.  In the space of a single generation, we have been thrust out of our comfortable limited identities and instead been exposed to a dizzyingly diverse present-day American and global society—where those of vastly different cultures, religions, lifestyles, economic class, sexual orientation—all rightly clamor for a place at the table in a democratic country fundamentally committed to equality and inclusion, and with a history of welcoming and integrating immigrants.

Beyond the challenge to reach beyond our familiar old identities and sympathies, all humans face the challenges brought on by climate and environmental denigration and over-population.  We feel a deep uncertainty about the future of the human species on this planet.  Major changes are coming.  Terror inevitably arises in the face of the massive changes destined to renew our being.

Can we look within ourselves to meet this terror of change?  Can we see our eagerness to crawl back into our fixed ideas and limited identities, rather than meet the call for continual letting go of the past and opening to the reality of the present?  Can we examine the places where we go numb or get judgmental and opinionated and, instead, open up to the pain and anxiety of not-knowing?  Cane we include EVERYTHING in our experience?  Can we see how we hold on to the mind’s scenarios created from fear, self-will and pride, rather than surrender it all to the Mystery which is unfolding, just as it is?

A Facebook friend recently asked if there is any advice for how to meet the death of a civilization (as there seems to be ample evidence that we may be on the threshold of the death of the white Euro-centric civilization which has dominated the globe for a few centuries).  His request reminded me a of a recurring vision I’ve had of being a Native American elder in the 19th century, watching as my way of life was dying in the face of the invasion of the Europeans.  My heart broke with the recognition that the ancient ways of our people were dying, our beloved lands were being exploited, our civilization was being crushed under the egotism of the white man.  I can not see what good can come from the ways these pale-faced people treated the earth and its inhabitants.  It makes no sense to me. Why can they not understand that “what we do to the earth we do to ourselves”?  Are they intent not just on destroying our old native ways, but destroying the earth Herself?

In deep agony, I sit in a doorway under the blanket wrapped around my shoulders and sigh and weep with these terrible questions.

Finally, pain subsides and spaciousness is born.  I have no answers to these questions, only a willingness to feel the pain and to surrender my ideas about how things should be.  The heart expands.   All that is known is that life goes on.  Life itself, the Mystery itself, is allowing this new civilization, this new way of relating to the earth, which seems so wrong to me.  If it is here now, then it must be the Way of the Creator.  All I can do is to sit in the creative power of not knowing, with heart as open as possible to the pain and compassion for  what is being witnessed.

This vision came back to me again recently as I contemplated the present American political scene.  The certainties of the white Western settlers of the early 19th Century—based on beliefs in racial, patriarchal, and religious superiority—are crumbling.  The crises of species extinction and climate degradation have shown the limits of that worldview. The certainties of the communist/socialist experiments in the early 20th century about how to save the world are also crumbling.  There are no more political saviors or ideological prophets who have our answers for us.

Yet in this country we still have the best roadmap for collective self-governance (“all men are created equal”).  And now we are called to expand that understanding into “all life is created equal.”  Equality and inclusion, fundamental spiritual truths, are at the heart of this democracy.  It’s as close as we can come to knowing how to proceed.

It’s a huge expansion to include all of it, and not demand that people conform to our ideas about who we think they ought to be, that the country be organized the way the mind thinks it ought to be.  It’s a huge leap from exclusion and superiority to inclusion and equality, the basic tenet of democracy.  It is a leap from fear to faith.  There is no one outside of us, no perfect leader, who will save us.  It’s just us, struggling to find our way …awkwardly, uncertainly, with no clear roadmap.  It’s just life, unfolding as it must.  Can we embrace the diversity of all that we are as a human species?  Can we accept and surrender to the challenge of not-knowing what we are and where we are going, or even if we will survive as a species?

If we can personally embody the tolerance, the embrace of all diversity, … If we can accept reality just as it is, and be willing to let go of our fixed ideas about how things should be … if we can drop our own defenses and live in our vulnerability … if we drop our resistance to the changes destined to renew our own being … then we join the benign natural life force of the universe which is constantly destroying what is unsustainable and giving birth to new expressions of itself.

Can we view this election cycle as an opportunity to practice faith not fear, connection not separation, acceptance not judgment?  Can we rest in the creative space of not-knowing which allows and supports life as it unfolds?   Can we be the change we wish to see in the world?



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