For the last ten years or so, I have been learning about a philosophical system called nonduality. It’s been interesting watching how nonduality has worked for me in these last few months, in this bizarre situation where nothing has changed (yet) on the outside but everything is in major turmoil on the inside.
Nonduality points out that we can only ever live in the present moment that exists right now, so we can stop with all the story-making about the past or fears about the future. The past is just a thought, a memory, a story. And fear, I think, is so often about the future, and again is only a thought. So you can stop giving so much bandwidth to past and future.
I think about this a lot these days. It’s really easy to get swept up in fear. It seems a reflex, to imagine what the future will be like once Trump and his minions are in place. The Cabinet of Horrors and our Red Congress are already hard at work destroying the country. There’s plenty to fear.
But fear works against you, paralyzes you, robs you of your energies, destroys your equanimity, and causes great suffering. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. (Thanks for that, Frank Herbert.)
So I grapple with my fear. I don’t want to be a slave to my fears.
At the same time, nonduality points out that most suffering (if not all) is a result of trying to escape what’s happening right now. Resisting what is. Nonduality encourages us to examine what’s happening right now, ask ourselves about the nature of this thing, where it comes from, where it’s going, why it’s here. Nonduality talks a lot about self-enquiry.
So when you feel bad, rather than instantly reacting to squash the bad thing, we can try to open ourselves to it, to lay down our defenses and be exactly what we are at that moment. Allow the experience to envelope us, and learn from it.
For example, when you are sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, squished, hot, uncomfortable — you feel all of that and experience it. Just be there. Be miserable. This is what it is right now.
So you walk the thin line, tip-toe between resistance and openness. Seeing the toll your fear takes on you, wanting to end suffering, yet also wanting to be in the moment, when the moment sucks.
And now here we are, in the clutches of maniacs determined to wreck the country. They were the majority (sort of) so they won. Absolutely, we resist, we protest, we ridicule, we find a way to obstruct or oppose. I’m not talking about actions. The actions needed are self evident; there is no conflict there.
I’m talking about inside. Feelings, attitudes. I want to see my fear and hear it, but I don’t want it to control me. I have to negotiate a truce of sorts with my fear, and find a way to feel what I feel without resistance to what it — and yet protect my mental health and fend off hopelessness and despair.
I’m not saying those fears are stupid or wrong or even bad. But I can look at them, the same way I stand back and examine a thought. I can see how the fear arises and how it feels when I’m in its grip. I can see how I react to those feelings.
Here is the dialogue in my head:
MIND: You’re being so melodramatic! Come on, it won’t be that bad! Nothing is ever as bad as we think it’s going to be. Look at Y2K.
ME: Yeah, look at those Nazi concentration camps. Sometimes things are much worse than you think it’s going to be.
MIND: Can’t you talk about this without invoking Hitler? Weak.
ME: OK, Rwanda, Pol Pot, Myanmar, North Korea, Bosnia, Darfur, you want me to go on? Because there are plenty of places where a delicate balance got unbalanced and some dominoes fell and people died. Happens all the time.
MIND: Well, it really doesn’t matter how you feel about it. This is what’s happening and nothing you do or say is going to make a difference, so why torture yourself thinking about it all the time?
ME: There are people who eat the Earth and people who stand around and watch them do it. (Thank you Lillian Hellman.) I can’t be a bystander.
MIND: What exactly can you do about any of this? Protest? Make a few phone calls? You’re nobody.
ME: Fuck you, I’m somebody. I’m trying to figure that out.