At this particular time, when our country is obsessed by the presidential election, it's useful to remember that it is always easier to keep busy with intellectual titillation about the world outside -- including strong political opinions and divisive emotions -- than it is to look critically and honestly inward and make the changes within ourselves that will manifest a better world.
Politics arise from biology. As our resources dwindle and our population rises, we are like sailors climbing to the tip of the mast as the ship sinks beneath us. There is only so much room at the top, and after a bit we start to push each other off. In the end, we are left with two groups of sailors: those who are greedy for life, fearful and grasping, and those who want to figure out a way to save the whole ship rather than just stay alive a few more minutes until the mast too drops beneath the waves.
It has always been true that politics are an expression of two conflicting groups of human beings: those who are greedy, fearful, and grasping, and those who are generous, unafraid, and willing to let go in search of a greater good. Nationally and worldwide, these two essential human camps are pitted against each other. This binary system is why, even in countries with many political parties, the central struggle is always between two groups, not between five.
These aggregates, groups, or parties, always represent the nature of their constituents. The mere presence of an opposing force locks us into a certain conflicting mindset. Such a mindset, a dilute version of our biologically-driven fight-or-flight system, narrows our view, weakens our intellect, and deprives us of the ability to see either creative options or the larger picture. That is why aggressive politics, no matter how seemingly self-righteous or seductively high-minded, never provide lasting solutions. Because every group is just the same as every one of us, a failure of results in our external politicking is a reflection of a failure to confront our own appetites, impatience, shortcomings, and self-absorption.
Internecine politics are never the answer; the answer lies inside of each of us. Over and over again, history has shown that profound change can begin with one person and spread like a sometimes-reluctant wildfire to the rest of us. If we want a better world, it is fine to sign petitions and clamor at gatherings, to wave banners and embrace causes, but in the end, the most effective way to change the world is to change ourselves. Utopian as it may seem, if each of us did that, change would occur faster than any of us can imagine.
We must by all means rally behind our candidate. We must by all means stand fast against the weapons of mass distraction that keep us from seeing who is really manipulating culture and society and how. We must by all means protect what is dear to us and what we know in our heart is important. We must stand up for those values that we know deep down are right and true regardless of what we hear or see, and regardless of those, with their own agendas uppermost in mind, would try to sway us. We must do all these things, but we must not forget that the most substantial work -- whether it is for human peace and freedom or the benefit of all sentient beings and the Earth that supports them -- is the work we do to smite our own demons, to quench our own desires, to stretch our own patience, compassion, understanding, and insight.
Self-cultivation, rather than being an indulgence, is our critical, daily work. Spending more time engaging it and less time pointing fingers and beating our breasts will bear delicious fruit. Increasing the peace within our bodies and the stillness within our minds will give us the wherewithal to face the very real challenges in a rapidly shifting world. This is where our energy must be spent. This is where our intelligence must be applied. This internal work is the stuff of legends, and the stuff of redemption too.
So, right now, in the height of the battle, the media frenzy, the fracas, and the noise, let's find some quiet time for ourselves and our loved ones. Let's take a deep breath, relinquish our pulsing ambitions and our fears. Let's recognize that if we have a roof over our head, a meal in our belly, and someone to hug who cares about us, we have all that nature intended. Let's get our priorities straight, see the election game show for what it is, smile, and get back to working on ourselves. Remember: Internal revolutions create external resolutions.
For more by Arthur Rosenfeld, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.