During times of social and cultural upheaval, one’s identity can be called into question. So much of how we define ourselves is shaped by comparing and contrasting our constructed identity against social and cultural norms.
Stable norms help us sustain our identities in the face of challenges both moral and operational. So much of how we identify is shaped by the notion that “people like us believe/choose/do things like this.” When the contours of what “people like us” means changes in response to larger social and cultural changes, we often find ourselves questioning who we are and what we believe.
The COVID-19 pandemic, renewed attention to Canadian issues of racism provoked by the social chaos playing out with our southern neighbours, and the economic insecurity triggered by those issues have left many of us adrift. What is the appropriate response to these issues during these times? How are we to maintain certainty in our identities when the world is so much in flux around us?
I would suggest that now might be a good time to step away from the reactionary methods that have shaped our identities for a very long time and cultivate a little stillness in the midst of this maelstrom.
Now might be a good time to turn inward, test our assumptions and feel our way forward toward more solid ground. Our attitudes toward moral and cultural issues are learned behaviours… and what can be learned can be un-learned.
As is true with most meditation practices, a key element is developing the ability to allow thoughts and feelings to simple “flow” without attachment to any particular moment. By dispassionately observing our thoughts and feelings while removing attachments to any specific idea or feeling, we make space for the possibility of freeing ourselves to reconfigure our understanding and beliefs… to achieve fresh perspectives and create new clarity.
“You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being having a human experience.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955
This is perhaps one of the most essential perspectives we might hope to cultivate. Once we posit that we are, first and foremost, spiritual beings, we begin to occupy a vantage point toward our human experiences that liberates us from the demands that an obsessive focus on our experiences demands of us. Adopting a “bigger picture” attitude toward our life experiences helps us manage our ego responses and offers us a more universal perspective that encourages us to see each other as “fellow spiritual beings” or, perhaps, parts of a singular spiritual reality, rather than competitive apes, beating our chests and trying always to gain or maintain the upper hand in our interactions with others.
The social and cultural challenges we are currently dealing with may pave the way for a new unification of the spirit.
Rather than combating the manifestations of separation attached to our external identities, we may come to realize that all of our current challenges stem from a single source. Our current suffering due to the amount of melanin in our skin, the shape of our genitalia, the histories of our cultures, and other differentiators are mere illusions masking an essential truth. We are one.
It’s interesting to note that near-death experiences, periods of severe, life-threatening illness and other dire conditions of the flesh have, time and again, triggered transformative spiritual experiences in even the most recalcitrant, committed materialist. This awareness is available to all of us, when we intentionally or by force of circumstance are presented with that bigger picture. When the obsessive, ego-centric responses of our human experience are pushed aside by failing health or imminent demise, in that harrowing moment we come face-to-face with the central reality of the truth of our spiritual nature.
When our thoughts are stilled, and we are completely in the “now,” we begin to recognize our true spiritual nature. This is the source of transformation. We step off the hamster wheel of our external lives and bask in the knowing that our being proceeds from this spiritual truth. Everything else… EVERYTHING ELSE is distraction, the falsehood of separation from others, and the childish demands of the ego.
Many will pride themselves when they dismiss all of this “woo woo” talk as baseless and useless in dealing with “real” life. I would challenge those individuals to momentarily suspend their disbelief and openly and honestly pursue even the most rudimentary mindfulness practice. If there’s nothing in what I’m proposing here, you’ve lost nothing but a bit of time. But if I’m right, you may gain access to something truly sublime… communion with your true being.