Moving Past the Dualism of Red vs. Blue
"When you're down on the lower levels of the pyramid you will be on either one side or the other. But when you get to the top, the points all come together, and there the eye of God opens." - Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”
How happy was this Independence Day for you? It’s complicated for me as I worry about our country. Daily I work to find ways out of the “Us vs. Them” mentality currently gripping our great Democracy. Every time we look at the frequently posted diagram of “Red States” and “Blue States” as a representation of our United States, we deepen this powerful division between us because images have great meaning.
Many of you may remember my teacher, Brother John Martin Sahajananda Kuvarapu from Saccidananda Ashram, when he visited from India and spoke to my classes. Brother Martin taught us that the lowest level of consciousness is being a victim, which has become a mainstay mentality in America today. The second level of consciousness, he said, is realizing that you can act and that you can effect change in your life. While a step forward from victimhood, this state can be toxic if the actions taken aren’t healthy for us or for our larger community. The third stage, he said, is an awareness that we’re acting and moving in a larger sphere that’s about more than just us. This is where it gets hard for us humans with our relentless “what’s in it for me?” mindset. This stage is about moving from dualism to a nondual state that’s beyond “Us vs. Them.” For a quick primer on dualism and non-dualism, see this video (embedded here):
It feels to me that America is painfully stuck in the first two phases of dualistic consciousness. Entitlement emanating from victimhood is rampant, as is taking actions to promote a certain worldview, propping up one specific group, excluding and belittling others − and worse.
How do we get beyond this? Think of the image of a triangle. It’s a non-dualistic shape with three corners, not two, and many points of convergence (circumcenter, orthocenter, etc.). This opens up the possibility of a third force, as Cynthia Bourgeault teaches, that arises with new energy beyond the first two entrenched viewpoints. We truly need this emergent fresh force if we are to move with and not be overwhelmed by the compounding challenges facing us all.
This image and concept of the triangle is recurrent in myth, religion, and life. There are the three Fates, the three Furies, and Poseidon’s trident from Greek mythology; the Holy Trinity from Christianity; the three primary colors in art; body, mind, spirit or animal, mineral, vegetable in natural science; in our daily life there are slices of pie and pizza, and the list goes on. The idea of three was personified by the Celtic Shaman who was believed to be able to see the past, the present, and the future. Standing in three different worlds at the same time, the Shaman’s viewpoint was inclusive.
I try to encourage myself into this third space, and I follow organizations that do the same. One is Braver Angels, which brings together Americans of different political viewpoints. Time and again, research shows that if we can increase our proximity to those we oppose, we move toward that third force viewpoint that expands our awareness and gives us new solutions.
If we truly want to make this country great, it will take more than “winning” political battles. Whoever wins those battles, I suspect, will find themselves at the top of a bloodied, wounded, and dysfunctional heap of a nation. We need to find a way to embrace all parts of ourselves and each other, together.
It is a reality that we need each other and that no one is expendable. Consider the tree and the mushroom. The mushroom conducts moisture and minerals to the tree’s roots. The tree transmits nutrients to the mushroom that it can’t absorb by itself. Like the tree and the mushroom, whatever our differences, we can benefit from each other.
If you just can’t imagine this happening, consider the story of Shirley Chisholm and George Wallace. Chisholm, from Brooklyn, NY, was the first black woman ever elected to Congress in 1968. George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama and was the most famous avowed segregationist in modern history. Wallace was making a run as an independent candidate for President on a platform of segregation when he was shot and paralyzed.
Much to the surprise of Wallace’s family, Chisholm visited Wallace in the hospital. She said she would never want what happened to him to happen to anyone. Wallace reportedly cried. Due to Chisholm’s equanimity, they came into relationship with each other. Wallace ended up marshalling the support from southern states that Chisholm needed for her bill, giving domestic workers the right to the minimum wage.
This is third force. This is how we move forward. We get brave and open our hearts and follow the leadership of people like Shirley Chisholm and other marginalized people who have been struggling for a voice and for equity through their entire individual and collective lives.
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