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Taking Care of Our Opposition

Last post 11-03-2006, 1:17 PM by maryw. 3 replies.
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  •  11-03-2006, 6:44 AM 13551

    Taking Care of Our Opposition

    This essay appeared in Robert Augustus Masters Q&A Part Eight.  Integral Naked has an ongoing question and answer thread with Robert.  (Currently he's only taking questions on relationships, as he's started work on a new book on integral relationships; any aspect of relationships is open for discussion there.)

    Taking Care of Our Opposition

    It can be quite a test when we are confronted by the darker, more painful dimensions of those circumstances set in motion through our choices and actions. In the presence of such unpleasant conditions, we ordinarily tighten up, shrink, rigidify, withdraw, go numb, or otherwise diminish ourselves, ricocheting between defensiveness and submission, as though there’s nothing else we can do.

    Just as we tend to inflate ourselves through association with pleasant circumstances, we also tend to deflate ourselves through association with nastier circumstances, assuming the role of victim, through which our capacity for responsibility is abandoned for the shrinkwrapped righteousness of self-blaming or other-blaming. Thus do we pollute ourselves with blame’s developmentally arrested morality and its supporting cast, in the melodramatics and ethical sewage of which guilt and vengefulness take turns masquerading as conscience.

    Trying to make sure that we are safe from the unpleasant -- as exemplified by insuring ourselves to death -- only guarantees our keeping it and its worrisome ramifications in mind, where it contextually festers and reproduces with itself until it is literally fleshed-out, translated from the hotbed of its mental blueprinting into all-too-solid reality.

    Awakening exposes -- once our honeymoon with spirituality is over -- what is not working in our lives, revealing key changes we need to make or at least open ourselves to making, but if we persist in obstructing, sabotaging, or faking such changes, we will very soon be realigned with our snore, dreaming that we are really living.

    The good news is that as lost as we may be in our dreamland wanderings, oppositional forces inevitably will get in the face of the part of the dream that assumes it is us.

    Opposition is inevitable and necessary, exposing flabbiness of spirit and every kind of complacency and mediocrity, generating situations that invite us, incite and enliven and challenge us, to Wake up, to hone and ground our alertness, to test and retest our ability to not be sucked in by our reactivity and mechanicalness.


    As we begin to shed our blinders --or allow an increasing transparency -- and to make the changes that we know we must make, all kinds of obstacles arise. Doubts may multiply, dread may colonize us, resistance may flatten or blitz us, family and friends may turn away from us. We may then understandably want to turn back, to exit the chrysalis in reverse, to numb and dumb ourselves down. Thus do the old ways pull at us. Familiarity is so seductive.

    If we don’t deal well with our difficulties, we may take up residence in disembodied rationality or metaphysical escapism, finding therein a consoling numbness. Or, more commonly, we may settle into a denser state of being, not leveling out until we have found a degree of opposition -- or contractive force -- that we can generally make good use of, rather than merely tolerate.

    We don’t get to move on until we are truly ready to do so, and that decisive shift arises not just from our mind and feeling self, but from our core of being, including within itself -- and this cannot be overemphasized -- the essential energies of whatever in us opposes it.

    Before we can embody a deeper life, we must be able, more often than not, to remain grounded -- that is, centered not by egoity, but by Being -- not only in the presence of discomfort, unpleasantness, and opposition, but also in the presence of our reactivity and aversion to such challenges. This involves a skillful befriending and acceptance of insecurity, providing sufficient safety to let go of playing it so safe.

    Being nonreactive requires the readily-activated ability and willingness to see and feel whatever opposes us as more than just something oppositional. This means ceasing to submit to -- or feed with attention -- our violent intentions and thoughts regarding our opposition.

    Our work is to take care of our opposition. This asks that we stretch and expand and open, permitting ourselves vulnerability, a vulnerability that is a source of strength, especially the kind of strength that is utterly unthreatened by dependency.

    Opposition is neither to be ignored nor bewailed. The point is to sensitize ourselves to our adversaries, without shrinking or thinking ourselves into their operational strata, so that we are neither stuck in recoil nor bound up in submission. Our work is to enter into empathy -- however indirect its expression might be, or might have to be -- with them, without necessarily locking horns and minds with them, until we can genuinely wish them well. Loving -- not necessarily liking, but loving -- our apparent enemies is a kind of radical sanity, for in loving them, we are not only ceasing to demonize them, but are also aligning ourselves with their healing. And their healing is none other than our healing.

    So, yes, open to loving your enemies, but don’t grovel or grow spineless in such love. Instead, stand tall in it, like great oaks asway in the push and slap of a violent storm, and stand soft as well, like grasses bending and bowing in the same stormwinds, losing none of their dignity in their prayer. Stand not like those who act as if they deserve the whip or insult, but like those who are alerted and further awakened -- and are thus healthily appreciative of -- the whip or insult, for only in so doing will you genuinely be able to love your enemies.

    Our need is to know our opposition -- both inner and outer -- intimately, so that we might know ourselves. To stand in the midst of malignant contractedness or gross misunderstanding without abandoning or betraying ourselves is an art to be practiced with great patience and care. This goes far beyond facile notions of forgiveness, and far beyond merely trying to persuade ourselves that we are indeed transforming the negativity in our lives, for not only are softness, pliability, and receptivity essential, but also forcefulness, thrust, and bedrock-firm stands.

    Having access to such qualities or responses is not so much a methodology as an ever-fresh art, through which we can touch the all without losing touch with the particular, finding a deepening intimacy with both favorable and unfavorable conditions, doing so not to reach What-Really-Matters, but rather to express and live It.

    In taking care of our opposition, we take care of ourselves.



    I am seeking meaningful work.

    bio: http://aqalicious.gaia.com/

    I spend most of my "forum time" these days on The Integral Pod: http://pods.gaia.com/ii/

    "You've never seen everything." - Bruce Cockburn
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  •  11-03-2006, 8:11 AM 13565 in reply to 13551

    Re: Taking Care of Our Opposition

    I love this article Arthur. Don't you think it could be valuable to post it in the IN Forgiveness thread as well?

    The guy (RAM) has a knack for putting real life experiences into words. Not the easiest of things to do, much easier to only write about abstract concepts.


    http://integraleurope.org
    http://pelle.gaia.com
    http://malmointegral.blogspot.com
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  •  11-03-2006, 12:22 PM 13599 in reply to 13551

    Re: Taking Care of Our Opposition

    Reposted by request from the Robert Augustus Masters Q&A thread.

    MichaelD:

    Nice posting over on the Spiritual Center forum Arthur.  I'd post this there if I had access... but I don't so must post here.  Feel free to move this there if you like.

    This part stood out for me, though the whole essay was excellent:

    If we don’t deal well with our difficulties, we may take up residence in disembodied rationality or metaphysical escapism, finding therein a consoling numbness. Or, more commonly, we may settle into a denser state of being, not leveling out until we have found a degree of opposition -- or contractive force -- that we can generally make good use of, rather than merely tolerate.

    We don’t get to move on until we are truly ready to do so, and that decisive shift arises not just from our mind and feeling self, but from our core of being, including within itself -- and this cannot be overemphasized -- the essential energies of whatever in us opposes it.

    Before we can embody a deeper life, we must be able, more often than not, to remain grounded -- that is, centered not by egoity, but by Being -- not only in the presence of discomfort, unpleasantness, and opposition, but also in the presence of our reactivity and aversion to such challenges. This involves a skillful befriending and acceptance of insecurity, providing sufficient safety to let go of playing it so safe.

    Being nonreactive requires the readily-activated ability and willingness to see and feel whatever opposes us as more than just something oppositional. This means ceasing to submit to -- or feed with attention -- our violent intentions and thoughts regarding our opposition.


    I thought I'd post another snip from Stephen Dinan, taking the political view on this subject:

    .

    Jesus´ most radical teaching was to “love thy enemy as thyself.’ This teaching is at the sacred core of his work, challenging us to open our hearts so wide that we exclude no one, even those who attack or wrong us. Instead, we are asked to forgive those who wrong us not just seven times but “seventy times seven times.’

    Who among us has lived this teaching fully? It is certainly not easy – millennia of biological survival programs drive us towards domination, violence, and revenge when threatened. But with humanity´s amplified capacity to destroy, if we let ourselves be driven by our biological codes, we accelerate the forces that are taking humanity over a deadly cliff. I believe that we have no other choice but to take seriously Jesus´ radical heart practice if we want to survive. If we cannot find love for those we now see as our enemies, the spiral of retribution and fear continues, thereby preventing us from rising to meet the great challenges of our day.

    The golden possibility of a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable planet will remain out of reach so long as we squander so much of our money, talent, and time on defense and aggression, protection and control, dominance and fear. The 21st century is humanity´s time of reckoning. We will evolve or we will self-destruct. I believe it is as simple as that. The difference between the two paths is not technological or even political but psychological and spiritual. Ultimately, it comes down to the question of how wide we are willing to open our hearts. Only when we extend our love to all of humanity can we begin to collaborate effectively on the otherwise unsolvable catastrophes that loom before us.

    So as we hear of terrorist plots and watch devastating wars, let us dare to practice what Jesus taught. Instead of feeding the cycle of fear and contraction, let us instead encourage a spiral of love, holding both sides in a vision of sacred healing. It is indeed a practice and may not come naturally. But when we speak, think, and act from this stance, we can begin to reverse the downward spiral of humanity´s heart. This includes extending our love even to the very politicians and leaders who sound the drumbeat for war and retribution. Can we include them in our compassion as well, sending them blessings of peace and love? Even if they take the role of the aggressor, they too are stuck, afraid, and wounded. “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.’

    The ripples may seem small from opening our hearts wider at the very moment when our biology screams for protection, but the acts of healing and compassion that result are the only thing that can propel us beyond our wounded reactivity to discover our shared humanity.


    I am seeking meaningful work.

    bio: http://aqalicious.gaia.com/

    I spend most of my "forum time" these days on The Integral Pod: http://pods.gaia.com/ii/

    "You've never seen everything." - Bruce Cockburn
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  •  11-03-2006, 1:17 PM 13612 in reply to 13599

    • maryw is not online. Last active: 12-27-2008, 1:50 AM maryw
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    Re: Taking Care of Our Opposition

    Stephen Dinan's article (thank you, Michael and Arthur) brought to mind this piece by Anne Lamott   -- excerpted from her essay, "Loving Your President: Day 2"

    Everything was sweet at church, the singing, the kindness, and then the pastor had to go and ruin it all by giving a sermon on loving our enemies.

    It was like being in the Twilight Zone.

    It was clear that [Pastor] Veronica was speaking directly to me. She said that Christians had a very bad reputation in the world, and we have earned it, with our hate and self-righteousness. We speak in reverent terms of grace, justice, equality, mercy, and then we despise people who are also created in God's image, who are Her children, too. Veronica said that if the president [George W. Bush] had been the only person on earth, Jesus would still have loved him so much that he would have come down and died for him.

    This drives me crazy, that God seems to have no taste, and no standards. Yet on most days, this is what gives some of us hope.

    I sat there in church, working this through in my mind, tugging at it, yet hunkered down on the inside to protect myself from having to take it in, and then Veronica said one of the most stunning things I've heard her say: "When someone is acting butt-ugly, God loves them just the same as God loves the innocent. They are still just as loved by God." I was shocked. Boy, I thought, are you going to get it when Mom finds out that you said "butt" in church. I thought whe was talking about the White House, but then she kept on about Jesus, and Dr. King, and--if you read between the lines--the people in our church. All of us--and there are some exquisitely good people in this church. It was outrageous. Veronica said you don't have to support people's political agendas, but you do have to love them, if you want to follow Jesus. She said you could tell if people were following Jesus, instead of following the people who follow Jesus, because they were feeding the poor, sharing their wealth, and trying to help everyone get medical insurance.

    In my head, I saw the president, marching on an aircraft carrier, with his little squinched up Yertle the Turtle mouth, like a five-year-old whose dad owns the ship. Which his dad probably does. Then I saw him at a photo op, signing papers, and something made me stop. I wasn't thinking about his legislation or his tax cuts for the wealthy--I just experimented with the idea that God loves him just as much as God loves my neice Clara, that God looks at him in the same way my brother looks at baby Clara. How could this be? It didn't seem right. But I stuck with it. And after a while I could feel the tiniest spaces in the knot, the lightest breath between the tangled links. In that space, I saw the face of a boy I used to know superimposed on the president's face, a boy named John who liked the smartest girl in the first grade. When she wrote at her desk, she squinched up her face fiercely, intently, and John thought that expression was what helped her to be so smart. So he squinched up his face, too, when he read, for the entire year.

    For a few seconds, I imagined my president doing this in first grade as well. Actually, I remembered him doing this, about a week before, in the Oval Office. But then I imagined him as one of the people in my own family, who failed at school or in life, who got lost or bitchy or drunk, all that innate beauty getting fucked up. As mine did.

    To be honest, I am never going to get anywhere with this president. But Jesus kept harping on forgiveness and loving one's enemies, so I decided to try. Why couldn't Jesus command us to obsess about everytthing, to try to control and manipulate people, to try not to breathe at all, or to pay attention, stomp away to brood when people annoy us, and then eat a big bag of Hersey's Kisses in bed?

    Maybe in some translations, he does.

    The sermon ended; people were crying. Veronica asked if anyone wanted to come forward for special prayer. Apparently no one did. I struggled to keep in my seat, but I found myself standing, then lurching forward stiffly. Veronica asked me quietly what I needed, and I whispered that I was so angry with and afraid of the right wing in this country that it was making me mentally ill. She put her arm around me, and the church prayed for me, although they did not know what was wrong.

    I felt a shift inside, the conviction that love was having its way with me, softening me, changing my cold stone heart. The feeling grew stronger and stronger, until, unfortunately, church was over.

    Driving home, I tried to hold on to what I'd heard that day: that loving your enemies was nonnegotiable. It meant trying to respect them, it meant identifying with their humanity and weaknesses. It didn't mean unconditional acceptance of their crazy behavior. They were still accountable for the atrocities they'd perpetrated, as you were accountable for yours. But you worked at doing better, at loving them, for the profoundest spiritual reason: You were trying not to make things worse.

    Day 1 went pretty well. All things considered ...

    I have to admit it, though: Day 2 was a bit of a disappointment.

    It began well enough, with a molten autumn sunrise, and ended with a silver moon. But the hours in between did not go nearly as well as I had been hoping. I was fine, until I heard the latest bad news from Iraq, and my hostilities flared up again. It continues to be a struggle. I know that God is in the struggle with us. And that trying to love the people in this White House is the single most subversive position I could take.


    Let the beauty we love be what we do.
    There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

    ~Rumi
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