Unity in a Time of “Us vs. Them”

September 22, 2016 | Tags: , ,

grass-and-skyOut beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
                                  ~ Rumi

The temptation is always there – to see the world through bifocals, one lens focused on “us” and the other on “them.” But in a challenging election season, it is more than a temptation. Almost everywhere we turn right now, in the United States, the world is labeled for us and by us as “us vs. them.” It can be difficult to see through this dualism to find the “hidden wholeness” beneath or beyond it.

And yet, if we are to keep hope intact, no matter how the elections turn out, we are advised by wisdom both contemporary and ancient to keep ourselves grounded in the unity of all being, to make room for difference and to avoid demonizing those whom we regard as other. “At this moment,” said President Barack Obama addressing the United Nations this week, “we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration, or we can retreat into a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”

For centuries, the I Ching, or Book of Changes, has reminded us that this “world sharply divided” is what top-down human authority depends on – a mathematics of division that works like an ax, splintering our human experience even though it belongs in a larger pattern of being. So how do we find our way back to wholeness and unity, when the times we live in are so focused on difference and fear of it?

An old Persian story tells of a sage arriving in heaven and knocking on the door, hearing God’s voice on the other side asking, “Who is it?” The sage replied, “It is I.” And God sent the sage away, saying, “In this house, there is no room for thee and me.” After meditating on this question for several years, the sage returned. Asked the same question, the sage offered the same answer, and the door remained closed. Finally, returning a third time many years later, and asked once more, “Who is it?,” the sage answered, “It is thyself!” And the door was opened.

Seeing ourselves in one another is not a denial of the differences that distinguish us. It is a recognition of our mutual belonging in something larger from which we all have emerged.  Alan Watts once wrote, ““We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as … a separate center of feeling and action…. This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about [humanity] (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree…. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals . . . [who] continue to be aware of themselves as isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin.”

How is your being a unique expression of the wider universe that also speaks through those you name as “other”? What might change if you saw yourself in the “opponent” this election year – and in those voting for the opponent? What one thing might you do tomorrow to awaken wholeness and invite unity in this world so sharply divided?


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