It’s natural, I suppose, to reflect upon independence, freedom, rights, and equality over a weekend specifically dedicated to celebrating these values while my country is in such chaos over the parameters of these same issues once again. We’re divisive and sharp-tongued, and nasty; we are much further apart than what could pass for “united.”
I think the chaos has to do, yet again, with shadow-work, with seeing the illusions we create and allow to smother and bury us, and with our yearning to rise up from the rubble of lies to the clarity of truth, however hard it is to face.
Truth long denied will always re-emerge, either in the behaviors we project outward, the illness we experience within, or the brokenness of our relationships, our communities, and our world.
Thinking in illusory ways accompanies being human: Jesus said the truth will set us free, and the Buddha invited us to examine our false desires and the ways they cloud what is real. Repeatedly, the Prophet Muhammad entreated his followers to speak the truth, “even when it is bitter.” And I believe the truth should be spoken in love, not screamed, yelled, or dressed in insults. I’m not certain what so many people on social media believe is being accomplished through anger, insult, and a complete lack of courtesy. (Or lack of proofreading, another story.)
From birth, we are fed illusions and they are deeply addictive: family histories, national histories, world histories, the endless manipulations of advertising, our educational and religious systems that may force-feed historical illusions…We want our lives to be attractive and pleasant; we want our ancestors to be heroes; we want to be perceived as good, and smart, and noble; we want our religious leaders to be people with always-wise and loving intentions; we want our national story to be of a people who are brave and generous and just, so we write it that way in textbooks, even when it’s not true. We decorate disappointing truths that can’t be named or faced and make them pretty, a trompe l’oeil of reality, or, more correctly perhaps, a trompe l’cœur, deceiving the heart. We want to avoid shame, embarrassment, and judgement. We deceive ourselves and others. And if decorating and costuming our shaming truths doesn’t disguise them, we hide them, then deny them, then hate them in others who confront us with them, either in their own behaviors and stories, or–especially–if they call them out in ours.
This is a time when many truths cannot be ignored, decorated, hidden, or denied any longer. The Emperor of Hidden Truths, in all his guises, is not only naked; he’s in our face, everywhere in the world, all the time. He’s killing hundreds of thousands of us in the form of a virus; he’s melting away the last of the Arctic ice and throwing our global climate in frightening disarray; he’s clamping down on freedoms and revolts as tightly and violently as he can; he’s constantly denying, and he’s being challenged from every direction by most of us on the globe who are calling him out, who are yearning to shine the light of truth on how we got to this moment, and who we really are, as painful and overwhelming as that may be. (I do think it is most of us; I hope it is.)
When wounds are septic, they have to be cleaned before healing can occur. The time comes when denial will destroy us. Recall the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail whose limbs are being hacked away as he cries, “It’s only a scratch!” We can see others’ illusions far easier than we see our own, which contributes nothing to healing a relationship, and, as one of my professors said about life: it’s all about relationship.
Dismantling illusions is hard and it’s painful, but healing and progress are not possible if we don’t join together and create corrections to the course we’re on today. And there are so many truths we’ve conveniently overlooked for almost two centuries.
Most of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were slaveholders. Almost half of the men who attended the Constitutional Convention were slaveholders.
The Confederacy’s goals were to destroy the country as it was learning how to walk, to secede from the Union, to disavow a federal government and to perpetuate the unseemly wealth to be gained through the evil of slavery. The Civil War resulted in approximately 750,000 deaths. That those who instigated it should be honored with public statues and institutions named after them seems misguided at best. When we think and know better, we can do better.
The 19th amendment, stating that voting was a right regardless of the voter’s sex, was not passed until 1919. But First Nation/Native Americans couldn’t vote until they were recognized as U.S. citizens in 1924, and even then, states barred most of them from voting until 1948. Asian Americans’ rights to vote weren’t completely secured until 1952. Black American males could ostensibly vote when the 15th Amendment was passed in 1867, but states were given the right to “regulate” how one qualified to actually vote, and “literacy” tests, poll taxes, threats, intimidation, cross-burning, and lynchings effectively inhibited the black vote until the mid-1960’s. And let’s not kid ourselves: racially-biased voting laws and voter suppression are very much alive and kicking in our country today, as is police harassment and violence towards blacks, and systemic racism, in place to support illusions.
We still have separated children and adults imprisoned in cages in our country’s border towns.
Our country’s land was taken, violently, from the people who already lived here. Mount Rushmore was chiseled on a mountain sacred to the Oglala Lakota and Great Sioux Nation and over which they were granted sovereignty in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1867. They were not consulted, again, regarding the actual flagrant invasion of their land for the maskless Mr. Trump’s celebration of himself and rally for votes this past weekend.
These are all facts that are true of our country’s history and current policies.
Illusions can lead to great pretentiousness regarding one’s importance. Illusions feed greed and abuses of power entrusted to people who corrupt that trust.
People who have avoided meeting their illusions, because they lack support, education, or will, are taken advantage of by those seeking the dangerous combination of power and wealth, or trying to maintain it, people who know the truth, but attack it and encourage the comfortable illusions to their advantage. Lies win out over truth because they present images and create feelings that are preferable to hard truths and the feelings facts might force us to face. But real healing cannot occur without the companionship of truth.
So, how do we proceed excavating the truths we need to name and face to heal ourselves and the planet in peace and with love? How do we untangle the truth from lies, and how do we rescue and retain the authentic gifts of our own and our nation’s histories, systems, stories, choices, from those elements and choices that were shameful? How do we look at our own shadows, our family’s, our nation’s and the world’s, and invite healing without alienating the very people we need to embrace in order to design communities that work together?
My childhood education reinforced the profound moments of life by observing what the Catholic Church calls sacraments. They mark the awareness that some aspects of life choices and behaviors are so sacred they require rituals that welcome and honor our participation. All of the sacraments are about relationship. (Catholics define seven of these; I have long believed there are an infinite number of sacraments.)
The first sacrament is Baptism, welcoming us into a community of Love, and the second is Holy Communion, which converts a meal into that Love, an act of intimacy and union, and a commitment to the behaviors that will strengthen and nurture that relationship with the Holy All of Love’s creation. And then comes the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for me, the hardest and most important. It’s the sacrament of meeting our shadow and naming the ways we’ve broken the commitments we make to Love in all the other sacraments. It begins with going inward and examining our actions and their motivations, and isolating where we’ve failed to be guided by love. It’s always a little nerve-wracking to face a confession of one’s shortcomings, the illusions we’ve allowed to dictate our behavior, the offenses against Love we’ve committed…and few things in life feel better than, having named these failures out loud, hearing back, “You’re forgiven.”
And then we make atonement.
The sacraments weren’t taught to me in these words, but it’s how I’ve come to see them and honor them. And I think they offer a template, for me, anyway, for how best to dismantle illusions and move forward in a time of such upheaval and change. Remember that we are one species, living with others on this planet. Remember that none of us are perfect; we have inherited centuries of damage and destructive patterns of relationship, and when we act from our damage rather than our unique gifts we perpetuate the unhealthy patterns; we perpetuate a false representation of who we are and why we’re here; we create illusions and live from them. We need to ask for and offer forgiveness, and maintain a deserved membership in the community of Love, excluding no one.
And, if we burrow down deeper to discover why we crave illusion at all, I think it’s because, even more deeply, we crave holy communion with others; we do not want to be shamed, shunned, or left alone. We fear abandonment and loneliness, so we tamp down and deny anything that we fear keeps us from belonging. This makes us all responsible for monitoring our tendencies to exclude and bully, behaviors that are also taught when we are young and indiscriminate. We have to notice when our language segregates, divides, frightens, and excludes. And look for and emphasize all the good in each other, in our communities, country, and world. Balance the “news” we share.
These are the times that try our souls…what a wonderful opportunity, if we can see that aspect to this chaos. We have to stop denigrating those whose views we oppose, in part through kind invitations rather than name-calling and dehumanizing. We’re all in different places with our abilities and willingness to let go of illusions and accept hard truths about who we are, our history, and the real challenges we face as a nation and planet. But the healing has to begin now, through the hard work of naming these truths and making atonement, and it will, of course, be ongoing. I hope we can one day live in deeper communion and kindness, and I’m willing to spend the rest of my life working towards that. Love one another as we would wish to be loved; grant each other the self-worth we crave for ourselves, greet with Namaste, and mean the words: The sacred in me sees and honors the sacred in you. Communion, without illusion.
And for some gentle illusion-dismantling, watch The Vote on PBS’s The American Experience Monday and Tuesday, July 6-7 (tonight and tomorrow).