‘It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” Krishnamurti
I’m traveling from Milan to Rome on a fast moving train, watching the flat landscape of the Pianura Padana whizz by. There is traffic moving alongside the train, cars speeding along, each one on their mission. So many people, all going somewhere. As I sat on the metro crossing Milan I was sitting next to a young man playing a video game. The tinny sound of his phone as he moved little men across the screen was worming its way into my brain in a way which I soon found intolerable. So I went and sat on another seat purposely chosen as the young man next to it did not have a phone in his hands and earphones attached to his head. After a while I became aware that he kept looking my way and his hand was making anxious rhythmic movements around his groin. I tried not to pay attention but it was as disturbing as the sound of the video game had been. Eventually he stood up to reveal a substantial protuberance in his polyester track suit bottoms, and thankfully then turned to face the other way. He looked miserable. Opposite me were two little boys, their faces still alive with curiosity and a kind of innocence and they stood out from a crowd of people who seemed absolutely lost.
I register all of this. And I carry on my way. Heading to Rome to teach the on going group I have been working with there for many years. And I am thinking of what it is to start to find some kind of sanity in a very lost society.
I was staying recently with a dear friend of many years. When she is on form, she is one of the most awake, alive and wise people I know. And yet she disappears from one moment to the next into holes in which it is hard to reach her. It is a mind loop which appears so believable to her in those moments that however wise she was a moment ago, I now cannot reach her. Or rather I usually can, but it is an extremely delicate process and one which requires tact, compassion and a lot of inner space on my part. Any hint of me wanting her to be different and attempting to exert my influence, backfires. These holes tend to be triggered by a call from her husband, mother or brother; or by speaking to one of her children and hearing about their health problems or their troubles at school. They are triggered by being face to face with people who are lost themselves, who are close to her, and next to whom she joins forces in a shared experience of what I would call not-at-homeness.
So this question is with me today: we are profoundly influenced by whatever stream we are swimming in. Who we are around, and where they are coming from in any moment, is having a massive effect on how we are viewing whatever is unfolding.
When I open a retreat, the first 24 hours tend to be a bit of a work. People arrive from whatever life situations they have come from and often they are somewhat discombobulated. There is often an immediate relief to be in a field which is allowing, where is space for things to be as they are. There is nothing else to attend to and people tend to relax and open. Before long however, whatever has been accumulating in them over the weeks is suddenly more visible as there is nothing else to distract them, and they tend to be confronted with how much is held in their nervous systems, and how much their minds are running riot. Over the days things come to the surface and people open up; often there is a sense of meeting difficulties as they come up, and through the willingness and space to meet them, finding a sense of well being, warmth and simplicity. Perhaps there is a realization that contrary to how it seems, all is actually ok on a deep level, whatever difficulties may arise, and whatever they may be dealing with, is held in a bigger space which is able to relate healthily to it all.
Often by the time a retreat comes to an end people leave less defended, more at home in their bodies, and more available to the mystery of existence and a sense of love and wonder towards what is.
But then what? Then this is brought back into daily life existence, and into a field which is generally more contracted, and less available, less vulnerable, less trustable, and less honest as people go back to families and work places and all kinds of home life situations. This interface is difficult.
Our human society is generally pretty dysfunctional, and to begin to wake up in the midst of that is no small thing. It takes courage, determination compassion and is supported and made possible by large doses of good company (a sense of humour also really helps!). I believe it is very rare for people to be able to awaken in a sustainable way unless they are supported, met and dialogued with in an on-going way by others who are similarly waking up to another dimension of being. Otherwise the ways in which our habitual patterning meshes with those nearest and dearest to us is never able to be addressed or seen. We remain blind to what we are up to, and often are only able to see what is wrong with the other. And we are not supported enough, or enabled to feel safe enough, to see and drop our learned, patterned, compulsive behaviors and therefore drop to another level of relating.
My friend who I mentioned earlier is very alone. I see her about twice a year, but otherwise she tends to be in a circuit of people who are not really ready to meet her on another level. And she is not ready to land on that level unless she is being met there. This troubles me. Because the fact is, that if we taste a deeper taste of freedom, honesty and integrity but find ourselves again and again unable to live it because of the company we keep or because we are simply not ready, this is incredibly painful, and most often like gasoline for a vicious self critic to take hold. And when the self critic runs the show (whether we are conscious of it or not) we become enemies to ourselves and isolated from everyone else.
I don’t have any answers here. I am curious about how we can support ourselves and each other to come closer in to a more sane way of being, one which is less driven, more sustainable, and more relational.
It seems clear that we are at a massive point in history. There is a paradigm shift which has to happen if life as we know it is to survive. What is required is huge and it is systemic, and requires a critical mass of people who have their wits about them and are able to move beyond the game of us and them. Personally, for my own sanity, I have started to look closer into my immediate sphere of influence and got less concerned with what to do about the bigger picture. I have become convinced that for now what is needed is to clean up my own act in every relationship I have and stop presuming the problem is all out there. Or rather presuming that what is out there is separate from what is in here. And I am curious to see where I am moved from here.
My sense is that what is really important, more than ever, is a sense of community in which we can enjoy a communion of being where the demands of daily life survival and destructive or mind numbing tendencies are not running the show. Community in which we can inspire each other to go beyond our habits, and enjoy life – and each other – enough to want to preserve and nourish what is precious. Community in which we are mirrored in a very real way so we can get to see both our strengths and weaknesses realistically and explore ways to widen our repertoire of what is possible. Community in which we can get serious and lighten up by turns, and find the kind of alchemy which happens when our differences become inspiring and growth-full rather than just infuriating. And in which our capacities and resources can be pooled in creative ways and we can become way more than the sum of our parts.