They say people react with a wide range of emotions to a life changing diagnosis, the loss of a loved one or other devastating news. But no matter if we externally emote with tears, rage, and wailing or internally go AWOL, the blueprint of being struck by grief is always the same: Life as we know it ceases to exist in an instant. We lose what we thought to be solid ground under our feet and suddenly and without warning find ourselves suspended in midair, terrified and bracing for impact.
To many the election outcome still feels like a dream, a nightmare they desperately wish to awaken from. As people who have walked through the fire of our own irrevocably changed lives, those of us who have been touched by cancer know a thing or two about the landscape of this territory, and I believe we have a responsibility to speak out, to partner the despair of our times with the hard gained wisdom of our cracked open hearts.
What do we know about how to live in midair, suspended? We know that it is important to give ourselves time and space to process in our own unique way. That there is no right or wrong way to do this. When diagnosed with cancer, some fall silent, and others need to scream. Some retreat to dreamless and numbing sleep while others lay awake during the long hours of night, reliving every memory of their lives. In much the same way, we are seeing a multitude of reactions from people right now, that are reeling in post election territory. Some feel the need for direct action, and take to the streets in protest. Others are are called to turn within, deepening their dharma practices. Some feel depression and despair, others experience rage. The options are endless, and there is no need to let them be divisive. Instead, may we behold them for what they are, a testimony to the wide range of unique expression of our humanness.
Whether the election shook you to the bone or you had already been living on the edge for a while, well aware of our species pushing the limits of their expansion on this planet on so many levels, it is undeniable that the paradigm of our old world is crumbling. Really, we have had our diagnosis for a while. With the earth atmosphere heated up to critical dimensions, climate change has begun to cause droughts, hurricanes, and floods, while resources like clean drinking water are no longer readily available for millions of earth citizens. War, poverty, and hunger are forcing major migrations of traumatized peoples and families from their homelands, disconnecting them from their ancestral and cultures roots and urging western world nations to share resources and make room for the displaced. Eco systems are dying and landscapes are changing. And the changes are not just external. Many are deeply confused and scared as our old values lose meaning and new ways of defining ourselves have begun to arise in parts of our collective consciousness, from gender to race, to religion and science. How we identify as humans is changing and we are steeping in the creative chaos of birthing a new awareness that is challenging traditional believes and values that were home to us for many generations.
So it’s not surprising that in the liminal state of fear and confusion of this time people in this country (and not only in this country) would elect a leader that promised to make them feel safe again, by building walls, dividing and discriminating in the desperate attempt to go back to the illusive reality of the ‘good old days’ (though many of us may have a different memory about our recent past all together). Defying science with emotional truth, and replacing facts with false news, Trump seems to want to reassure us that ‘the earth really is flat’, and his message is appealing to those parts within ourselves that still want to hold on to the old paradigm. There is no doubt that the trifecta of capitalism, sexism and racism ultimately compromises all of us, no matter our social status, sex, gender or race, and it seems clear that it has outlived any purpose it may have had in human development. But at the same time it is also familiar and predictable. And human attachment to the familiar is strong, even if it is familiar suffering, which is why it often wins over the terror of the unknown…
As a species on this blue planet, spinning in space, we are pushing our limits on all levels. The potential of the death and demise of our civilization speaks clearly to the paradoxical ripeness of our times. It’s time to die to our old way of living, if we don’t want to die from it. Yes, we have cancer. We are suffering of a life threatening condition, that, if it goes untreated, will lead to premature death. So what, if any, is our path to healing?
If we want to stay with the metaphor of cancer, we have to remember that it is a cellular disease. Cancer cells have forgotten that they are part of a bigger organism. The main difference to healthy cells is that they lose their innate capacity for aptosis, a programmed cell death that occurs in multicellular organisms to protect the integrity of the whole. Without this ability of turning into their death, shutting themselves down, when they are somehow compromised and no longer benefitting sthe whole, cancer cells atrophy into a kind of reptilian survival mode that no longer supports the very organism they were designed to serve. Instead, they develop their own agenda, walling themselves off from the rest, and, barring intervention, creating an empire of unregulated growth that will only collapse once it has completely destroyed the host and the entire organism dies.
Sound familiar? Human addiction to unbridled, relentless, and short-sided expansion has come to a head in this last century, at least in this part of the world. For many, monetary worth and profit has become the only value by which they measure success, well-being and progress. The egoistic, single focus infatuation with financial wealth had lead to dangerous amounts of overconsumption in parts of the world, while other regions and cultures have been deprived, impoverished and depleted by corporate greed. Most of us in the so called ‘first world’ have indeed forgotten that we are part of the whole, inseparable from the earth, the water, the air around us. Instead, we are walling ourselves off from the bigger picture and operate on a depletion economy that leaves destruction in its wake. Have we created an empire of unregulated growth that will only collapse once it has completely destroyed the host and the entire organism dies?
Indigenous people have known this for a long time. To quote Alanis Obomsawin, from the Abenaki Tribe in Canada: “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money”. Is it too late? Can we still heal? Can we remember our place within the whole and rebuild life affirming relationships with all parts of this creation?
Diagnosis is undoubtedly the hardest moment in anyone’s cancer journey. Our entire world crumbles. As we free fall into the truth of human impermanence, we temporarily loose the dimension of time, and the linear, conceptual world that is focused on control and strung together by details, schedules, and planning disappears before our very eyes. None of that seems to matter anymore. The rug of any mundane agenda is temporarily pulled out from under one’s feet. Instead, we realize, deep down, what it means to be mortal. That if not for the illusive shield of time, we are indeed already dead. That no matter when exactly, one day we will indeed die, whether of cancer or something else. Of course, we’ve always known, but now we really get it, we KNOW in our bones that our life is as unique as it it finite. This realization, terrifying as it is when it hits, is also one of the greatest gifts we will ever receive, because it is here, in this emptiness, cracked open by grief, confusion and despair, that the bare bones of what truly matters in our lives reveal themselves more clearly then ever before and the courage to live ever more fully is born. It is precisely here, in confronting our dying, that we have an opportunity to make choices that will transform our lives, and create a healing response greater than anything we could have previously imagined. Ironically, more often than not, it is in the realization of our ‘dis-ease’ that we find the heart to live a healing life.
I believe that the above is also true for us right now as a collective, as we are waking up to a world in which the death of our species and the demise of our environment is not only a real possibility but a probable, almost undeniable, scenario. It is here, in this darkness, that we will find the courage to lean into a healing life. In the midst of the incredulousness and deep grief about what is happening in this country, a sense of urgency is born in Americans that is calling us out to remember who we are and what we stand for. People are shaken. Acts of social and creative activism and courage are erupting in many pockets of our mainstream culture. We are on edge, and cracked open by the realization of our collective dis-ease and the truth of impermanence.
As Trump takes office, I feel like we are officially entering a liminal time, a story between stories, a threshold in which we will be stripped down, and invited to die to our old ego centered ways of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ . We may even die to the big lie of humans being separate from nature, which has accompanied us for the last couple of thousand years. Not that it will come easy. And, as with cancer, the outcome is uncertain. No one knows if we are going to make it. But it is precisely this edge, this collective brush up with death that has the potential to initiate us into this new awareness, to change our relationship with the world around us, and within us. Looking back from the future, we may remember this time of human development as our transition from adolescence to adulthood. We may remember it as a movement from the intense focus on independence which has had us incessantly pushing boundaries in the last few centuries to newly emerging values of interdependent stewardship, responsible, loving care and mature thoughtful protection and respect for all life forms and all living beings.
But for now, all we have is the unknown of this moment. The grief over what is no longer working. The fear in our bellies about what is to come. The agonizing question of what is ours to do in meeting this time? There is no quick fix and no failsafe cure. But to muster the courage to be here now. Simply being present where we are. Right in the heart of the pain. Letting go into it. One breath at a time. Again and again. Trusting the heart of the darkness, to peel off another layer of our suffering, before returning us to the light. It always does. Because suffering has no other purpose then to lead to healing. This I know.
So whether you are marching with thousands of others on this inauguration weekend or sitting quietly alone at home, I invite you to cross this threshold with your eyes wide open, and your heart ready to love into the midst of the transformative chaos and gut wrenching uncertainty of our times. I invite you to die to your old stories, knowing that the healing set in motion when we do is like a domino effect that will go on perpetually, affecting every single area of our individual and collective lives, and shaping our human creation story in ways that we can’t even begin to anticipate.
In the fire of this cauldron, at this time that some call the ’Great Turning’, I invite you to dive deep, to find your new story, the one that allows you to live from love rather than from fear, and to follow the naturally arising movement toward the wholehearted becomingness that was sung into you on the day of your birth. Bring it on! If not now, when?