what is soft is strong

Wisdom grows in quiet places..png

It is 4:28 am and after a losing battle with a mosquito, I’ve decided to get up. We’re on the coast of Uruguay at a time of year when mosquitos are not abundant but just one can make sleep impossible. No matter how many times I swatted defensively at it or reorganized the sheets creating a mummy-like tube to protect myself in, the mosquito persevered. My resistance was futile.

I’ve been contemplating the idea of resistance since November. I get a happy feeling when I think of the authentic power and wisdom that builds the movements of justice and love in the U.S. and all over the world. Though, I find a discrepancy between transformational movements and the word commonly used to describe them, “resistance.”

I understand its history, value and how it came to be though I worry about its limitations.

Words matter. They can encapsulate, inspire, control and liberate. And it may seem silly or too heady to consider the words encapsulating the current movement for justice, liberation and love. That is okay. This is merely an idea that has been nagging at me as I watch my country from a distance and people all over the world struggle to defend what is right and suppress what is wickedly wrong.

Clearly, resistance is about opposition. We oppose the racist, sexist, anti-humanitarian, anti-other, anti-environmental policies and practices of an incompetent president and his nefarious cohorts. We assert our disapproval for and rejection of how our country (and the world) is dismantled by short-sighted greed. We resist the bleak world these foolish few are forcing on the rest of us.

But resistance isn’t enough.

Resistance implies reaction rather than assertion. We use our bodies, voices and communities as impediments to prevent further movement of the destructive energy coming out of Washington, D.C. We stand between those anti-American (anti-human/anti-environment) policies and the not fully realized, sacred values of our country. It is noble. It is also unsustainable. Resistance is a front line action and it can only serve for a brief amount of time. No one can be expected to hold that line of resistance for the long haul. That deep-in-the-bones fatigue so many are beginning to feel will only continue, as long as we’re merely resisting.

The truth is, what is happening now is merely a highly concentrated performance of what has been going on as long as humans have roamed the earth. Even under democratic leadership, the environment was in danger; corporations had more power than the people; war for oil was sustained under a veil of “fighting terror” and the poor, disenfranchised and oppressed were still poor, disenfranchised and oppressed. To an arguably lesser degree under democrats, but neither right or left are saintly. 

It is easy to lose sight of how flawed all politicians are, especially those we vote for. Most go to Washington with good intentions but quickly realize how profitable it is and join in the sell-out-your-constituents game.

This phase we’re in is merely an exaggerated, accelerated and graceless version of what’s been going on all along. Pretending that the other side of the aisle is solely responsible for the destruction of the planet, quality of life and human health does not help the cause to protect humanity and the planet (economy falls under “quality of life,” it should NOT have its own header). We must see it for what it is: a repetitive story of how unchallenged power and greed corrupts hearts and distorts minds.

Whether it is a religious ideology sweeping across continents killing and converting people, or a political ideology sweeping across continents killing and converting people—people who have lost sight of their own humanity and good nature attempt to destroy it in others.

Resistance is a barrier. It has purpose in crisis but it is not capable of withstanding years of an opposing force. And while we tend to think this movement was sparked on November 8th, 2016, deep down we all know there was no beginning, only moments marked in history of critical shifts in human consciousness when courageous people were able to hold out long enough—overcoming the gravity of the status quo for a brief, but life-altering, moment.

This is not a new movement to oppose a new injustice. Nor is it a story unique to the U.S.

This is the long and arduous story of human enlightenment.

Regardless of your beliefs, or lack thereof, enlightenment is merely the process of waking up. Becoming conscious. Becoming self-actualized. It is the other side of the coin of evolution. Evolution is about adaptation for the sake of survival whereas enlightenment is the wisdom of life itself.

Our struggle is one of finding balance between wisdom and survival. And without wisdom, there is no survival so it is in our best interest to prioritize wisdom over everything else. 

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
— Confucius

It seems to me that this new phase presents us the opportunity to shift collective consciousness out of necessity. We can resist for a while, lose movement leaders as martyrs and make a mark in history. But, if this current political crisis were to suddenly end and we could go back to a time we didn’t worry so much about the fate of our country and the planet—would we be wise enough to prevent this moment from happening eventually? Would we go back to sleep in comfort and convenience? Would we feel less outraged because the political and corporate corruption was still neatly swept under the rug? Would we rest in our various forms of privilege because we hadn’t been outraged enough by the suffering of others? Would we continue with consumerism as usual because the impacts of climate change hadn’t yet reached our door?

Resistance is important but cannot be effective if we don’t do the rest of the work needed to shift humanity in a direction led by wisdom. This moment in our existence is marked by insufficient wisdom across the board. Tribal and indigenous elders are ignored, politicians seem increasingly incompetent, Twitter is a form of official government communications, everything is “breaking news,” and we spend more time cultivating our public persona than we do our character. Wisdom doesn’t drive most of us right now, reaction does. 

For much of the last 6 months, I’ve carried a slight depression around with me. Even though I am on this adventure and I “should” be drunk on the privilege of taking a trip like this, I’ve not been able to shake the worrisome reality of the world we’re living in. 

Stepping away from my cozy life in Portland has given me countless opportunities to feel uncomfortable. Culture shock, challenging my own ethnocentrism and learning how the U.S. is perceived by other countries and cultures—all things I expected and looked forward to. But I was disheartened to find less wisdom and more consumerism abroad than I'd imagined I would. Throw away culture is everywhere, even in the Andes and the Himalayas. Streams, beaches and mountainsides, even in remote places, covered in millions of plastic pieces, bags and bottles. Dogs, birds and cows chewing on plastics laced with salt—a hint of nourishment. Compassion between people and animals/people and planet observably lacking nearly every place I've traveled to, including the U.S. 

Suffocated wisdom has led to pollution of the planet, the body and the mind. Everyday we make choices that are not in our own best interest. Sometimes we make difficult choices between two unfavorable options. But mostly, our choices are based on comfort and convenience, not wisdom. And it is the unconscious choices we all make every day, often out of ease, that are contributing to the concerning trajectory we are on. 

I decided to stay present with it all. The state of the environment, the state of my country, the state of all the places we visit and the state of humanity. I stayed present with it and it was uuuunnncomfortable. I felt the depression puncture my energy, my spirit and siphon my hope until I stopped resisting. We have to be willing to put up with the rain if we want a rainbows. 

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti

In staying present with everything that causes me great heartache, I realize that I cannot fix any of it with resistance. The solution to all of it can only be found by softening the protective layers around my heart and cultivating wisdom. 

I no longer resist the new administration in my country in an effort to stand my ground—I now see everything as interconnected. To resist one aspect means resisting all the joy, love and wonder dreadful pieces are connected to. So, for me, it is no longer enough to resist, I now seek to transform. Using my power, in community with yours, to reduce hate, fear, apathy, arrogance and greed into compost for growing a just and harmonious world. 

It is possible. 

I grappled with the simplistic notion that to stop resisting might equate to acceptance or denial. For some it could, but for me, choosing not to resist is about choosing to be present with everything—not just my outrage, but more so my power and my ability to rise, persist and reclaim. Resistance isn’t even about fighting back, it is about assuming an opponent will make contact and being strong, stoic and immovable so his movement stops once it hits us. Resistance is about becoming rigid and that is dangerous. To be rigid is to suffocate our own energy, making us fragile to force. But, to be fluid and flexible allows for reshaping the energy we are opposed to. 

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.
— Lao Tzu

I can’t speak to specifically defeating wickedness in politics, but I have a sense of how to defeat it in myself and wisdom tells me that whatever I do to enlighten (no matter how small or unseen by others) is reflected back into the world as my contribution. Understanding that there is a devastating lack of wisdom in the world—resulting in the myriad of crises we are in today—we must, actively and without delay, engage in practices that cultivate copious amounts of wisdom if we want to make this upcoming quantum leap.