While pausing to attend to something important before setting out on the bicycle to run an errand, this realisation came to me:
The greatest mountain to overcome is the realisation and revelation of the elusive, esoteric truth that there is no mountain to overcome, no competition to be won, no race to prove who is better, faster, stronger or more powerful; indeed, there is nothing to prove.
It is all in the head (mind or mindset).
Only Love shall prevail. Only compassion shall preside. Only friendship shall win. Community and communion is our only hope.
Social activists need to grow as humans as well because the greatest enemy isn’t outside, whether it is white supremacy or colonialism or patriarchy; it is the untamed ego or shadow side of us. (We can have a holistic t’shuvah understanding of ourselves, recognising that while we bear the image of the divine, we have a capacity to do tremendous good or terrible evil.)
When we succeed in bringing about a revolution and challenging and dismantling white supremacy, for example, the question is “what’s next?” Is the response “who’s the next enemy?” If so, it can become a means to not deal with our interior life and stay preoccupied with fighting against an external perceived enemy all the time. This can lead to infighting in social activist groups or movements as the members begin to turn on one another. But if the response is “how can I continue to create a better and more humane world?” then one can find creative ways to bring about or facilitate restoration and reconciliation. It might mean working through one’s own pain and suffering to experience healing and peace more and more; it might mean reaching out to help the oppressed heal from their pain and suffering; it might mean working with the white people who are aware and willing to bring about equality in real and tangible ways in society, and so on.
To be sure, social activists are human and have their own fears and egos and insecurities. But are they going to allow these to override their primary motivation in activism, which is a love for oneself and others and working towards their emancipation? If others’ freedom and well being are their top priority, they can choose to not their own hurt pride and wounded ego get in the way of their mission to alleviate the oppressed of their pain and suffering.
Social activists have to learn to develop a thick skin and a willingness to be open and receptive to questions and criticisms. They have to realise that as public figures who have a platform that is open to scrutiny from the rest of the world, they cannot be shielded or sheltered from opposing views or different perspectives. Instead, they can choose to learn from the criticisms and different perspectives to do their own soul searching, to grow and expand, to become stronger and bigger persons.
Social activists need to create a space for themselves to embrace their own brokenness, weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as that of others. Only then can they live an honest and authentic life, and continue to inspire others with their humanness.
Social activists can choose to learn from other role models who have been through struggles and upheavals themselves and who are open about their struggles. People such as Rob Bell and Carlton Pearson, who have suffered and been ostracised in their work to challenge oppressive systems and mindsets and who have worked through their struggles and shared openly about them, can serve as such role models.
More and more people, especially those in the West, are becoming more aware and are talking openly about the issues of racism and white privilege. It is thus heartening to see the speaker acknowledging the issues and challenging people, especially those of his own race, to see through the myths and recognize that historically, many white people have been mistreating the native Americans and the black community, stealing from them their territories and their labour, sweat and tears. Indeed, this reality is opposite of what people have been told by the media that has been dominated by privileged people, and it is good and courageous of him to debunk the myths and to encourage his fellow whites to deal with the issues of racism and white privilege that their ancestors have started, in order to bring about greater healing and equality among humanity.
“I spoke about our relationships as flowers that need watering with love and communication to grow… we all need a friend to remind us….Nourishing and healing communication is the food of our relationships…. We may not even know what we said or did that started to poison the relationship. But we have the antidote: mindful compassion and loving communication. Love, respect, and friendship all need food to survive. With mindfulness we can produce thoughts, speech, and actions that will feed our relationships and help them grow and thrive.”
According to Dr Brene Brown, empathy is feeling connection. It involves seeing from the other person’s perspective, staying out of judgment, recognising the emotions of the person, and communicating that.
Empathy is entering into that sacred space in which we say to the other person “I know what it is like down here. You are not alone.”
Empathy is a vulnerable choice in which in order to connect with the other person, I need to connect with something in myself that knows the other person’s feelings.
Sometimes it helps to not draw a silver lining in the clouds to try to make something better at that time. What makes something better is connection (of love and understanding), which may involve admitting that we do not know what to say or do too.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:15-16)
I like what Max Strom wrote here in his book “A life worth breathing” about the rising popularity of yoga as a promising sign of the global awakening, bringing healing and unity around the world and challenging the consumerist culture.
“Many are turning to yoga not only to exercise, but also as an alternative to the experience of a spiritual gathering they cannot find in a church, synagogue, mosque, or on a website. The reason for this lies in the chief difference between religion and western yoga: Yoga is usually offered in a non-dogmatic format, which makes it inclusive as opposed to divisive.
Because of its message of healing, unity, and a simpler life, yoga may be one of the great rays of hope for our future.
It is my opinion that the shift we are witnessing is no less spontaneous, magnificent cultural/spiritual revolution. A new world culture is developing before our eyes at an astounding rate as yoga is being embraced…
One of the seminal messages of yoga is that we do not need a “bunch of stuff” to make us happy; instead yoga teaches that we already possess everything we need to be happy within ourselves… The corporate powers do not understand this movement, as corporate ideals are often diametrically opposed to this philosophy. There is no way to sell things to a populace that already feels it has everything it needs. How can you market the philosophy of non-materialism? Pleasure you can sell; joy you cannot.
For what we seek is within; and in yoga, this is where we dive headfirst.”
(From “A life worth breathing” by Max Strom)
Here’s adding to the excerpts I shared above from the book, which I find encouraging:
“In my view, the reason for yoga’s non-dogmatic approach to healing and spirituality is that the first purveyors of yoga who came to America wanted to make it more accessible for westerners, so they excluded much of the traditional spiritual components. What is fascinating is that even though their intention was probably self-serving, the unintended consequence was that students were led by the practice – without dogma – to a more pure spiritual practice. This is because yoga takes one’s spiritual life and vitality into one’s body, healing it while removing stress and pain.
Any yoga teacher in the world can attest that yoga is visibly de-stressing and healing countless people each day. This new wave of peace and tolerance can be felt rising, and not just in America; the wave has now stretched across the seas to Europe, the Far East, and the Middle East. International power cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, Berlin, London, Istanbul and Tel Aviv all offer yoga classes in impressive yoga centers. Lives are being changed, relationships healed, and souls inspired to reach beyond themselves and into the possibility of a greater world through peace, non-dogmatic spirituality, and a joyous conscious life.”
(From “A life worth breathing” by Max Strom)
I think this may be why the status-conscious and consumerist-oriented Christian churches are trying to discourage their followers from taking yoga classes because when people realise their own divinity and experience peace and healing within, and when people unite as one around the world, there is no more need for tribal religions and no more dependence on weekly religious services to find peace and healing, which is bad news for these institutional churches but good news for the individuals who have found inner tranquility and freedom to think for themselves and be their authentic self.
Here’s sharing this recent video message, which I find timely and timeless. Ralph Smart revisited his message about how we are not alone in not being able to fit in the society or the family because there are many kindred spirits going through similar sufferings as us, and we can take heart in knowing that in our personal retreats from the world, we are actually reconnecting with the universe within us, and experiencing the freedom to be ourselves and express who we really are 100%, knowing we are infinite beings on a human journey.
In the above video, I noted that the speaker was sharing his reflections on Slavoj Zizek’s “The fragile absolute, or why the Christian legacy is worth fighting for”. I applaud him for being an open-minded atheist who is willing to look beyond differences and have an open dialogue with Christians on how they can work together to form an alternative community that opposes the societal ways of oppression, discrimination and consumerism. As a non-believer, he has a surprisingly good grasp of the gospel about the mission that Jesus and Paul were preaching and promoting, such as the universal truth that we are all one, for there is neither slave nor free, rich or poor, and so on, for all are one in Christ.
I also like his interpretation of Jesus’ words about hating one’s father, mother, brothers and so on, which is about unplugging from the old system of discrimination and injustice and hating this system, and actively challenging instead of passively accepting it. Indeed, we can pursue the mission of Christ by the way we live, such as creating an alternative community that is based on equality and universal brotherhood, regardless of our differences in ethnicities, backgrounds and belief systems.
On 12 March 2013, I went to watch the movie “Oz: The Great and Powerful” with my colleagues. It has been about a couple of years since I last watched a movie. For some reasons, I didn’t enjoy watching this movie. As a matter of fact, I hardly watch movies nowadays, compared to, say, 20 years ago when I was a teenager. Maybe I have grown up somewhat, and my perspective of life has changed. I still appreciate good, thought-provoking and meaningful movies, which are perhaps few and far between. I also appreciate documentary-movies such as “Zeitgeist: The Movie”, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” and “The Living Planet” as these are insightful and interesting, reminding us that we are all equal and we are all connected in the universe and there is more to what we see in the physical world.
“We are here to awake from the illusion of separateness”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
So, when I watched the movie “Oz: The Great and Powerful”, I felt that the whole premise of the story presentation didn’t quite sit well with me because it appeared to be based on classism, colonialism, imperialism, moralism, monarchy, hierarchical mindset, racial supremacy, and a dualistic mindset of good and evil. With due respect to the actors and actresses who have by and large done fairly well for their respective roles, and I do love fantasy stories that are filled with charm, magic, wonder and adventure, what struck a dissonant chord in me is that somehow the movie came across as a shallow fantasy movie based on racial stereotypes and superficial appearances.
For the past few days, I have been wondering whether I am being overly critical and sensitive to have such an unconventional view of the movie because it seems that the movie is generally well received by the masses in terms of box office figures. So, I decided to google the movie title and add “racism” as a key word, and I am somewhat heartened to know that I am not alone in detecting undertones of racial superiority and discrimination in the movie.
For example, one article noted that “Oz: The Great and Powerful, is based on the novels of L. Frank Baum. Baum was a white supremacist; a flaming racist who called for the extermination of all American Indians.”
Another reviewer wrote:
“I would like to think, as a society, we are beyond such childish and outdated tropes. I wanted Oz the Great and Powerful to take me back to the original movie, not the original time period in which it was released. This movie is damaging. Perhaps I’m over thinking it and taking it too seriously, but this is what we need to start thinking about when watching films, especially films aimed at children. What stereotypes are reinforced? What agenda is being pushed? Even if it’s not intentional, I think it’s high time we embark into a new era of films made for children, one in which expired ways of life and existence aren’t the norm. We should be challenging kids to think harder, imagine deeper and progress at a slightly faster pace. I’m sick of boring. I’m sick of mind numbing nonsense. You should be too. Oz the Great and Powerful is hindering progress with silly messages, racist stereotypes and sexist gender roles.”
Yes, we need progressive movies, not retrogressive ones. As the world becomes more globalised and we are awakening to our oneness and interconnectedness, we need to find new ways to express art and entertainment that are not based on stereotypes and discrimination but rather diversity and equality.
“All of us are made of the ‘same stuff’, having evolved from the same First Source. To use an analogy: When the ocean first appeared, and then expanded, it was not created as something other than its drops. A drop of the ocean is the same as the ocean. It is the ocean, in smaller form. No single drop is other than the ocean. All the drops of the ocean are One Thing: THE OCEAN.
It would not, therefore, be inaccurate for one drop of the ocean to say to another drop: ‘We Are All One’. The second drop would simply say, ‘Of course we are. Just because we have been singularized does not mean we are other than each other, nor are we other than that of which we are a singularization. We are all the same thing, The Ocean, in singular form.’
This is also true about human beings. We are all the Same Thing, simply individuated. We are not separate from That From Which We Have Emerged, nor are we ‘other than’ each other.”
“Today I put 1200 screws into 100 face frames. So basically that freed up my brain to think about other stuff. Like why am I here? Where am I going and where was I before here?
What if the New Agers are right?
What if we all are one?
What if we had complete intimacy with each other before we came to earth?
And what if this is our first experience in a body?
What if our insecurities are really rooted in separation anxiety from each other? Maybe we really miss the that unity with each other?
What if this is our first time where we can’t hear each other’s thoughts?
What if before we came here we never had to guess each other’s motives?
What if we chose to come to earth because we wanted our souls to grow in wisdom, love, forgiveness, knowledge and compassion?
What if our enemies were our best of friends in a previous life?
What if the rich and famous are the beginners in their soul refinement and the poor minorities are ready to graduate?
What if suffering produces substance to the soul?
What if our souls have no gender and that’s why people of the same sex love each other?
What if we’re no longer human after we die?
What if this is the first time I’ve been given the opportunity to have a self?
What if I was so intertwined with the rest of you that selfishness wasn’t even a possibility for me then?
Why do I have these thoughts? Because I’ve tasted true intimacy. I’ve been intimate with both men and women in a non-sexual way. I’ve experienced compassion within myself that moved me like nothing else ever has. It’s beautiful to feel someone’s hurt. It’s a privilege that someone would let me feel their pain. And of course it’s exhilarating to be so supportive of someone that you explode with pride when they accomplish the seemingly impossible.
I don’t think life is a test. I think life is a college. And maybe we’re not graded on our performance. Maybe we’re all just auditing the classes that interest us. And maybe everything I just wrote is total bullshit. Either way, I’m not dogmatic about life anymore. I have lots of questions now. And that gives my soul a sense of awe that it didn’t have when I knew everything when I was a Christian.
I hope we all enjoy earth while we can. We’re not here very long. So seize the day!”
Being free from the institutional religion does encourage us to think beyond the theological box, freely and boldly indeed. I like the questions he posed – some of them are similar to the questions that I have considered before, such as the possibility that we are all one and the new agers are right (since they subscribe to ancient wisdom that depends on intuition). He has asked many other good questions based on reason and observation – such as “What if suffering produces substance to the soul?” I think that may be a mystery that unfurls and unfolds over time because many a times, we see and experience suffering in ourselves or in others as a means to become more compassionate and understanding, which otherwise might not have developed if we had an easier life.
This in turn may answer the question “What if the rich and famous are the beginners in their soul refinement and the poor minorities are ready to graduate?” It seems to me that, apart from some rag-to-riches stories of how hardship builds people’s character and compassion, most of the people who are addicted to fame and wealth (in business, entertainment, religious, political circles, etc) are spiritually impoverished compared to those who do not have as much and are free from such addictions – maybe that’s what Jesus means by “blessed are the poor (in spirit), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” to describe the paradoxical reality.
Overall, I agree with his view that life is a college in which we learn and “grow in wisdom, love, forgiveness, knowledge and compassion”. There may be no definite answers to the mystery behind the afterlife, but it is always worth being open to the possibilities of being connected to the eternal realm and being temporary visitors on earth, as described in the Australian Aboriginal proverb in this blog.