One lifetime, a snapshot of time
Our world has changed so much in the last 100 years. When my Dad was born in 1916 (he almost made it to 100) most transport in Australia went by waterways. The first radio waves (the passion of his life) hadn’t even hit the airways. Not everyone owned a car, information was in books (not on the internet) and life was a whole lot slower and simpler.
Life is constantly changing. So are our attitudes. I remember as a young girl, my mum being really upset because she wasn’t allowed to go into a pub in regional NSW (while we were travelling) because she was a woman. Aboriginal kids were taken from their families, homosexuality was a crime, and anyone with a mental illness was institutionalised.
I discovered recently that I had a great step uncle who died in a psychiatric hospital in South Africa in 1938. I don’t know his story. I expect it wasn’t something to talk about and pass on to the children. Madness was sequestered, derided, seen as failure. The story wasn’t handed down, I just discovered the piece of paper (his Last Will and Testament – as it happens – the benefits of which provided for my education two generations later). We’ve made some progress in attitudinal shifts towards mental illness – public campaigns, a member of the royal family telling us that it is ok to not be ok. But, as a culture there are still many experiences that we hold outside the margin of the acceptable and therefore marginalise those unfortunate enough to be having them.
This snapshot, of one life-time, illustrates how our lives, and the attitudes we apply to them are constantly changing. Our consciousness is ever evolving. Nothing is fixed. There are no absolutes. The pace of change in our modern lives is very rapid. We live in confusing and challenging times where the reality of this lack of certainty is right up, close and personal.
A new world view
World views vary. However, amidst the diversity of these, dominant attitudes in certain times prevail. For example, the dominance of science as knowledge, the dominance of thinking as the most worthy and upheld mode of consciousness.
Have we come to a time where we have exhausted our efforts to pin down a set map of right and wrong? We’ve tried hard, with all our systems and laws. But for every thesis there’s an antithesis. Not that these efforts have been wasted, but perhaps on our evolutionary journey a whole new approach is required. Perhaps dualistic thinking is no longer the way forward? Have we arrived at the precipice where we get a view of what the visionaries of old had already seen? As Herman Hesse wrote in Siddhartha:
“The opposite of every truth is just as true! You see: A truth can be uttered and clad in words only if it is one-sided. One-sided is everything that can be thought with thoughts and said in words – everything one-sided, everything half, everything is devoid of wholeness, of roundness, of oneness … But the world itself, the Being around us and within us, is never one-sided. Never is a man or a deed all samsara or all Nirvana, never is a man all saintly or all sinful …”
The warp and weft of the tapestry of life
Many of us are waking up to the reality that determining right and wrong, good and bad, is not the be-all-and-end-all of navigating and making sense of life. In our personal practices we are learning to view uncomfortable aspects of self without judgement but with interest and curiosity. We are beginning to recognise that thinking isn’t the only useful aspect of our consciousness. Perhaps these micro changes at the personal level will spill into our cultural attitudes? Maybe we’ll remove the shame and stigma, not only from mental illness, but drug addiction and criminality – anything that marginalises. Perhaps we can apply these same attitudinal shifts to recognise that there is a deeper suffering at work and that as a tribe we can work together to support and alleviate the suffering.
Taking a view outside of the domain of right and wrong allows us to see ‘unacceptable’ experiences as an indicator that there are aspects of our culture that need healing. Without judgement we don’t compound the suffering by categorising certain experiences as a life failure and marginalising the individual. And, just as in our own personal practice we learn to like those unacceptable aspects of ourselves so that we can move towards integration, as a culture, we can understand these challenging life experiences as useful information to move us towards wholeness.
I believe this time is coming. We are beginning to explore non-judgement and oneness. I know this is incredibly utopian, idealist, but why not entertain such lofty ideals? Looking back we can see how our attitudes have shifted, things that were once condoned as the most effective treatments are now criminalised in themselves. We’ve come to recognise that we needed a more embracing response.
To end with the words of the 13th Century poet and mystic, Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there