The picture above accurately portrays the shit show most of the world has been experiencing over the past months. We can all agree that the current state of things doesn’t exactly foster feelings of peace and serenity.
Which is a shame since those are the places we need to be in if we wish to be a part of things resolving, moving us all forward.
We can find those places of at least relative tranquility within the bedlam being experienced at all levels today.
Pandemic, Quarantine, Racial Divide, Societal Disruption:
What is Really Happening?
Whether you consider the global pandemic and its resulting quarantine in place order, the armed protests over these measures, or the racial violence happening to people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the outlook seems grim wherever we look.
There isn’t one of these situations that is new. We have had pandemics in recent years, we have had protests about second amendment rights, and we have had racial tensions.
Critical mass on all of these and more at once though? That is new.
Change happens when the pain of the status quo surpasses the fear of whatever comes next. How many times have we heard or read about a coming shift. A watershed moment bringing about such change that none can deny we have reached a new and different plateau.
Times like we are experiencing now are how those levels of change happen.
How long have we seen the planet being polluted and abused in ways that seemed irredeemable. Yet we are seeing smog free days in areas of the country where those had not occurred in decades. No quarantine in place, no breathing room for the planet.
These bring about societal tensions as well, highlighting existing cracks in our culture. The past few years have created an environment allowing the less savory racial views in some parts of society to come out into the light.
Critical mass being reached as it is was predictable, and some may even say necessary to finally put that particular societal illness away. Will we finally succeed at this? Time will tell. Resolution of racial tensions is a pretty big get.
What is happening is that several major issues facing humanity are rearing their heads in ways that say “We will not be ignored any longer!”
Looking at it all that way gives us some space in the way we process it all. Space to find some peace and serenity, and yes even appreciation for current events without minimizing the pain and suffering either.
Most of all, it gives us an opportunity to be a part of that resolution in a conscious way.
One that is productive and aware of the possibilities we are presented with.
Creating A Productive Space Within Ourselves
Just being aware is not enough. If we truly wish to be a productive part of this shift and take part in humanity’s resolution of longstanding issues we have to create a place of peace and serenity in the face of massive upheaval and suffering.
The Chinese term “Cheng Ren” carries the meaning of acceptance and allowance of what is, the reality of our situation as it exists.
Eckhart Tolle speaks about transforming non-peace into peace by simply accepting the situation as it is. This is the same concept as Cheng Ren expressed a bit differently.
When faced with conflict that cannot be reconciled, accept what is and allow it to be in that moment. This creates a space of relative peace, giving you a place that may not be free of those irreconcilable aspects, but one that you can work within. It may not be pretty, but it is workable.
Being able to find such a space doesn’t mean you are heartless or apathetic to the suffering of others. It means you are emotionally functional, and yes healthy. It also frees you to contribute more to humanity in the midst of said chaos on all levels.
It will also allow you to experience unexpected levels of joy in the midst of the admittedly horrific crossroads we find ourselves in.
Expanding Cheng Ren Beyond Our Internal Space
Having adopted an “Accept and Allow” or Cheng Ren approach to our personal perspective, we have created a safe, peaceful space to operate from personally. Now let’s expand that to how we experience all we see and do.
Accepting the level of chaos, upheaval, and yes excruciating suffering there is to be found locally, regionally, nationally, and globally is a bigger order than most can overcome without a bit of hope that there will be some sort of positive result forthcoming.
This takes a bit of perspective.
If you have spent time in any forest at various times of year, you know about the leaf mould on the forest floor at the winter’s end after the thaw. The decomposing leaves are messy, dirty, and have an unpleasant smell. They are halfway between fallen leaves and mud, a buggy and wormy mess.
These leaves fell in the autumn, were frozen in the winter breaking them down further yet and did so even more as spring arrived. All of this creates the perfect medium for new growth to sprout in the midst of that leaf mould and decay.
We are in the midst of the storms of late fall and winter. A good deal of the appreciation we have for these times seasonally is about the potential for rebirth as the seasons turn.
There is a beauty to be found in our current season of bedlam and upheaval as we look forward to the “spring” of resolution to these major issues we face as inextricably linked humans.
All metaphors are partial though and as you meditate on this you will eventually explore the plants sprouting in spring to the point where realization hits that people aren’t plants.
We are far more complex creatures and that creates problems. Humans have feelings, emotions, hopes, and dreams which we act on in ways that seem random and unpredictable. Sometimes we even do so in vengeful, spiteful ways.
We need to step back a little further yet to gain the perspective we really need.
Entropy or Progress? How Human Society Evolves
We can be forgiven for assuming that the chaos we are experiencing amidst the various crises is an accurate observation.
It is not.
While this particular diorama is admittedly extreme most people find this situation to be the norm, if turned down a notch.
Entropy is defined as the tendency for things to degrade, decay and become more disorganized. A gradual decline into disorder. If that is how you experience the human condition you should consider the TedX talk given by Stephen Pinker titled “Is the World Getting Better or Worse?”
Spoiler Alert: By almost any yardstick you want to use, the world is getting steadily better.
Unfortunately the process this happens by isn’t a straight line. It swings like a pendulum in order to bring about those improvements.
It is a messy, seemingly random process that is far more surgical than we could possibly believe. The ills of society are extremely good at hiding. This seeming entropy is even better at exposing them in order to wipe them out.
Have you seen videos of the behavior of birds called murmuration? Huge flocks of swallows or starlings wheel about in the air in what appear to be random inversions and impossible acrobatic maneuvers with amazing precision and no collisions.
Humanity is actually one huge ongoing murmuration. This is the only explanation for the facts we are faced with in Pinker’s talk.
The birds benefit from this behavior by being able to feed on swarms of insects, as well as being able to navigate serious weather during migrations. They are just as unaware of why they wheel about as we are while we are bashed about by seemingly random events.
We benefit as this “murmuration” by humanity weeds out its illnesses and crimes against itself without our being entirely aware of it.
We can be though.
The Zen Proverb comes to mind: “Unity without Differentiation is bad Unity. Differentiation without Unity is bad Differentiation.”
Translation? I am Me but also a part of a greater We. Were are part of a whole, but are each individuals. Both apply in all we do. Balance.
Okay, we have stepped back far enough that we have the macro part of this picture down, now let’s step back in and discuss interacting with this reality.
Working Within Our Peaceful Space On a Personal Level
It is easy, and a bit seductive as we backed off to speak of what is going on today in abstract terms, at an almost completely academic level.
The truth is though that people are suffering, and in many cases dying because of the upheaval we see even if it is bringing about long term progress.
Appreciating the progress does not mean ignoring the pain around us. When one is hurt we are all hurt.
In spite of how a flock of starlings in murmuration appear to move as one individual, they are a flock of tens of thousands of individual birds.
Now consider New York City.
It is said that the island of Manhattan has such a huge population that if everyone came out of their apartments, offices and workplaces onto the streets at once there would not be room for everyone to stand.
Yet, every day, this huge flock of humans wheels, and turns in endless gyrations which never bring this about, and there is always room for everyone.
It truly is a human murmuration. Regardless of how we experience it individually there is a harmony at work beyond what individuals, or even groups of activists could bring about.
Still, we are not mindless automatons either. We aren’t meant to be creatures ruled by instinct blown about by the winds of fortune, good or ill. We have free will, and a self awareness that is there for a purpose.
The progress we see humanity making when we look gives us something to work towards worthwhile goals with.
When we see the dangers that our brothers and sisters of color face because they aren’t safe when they interact with our police forces nationwide, this isn’t just an issue for them. It is a human issue. If some aren’t safe, that isn’t acceptable.
When we see that lower income people don’t have access to affordable housing, or healthcare then we have a humanity based issue that needs to be addressed. The needs of the few, are in fact the needs of all.
Socio-economic issues are quite prevalent within the crises being faced right now. These are not things to ignore, but to interact with in harmony with the human murmuration we are a part of.
Seeing the Human Murmuration at Work
With awareness comes more in depth understanding as well as insight into how these disparate parts work in harmony to bring about the evolution we need as a society and interconnected organism.
Instead of scrambling to make sure we get ours, it becomes as much about where we get to collectively as it is about what we get. The process is enlightening and reveals where we are headed as well as how we are getting there.
This isn’t all about altruism though. There is an inherent paradox in the whole transactional life view that so many cling to. With awareness, it quickly becomes evident that our interconnected nature means that giving and getting are actually two parts of the same thing.
Giving means that something goes to another part of ourselves, so where is the transaction? It is a dynamic ebb and flow that gives and gets without loss to either party, because there is really only one party involved. The greater we.
So while the picture of the feeding koi above may seem like what is going on with humanity, the actuality is more like the image to the right of a synchronistic machine benefiting all in ways that aren’t always evident.
Fractal patterns emerge revealing a greater force at work than we can always observe let alone comprehend.
We have a perspective limited by the role we are playing at any point in time. We can have a greater one simply by acknowledging that we aren’t able to see all that is occurring even within the issues we interact with directly.
We are in fact far more than the sum of our parts. The roles we play in this massive and intricate process are important, but are also not all that is involved.
There is a micro and a macro perspective to this human murmuration that allows for us to be involved in a proactive way with the issues facing us all, but acknowledges that our shared humanity has the bigger part in this whole process.
In the end, the massive crises we see today are in fact quite important, but not without hope even if they seem to be. We can not do it individually, but we can overcome them if we do so both individually and collectively.
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