Great Freedom Experiment Called America

By Mary Reddy

detail-of-american-flag-11279635008nzan1I was born into a great experiment in individual freedom—the United States—founded on the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Experiments exist to test what’s possible and this one asked, “What can bring a vast multicultural and multiracial population into a life of shared governance and mutual respect?” One does not experiment where everything is already known, where the solution has been found. My country’s democracy did not begin as a perfect realization of the ideal. The government stole land from native tribes. It reserved individual rights for some while excluding others. Over decades and after valiant struggles, the democracy opened wider to include women and former slaves. But the push continues for a just society, with full participation and equal access for all. 

The risks and tensions posed by this experiment were less visible to me as a child. I experienced my country then as a more homogenous culture. I lived in small suburbs and went to school primarily with Irish Catholics, like me, mixed in with Italian Catholics. The big conflict in this crowd was whether St. Patrick or St. Vincent was the more glorious saint. It looked like community. 

But underneath that broad overlay of “togetherness through sameness,” we still organized into vying units: Irish vs. Italians, Christians vs. Jews, city kids vs. suburban kids, boys vs. girls. And underneath the sameness of the archetypal happy suburban family, I suffered as a child struggling to survive an abusive parent. I felt like an outsider, hiding a dangerous and shameful secret. I could not know I was not alone in feeling that way. The “good life,” apparently enjoyed by all, was ringed by rigid boundaries. How many people had to contort themselves to fit in and feel like they belonged?

Just when I began to learn about the world beyond my home and school, the Civil Rights movement hit the news. Then Vietnam. Then the Women’s movement. My simplistic understanding of “America” as land of the free shattered. I had to love my country while recognizing that it was not always the good guy. It was jarring but I sensed a wider landscape, one that quickened my breath. Our differences as a people suggested a more dynamic path for emergence of a new model of community.

Decades later, the complexity of our experiences as Americans—and those of other countries as well—is on view in all its glory across the Internet and social media. We cross thresholds as our sense of global community broadens. Many of us now count among our communities people from other races and cultures; multiracial colleagues, friends and family members; gay married couples; gender-fluid people, some who identify as “they”;immigrants and migrants. All challenge old definitions of community.

In a hierarchical or status-based society, these different groups may perceive our democracy as a zero sum game—whatever one side gains is lost by the other. It’s easy in this environment to fear that a familiar way of life is threatened, that power will be stripped from one group and handed to another, that beloved definitions of good and evil will be overwritten. Fear often begets rage; rage can lead to violence.

I ‘get’ rage. I spent years in therapy working to heal from childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and rape. During one stage in the healing process, I walked around in a barely controlled ball of anger and grief. I needed to do that. And I discovered that most of my friends did not want to hang out with me while I raged. So I am sensitive to those who coalesce around anger and who organize based on an urgent need to fight for change. It’s harder for me, but not impossible, to stretch that understanding to those who strike out in anger from an unexamined resistance to change. But on the receiving end, anger intimidates, makes people uncomfortable, and causes them to retreat or go on the defensive. 

So how do we call for love and healing these days while also respecting people’s need to gather around anger, to demand systemic change? Can we allow ourselves to tap into love when confronted by crowds calling for violence? Can we grieve together over those lost in violent shootings or terrorist bombings without having some one asking which side we are on? How can we open to new ways of relating when fear and defensiveness overshadow our communal experiences.

We’re in an uncomfortable place. But these days, I appreciate discomfort. The times I feel uncomfortable are usually the times when I get to peek behind the curtains at my own shadow, when an inherent bias of mine reveals its unvarnished self. 

pexels-photo-526291In a recent Views from the Borderland, David quoted one of his subtle colleagues saying that we incarnate humans “have a sense of organizations but not of organisms, thus it’s hard for us to understand and appreciate the sphere of interconnectedness and wholeness in which souls normally function.” We “project onto the subtle worlds …  images of hierarchy, rank, status, and specialness.” 

What if we saw life on our planet as that of a single organism, where each individual played as valuable a role as any other? Rank and status no longer a measure of value? We don't cut off our noses to spite our faces. In discomfort, we remember that our own truth ranges from the good to the bad and ugly, both light and shadow. The mixed bag that is we each are essential to the life of the whole organism. Our differences and discomfort push us to reach from one concept of wholeness toward a new one. The organism—the planet—evolves. Wholeness is never static. 

As another of David’s subtle colleagues said, we have an opportunity to “deal with those fragmenting elements that arise from your incomplete wholeness—your wholeness-in-becoming—that divide you within yourself or cut you off from others or from the world and create obstacles to love, to connection, and to collaboration.”

Sounds good, you say, but how do we condition ourselves to respond to hate with love? It’s like practicing for a sport or musical recital. A daily practice which includes attunement to loving the world around will allow us to stand comfortably in love in the midst of discomfort and discord. One exercise, called the Touch of Love, is a wonderful addition to daily practice. It helps me build pathways of connection and flow within my various selves and from me to my environment. If we can strengthen these connections while under no duress, we'll be more likely to respond with love when under stress.

Imagine if, each time we speak to another from a place of our own discomfort, we do so with love and it creates a tiny impulse toward change. Imagine a multitude of those impulses accumulating until they spark a quantum leap into a new national and global understanding of community.

manifestation card deck photoManifestation is often seen as a way of getting something. But from the perspective of Incarnational Spirituality, it’s an act of identity, of becoming something. It’s an act of ‘incarnating’ a new pattern of ourselves into reality, and growing into a new expression of ourselves. Join us on Sunday, October 16, for a Free Teleclass on using the principles of Incarnational Manifestation to shape a life you love. Click here for more information.