Sunday, March 26, 2017

Personal Reflections on Cultivating and Integrating New Stories Which Value Life

A Re-framing of What It Is To Be Pro-Life

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." - Noam Chomsky


The cultural stories that we are taught from earliest childhood, and those we have absorbed as adults, hold great influence over the belief systems and values we live by. Among these stories are ones which tell us that America is exceptional and the greatest nation on Earth, that our freedoms come to us through those who serve in the military, that the American dream is obtainable for anyone who works for it, that you're an advocate for the economy or for the environment, that you're Christian or against Christians, that you're either a conservative or a liberal, and that you're either pro-life or you're not pro-life but are, I'm not sure,... pro-death?

Arundhati Roy illuminates the limitations of this black/white, either/or, us versus them thinking when she questions what it means to refer to someone as "anti-American." She states, "Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology. The term 'anti-American' is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely -- but shall we say inaccurately -- define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they're heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride... What does the term 'anti-American' mean? Does it mean you're anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to free speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans? .....  To call someone 'anti-American', indeed, to be anti-American, (or for that matter anti-Indian, or anti- Timbuktuan) is not just racist, it's a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those that the establishment has set out for you: If you're not a Bushie you're a Taliban. If you don't love us, you hate us. If you're not good you're evil. If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists.”

Therein lies the danger of these cultural stories and ideologies - which are the terms that the establishment, that those in power, have indeed provided to limit discourse, discernment, discussion, consciousness and connection and instead inject us with the propaganda of lies, distraction, denials, projections, scapegoats, and dangerous distortions and illusions. These stories hold their power only to the degree that we don't question them and instead believe them to be beyond reproach. This is the seemingly safe and sure footing of "known-knowns" - of the belief that it's always been this way - and is the set-up for falling into the trap of deadening our capacity for critical thinking. This process of limiting ourselves also often has the painful and disturbing consequence of throwing us more deeply into the fog of our blind spots where we are unknowingly living out of alignment with many of the values we most cherish. To grow into our greater wholeness and wisdom and authenticity, to recognize and transform our ignorance and illusions, to be rooted in a path committed to truth and love and a higher good, asks of us again and again to penetrate the thin veneer of our surface understandings and go deeper. At least this has certainly been my experience.

Many years ago my oldest son gave me this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, for which I will always be deeply grateful: "For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life." It is often my three sons who have been among my greatest teachers and who have pointed the way to the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity.

There is a great need for us individually and collectively to peel back the layers of our shortsightedness and limiting belief systems and come instead to see with the expansiveness and vision of our greater Selves. I have found that this requires the openness of embracing with humility and courage our "beginner's mind," remembering that there is always another veil to lift in this process of growing more honest and aware, more compassionate and loving, and more deeply connected with our hearts and the hearts of other beings. In this way, our perceptions gradually come to arise not from our fragmented and wounded selves, but rather increasingly from the wholeness of our healing and awakening. This is the path through our fears and shame and unresolved losses and grief to the fertile ground of deeper understanding, compassion, and wisdom.

This process is one of continuous questioning. What would it look like if we were to change the conversation and narrative and expand beyond the current limits of the pro-life/pro-choice belief systems and stories? There are profound opportunities found in the reminder in the bumper sticker that I had up on my kitchen cupboard for years which read: Don't Believe Everything You Think. As we challenge ourselves to go deeper, to move into unchartered territory, and to shift and expand what it is that we think and believe, we expand our consciousness. And we are changed, we are deepened, and we become more whole.

As these layers are lifted, we move beyond the simplicity of the original beliefs we are given. It is then that we are entering into the messiness of surrendering into our not knowing, and it is this insight - that everything we have thought to be true is not necessarily so, that there is more - which ultimately opens new doorways of understanding, clarity, wisdom, humility, and compassion. It is then that we come to see how it is that this issue  - pro-life versus pro-choice - is one among many that has been used by powerful moneyed interests against us, whether we have identified ourselves to be Democrats or Republicans, through convincing us that this is The Issue that makes us a conservative needing to stand against liberals or the other way around. 

Over time and through engaging in my own process of shadow work, I have come to see with humility how it is that any of us can be easily swayed into forming attachments with a limited identity, in this case of being either a Republican or a Democrat, which ultimately serves to blind us to seeing the shadow side of what we are attaching to. We become so invested in being on the side that's right and not the one that's wrong. Meanwhile, we don't notice that both major political parties are themselves largely aligned with corporate interests that are not rooted in values which support, nourish, and care for life. Thus the quote above by Noam Chomsky about how it is that we the people are kept passive and obedient by those in power. This is the root of the propaganda - distract, divert, and encourage us to grow our identity so strongly around what we believe it is to be a Democrat or to be a Republican that we are blinded by our biases, our attachments, and the cultural stories that are promoted as absolute truth. If you're not good you're evil. If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists - or the liberal baby killers or the conservatives who just want to take away our rights. Our righteousness locks us in a box.

The result is that we fail to notice that the Democratic Party - the "party of the people" - has been high jacked over the past 30-40 years and is now part and parcel of the corporate capitalistic system that is sucking the life out of us all. Thomas Frank describes this in his "Listen Liberal, Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?" -

We fail also to notice that the Republican Party - the party that is "pro-life" - again and again promotes policies that would result in more unwanted pregnancies by increasing poverty, cutting off access to healthcare which includes birth control and family planning, and by failing to care for the children who are already born. That said, it is both major political parties that have backed policies which have fueled the enormous redistribution of wealth upward - corporate welfare - which results in millions of children living in poverty. How can any of us say with conviction that we are "pro-life" when we have aligned ourselves with the Big Money interests which cause the horrific reality of childhood poverty in America today? 

Here are some of the facts -
About 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a measurement that has been shown to underestimate the  needs of families. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 43% of children live in low-income families. Most of these children have parents who work, but low wages and unstable employment leave their families struggling to make ends meet. Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty. Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being. But effective public policies – to make work pay for low-income parents and to provide high-quality early care and learning experiences for their children – can make a difference. Investments in the most vulnerable children are also critical. 

The symptoms of toxic late stage capitalism and the neoliberal/neoconservative policies which have grown exponentially over the last 30-40 years and which are wreaking havoc in our nation and across the planet are glaring. It is also true that from the earliest days of the colonization of America that wealth and power was accumulated through the horrific suffering and oppression of others. The list is long that would counter American exceptionalism and instead paint a portrait of a nation that has avoided at all costs the deeper work and accountability of owning the truths of our historical to present day practices which have been rooted in violence, greed, and a profound disregard for the suffering of other humans and other beings. Our nation cannot approach to live in authentic alignment with the values we say we cherish without opening our eyes, minds, and hearts to the reality of the profound disregard for life that is the core of America's shadow.

And yet, we are systematically taught to look away and not bring this information into the conversation. It is also true that those who fiercely advocate for a complete restructuring of our economic system and policies to ones that value life rather than corporate power and greed are chronically marginalized, silenced, and demonized.

Another world is possible.

The below is just a glimpse into a few additional resources which have been deeply empowering to me in this process of awakening and lifting the veils of my own deep ignorance and indoctrination into cultural stories which are rooted in harm rather than healing. I have found it critical to living authentically as human beings who support life to engage passionately in unmasking, healing, and transforming that which causes death, destruction, violence, oppression, poverty, injustice, and degradation of our Earth Mother. There can be no solution for that which is unseen and denied. Our culture too often serves and supports that which keeps us ignorant and polarized and colluding in the dark side of our nation rather than nourishing that which supports life. Yet, half the solution is simply coming to see the problem...

A list of just a few resources:
- Our History: books by Howard Zinn, including A People's History of the United States -
- Indigenous History:  An Indigenous People's History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz -
- Racism in AmericaThe New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander -
- Global Warming and Climate Change: Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything -, Bill McKibben's Eaarth -, and the work of Dahr Jamail -
- Dark Money - the forces behind the decent of our nation and the planet: Dark Money by Jane Mayer -
- The Work of Henry Giroux - war on youth, the corporatization of higher education, the politics of neoliberalism, the assault on civic literacy and the collapse of public memory, public pedagogy, the educative nature of politics, and the rise of various youth movements across the globe: 
- The Work of David Korten - the economy, corporate power, creating new stories, the Great Turning:*
- The Work of Riane Eisler - domination versus partnership, the loss of the sacred feminine, the real wealth of nations and transforming our economy and values:*
- The Work of Joanna Macy - protecting Earth, sustainability, activism, hope:*
- The Work of Naomi Klein - economy, capitalism, climate, shock doctrine:*
- The Work of Amy Goodman - she covers it all:
- The Work of Charles Eisenstein - economy, sustainability, new stories, values and actions that enrich and nourish hope, healing, change, love and kindness:
- The Cost of Empire: Blowback by Chalmers Johnson -

There is so much more and I'm sure that I'm leaving out many valuable resources. Most importantly is simply that we seek to engage ourselves in the process of disentangling from that which destroys life to that which supports and nourishes it. This is no small feat when we Americans are chronically immersed in narratives and propaganda which distract, divert, lie, endorse double speak and "alternative facts," and use powerful toxic tactics to convince us to act against our own best interests and those of our children and all children everywhere. To be "pro-life" requires of us, I believe, to dig deeply into our belief systems and actions and resources to discern what is my part in the problem and what is it that I can do to increasingly engage in working together to create a world that works for all.
We need each other and together we can inspire courage and awakening and a passionate and fierce commitment to stand in protection of life. The time is now. The eyes of the children of today and the future are watching.

Peace & blessings ~ Molly

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