Carving out a Peaceful Tomorrow
When caught in a spell of fear, we are generally ill-equipped to challenge the status quo, to call out injustice, or to speak truth. Any awareness of the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, reveals that some humans have a particular sovereignty over fear.
If we do not generate any space around fear, we will find ourselves endlessly bogged in the pressures of life, with the profundity of our journey either wrapped in anxieties or melted into superficialities. It’s staggering the degree to which trauma goes unhealed and lives get caught harmful, internal and external, power dynamics.
Conditioned mind is rife with biases and other symptoms of a cognitive ecosystem that’s economical but disinterested in the truth.
“There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
In an extended online conversation the other day about the mechanics of bias from the perspective of cognitive science, I shared a bit of research from primatologist and neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, about racial bias.
The moderators were approaching the topic from the perspective that we ought to try to outsmart our own tendency toward bias. But the dominant research shows that bias appears so quickly on an FMRI machine, there’s no way to expect we can override it with a lumbering, neocortical processes of analysis.
Bias doesn’t happen in the neocortex, it happens in the amygdala: “The amygdala can register information that appears for less than one-20th of a second, a time so short that you aren’t even aware of what you saw.”
Take home message: The only way to expect ourselves to evolve beyond our biases is to absolutely reset our relationship with fear. To align with truth, we get to reimagine the world and ourselves from a space beyond conditioned, egoic identifications. Only from this orientation can we experience ourselves as fundamentally free from threat. Only from this orientation can we take a stand for what is right without it being a war. As Martin Luther King so eloquently shared: “The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.
Spiritual teachings talk about this all the time.
The absolute underlying message of any deep spiritual tradition says who you are at the level of first order reality is un-perishable, un-tarnishable, un-anything-able! Source. No beginning. No end.
Our day-to-day, lived experience, of course, reveals that we typically exist in second order reality, where we do have an identity, a family, a reputation, a flesh-and-bones, skin bag of organs, physical body to protect. It’s impossible to not respond when injunctions from the nervous system tell us we are under threat. That means we exist in a world dictated by a web of biases, many unconscious, and many of which have little relationship to deep reality.
“Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
All of this to say, we can’t think ourselves out of fear, and we can’t talk ourselves out of fear, but that does not mean we are powerless!
Our power over fear is multi-valent:
First, we train ourselves to not be hunted by fear, but to stay curious.
Second, we train ourselves to be skeptical of the powers that be and of the status quo, to uphold the freedom of all beings, and to protect others from suffering.
(Those two powers take some training and demand some action. Those powers are about getting into some “good trouble, necessary trouble,” in the words of the late, great John Lewis.)
Third, our power lies in our creative force, and in absolutely relishing the experience of softening and letting go.
When we train ourselves to allow, hone, and honor that inner experience of softening over the dopamine-soaked experience of being right, it moves us toward fearlessness. When we train ourselves to turn toward the wellspring of deep creativity within, it delivers us into moments of sovereignty over fear.
In this vein, I want to invite you to Lucidity and the Muse, a FREE series of sessions I lead in creativity, free-writing, and unpacking a tiny dose of dharma teachings.
The peacock is a symbol for fearlessness in the dharma traditions. When threatened, a peacock does not back down but responds by showing its most marvelous beauty.
May we all find the sustenance to access our innermost strength, creativity, courage, and beauty, precisely in those moments when we feel threatened.
May we walk boldly through doors of change.
May we be softened and awakened by the deep resource of our innermost nature, and may we know ourselves as primordially awake, beyond belief.