Pointing to the Moon: Look Beyond Candidates’ Words

lunaditoThere’s one thing nearly every person is aware of at this very moment: the world is shifting and changing, faster and greater than ever before. As people and as humanity we are in the process of accelerated evolution, which is a fancy way of saying we’re all on a freight train speeding over a hill and where the track goes beyond that is as yet unknown. In the US, our current contest for who can convince enough people to vote for them is the most poignant proof of the conflict that typically comes with change. It is shining an unflattering spotlight on our foibles and flaws as a country and society—most obviously the often alarming push-pull between our desire to connect and our fear of getting too close to people different from ourselves.

As I watch our political season play out in all its splendor, an image keeps popping into my head. The candidates are lined up on a stage, all standing behind a podium, their mouths open but no words are being spoken. I know it’s difficult to believe, but they’re actually silent for a minute; just go with it. Each person’s arm is raised towards the darkened sky and pointing to their own individual moon. It took me a minute to figure out why this image meant something, but I remembered something I learned about an ancient teacher, originally in the appendices of the beautiful novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. (Find out more about her and her writing here.) I’ll explain.

Is the truth in the words?

Political candidates are constantly talking. Then people talk and write about what they say. Then they say some more and the cycle endures. With each discussion, the original meaning and energy of those words are distorted a bit more, often to support the viewpoint of whomever is now speaking. A twisted messaging telephone game.

Words are powerful, particularly in politics. A few well-timed and expertly delivered speeches can win a black man with a Muslim middle name the presidency. Twice. (The best example can be found here.) As a writer, I am hyper-aware of their usefulness and magic. Words can inspire and motivate. They can broaden perspectives and open people to new ideas. They can create change.

But they also can manipulate. They can validate fear. They can light a fire beneath underlying resentment. Words can transform a crowd wishing to connect with people who share some of their beliefs and hope for the future into a mob incited to reject and eject, literally and sometimes forcefully, those they feel threaten these beliefs. (Watch one example here.)

They are powerful, but they aren’t everything.

Over the years, the details of politics have become less and less interesting to me. I have very smart, knowledgeable, passionate friends and family who believe that politics is won and lost in the minutiae. What does the letter of the law actually mean? What can we actually put on the ground as a result? That used to light my fire. Let’s break it down into bits and determine how we can actually create change using well-crafted policies, government funding and human-generated power, and how I can get my hands in there.

As I get older, politics has become more of a personal philosophical pursuit. The actual acting on my beliefs is still important. I just don’t want to spend hours debating them, dwelling on the words and defending their meaning, and I’m not sure effective solutions are found within government and political discourse as much as I used to.

Still, as much as I’d like politics to be something separate from my time here on Earth, it isn’t. Nothing is, really. How and whether I vote, what I say about it, what I believe about certain candidates, what I believe the role of society should be in supporting those in need or those with diminished rights, how I treat my fellow human beings as a result of my beliefs, how I believe our laws should or shouldn’t support that, how I believe equality and justice should play out. It’s all tied to who I am as a person. And I am, as we all are, a person who lives, writes, thinks, believes and behaves in the world based on where I am in my own personal evolution.

Political candidates are no different from all of us in this respect. Knowing, as best we can, what their true intentions are is more important to me than what they say they will do. Many of my friends and family might call me naïve, and some of them have. Nevertheless, unlike some popular candidates (see story, including video, here), I believe that if the convictions don’t shift, if the pre-programmed mindsets don’t alter, neither will the system. Hands follow the heart. That’s how true change occurs.

If a candidate’s heart is genuine and ego reasonably managed (as much as a politician’s can be), the “doing” will come from the right motivation. They will play the long game and things that can truly and positively impact our society will materialize from the resulting policies—perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Herein lies the rub… Before anything can happen, we have to talk about it.

The Sixth Patriarch of Zen (Read more about him here.), who was illiterate, said looking for truth in books (e.g., words) was like seeking truth in the finger pointing to the moon. The moon is the truth, and words can only point the way. Writing is a beautiful and powerful art, but it’s a terrible way to communicate if you’re trying to do so indisputably. Speaking charismatically is a wonderful skill, but the words you choose are only a sliver of the truth. And for some, it’s only a version of someone else’s truth they wish you to believe is theirs.

As much as I love language, it is inherently flawed. Shared stories and ideas are limited, a reflection of one person’s perspective. They will be received the same way, through a filter of the other person’s experiences, memories and beliefs.

Words lined up into powerful messaging statements or in the most pleasingly logical order so our brain can comprehend them only wrap us in a comforting blanket of reality that doesn’t exist. They make solid something that is of the air. Truth is just floating out there, waiting for us to see it. Words manifesting as phrases, anecdotes, doctrines, plans, policies, speeches, books and all the rest of what we believe we need to understand things, just get in the way of us seeing and knowing it.

So, we need to look beyond the words.

Here’s what the image reminded me to consider… The intention and energy behind what someone says and writes is more important than the language. And what you see reflected back to you is just as critical. We need to look closely at both, with clear eyes.

It is crucial to know if a candidate is speaking frankly because they don’t want to waste time getting to the core truth of the matter or pretending to speak frankly to build credibility with a crowd disillusioned after decades of political doublespeak.

It makes a difference whether this straightforward rhetoric contains substance, ideas, thoughtfulness and empathy, or simply uses words they know we will identify with—probably via focus groups, political operatives and crafty polling.

It is vital that there be something other than verbiage to support these ideas, such as past or present behavior, established or appropriately rejected relationships, a sense of the person behind the image (for the many of you who trust your intuition on such things).

It is paramount that the intentions behind the words and the actions to follow be positive and not only motivated by ego, fear or desire for power.

With every speech, debate, rally, interview and opinion piece, we need to understand that a candidate’s words are pointing to something, but the finger is only a finger. The moon is what we should be looking at, and which one we choose is up to us.

It is a reflection of us.

Who you trust and how you vote is up to you.

It is a reflection of you.

Make sure you aren’t following the finger that simply sounds the most familiar or rousing.

And make sure you can live with the person standing beneath it.

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It’s okay. Just scream.

My son Henry has started screaming. Sometimes at the dog. Sometimes at me or my husband. Sometimes at no one. Often for no obvious reason at all. But almost always with a hint of a smile.

Of course at times he’s frustrated. Toddlers are, after all, easily aggravated, since they firmly believe the world is theirs and when anyone gets in the way of what’s theirs they must be punished. But mostly he seems to take great joy in it. As if he’s finally found his unique voice, a way to express exactly what he needs to, and right now it needs to be very, very loud.

It makes sense, actually. He’s part of this world, this humanity in the process of breaking open, breaking apart, releasing the pressure that’s been building for millennia. The entire planet is filled with souls quickly building to, in the process of, or in desperate need of a magnificent release. The earth itself is enjoying a much-needed good scream via extreme weather, earthquakes, natural disasters and massive change. Henry’s just following its lead.

If you ask me, and apparently Henry, we’re all not screaming enough.

This past election season is a perfect example. Many of us, including me, experienced much of the “rhetoric” of the day via social interaction and social media. Except, like me, most of the concerned citizens, political junkies and reasoned voters I know were conspicuously quiet. When we discussed such things, often instead of discussing the issues at hand, we all instead agreed that expressing even balanced political opinions or relatively benign jokes caused enough conflict with our vocal friends on the other side of the aisle or issue that it just wasn’t worth the hassle and frustration.

“No one’s mind has ever been changed by a Facebook post,” I heard more than once as I nodded in agreement. “It’s not worth creating conflict and contributing to the noise. I don’t need to be reminded that half the country thinks I’m an idiot.”

So, political opinions were left mostly to talking heads on the cable news channels and those on either end of the political spectrum who were just angry enough, and often more than judgmental enough, to continuously express their rage against those who dared to disagree with their beliefs to some degree and the organizations connected to such issues. The extremes, the angriest and most self-righteous of us all, were being heard loud and clear.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of us sat quietly in our ideas and explorations, safe in the knowledge that at least we weren’t contributing to the divisive language of the day, hoping against hope that once the election was over the screaming would soften to a simmering roar and we’d all accept and contribute to the tasks at hand – that we’d put down our pitchforks and work together toward the greater good.

Naïve? Perhaps. It’s wouldn’t be the first time someone’s optimism has been labeled as such. Naïve or not, so far this is not what has happened and if we stay on our current path, it doesn’t look good.

The angry are angrier. The self-righteous are even moreso. Everyone knows they are right and few with a loud enough voice want to compromise for the sake of progress.

Okay, universe, I hear you. Lesson learned…again.

When we don’t allow the release, the healing light can’t get in.

When we don’t allow some space for everyone to scream when they need to scream, then we all suffer.

My son gets it. He screams when he needs to. He lets it go. He laughs and plays and eats with joy the rest of the time, and he sleeps like a baby.

Here’s a radical idea: Let’s all speak our truth.

Be “brutally” honest. Say what you feel, even when it’s not politically correct. Express that emotion that’s been building in your throat for weeks. Stop apologizing for having unconventional ideas. Tell someone about them. Stop feeling ashamed for buying in to stereotypes or hanging on to old programmed beliefs. Instead, release them. Post that provocative political meme if it’s truly what you want to say. Be yourself, even if that self is exceedingly angry or sad or frightened or confused. Let everything just be what it is. Express it. Release it. Scream. Let it go.

In exchange, we agree to allow everyone else to do the same. We will support everyone’s vulnerability and release equally. We will allow everyone a voice, even those we desperately disagree with. We will openly accept and cheer on everyone who says anything that self-censorship previously kept them from expressing. We will hear everything they have to say. We will welcome disagreement, even angry (but not violent) disagreement, with love and enthusiasm. When people or organizations use negativity or power with the intention of quashing an honest opinion or manipulating a heartfelt belief, we will defend ourselves and others by laughing and enjoying that they are releasing that fear and anger – that soon it won’t be there at all. We will understand that even when you feel it’s being directed at you, it’s not about you at all. It’s personal only to those expressing it.

We’ll all let it flow out as long as it needs to. We’ll all keep screaming and cracking open and listening and cheering until enough of it has vaporized into light and love. We will wait. We’re all in this together – the country, the world, the universe. We’re not going anywhere. It’s okay. Just scream.

Then, when we’re ready, when enough has released and the cracks are big enough for the light to get in…

That’s when the healing will begin.

Are you in?