Beneath the surface, the U.S. Civil War fought by opposing armies in the middle of the 19th century continues to rage within many hearts and minds throughout the United States as we struggle with opposing values, ideals and priorities. Issues that preceded the outbreak of armed hostilities between slave-holding states and slave-releasing states still breed unrest throughout our troubled nation. Our issues are embodied in and expressed through economic competition fueled by heady pride untempered by heartfelt justice and compassion. Episodes of armed violence that erupt sporadically are symptoms of our unresolved unrest and our unconscious struggle to find lasting peace of mind, hope of heart and joy of spirit. We will win the battle for peace, hope and joy once we bring our unconscious struggle into the light of our conscious awareness and stop submerging it beneath pretenses of complacency and satisfaction with the status quo.
What is the status quo most of us throughout the U.S. seek to maintain that is actually perpetuating the violence that dismays us? What are we complaining about that we could address effectively if only we were to see it clearly rather than hide from it in the smoke of emotionally heated power struggles? The paradox is that we cannot see clearly what is not yet visible to us until we allow the smoke of anger-fueled battles to clear from our fields of vision and give higher priority to seeing clearly than to battling endlessly for the power to have things our way. Burning anger as a fuel for power struggles pollutes the air of reasoned discussions. Its fumes mask the real issues and raise barriers of defensiveness on all sides. So long as we angrily assert as necessary to our pride the right to have our own way in disregard of others’ dignity, we will remain embattled in anger-fueled power struggles and blind to the alternative within which all can have our dignified way in peace because power is shared equitably.
As an alternative fuel for well-reasoned discussions, a passion for peace burns cleanly. Angry battles are unnecessary. Anger is an early stage of grief. It is not a sign of strength but instead a sign of not-yet-healed woundedness. Peace is a sign of strength even while enduring woundedness. Peace does not ignore painful issues and their associated wounds. It addresses them with reason, seeking to find the root cause of wound-inflicting conflicts and resolving each to every reasoning person’s satisfaction. Anger’s presence is a sign of unresolved emotions bullying their way through the waves of confusion and chaos to ram against ideas angered minds do not find agreeable – or silently swarming beneath the waves seeking to torpedo ideas presented by competitors in a battle for control of the storm-tossed seas upon which humanity sails. Battle-won control does not assure that lasting peace will follow. Battle-weariness is not the same as peace. It is more likely that another round of conflict will arise out of painful memories associated with earlier battles than that sustainable peace will prevail unless our memories are healed of our pain.
No matter how grand a floated ideal may be anger can blow it out of the water. Angry battles to preserve pride as the measure of individual or group success are counter-productive. They insure that all successes are temporary and decline in their capacity to satisfy. Anger acts like an addictive drug because adrenalin that accompanies anger is an addictive chemical. Angry people become addicted to our own body chemistry. We become our own drug pushers, provoking angry conflicts in order to get high. The more one uses anger to justify adrenalin-pumped up action the more one has to escalate its use to produce the next high. Coming down from an angry high does not feel good. Withdrawal from habits of anger can feel miserable. Yet, angry battles to produce pride’s highs only perpetuate the endless rounds of unsatisfying outcomes we’ve endured. It’s time to consider the alternative fully and cease to sacrifice our lives on altars of anger’s futility. It’s time to be wiser and promote peace in place of pride as our priority – and as our privilege.
I am heir to a rare but not entirely unique privilege. I have the privilege of having been cast out of pride’s status quo and required to remain on the sidelines relatively free of battlefields. As a result, my battle-remote field of vision is less smoke-filled and more prone to see with peace and hope-filled joy what embattled peoples have not yet realized is right before our eyes and readily within our reach. What I see in my field of vision are masses of people who have endured much pain in their struggles to survive amid centuries of economic competition that is now proving totally incapable of satisfying many while it relentlessly channels economic prosperity and pseudo-privileges of pride to relatively few. This distorted distribution of economic benefits is another symptom of the underlying, not-yet-unresolved issues about which I write.
Anger in reaction to harmful economic inequities is understandable. Anger is not bad. It’s simply not the condition under which we can adequately address lasting resolution of issues that preserve economic inequities. We who weary of feeling powerless and inadequate to the task of resolving these issues need to exercise wisdom to develop long-term solutions to these long-standing inequities. Anger interferes with our capacity to listen to and heed wisdom’s guidance. Let us not judge and condemn ourselves for feeling angry or afraid. Anger and fear are understandable reactions to painful belief in our powerlessness. Yet we can learn to set aside our angry reactions and our fears of perpetual powerlessness to confer together in communal peace that arises from personal self-disciplines of inner peace. Every person has the capacity to contribute personal inner peace to an outpouring of communal peace – no matter how extremely justified anger and fear seem.
As has long been trumpeted, “To the victors go the spoils!” Every war has required that there be winners and losers, victors and victims, heroes and scapegoats. The outcome of wars has always been to allocate the spoils of war so as to perpetuate pride’s status quo within which battles of one kind or another remain inevitable in recurring cycles of warfare. Lessons of pride learned in earlier wars cause warring parties to modify their methods and submerge their battles and their allegiances beneath the surface out of sight – hidden behind charming smiles and soothing words that mask their wounded pride. Pride’s lessons preserve the distrust and secrecy that undergird all warfare rather than promote the alternative of trust and transparency upon which lasting peace may be established.
As yet the pride-free lesson has not been learned that all forms of battle for one person’s, group’s, nation’s or culture’s supposedly superior way of life at the expense of another’s supposedly inferior way of life represent the same mistake repeated over and over again with insane results only the hardest-hearted prideful person could admire. One proof of such insanity is found in the fact that the victors to whom the spoils of each successive battle go progressively decrease in proportion to the battle’s victims. Smaller grows the pool of spoils-receiving winners as larger grow the widening pools of losers from whom the spoils are drained. Fewer and fatter are pride’s vampires as larger grow the pools of blood from which they drink. If blood is a symbol for life, then no one wins when blood is distributed throughout the body of humanity with pride-rewarding inequity. Distribution of the spoils of war to preserve pride’s dominion within the status quo – no matter how artfully disguised as change – spoils everything for everyone in the long run as the health of humanity’s limbs, organs and associated functions decline. Pride is healthy for no one, not even for the privileged few who cling to their pride at all cost to themselves and everyone.
The world is awash with symptoms of the futility of perpetuating pride’s competition-driven status quo. It is time for reasoning human beings to set aside pride and shame out of concern for the welfare of the whole. To stop perpetuating the status quo of declining human functioning (sometimes called “systemic” or “institutionalized” dehumanization or exploitation) we must look squarely at what pride’s status quo is and let it go as an alternative no longer appealing to us. We must grow wise enough to spot it in all its forms and respond each time it is offered to us by admitting “Been there, done that” and engage in it no more. Until we repent of our participation in pride’s status quo and commit ourselves to living according to the only true alternative of peace-generating humility, we are doomed to repeat the errors of our past and unwittingly participate in perpetuating violence while the alternative of peace remains unseen yet right at hand. I write now to invite those who want to see what I see to join me in seeing it as our collective vision. We can choose to embrace peace together and establish it as a viable alternative to futility so that others can consider it when it becomes their turn to do so. Love’s humility is the alternative to pride’s futility. The more love’s alternative exists in tangible expression because its practitioners reveal it through our lifestyles, the more clearly others will behold it and find it appealing to them as well. By our commitment to love’s alternative even in its birth struggles, we will invite others to win together with us the one final universal battle in the Civil War. No war is civil. Peace is. We must first reclaim peace within our hearts before we can share it with others in sustainable Civil Peace.
The alternative about which I write is a blend of the most promising of all individuals’ and cultures’ ways of life and visions for a better future. Love’s most promising multicultural ways and visions have humbly endured the tests of time. Just as the Earth’s current non-aristocratic masses are enduring much pain and suffering in the modern age, enduring pain and suffering has been the norm for the masses throughout human history. All viable cultures’ most highly evolved ways of endurance and visions for relief from pain and suffering blend together into the Alternative I’ve seen is not only possible for us all to share but actually the only viable alternative to warfare and its pain and suffering. As the humble sages and elders of every reasoning culture teach, we either choose to perpetuate our suffering or to relieve it, heal from it and live beyond it. Habits of pride passed along through many generations conspire to perpetuate our suffering. Yet in one generation we can learn to set aside pride’s habits if we want them set aside in order to embrace the Alternative to suffering about which so many dream. Those of us who set our hearts resolutely upon the purpose of embracing life fully as wise and humble people of all ages can embrace life for all of humanity. We can be the hearts, minds, hands and arms that reach out to embrace the whole solution for us all. Voluntary humility achieved through surrender of both our pride and shame, not forcefully imposed humiliation, will save humanity for all of us.
The U.S. Civil War was called the “war between the states.” The universal civil war is also a war between states. But it is a war between two states, just as the U.S. Civil War was a war between two orientations towards freedom. The universal civil war is also a battle about freedom. It is a war between on the one hand A) those who believe in slavery for some (or many or most) and freedom for many (or some or few) and on the other hand B) those who believe in slavery for none and freedom for all. The choice of sides in this universal war is that stark. It is a radical choice because it reaches to the root of freedom’s origin and insists that no compromise with principles of universal freedom can be practiced without sacrificing freedom for us all. Pride’s status quo stands for perpetual compromise and its resulting loss of universal freedom and substitution of universal slavery. The Misery Compromise has been tried and failed. Attempts to compromise have proven that misery cannot be distributed to some without inflicting it on all. It is time to take a radically uncompromising stand for liberty and justice for all or suffer slavery for our children and their children.
The war between the states about which I write is a war between two states of mind – one free and one enslaved. Those who have endured much pain and suffering may find it hard to believe that the alternative to suffering actually exists – already available to be accepted, adopted and appreciated every moment of the day and night. Yet, because it is true that those who endure all things have endured as love endures, this alternative that love offers is already the alternative for which those who have suffered most are well-prepared. If love endures all things and you’ve endured all things, then you are love. Your essence is love that endures for eternity. The endurance of suffering is simply a period of preparation for rising beyond suffering as you accept release from misinterpreted lessons of suffering. The key false lesson suffering seeks to teach you is that you are enslaved forever to suffering, destined to perpetuate it always either as a sufferer or as one who inflicts suffering. This key lesson is not true. It is a misunderstanding adopted by a mind confused by pain and the fear of greater pain. To avoid greater pain, our minds interpreted past pain as proof of our unworthiness to be freely loved and loving as if our destiny is to always suffer love’s betrayal and loss. Instead of abiding by this false lesson, we can choose to neither endure suffering nor inflict it. That’s what the Golden Rule teaches. This rule is honored in some version by every benevolent spiritual path of faith. (See http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm) No one is excluded from the power of the Golden Rule.
The Alternative within which you naturally belong but may not yet behold is the Alternative of Love. It is the Alternative towards which every version of the Golden Rule points. It is a state not only of mind but of heart as well. It is the natural state into which we emerge as we practice reconciling our minds with our hearts and allow the best of reconciled blends to merge as the truth of who we are. The war between the two possible states of mind can be won by any individual who decides to win it within himself or herself and learn to rise beyond his or her own inner conflicts to discover and practice inner peace. It is a war won by daring to open one’s heart to love again and allowing love’s power to reconcile all conflicting points of view in the light of eternal love’s humility. As individuals welcome heartfelt inner peace as their new norm and join with other welcomers, their peace-enriched community emerges beyond battles abandoned in favor of reconciliation and cooperation in rebuilding relationships within the sustainable social ecosystem of humble love.
To rise beyond the battlefields into the Alternative Way that does not recycle its adherents into another round of conflict and renewed pain and suffering requires that we each let go of ego and its sightless habits. We must learn to be increasingly more insightful in order to overcome the ego’s sightlessness and see the vision that emerges from the ego’s smoke and mirror battle tactics. We must realize that pride and shame are flipsides of the ego’s coin and not truly alternatives to each other. They are inseparable, complimentary twins. We are not better off by becoming proud instead of ashamed. Our life is not improved by adopting stigmata of shame as badges of pride to flaunt before those who once shamed us. In fact to do so adopts the very values, priorities and pride-shame duality of thinking that our prior oppressors believe in. It is a mistake to adopt their orientation towards relationships and still expect not to join them in their loveless lifestyles devoted to competitive individuality and devoid of heart-satisfying intimacy. Peace awaits those who shed our armor of pride and allow our wounds of shame to heal in love’s light instead of remaining hidden to fester in fear’s darkness.
In modern times, those once stigmatized and taught to feel ashamed for being a person of darker color skin, of non-heterosexual orientation, of non-mainstream gender orientation, of feminine qualities or of other labels low in social power and approval have tried to convert their badges of shame into badges of pride by rallying together and no longer allowing themselves to remain isolated from each other in hiding. They have “come out” of hiding, claimed their social standing as legitimate and empowered themselves through the ballot box in a republic in which the right to vote offers illusions of power even when election outcomes are heavily swayed by the money of the dominant few. Unfortunately, they have also claimed their legitimacy on the ego’s terms of pride as if ego sets beneficial terms. Ego can never set the terms of love. It sets the terms of fear, terror and atrocities inflicted by one upon another, individually or in groups. The ego offers no alternative to itself because it knows of none it can tolerate. It is close-minded – a closed thought system from which there is no escape or relief unless one exits the system entirely. We must shed our egos to be free of both pride and shame – and free to experience love instead. Ego-dominated minds repudiate love. Our hearts prefer to welcome it. Let our minds now agree with our hearts’ desire to know love by experience. That is wisdom’s way.
The ego’s way is to set stereotypes and images upon the altars of our hearts and minds and worship them as false idols. Ego claims that our failure to measure up to the “ideals” of its stereotypes and images defines us as failures – as shame-faced losers in the battle for popularity and prosperity. Fame and fortune are two of the ego’s false goals by which it seduces us into following its dictates and considering no other power possible. But there is another power that is not only possible but inevitable. It is the power that ego fears and seeks to teach us to ignore and to avoid at all costs if we become aware of it. In the presence of this power, the ego fades to nothing, not to black but to invisibility in its clearly spotted uselessness. The ego justifies its existence based on our needing to be defended from threats of pain and suffering. Yet paradoxically only when we adopt the ego’s ways are we actually exposed to suffering as accumulated pain. Without the ego we are invulnerable to suffering, not because we cannot feel pain but because we can always heal from every form of pain and rise free from pain again. We have no need or desire to accumulate and retain pain as suffering. Only the ego bids us to retain pain and store it up as suffering to serve as the motivation for lessons the ego teaches. Pain drags us down into the ego’s realm of fear, including the fear that suffering is endless – as our form of hell in Time and/or Eternity, a punishment we somehow deserve and must preserve. As fear’s alternative, love lifts us up where we belong – healed of all pain associated with guilt and punishment and free to soar as innocence personified.
The ego’s definitions of all things are false. It defines freedom as enslavement to perpetual attempts to avoid pain and to escape from suffering by self-indulgence in mind-numbing activities that lead to heartless indifference to others and ourselves as well. The ego teaches us to be blind to the reality that we cannot be indifferent to the pain and suffering of others without adopting pain and suffering as our personal experience too. The Golden Rule always operates, whether we treat others well or poorly. No amount of ego’s escapist ways (no matter to what extravagance indulged in) will free us from our confrontations with the pain and suffering that we carry around inside. Only by achieving inner peace through inner healing will we experience the freedom we desire. Our hearts desire. Our minds aspire. When we set our minds to aspire after what our hearts truly desire, we will encounter wisdom and gradually become wiser in all our ways. The Alternative Way is Wisdom’s Way taught by all the ancient paths of spiritually rooted benevolence and humble simplicity.
How long do you prefer to remain fooled by the ego into believing in a fruitless quest for the joys of deeper satisfaction where such joys and satisfaction do not await you? The ego’s path of futility appears to be populated by many diverse choices. But that diversity is an illusion so long as all choices are based on fear of strangers and fear of forgiving others (and yourself) for the pain and suffering you associate with them (and yourself). All who have endeavored to live by ego’s teachings have fallen into the same pit of sightless battles by which we blind ourselves and others to the truth we might otherwise see. Our pain blinds us to the true reason for our suffering. By trying to turn the tables to cause others to suffer instead, we are only perpetuating the suffering we all endure and adopting the ego’s way as if it is the only way. We are mistaken to take pride in the suffering we endure or in the pain we avoid by transferring it to others instead. We are mistaken to be ashamed of the pain and suffering we have endured as if we’ve done something so wrong as to never be forgiven for it. We are mistaken to interpret pain as punishment for guilt we imagine is ours to carry for a lifetime. Release from secret inner agonies of guilt arrives with shedding of our egos.
We are also mistaken to be afraid to face the stranger who hides within us as if our secret side is a guilt-ridden creature of shame (when this is not so!). We are equally mistaken to fear strangers we see around us as if they are the reason for our inability to feel free of guilt and shame (again not so!). Our secret feelings of unrelieved guilt and shame compel us to try to outperform others to atone for our secret guilt and shame. This false need to feel guilty is all part of the ego’s game to keep us its prisoners for fear that the skeletons in our secret closets will destroy us if revealed. To heap more guilt and shame upon ourselves for failing to outperform others overburdens our own hearts and minds with immense distress. There is no relief or healing in competing ruthlessly to survive or come out on top. Pride is not an antidote to guilt or shame. It is a cover-up, not a cure. Only our devoted walk along humility’s centered path will lead us beyond the dilemmas of the internal civil war between two states of mind. No matter how submerged beyond our conscious awareness it may be, an endless civil war between pride and shame (and guilt and blame) enslaves us all. We can choose instead to be free by choosing consciously to liberate each other from the ego’s grip on our hearts and minds. Liberty and justice for all depends upon our cooperation in each other’s liberation from the ego.
Xenophobia and unforgiveness are two symptoms of the ego’s unhealthiness that we can intentionally address regardless of our lack of health insurance coverage. We need no one’s permission to master the arts of hospitality to strangers and forgiveness of all peoples (including ourselves). We will eventually see the smokeless, unpolluted vision and surrender our former attitudes and practices once we tire of the insanity of repeating the ego’s varied ways of preserving our fears and avoiding true forgiveness for fear of appearing weak if we forgive. The strong forgive. The self-confident and secure offer hospitality to strangers. (Please watch this video if you might appreciate more evidence of forgiveness’ value: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSCx1XS0f8Y.)
We will win the final battle of the Civil War because it is a battle Love has already won for us. All we need to do now is decide which side of the finished battle we stand on – the side of the winner or the loser. The battle itself is over. Love welcomes all to stand up as winners. No one is a loser because all of us are lovers-in-training, never losers. The battle was between Love and the Ego that demanded that pride and shame rather than humility and compassion should prevail as standards for humanity. Love prevails within humility as we walk on Earth doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with Love as our God and the God of everyone. There is no other God but the Love that endures all things, the tender-hearted Being of Divine Love whose grace, mercy and forgiveness is infinitely unlimited. This is the One with Whom our hearts yearn to reunite and share life. It is the One who stands ready, willing and able to reunite with us upon our wholehearted willingness to surrender our ego and all our ego’s habits of a lifetime to allow us to learn and practice for the rest of our lives the habits of Eternity’s Loving Alternative.
Once believers in Love acknowledge and accept Love’s Grand Design and allow Love to define whom Love includes within the scope of Its Design, Love will reign universal and supreme for all. Only by our mistaken exercise of our free will in favor our own enslavement to the ego can Love’s Alternative Way be temporarily thwarted. Once believers in Love embrace and implement Love’s Grand Design, none will be left out of Divine Love as shared here on Earth because those who live under Love’s authority will welcome all who may think of themselves as strangers to Love and help them to discover that they were wrong about being strangers to Love. Every stranger who believes himself or herself to be estranged from Love lives that way only because of his or her mistaken belief in the permanence of that estrangement. In Love’s eyes, there never has been any estrangement, only a misunderstanding on the part of each person who mistakenly believes that separation from Love is possible and must be endured forever as punishment for having somehow lost love’s favor by being wrong. Being wrong does not offend love any more than being right guarantees love’s favor. Favoring equally both the ones who are right (or believe they are right or fight to prove they are right) and the ones who are wrong (or accept the possibility of being wrong or cease to fight to prove they are not wrong), love invites us all to meet, share love together and reconcile our differences in peace.
Oneness with (non-separation from) Divine Love has always been the condition that exists between Love and every member of the human race. Believers and non-believers in Love who do not yet “know by experience” of the eternal existence of this oneness or unity between Love and humans have allowed their minds to be clouded by battle-smoked beliefs and fears that temporarily disrupt their capacity to experience our eternal oneness. The path towards such experiential knowing begins with a change of belief in the possibility of Love and Oneness with It. Only when a person believes can he or she experience that in which he or she believes. Believing precedes experiential knowing.
In an earlier era when most people believed the Earth was flat, explorers who believed that the Earth was instead spherical and then acted upon their non-mainstream belief encountered opportunities to experience the Earth’s spherical reality and eventually revealed its spherical nature to all who believed their reports. In the current era when many people believe that peace and love are flatly impossible, every person who chooses to no longer conform to a belief in the impossibility of peace and love will be free to explore Love’s well-rounded nature and encounter experiences of its all-encompassing reality. Once the spherically holistic nature of Love’s All-inclusive Oneness is experienced, our quest for Peace and Love transforms from being an impossible mystery to becoming an ever more unfolding and enriching mastery. It becomes mainly the challenge to change one’s mind about Love’s dynamic nature and choose to stand with Love in our shared Victory Celebration beyond fear.
Those who set aside their egos even for a moment glimpse a vision of a different possibility. To dare to be that different and no longer honor the ego takes courage, the courage that every one of us can find within our own hearts as we dare to believe that there is a better way than our ego’s dreary day. The ego cannot offer us The Better Way. Love can and does – even here and now as heaven’s presence on the Earth. By exercising our courage and compassion as cooperative, curious, creative and committed members of the human race, we all win the final battle of the “us” civil war.
Share with me not the gift of a piece of your mind but the gift of the peace of your heart!
© Art Nicol 2015