originally published in elephant journal
When I think about the current state of the world, and the craziness of the U.S. election, I can’t help but reflect upon my own life.
How did I—a meditating, vegan yogi–land smack-dab in the middle of a chaotic, fearful world where people handed Donald Trump a microphone and chose to listen?
As we inch closer to November 8th, it seems a dark cloud is settling over the election forecast. Even the media agree that the level of fear is beyond precedent.
Merely recalling the idea of Trump’s wall invokes the sudden realization of the immense power a solitary individual can have on the collective fears of the masses. When thinking clearly, most of us can agree that it shouldn’t require hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and steel to abate our tensions and protect our sense of self as a great nation.
As the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said, “Fear has never created a single job or fed a single family.”
In my own life, I survived a journey from being an anxious infant that couldn’t keep food down, to a panic-ridden, over-medicated twenty-something, to a successful and (mostly) grounded lawyer with friends and loved-ones. Having made it through my own nightmarish journey by using deep introspection and spiritual practices, such as yoga and meditation, I now look out at a world that seems insane.
Fortunately, there is much we can learn from this moment in history. The first thing we should focus on is the values we want to bring forward—shared values that unite us rather than divide us. When I was having trouble with anxiety, I lived an isolated life, but I gradually realized that when I smiled at people, they smiled back. I began to value connection with others and the power of community.
Back in 2004, when the Bushes were touting “family values,” I began to formulate my own values based on the understanding that we are all one body of life and that everything we do impacts other people and the environment. I saw so many sectors of society transforming for causes such as peace, social justice, environmental sustainability, and new spirituality, and I recognized these seemingly unrelated initiatives as one movement of social transformation grounded in holistic values. I call these “Global Values” and discuss 10 of them in my book, Global Values: A New Paradigm For A New World.
If we focus on the values that we wish to promote, perhaps we can transform the next chapter of history into where freedom, choice, community, unity and integrity become the touchstone for future policies. Such Global Values can serve to create a healthy and sustainable world with real social justice underpinned by democracy and human rights.
Finding our path through the chaos
We are living in a time of great turmoil with things changing beyond recognition. Inner cities are no longer points of refuge, but rather cites of racial profiling. In many places, there is not enough of a sense of community to hold people together. As Michelle Obama says, we are being shaken to our core. The status quo is suddenly starkly unsettling.
Ever since 9/11 we have been lost in the rhetoric of fear. Donald Trump is the latest example of an individual leveraging this fear for his own personal agenda. It is then no surprise that over 64 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Left and right are united in this, which in many ways explains why the disenfranchised right have flocked to support an extreme candidate.
In desperate attempts to maintain some stability, people are clinging fearfully to that which is familiar. People look to hierarchical structures and patriarchal figures for a sense of comfort and direction. Trump fits the bill for those who are lost in the past and afraid of present and future social change.
We need a change in perspective. We can train ourselves not to cling to what we think serves our base needs, such as fundamentalism, intolerance and resistance to change. At the same time, we should recognize how our values are reflected in our actions and that we have the power to choose what we manifest in this world. We can claim our power to create a world we wish to see.
Hope within our inner shadows
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy looked to the Wizard to help her find a way home. We too feel we need someone or something to look to for direction, but if we merely trust in something outside ourselves to take us back to some idyllic time, we are likely to become even more lost.
When doubt and anxiety begin to plague a nation, we must look within ourselves for answers. This is what Dorothy Gale did; this is what I did; this is what Martin Luther King did; this is what Nelson Mandela did; this is what Gandhi did. Values-based self-reflection has tremendous healing capacities. Just look at Derek Black, formerly a prominent young face of the white nationalism, who through friendship came to value unity, diversity, connection and empowerment. He apologized for the damage he did and resolved to work towards the manifestation of an ideology based on compassion and unity. Derek Black looked within and chose to live a different life.
Where do we go from here?
While this last U.S. presidential debate was yet another stark example of how easily a single individual can cast a dark shadow over an entire nation, Hillary Clinton speaks to the heart of what is at stake. She makes no apologies for her role in fighting for values such as freedom and choice and understands the consequences if these values are not upheld.
In defense of upholding a woman’s right to choose, she says: “We’ve come too far to have that turn back now.”
Hillary Clinton understands that her power comes from within—fueled by humility, compassion and personal empowerment rather than power over others. She does not jump on the fear train and when it is called for, she talks about the core problems and offers new solutions. With Hillary, we may hope for a more unifying and compassionate social contract.
As Bernie Sanders emphasized, it is actually in dark times that we have the most fruitful opportunities for real progress. In the midst of our current political chaos, he inspired and empowered millions of American millennials to actively participate in the democratic process. This newly engaged generation is now taking responsibility for re-strengthening our democracy.
Let’s use this challenging time to create new opportunities that reflect the fundamental values upon which America was established. Let’s move beyond the fear that divides us to embrace the power of collective action grounded in holistic values.
Together, we can reignite America’s spark and collaborate with others around the world to promote a healthier and safer world.
Author: Karin Miller
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
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