Since November, I have felt disconnected from a large swath of the country.
From my home in New York City, I associated all things and places red with destructive opposition to addressing the most urgent issues of our time. My pain cut off my awareness of what I knew, through personal experience, to be qualities of decency, resilience, and openness that exist in these places.
On January 21st, marching with hundreds of thousands of beautifully diverse people in Washington, I experienced budding hope. After the march, I researched indigenous environmental organizations that supported diversity as a way to help make movements stronger and more flexible. Such has been my nascent personal path toward healing the destructive divisions that seem to be everywhere.
Still, well-being eluded me. It was easy to attribute my internal state to real external events. But that wasn’t accurate. It became clear that I could only participate in the healing that is desperately needed in the world by first setting my intention to heal the divide within me.
Over 50 years ago, Alan Watts cautioned against the divide we are experiencing today. He pointed to the illness of reducing things to my opinion over yours. When chaotic and conflicted opinions are the primary state of things, the most aggressive and insensitive people end up making the decisions. And everyone suffers.
President Obama, again and again, spoke of our common experience. He insisted that we are not as divided as we seem, and that only by recognizing this can we overcome long odds. His heartfelt belief in what binds us together, and his actions stemming from that belief, are some of his greatest gifts to the country.
I believe the only way out of this morass is to choose connection.
Choosing connection is simply, and radically, the heartfelt wish to open our hearts and minds to everyone, without exception. Openness means not telling someone’s story for them, not making assumptions about what is in someone else’s heart and mind.
The spirit of connection is a willingness to see the complexities in others. Choosing connection means opening to the reality that those who disagree with us, like us, are capable of expanding their current views and their circle of compassion. They are capable of joining in the solutions.
Even as we resist and find other ways to engage, we can simultaneously begin healing the corrosive divide by looking within ourselves. We can choose to fold increasingly more people into our circle of regard.
But practicing connection is not synonymous with accommodating beliefs and ideas that run counter to our own values. It doesn’t preclude passionate activism.
The moment may not be ripe for conversations that lead to greater understanding. We are highly triggered, and negative feelings are running high.
Yet, right now, we can set an intention to expand our circle of connection in our hearts and minds, even if not yet in action.
Practicing connection is a deeply personal, long-view path. Fundamental to it is a willingness to not view others as “other.”
My own path is, first, to recognize my challenges to connection. For example, I automatically feel compassion and concern for immigrants and refugees harmed by an impulsive executive order. I have difficulty feeling compassion for disaffected Trump voters negatively impacted by globalization, who are seeing their culture dissipate. Can I open to the possibility that, for many voters, their motivation was grounded in the yearning to be seen and to have dignified work, more than the desire to exclude other groups?
Healing my own divide means rejecting the dichotomy of blue state versus red state. Now, before I meditate, I first think of a map of 50 states and breathe into my heart. I still can feel constriction, but now hold the constriction with compassion.
And yesterday, I booked a summer family trip to Wisconsin, America’s heartland, a state with a history of immigrants and bold progressive experimentation across political divides. A month ago, this kind of vacation would not have seemed possible.
The very act of turning my awareness and intention to practicing connection has had the immediate effect of improved well-being. I still feel unease and urgency every day, but now this internal experience is borne in the spirit of connection, for myself and others. I now see a clearer, less reactive path out of which to take future action.
If the Doomsday Clock is accurate, and it really is three minutes to midnight, then there is no way to turn back the clock without more individuals practicing radical connection.
This is the long view and it is desperately needed right now. Our house is on fire, and the only way to put it out is to view all of us as living under one very large roof.
Author: Lisa Kentgen
Editor: Callie Rushton