Dancing With the Monster

I have often stated that a deep state of relaxation and presence helps to facilitate an expanded state of intelligence, or what I call integrated intelligence. Integrated intelligence is an enhanced intuitive capacity, an alternative way of knowing which draws upon what Rupert Sheldrake calls “the extended mind.” It also draws philosophical inspiration from the expanded cognitive functions found explicitly or implicitly in many traditional spiritual traditions; most notably in Taoism and Buddhism. With ancient Chinese mystic Lao Zi’s way (tao), one may know the world without so much as looking out the window. Awareness of the tao allows one to move fluidly through life situations, metaphorically flowing like water, and with minimal resistance. Like the tao, integrated intelligence in its ideal state is ultimately a receptive intelligence which helps facilitate what I call gentle action, which is basically action with least resistance or drama.

Recently I have begun to write about the concepts of “embodied presence” and “cognitive responsibility,” and why I believe that that they may be a vital part of the path forward from the mess we have have got ourselves into with online conflict and drama (which are now spilling over in the physical world).

Embodied presence is essentially mindfulness, the return of attention to the breath and the body. This helps us ground ourselves beyond the world of thought and emotion. Cognitive responsibility is just what the name suggests: bringing conscious attention to thoughts and feelings (especially anger) as they arise from the mind, including how we tend to project those out onto the world and others. For example, as you surf the net you can pay special attention to your physiology, what triggers you into anger and aggressive responses to other postings. Simply by bringing attention to that, and pausing for ten seconds and focusing on the breath, it is possible to transcend the need to project that feeling out onto others.

Cultivating embodied presence can thus help to quieten the mind and permit a space for expanded awareness. In this greater awareness of the connectedness of things, “power” takes on a different meaning. There is a greater receptivity to life, as well as an improved sense of what actions can facilitate desired outcomes most efficiently. One’s sense of locus of control becomes more internalized. In short, one feels more empowered, even without having taken any action within a given situation or perpetrated an act of dissent.

In philosophies underpinned by a more receptive consciousness, life challenges and struggle itself are typically seen as an opportunity to deepen into awareness, to “awaken.” This can include such life experiences as addiction, childhood trauma, birth and even death itself. We metaphorically learn to dance with the monster (those we might previously have seen as oppressors). In shadow work, the prime function of the monster is not to denounce it or to be rid of it, but to allow it to speak to us such that we can learn from it, or perhaps better understand how we may have helped create it. In examining our relationship with the tyrant, we come to learn what beliefs, narratives and behaviors have helped to bring him, her or them into our lives.

In this approach, an opposing force takes on an entirely different meaning from that commonly represented in most of today’s social justice philosophies. In the latter representation, it is often a case of oppressor and oppressed, good versus evil.

The idea of “dancing with the monster” may be anathema to many. Are we to joyfully cooperate with Xi Jinping, Donald Trump? Hitler himself?

An introspective approach to empowerment and healing is not meant to excuse the abuse of any opposing entity or group, but to see what we can learn from the relationship. Have we given our power away to the other because we feel we are unworthy, guilty, or corrupted? By spending endless hours projecting anger and blame at them? Conversely, have we aroused the ire of the other by being abusive, arrogant, bigoted or morally superior, either explicitly or implicitly?

One way to look at these two seemingly opposing approaches to suffering at the hands of a more powerful other is to see them as compatible modalities. Social justice movements ideally should contain both a call for accountability in the opposing force, as well as reflection upon one’s role in the dynamic.

Perhaps it is that in the internet age of memetic reality, we have not so much created our monsters, but distorted and expanded them to the point that they have become virtual caricatures; dehumanized leviathans towering menacingly over us, and who can only be met with brute force, and never engaged personally or in presence. Perhaps we have helped create our own Wizards of Oz, given our power away to them, then recklessly, and sometimes violently rebelled against the images that we have helped erect. Could it be that we are fighting the shadows within our own psyches, as much as fighting genuine demons, genuine oppression? Are we fighting ourselves?

Shall we fight angrily to maintain that illusion, so invested are we in its existence?

Perhaps much social justice and political activism today is a substitute religion. Where would we find ourselves if we no longer had demons to destroy? Could we endure the emptiness? The terrible realization that we have no meaningful existence outside that conflict? No “spiritual” life.

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