We are educated. We are poor. And some of us have lots of money. Then there are those of us that are ignorant. Some of us think we are ultimately enlightened. Many of us love God, we are compassionate, grateful, and are active in our religious institutions. Others prefer to prove things with science and leave the godly stuff to the priests and mystics. Perhaps quite a few of us find our home right here in the middle with a little bit of every experience across our life span.
Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” We don’t have to go very far to look for our enemy. One of our greatest enemies lies right inside where we find a mixed bag of social constructions and societal conditioning from culture, family, religion, and environment. As we mature and develop within these varied organizational categories that help us navigate and make sense and meaning out of life, we are also bestowed a great deal of love and connection from these institutions that, with the right ingredients, can quickly turn quite dark.
In a friendly conversation about my son playing male-only soccer (yep, he’s at that age), I was called out on a sexist comment I made, of which I was completely unaware. It was subtle, but it was there. And, in fact, when it was pointed out, my ego charged forward to defend my illusion that, “I am not a sexist! I am quite educated in women’s and gender studies…and, I’m a feminist!” Then, my internal dialogue went something like this, “I can’t believe I’m being labeled like that, I’ve worked a great deal of my life to break down these sexist barriers in my world and as a parent.”
So eventually awareness kicked in and having two beings partake in a conversation with heightened awareness, an open heart, and unconditional love, we were able to process the sexist label and discussion in the context of social constructions and conditioning. Thank goodness, because my ego was quite concerned that I was going to be one of those blemished yogis. Instead, I realized I’m a sexist and a yogi too. Let me explain this one a bit.
We have social constructions like culture, family, religion, etc., so we can better understand our world. They are labels that organize information into categories that our brain can understand and process, and ultimately make meaning. Conditioning is when we’ve been saturated within certain social constructions. Think of social conditioning as the kind of lenses we put on to view the world and ourselves. Some societies are patriarchal and some are matriarchal. Some religions are open and loving, and some are very aggressive and fear-based. Then stack on top of that the kind of environment we develop in – hot and arid, cold and wet, combination, many violent natural disasters – and what we get is a mixed bag of constructions and conditioning in a world seeking so vehemently world peace.
Sexism, racism, bigotry and the like just don’t go away because we said so on the social justice front lines or because we are educated in all things liberalism. There are layers upon layers of constructions and conditioning we must navigate as a world community if we are truly to experience world peace. And, that navigation, the one that doesn’t seem to have the perfect road map, starts with the enemy within and in stride with Nelson Mandela’s words, making that enemy our partner. Though Nelson Mandela was speaking of the external enemy in his fight to end apartheid in South Africa, I believe his words have the ability to point to a broader meaning of “enemy”.
We won’t get rid of constructions or conditioning, but what we do have the possibility of doing is changing our old world constructions and conditioning to the new world version. It’s a slow process, but like any sustainable growth, we must put one foot in front of the other. I’ve identified a 3-step process to move from the old world lens to the new world lens.
In order to unsheathe these old world layers of sexism, racism, and bigotry we must build relationships in our community, starting at home, where we mutually create a safe space to notice and recognize the patterns in others of the old world version of seeing and being in the world. It starts with a simple and constructive acknowledgment.
The next step is making a choice to respond to the old world lens instead of reacting. We do this with daily practice in a variety of situations, but most importantly, by inserting a meaningful pause here, taking a deep mindful breath or few deep mindful breaths. The deep mindful breath is key to placing us in the pause. When we respond instead of react, we hold the person wearing the old world lens with accountability and respect all within a safe space so they don’t go into hyper-defensive mode and can themselves go through the process I’m discussing. If we stay calm in this process, it’s very likely the other person wearing the old lens will connect to our state of being and can connect to going through the 3-step process.
In reality when we choose to respond to our or another’s sexism, racism, and bigotry, we start getting really curious about the language we use and we start asking why, when, where, how, etc. These questions are near impossible to get through without a safe space. Safe space is key here and having another person committed to the process is in and of itself a safe space. In this process, it’s all about how we choose to build relationships between community (you and the other person) and society (the conditioning lens) and how we are going to interact in that relationship to solve problems in in our world community. This is politics at the grassroots level and engaging at the grassroots levels is vital to changing the old world lens at the institutional level.
Finally, we choose to put the new world lens on. The new world lens guides us to evolve in love, compassion, and universal respect. It requires us to utilize our complex thinking skills, to promote leaders and relationships that can hold varying perspectives in peace, and find ways to include pieces of truths from those perspectives to build a new perspective born from synergy.
Social constructions and societal conditioning are a part of our human brain’s desire to implement organization and meaning. So how do we change this mixed bag if we are to sustain and expand our existence? We change the old world constructions and conditioning from sexists, racists, and bigots to the new world language and way of being – lovist, peacist and synergist.
And where to begin with that anything but small task? We make a daily appointment with the “enemy” within and we make it our partner to start peeling the old world layers one at a time. Until the layers are completely dissolved, we will be a mixed bag of old world social constructions and societal conditioning and if we are truly committed to self-discovery and engaged in the practice, then we will replace the old layers with new world language one loving, peaceful, and synergistic step at a time.
The good news is that we don’t have to travel very far. We just have to be adamant about changing our lens so we can change our focus. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea