Angus has told me for years how heated I get when I talk about racism and how judgmental I am toward him. I am not neutral. And that was seen as wrong, but this past weekend, I felt the hurt behind my anger. I remembered the bullying, the name-calling, and the entire year of sitting on a school bus morning and afternoon being taunted.
Not every taunt was a racial slur, but being the only brown kid in the neighborhood and on the bus made me a target. Growing up in a predominantly white culture and a white family meant that the pain of being seen as other and exotic wasn’t named. This absence had me believe there was something wrong with me personally. I felt the pain of not having my suffering understood and validated. I felt the pain of judging myself as wrong and weak for not having the courage to stand up for myself. I felt the pain of living with this shame of unworthiness.
I am not saying what happened to me was as painful and traumatic as the atrocities that others have endured. I am not intending to make any false equivalencies. I am simply sharing my experience. What is traumatic to one person may not be experienced as traumatic to someone else. We can’t compare our traumas: we can only heal our own pain as a way to free ourselves.
I read this Stephen Levine quote in a newsletter that entered my email box this week:
"There is the pain that causes more pain, and the pain that heals pain."
This rings true. As much as awakening is about remembering who we are and feeling the incredible love that is our true nature, the journey of awakening can include pain. The pain that heals pain. As we become inwardly healthier, we have the capacity and the strength to be with feelings we may not have been able to integrate previously. With greater inner strength we have more room to accept all of ourselves and all of our emotional experiences. We might remember trauma previously forgotten. We might feel feelings without even knowing where they are coming from. Rage can well within us. Grief can move through us.
This is all part of the innate capacity we all have to heal and to know our true nature more fully. I am talking about an embodied spirituality that knows the Self more fully through embracing our humanity. This is not a luxury. This is the core of our aliveness. To wake up to all of who we are. From there we then engage with the world from this knowing.
In the relationship work Angus and I do, the aliveness that unfolds on an individual level is what allows couples to get over their petty thinking. It allows them to put aside their agenda. It helps them to see what is possible by coming together not to be right and focused on trying to get their needs met, but by helping them to see what is available beyond that. The depth of love and intimacy that emerges when there is a greater common good. This can happen naturally when difficulty arises in life.
Hardship can bring couples together and remind them of what is important. It can force them into the present moment and clear their minds so they see the power that lies in love. Not a romantic personal love, but an impersonal unconditional love. The love that is constant and unchanging within us.
But in the machinations of the day-to-day, it is easy to lose perspective. To get caught up in our personal thinking and personal needs and to lose the inner compass-point of love and what is important. We can get sharp, irritable, and impatient. We can become selfish, self-centered, and unkind. This can be subtle and it can become habitual. Rather than waiting for life to wake us up, we can instead choose differently. We can intentionally look toward the truth of who we are and remind ourselves to remember. And remember again. And remember again. The forgetting can be repetitive, but the remembering can be too.
It is remembering who we are that heals relationships. Because it is this remembering that heals ourselves. It is this remembering that takes us out of the limited personal viewpoint and it helps us to let go of the stories we created to survive trauma. The stories we weave as a way of coping with it.
My story of I’m not good enough. Is a trauma story. It was my best interpretation at the time to make sense of my world. It served me by helping me mobilize around it. Rather than be with the pain that felt overwhelming, I could do something about not being good enough. I could be the good girl. I could learn to fawn and please. I could sacrifice large swathes of myself in order to survive. From that level of understanding my wisdom showed me the way.
But it showed me an individualistic way -- a zero-sum game. For me to win, I needed to sacrifice parts of myself. For me to win, others needed to lose. I had to be better-than in order to feel good enough. Of course, this never worked in any sustainable way. But it is the narrative of trauma and separation. It is the narrative of a personal will blind to the deeper unfolding of the life force that I am and always have been a part of. It is a narrative of a life created on the illusion of separation.
This was my best, but there were huge prices to pay in terms of costs of health, costs of relationship, costs of wellbeing.
I see how this distorted view leads to individualism, leads to racism, leads to oppression, leads to injustice. I see how the idea of a separate self that needs to survive at all costs makes dehumanizing others and winning at all costs seem reasonable. This was reinforced by Freud disseminating the idea that at our core we are uncivilized beings with primal urges that need to be tempered and controlled -- and Darwin created a narrative that focused on the survival of the fittest. But there is another narrative that's less common in the West, but more accurate.
Andreas Weber, a theoretical biologist, and eco-philosopher rejects the story of survival of the fittest and looks to the inter-beingness of all life. He acknowledges that living beings do compete to survive, but he also recognizes that they also participate in symbiotic, relational webs. He argues that life itself amounts to a commons because living beings, working in distributed, bottom-up ways, are all struggling to co-evolve constructively with others and expand the fecundity of the whole system.
And environmental and political activist George Monbiot in his book Beyond the Wreckage also shares that there's been a convergence in the findings of neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and other social sciences that points toward the same conclusions that human beings are uniquely altruistic and empathetic. We are designed for altruism, empathy, and working together, yet we are part of a mainstream system that tells the story of the need for individualism and competition to survive and get ahead. This system of the haves and the have nots is based on this false presumption that the have nots will somehow work hard enough to become the haves, but the system needs both to survive.
As Monbiot insists, we need a new story. He calls it a story of belonging. Another way of saying this is a story that is not based on the false notion of there being 7 billion separate lives all out for themselves and needing to dominate each other and nature to survive, but one that is based on the understanding of what Andreas Weber calls our interbeing. A story that lets go of the Darwinian myth of survival of the fittest and recognizes that our aliveness is dependent on the health of the whole system (human and nonhuman). A story that supports cultures of reciprocity, and honors our desire to live and grow together in connection with all of life.
We are not separate even though our trauma tells us we are.
It is time to feel the pain of healing and allow ourselves to experience the innate aliveness within. It is not about having a comfortable life, but about having an awake life that helps us see beyond the veil of our individual identities to what is true and real. We are connected to everything. We are one being. We are one source.
Seeing this makes Dr. King’s words from the Birmingham jail ring resoundingly true, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” He was referring to racism and injustice within the U.S., but it extends far beyond that.
I am not saying we should move toward unity and oneness without hearing the pain, taking accountability, and making reparations.
I am talking about the literal oneness of all of life that we can choose to wake up to.
We do not wake up for ourselves. We wake up to see our one Self and in the seeing of that, the realization of that, it makes sense to act accordingly. And the suffering happening to you, to your brother, to your sister, to your planet is all the same.
I am in the process of waking up. I am in the process of seeing more clearly. I am in the process of embracing my imperfections along the way.
The tenderness I feel is the healing pain. The pain of feeling what I have not been able to feel previously. The pain of my trauma, but it is not about psychological and individual healing for personal comfort. It is about the healing of the narrative that had me see myself as a separate being alone and scared. It is the healing of the narrative that cut me off from the life force that is the essence of all beings. It is the healing of the narrative of individualism and materialism that thinks there can be winners and losers, but if there is one loser we are all losers.
I do have the hope that freer people will help to build and create a freer, fairer, more equitable world. Although for those with privilege (including myself) who enjoy comfort in their lives and experience more peace of mind from greater spiritual understanding, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will reach beyond our comfort zone to the areas of difficulty where support is needed most. But when we see the interbeingness it doesn’t make sense not to.
So I ask myself: What does it mean to live life from a narrative of wholeness and wellbeing that is inclusive, equitable, and just?
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.