The Duality of Now

Navigating our modern reality requires a skill-set we, as a collective, are not truly equipped to deploy in such pressing times. Holding space for both the utter destruction of our planet, our ecosystems and our social fabrics and also leaving space for the simple beauty of the natural world that surrounds us and the fundamental goodness of humanity. Such a duality is not something our educational systems teach, nor does the dominate religious culture here in the West. But if we are to truly survive the reality barreling down at us with a sliver of sanity intact, we must embrace this duality and create the space in our lives for both the beauty and the chaos.

While chatting with a colleague the other day via DMs, he asked if we’re really as fucked as we seem or are we only seeing the bad stuff? We were journalists for many years, so we’re wired to process the world differently. I replied that it’s both— both realities are true and the challenge is to navigate and hold both truths at all times.

Holding Space for Beauty and Chaos

What does holding space for our reality in such a manner actually mean? From the Buddha Dharma perspective, we embrace the reality that life is both beauty and chaos, joy and suffering, pain and delight. We hold space for the fact that we can not eliminate the afflicted emotions, the chaos, pain and suffering are equally as important as the beauty, chaos and joy. Without the pain— how would we know delight? Without sorrow, how could we know joy?

Many of us, myself included, grew up watching Disney cartoons where the ending was always happy. We read fairy tales with happy endings. In our Bible study classes we were taught to simply send our concerns up to the deity in the sky and all would be well. Our culture is wired for the happy endings and we do not have the emotional skill-sets to process afflicted emotions at scale. We’ve been taught to ignore, medicate or escape from them— our entire emotional foundation in most of the West lies in the art of bypassing. And we are very— VERY— good at it.

“Our fear creates a contracted and false sense of self. This false or ‘small’ self grasps our limited body, feelings and thoughts, and tries to hold and protect them. From this limited sense of self arises a deficiency and need, defensive anger, and the barriers we build for our protection. We are afraid to open, to change, to live fully, to feel the whole of life; a contracted identification with this ‘body of fear’ becomes our habit. By maintaining the cocoon [of fear] we are deadening ourselves to our creative energy. By avoiding life, we are starving ourselves to death.” From Sacred World, by Jeremy & Karen Hayward

This is not an indictment, I’m just as guilty as the next person for turning on Ted Lasso at night for the 500th time as a coping mechanism for the anxiety of modern living. But, given what I’ve decided to study academically, I’m also now equipped to hold space for the duality we face. I’m not great at it, but I work with my afflicted emotions each day so I can avoid bypassing them or suppressing them deep within, only to have them fester into a gaping wound that sucks my joy out bit by bit. I do this mostly through a physical yoga practice, mantra and sitting meditations. And lately adult coloring books, go figure.

Another path exists for creating space to hold the reality of life we face now and that’s the non-dual Tantra yogic perspective— which is essentially the belief that there is no duality. I get that this immediately negates what I just said, but bear with me. From the Tantra perspective, the tragedy is also the beauty at the same moment. Embracing this belief takes time to work with and, honestly, there’s aspects of it I truly struggle with. But in yoga, working with the negative emotions of our lives and the habitual narratives our mind plays over and over again IS the spiritual journey. To reach “enlightenment” or just a perpetual state of peace no matter what happens around you, one must learn to allow negative emotions to move through the body and mind but not become attached to them or allow inner narratives to arise and give the emotion power. We simply let the emotions pass as clouds move across the sky.

Both spiritual paths, the Buddha Dharma and Tantric Yoga bear many similarities and its why I’ve chosen to work with both on my messy humaning spiritual practice. And both belief systems originated from the same geographical regions around similar time frames, so there are many crossovers between the two, which is why they resonate so deeply, I’m often struck by my yoga cohort on campus and how relaxed and happy they all are, no matter what their lives entail. When I see my cohort in comparison to my other classmates from different, non yogic academic tracks, the difference is startling at times. The peace within my cohort runs deep, we’ve taken an intense yogic training together over the past year or so and the connection to a deeper practice shows.

Rooftop contemplation in Dharmsala, India, 2006.
Rooftop contemplation in Dharmsala, India, 2006.

I’m not saying we all need to run out and join a yoga studio or live in an ashram in some distant land and renunciate the modern world— as tempting as that sounds sometimes. I am saying we need to begin to embrace the truth that we will now be forced to live with the reality that life is both beautiful and tragic— at the same time— and it will get worse every year. And that’s just our karmic journey. Our souls chose to return to human form at this very moment, for a very real reason. When we step back and look at our present journey from such a perspective, we know that our lives on this planet at this time serve a greater purpose.

For those of us working in ecosystems fighting to find solutions to real world problems and those of us dedicating our precious time on this dying planet to serving our fellow humans and environment in any way possible— be it raising mindful children who can solve serious issues or cultivating community gardens so undeserved communities have healthy food to those of us using technology to fix a myriad of social, human rights and environmental issues— it all matters. Your soul chose to enter this planet, in human form, to participate in a crucial time for the human journey.

To embrace this powerful intersection we find ourselves standing within, we must learn to hold that space of both beauty and chaos. We must embrace the duality with grace— or choose the path of non-duality and simply see all of it as our beautiful karmic journey to work with as we must.

If we fail to hold create this space, we will find ourselves paralyzed by the depths of despair that we are witnessing, at scale, across this globe right now. To bypass the reality we face now is to also eliminate the slivers of joy and utter reverence that this planet is still capable of sharing with us.

To hold space for both the beauty and the chaos is to stand on the precipice of our humanity and declare that yes, I am here to experience the absolute joy and utter sorrow of our human journey. For nestled within that beauty and chaos is the still whisper of the divine that lives within all of us. And to touch that vulnerable divinity is what this whole journey is about.

Ps…I’ll leave you with the latest Ram Dass podcast episode which I listened to last night and planted seeds for this essay. It’s a powerful essay and will give more insight into the non-dual tantra perspective on navigating the intensity of modern living.

My dharma in this world contains many layers, one of which is exploring the intersections of humanity, technology & the mystical. I believe our collective has much to learn from ancient wisdom traditions and that knowledge must be both applied to our modern lives and archived for future generations to embrace and create a better world than the one we are all struggling to survive. I am also a foundering member at JournoDAO, an impactDAO trying to restore sustainability to the news industry through decentralization. If you can, please support my dharma by collecting some NFT art or collecting editions of my essays.

Or head over to DoinGud and collect NFTs that are also directly connected to non-profits supporting public goods and social causes.

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