Polarization appears to be closer to the surface today – and all sides report the stress and distress arising from having to hold polar opposites in the same space at the same time. A lot is at stake as we shape the future of how we operate as a society.
In order to see clearly and make purposeful choices about how to respond and where to take action, we need to take a breath and dive under our natural reactivity to find ground. Only from that place of presence and center can we know what is ours to do, and implement it mindfully.
When we are thrown off center and into reactivity from outer events, one of my favorite questions is “Who am I taking myself to be right now?” because inquiring into our sense of identity is a powerful way to regain the solid connection to our true nature that we need in order to engage in purposeful action.
We all have different parts in our psyches, each with a specific identity and beliefs that lead to certain behaviors. It’s not a problem to have these parts which often disagree with each other. One part of you might want to do something and another part isn’t so sure – it seems to be inherent in the human psyche. Rather, the problem is in making the mistake of taking on the identity of any one part as to all of who we are, instead of seeing the whole picture of multiple perspectives.
When we take on the identity of a single part, our world closes in on us. We take on the narrow perspective of that single part and we lose contact with our full resourcefulness.
When we get triggered and feel reactive, we are acting from a defensive posture, trying not to feel our wounded selves again.
Often our reactivity comes from taking ourselves (or others we care about) to be at the mercy of a powerful oppressive other, because our sense of identity is always formed in context of another – the first one being our mother or earliest caregiver. We generally form several of these self-other dynamics, called “object relations,” early in life.
Any reactive choices we make are based on projecting these self-other dynamics onto the world. For example, it may feel like I am a victim and the other is an oppressive abuser, or that I am inadequate and the other is a powerful hero who I have to please to stay safe.
When we take ourselves to be these young limited selves and act from these projections, we make unskillful choices. Imagine, instead, noticing an injustice, experiencing authentic concern, discerning what is purposefully ours to do and taking mindful action.
A powerful way to this clarity is to see not only who we are taking ourselves to be, but also to get curious about who we are taking the “other” to be.
One important attitude that allows this method to flow more easily is to bring an attitude of playful curiosity.
The best way to understand this is to simply do it, so here is an exercise to try it out.
Find a situation with a person, whether close to you or a public figure, whose actions trigger you and take you off center. I imagine it won’t be too hard to find someone suitable in today’s polarized climate!
Next, take a few deep breaths and bring yourself more fully present. If you are in contact with a sense of your own inner wisdom, invite that aspect of yourself in at this moment.
Now, bring in front of you the face of the one who triggers you, while feeling the support of your inner wisdom. Allow the reactive feelings to surface and percolate in your body. Ask yourself “Who am I taking myself to be right now?” Then “Who am I taking the other to be right now?” and finally, “When have I felt that dynamic before?” Write down the insights as they come.
If it feels too challenging and charged to do this exploration on your own, enroll a friend or colleague as a practice partner, or work with a coach or therapist.
As we dive into the truth of who we really are, we uncover the full capacity of what is needed to meet the challenges we face in service of creating a better world where every voice is welcome.