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Awake Vs. Woke

04.18.2017 / Danielle Beinstein / News

November 8, 2016 was a watershed moment. Much has and will continue to be written about it– the cause, the results, what it means for us personally and collectively…

Growing up, I always craved a life lived amidst historical turmoil. A student of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, I wanted to pay witness to something giant. I wanted to know how I would react, who I would be.

9/11 came and I was studying abroad in Italy, away from Manhattan, my hometown. I devoured newspapers and amped up my already fevered hunger for political conversation, but it’s a moment that remains detached, even in my memory. I’m not sure how much of it landed. I knew the world had changed and I returned to a city both different and the same, but nothing personal was lost. I graduated college, volunteered on the Kerry campaign, worked at a non-profit and landed a job in education. A year later I moved to LA and found myself lost amidst the Hollywood bustle.

Cut to 10 years later, the last 7 spent in the simultaneously expansive and limited shelter of spiritual circles. I’d lost some part of myself in the internal deep dive. I’d stopped paying attention. I let days go by without reading the news. I told myself that my service was better focused on what was in front of me and that became the knot in my chest. I committed myself to easing its ache, assuming that in lightening myself I could make a difference simply in showing up, by being love.

And I did lighten. And as I did I slowly began to reintegrate my curiosity and engagement in the larger world. I put down my sword and found a kind of temporary peace. But we are who we are and on November 9th I found a fire long dimmed burn fierce. I was angry– mostly at myself, as if I had something to do with it, as if I could have turned the dial.

Years of meditative self-inquiry had taught me, of course, that how I was reacting was a function of something within me; that time would reveal a softer underbelly beneath. Beyond the obvious, I had to ask myself: Why was I so angry?

Part of the reason I’ve always gravitated towards the arts– literature, theatre, great television and film– is their ability to transport me to other worlds, to live in other people’s shoes. This empathy enriches the soul. Human emotions are universal. Engaging them is a form of connection, however indirect. Our stories need telling. It’s how we set ourselves free.

Much of what I’d experienced within the social enclave I had been living in involved a kind of hiding out. With so much of the focus being internal, the repeated assertions create our reality. I’d lost the grit and saltiness that had grounded me. I’d become detached, affirming everyone as spinners of their own wheel of fate. I think it provided a kind of balm to the harsh realities I knew were occurring both across the globe and within my proverbial backyard. To see the world as it was, was simply too heartbreaking and overwhelming as I grappled with my own demons and took stock of where I’d been.

The older I get, the more I believe in fate of the ancient Greek variety. We have control over how we react to our circumstances and a free will to make momentary decisions. But the big events and markers? Those are out of our hands. We only have so much say– certain things are just meant to be.

If we accept this, if we acknowledge that life is a mysterious blend of what we do and where we’re bound, where does that leave us? What is our role, as harbingers of light and conscious beings? Is it to point out the larger unfolding, to point the world towards compassionate non-attachment? Is it to sink our heels into the ground and make a stand, determined to stand for what’s right? Perhaps it’s a combination.

We each have a destiny and a role we’re playing in this ever shifting world. Maybe how we’re reacting to current events reflects that role. Perhaps we’re meant to react exactly as we are. It takes all kinds, after all. But there’s a deeper responsibility here as well, a willingness to look things in the eye, to acknowledge suffering, to give it a name. Because the truth is, spirituality doesn’t excuse us from civic engagement– it impels us towards it.

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