As the storm raged and lightening flashed outside my flimsy tent, the wind tried to blow apart my meager shelter like the wolf blowing down the pig’s house of straw. Buckets of water were continually beating the sides of the tent and I was giving up any attempt to stay dry as the rain leaked into my sleeping bag, soaking me to the bone. I was in awe of the pure power of the storm pounding down like the hammer of God and awakening me to something primal and pure, deep within my soul. I was on summer break and still on my walkabout during my college years in a tent in the middle of nowhere in some field somewhere along the back roads of Louisiana. In the midst of the storm, the following lines of poetry came to me to give me words to express the inexpressible experience that overwhelmed me in harmony with the power and wildness of the wind and rain of the storm outside my tent:
I shed a silent tear, and when I turn to face my fear,
I see me looking back at me, illusion called reality.
Into the hidden depths I fall, the shadow of myself to call
To face the form of light in me;
Gather myself in unity, illusions of Reality.
Today, years later as a therapist, I have the profound honor and privilege of helping people to face and embrace their pain; to confront their personal demons and in so doing, help people to release their fears and discover the reality of the beauty and radical love that is the truth of their essential nature. I have the joy to do this all day every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because when people begin to realize and act on the truth of their nature, then they don’t settle for the dysfunctional garbage in their lives anymore and they find the courage and the presence of mind to change their lives for the better, or they shift their perceptions and realize nothing needs to change for them to be happy.
To have this kind of radical transformation in your life, you must first confront your dysfunction and face your demons, because whatever fears and dysfunction you avoid, these fears ultimately run your life and determine the patterns of the repeating cycles of conflict and problems in your life. Whatever issues you avoid will run your life.
As a nation, we have the opportunity to face our collective demons because the raging storm of our internal conflict as a nation has become so toxic and dysfunctional that it is bringing us to a crises point in our identity as a nation. In my experience as a therapist, people usually need to get to this crises point before they are ready to change. They need to hit rock bottom before they are ready to wake up to the reality of the problems in their lives and find the political will to change for the better. We currently have a dysfunctional political process where leaders on both sides of the aisle work to enhance and promote their positions and their views rather than work for consensus or concern themselves about the truth of the facts of any given situation.
Our political process has become so contentious that respect, common sense, the facts, and good judgement are habitually sacrificed on the altar of winning the vote or getting a policy, a budget or a set of laws passed. Hopefully as a nation we have hit rock bottom and are ready to collectively wake up and become healthier, and demand better behavior from our leaders on both sides of the political aisle rather than playing the blame game and simply blaming the other side. Any particular elected official can only be a symptom of the larger problem because they were chosen by an election process that is founded on our accusatory and dysfunctional dialogue as a nation. Simply stated, our dysfunctional process creates poor results. The problem is not the Republicans or the Democrats or the Libertarians or any single political entity, rather the problem is how we communicate in such a blaming and critical manner with each other. This is exactly what I say to couples and families in conflict that come into my office for help and it applies to us as a nation as well.
Imagine our nation as a single entity or a single family. Any family or individual who would have the kind of contentious and difficult decision making process going on internally that compares to the level of blame and criticism that goes on in our halls of power in Washington every day would have some serious mental health problems. Any individual who acted out the types of conflicts that happen between our leaders in Washington D.C. every day could be considered to have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
There is a diagnosis in the DSM, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, called Borderline Personality Disorder. This disorder is defined by “a pattern of intense and unstable relationships.” People with this disorder are unable to have healthy relationships because they will habitually lie or spin the facts to their point of view. They will be harsh and critical with others and seek to win arguments at all costs instead of collaborate, and they engage in conflict so intensely that their lives tend to be a hot mess all the time, with over-the-top drama spilling out into all aspects of their lives. Judging by the tone of the common political dialogue in our country today, our government would have this personality disorder.
From whatever side of the political aisle you are on, it is easy to blame the other side for the problems in our government, but the reality is that it takes two sides to have a conflict. The truth is that both sides of the political aisle communicate in a dysfunctional manner every day and ultimately there are no winners or losers because we all lose when we forfeit respect, integrity, consideration and good common sense in our dialogue with each other. While some of our leaders on both sides of the political aisle may be healthier and some leaders on both sides may act and communicate in a more dysfunctional manner, the overall tone and trend of the political dialogue in our country has become incredibly toxic. Our talk shows and our political pundits are so polarized and promote aggressive and harsh rhetoric on both sides of the aisle so that even friends, families and ordinary citizens have trouble having a healthy political dialogue. We become isolated in our echo chambers and listen to others with our own points of view and when we try to talk to people with opposing views, we tend to become argumentative, judgmental and hostile.
The raging storm of our political and social turmoil is giving us the opportunity to wake up to the depth of strength and courage and goodness in ourselves and in our fellow man. Every act of divisiveness and hatred is bringing out the positive forces in our better nature to rise up and make a difference. This is very similar to the process of change in individuals, couples and families in therapy. People become willing to enter therapy because they are in crises and they become willing to face their inner demons and make the hard choices to change when faced with the reality of the dysfunction in their lives. This is the process of growth and change at work in our collective identity as a nation, and I feel gratitude for the ups and downs of our crises that is calling us to grow and I am grateful for the crises point we have come to in our nation because this situation can give us the challenges that we need to mature as a country if we collectively decide that this is our rock bottom.
At this point in our national history, you can personally decide if you want to be part of the problem or if you are ready to be part of the solution. I would encourage each of you reading this to be careful of demonizing the other side of the political aisle as evil or as the source of the problem. Relationships and problems in life are rarely that black and white. If you want, you personally can use our current crises as a nation to mature if you choose to handle this crises in as healthy a manner as possible. You can seek healthy dialogue with others across the political aisle; you can seek first to understand rather than trying to be understood. You can communicate with respect and consideration regardless of how others choose to communicate. By choosing to act in a healthy manner, you can begin to transcend the limitations of your ego to see the spiritual truth that we are united as a nation whether we like it or not and that we sink or swim together as a country. If enough of the citizens of our nation make this type of choice to be mature and thoughtful in the face of conflict, then our nation can grow through our current challenges and we can come to a better place as a whole.
The raging storm of our current political process reminds me of the raging storm when I was in that tent somewhere on the back roads of rural Louisiana. I am in awe of the intensity and the power of the raging and seemingly unresolvable conflicts that are sweeping our nation. Every time I turn on the various media outlets, new stories of this conflict flood my senses. We can use this flood as evidence that the world is coming to an end, or we can go within to find the truth that we are all one, and that we as a nation are one. We can live our lives from this knowing that republicans and democrats are united in our common cause to make this nation and our world a better place, even though we may have very different visions of how to achieve these goals. I encourage each one of you to see through the raging storm of the current political conflicts to the deeper truth of our common cause, and the truth of the goodness of our shared humanity.