I am in the woods.
The air is fresh and earthy, but this does not lessen the stench of debauchery that comes from bad weather and a full bar.
These are the type of people who swim naked in the lake because they don’t want to get their bathing suit wet. My kind of people?
They are my cabin mates, these west coast liberals and midwestern country boys, barristers, and barroom brawlers. A college student from the Middle East plays cards with a flamboyant gay millionaire. In the corner cooking fish, a construction worker and a Frenchman. One individual, I’m quite sure, is the modern incarnation of Kit Carson; the kind of legendary mountain man who brings the ladder to his tree shack with him when he comes to visit. It is a combination of “woke” and “I woke … up at 5am this morning to go hunting.” My kind of people.
One man in this eclectic collection stands out, though, to call him a ‘man’ is perhaps too narrow a definition. He is more an entity, an adventurer, a teacher; the kind of person you’d be just as likely to find hiking the Peruvian jungles with a coca leaf wedged inside his bottom lip, as kneeling in meditation inside the sarcophagus room of the Great Pyramid of Giza, as sitting next to me now, expounding concepts of spirituality.
I am drawn to one concept in particular: the idea that human beings can step outside both their physical body and their mind, effectively hovering apart and observing themselves. You become the scientist and your interaction within the material world becomes the lab rat, allowing you to experience situations without ego or baggage, without taking things personally, without having to defend an identity or ideology.
A study this week proclaimed that Americans spent something like 15-20% less time on Thanksgiving visits to family members after Trump’s election. The authors attribute this to political polarization; that is to say, the partisan divide has become so vast and so vicious as to drive families apart.
Family members or not, it is difficult to find people with which to discuss the full depth of an issue; not to argue one point or another, but to collaborate in examining all angles.
I want to discuss the economic foundations of basic income with a conservative. I want to consider the criticisms of white-collar feminism with a “pussy hat”-wearing feminist. I want to explore the commonalities of poor urban people of color and poor rural white people. I want to examine the entire spectrum of healthcare possibilities, from the United States to Sweden. I want to throw gun control, police violence, mass incarceration, and legalized drugs into a cauldron and stir it around a little bit with a big wooden stick.
But these are the types of issues that make people, and conversations, shut down.
Instead of collaboration, we have arguments where both sides die on the hill of individual identity, where both sides view themselves as crusaders for the moral high ground.
In his recent book, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump, Asad Haider writes:
“The framework of identity reduces politics to who you are as an individual and gaining recognition as an individual, rather than your membership in a collectivity and the collective struggle against an oppressive social structure.”
It is not about invalidating struggle or dampening passion. It is about acting as the scientist, or, in this case, the spiritual teacher, collecting and sharing data without ego, bias, or personal connection; a means towards the ends of progress.
These days it is difficult for even the most non-religious among us to resist imploring “God help us” once in a while. Perhaps, in this case, the concepts of spirituality are more relevant.