Take a look at social media today. It’s in a state that pits one person against another, and the emotions of these views run very hot. Comments on news articles attract trolls and the anti-trolls in great number. Political parties blame each other for problems being faced, while individual members work themselves up into a fury over one ideal or another. I’ve been there and maybe you have to. When we get into those states of mind, we aren’t happy anymore. Our spiritual expansion has halted, or even reverted. The good news is that we can turn the process around in each and every moment of opportunity.
To grow spiritually a person must let go of the things of this world. This concept is in almost every spiritual tradition as it’s a tangible reality. When we express love, we feel as though we expand and when we judge others we can feel the pull back to our smaller (limited) sense of self. This “letting go of the things of this world,” is a personal gesture, not an imposition on others. We find what holds us back from that feeling of expanding, and that thing (once identified) is let go. If it’s a job, a craving, a motivator… as hard as it may be, letting go of it, allows our personal spiritual expansion to extend outward.
Self-Improvement vs. Criticism of Others
Logically we can not contract and expand at the same instant. We make a choice in every present moment to decide to expand or contract. There will be a point where we decide to focus more of our attention on self-improvement or in the criticism of others.
Criticizing others is a challenge. At times it is necessary to be critical of bad behavior, or inappropriate conduct. At no time should one submit to the control of another person – especially if abuse is involved. However, the criticism that I’m referring to is the common level of judgment on others for simply being different.
When someone judges the gay neighbor for being gay, they are halting their expansion and becoming absorbed in the judgement of things outside themselves. Likewise, the angry person who hates their political leadership is also halting their spiritual expansion.
Spiritual growth happens with inward focus. Outward focus on others disperses our energy and pulls us into limitation. When we focus on our nature and spot our limitations to work on, we begin the process of letting go of those things that hold us back.
This is why Jesus says, “don’t point out the speck in your brother’s eye, while there’s a mote in your own.” But I just stepped into a hornets nest didn’t I? I opened a can of worms.
The “Bible Says” Arguments
The problem with quoting the Bible (or many spiritual books), is that often they blow both ways. I would wager, that while I quoted Jesus speaking against judging others, a Christian might quote, “…judge righteous judgement.”
Religious books are often filled with contradictory passages, the Bible is no exception. The real problem is when someone uses the Bible for conformation bias. Conformation bias is when we look for data to confirm what we already believe. Instead of looking to grow, to change, to become better, we look to stagnate. Religions can often give us those reasons.
I remember a Hindu guru that told a man who asked, “how can I stop drinking,” to simply, “enjoy drinking and drink as much as you want.” He left happy that night, yet that advice probably didn’t improve his life.
In a similar way Christians often use the Bible for their own confirmation bias, shouting out, “but the Bible says!” Yes, the Bible says what you quote, it also says the opposite of what you quote… so now what? Which verse will you accept, and why?
Few know this, but the Bible has been used to pass laws to outlaw feeding the homeless (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/03/31/gop-lawmaker-the-bible-says-the-unemployed-shall-not-eat/) and yet in states where this happened, people broke that law quoting other Biblical passages (https://www.shareable.net/90-year-old-cook-arrested-for-feeding-the-homeless-in-florida/). Which character is right? They both could say, “the Bible says…” and yet there is a difference here isn’t there?
The legalist is almost always using confirmation bias. They want to the Bible to confirm their agenda, their anger, their hate, their bigotry, their pre-existing conditions.
It is the expert reader who can read the Bible and a message of self-growth. Growth through helping others, serving others, and by being more humble.
Polarization through Limitation
The reason we are a more polarized society has much to do with our anonymous interaction online, but there’s more to it. Society is choosing to become limited. There’s an addictive and powerful feeling to rage, anger, hate and desire. Expressing the passions floods our bodies with chemical changes and that surge can feel like power.
But is it power?
Real power is remaining in control. Every moment of rage or anger is a loss of control. Road rage is a perfect example of the feeling of power, that is really a loss of control and if it ends badly people go to jail or die.
I believe that people are more accustomed to power and seek it in greater amounts.
How Polarization Works
Social media gives that false sense of power. Everyone is given a proverbial soapbox with an unearned large reach and instantly they are an expert. This sudden explosive opinion attracts the equal opposite force – the negative comment.
Some voices become stilled and quiet, bowing out to criticism, while others become even more sharp to handle it. There’s an escalation process, and the forces become more sharp and pointed. Both sides take on supporters and detractors until there is a massive polarity.
Instead of looking outward to broadcast a message against others, or to judge those who are different there is a better approach that grows our spiritual nature. This approach is the meditative approach and it focuses on the inward journey.
Looking inward, one can spot their own problems, their own issues and instead of pointing these issues out in others, they chose to work on their own nature instead.
Every situation you dislike in the world outside is a product of what’s going on within you. I can talk about it, I can show a kind of logic regarding it, but I can’t easily prove it to you. The proof will come in your own life experiences. If you are open to it, you may discover that changing who you are directly changes the world you witness… and this concept rests on the ideas of your past actions and the emptiness of your world.
Your world is empty – it’s empty of existing any specific way. Consider how two or more people witness the same events with different feelings. Some people prefer Macs over PCs. Two employees can observe their boss entirely differently. Different political parties will observe the leader of their nation differently. The objects are empty of existing one way or another, something in our lives colors them and gives meaning to these things.
Proving it to Yourself
That paint, which colors your empty world, is your past actions. Like seeds waiting to ripen, they sprout every moment to paint your preferences on your world. If we reverse the flow, changing our nature, then our world should change. This very challenge was given to me, when I was a practicing Buddhist. I was told to prove this to myself by giving away what I had extra, to those less fortunate. I did – although I was struggling at the time, I would find homeless people around my job and give them my lunch money. Sometimes it’s all I had. But I believed these ideas of my past actions (karma) influencing my world (emptiness.) Within a few months I was promoted, given a raise, and two bonuses. I also had a windfall come in that got me completely out of debt. For me, this was the proof I needed that karma and emptiness are real working modalities. If I change something about myself, it will reflect in the world around me.
Spotting the Problem
Once you believe that changing your limited self (your actions here in the physical world) can change your world, even grow your spiritual Self, the first thing to ponder is “where to start?”
It’s easy! What problems do you naturally see in others, right now?
Those problems you can rattle off on a list, those problems already exist within you. Perhaps you’re not a criminal (and crime was on your list), but deep down there’s something within you, even if it’s an unrealized desire, that connects somehow to the problem. Fear of being killed, can relate to hatred – as hatred boils down to the desire to eliminate, even kill, others. You may not act on your feelings (most don’t), but those feelings are as real to you spiritual self as the physical action itself.
Do you dislike internet trolls? Look for trollish behavior within yourself.
Do you harbor anger at intolerance? Look deep for intolerance within your own nature – is there someone’s voice you’ve tried to still/stop?
The Process of Change
We look at the world out there, in order to find the problems within our own nature. Once we find the problems within our own nature, we work tirelessly to focus on fixing our problems.
The path to resolution is unique to the individual. It might be meditative, mystical, religious, magical. Whatever the process, we work at it until we get a change in our inner life, knowing that it will change our outer worldview.
Unity vs. Polarization
As our outer world is a reflection of our inner, so too is the unity of our inner a way to unify our outer. You might wonder how your thoughts affect my world, or vice versa. Each of us is experiencing a slightly different reality. We share some common past – we’ve created a world were we both are human, living in a technological age, and perhaps even share the same culture. But your world is slightly off from those around you. What you change is your world – and that’s all you need to focus on right now.
Right now we’re working on unity with the Self. This brings unity with your world. Will it be world-peace? In this physical universe where duality reigns? Probably not… but you will shift into another world. It may happen when you die, or before – but you will find yourself in another plane, closer to the Higher Self. In Kabbalah this was called the Four Worlds. Four layers between the highest height and the lowest low.
What works best is when we ascend the layers above us, unifying the Self. You could unify the Self completely without losing the physical body – this is what the Buddhist’s called Total Enlightenment. At some point though, this world demands the physical body be lost, and your true Self will do whatever it wishes.
Our path of unity is not one of subjugating under an authority, but in unifying the self. By identifying the problems in the world around us, and our judgement of those things, we then turn inward to find those same problems within. Then we begin the process of rooting out the issues. This expands our nature and at the fullest extent, we become One with the Highest Self. That is the goal here.
Polarization holds you back, holds me back. Every time this argument is raised, a naysayer will shout it down saying, “but what about [some intolerance]? We need to fight that!” This world has a never ending supply of unfairnesses to fight. If you seek that out, it will consume – it always does. Every person who talks and acts in this way, ends up becoming consumed with the “cause,” and they lose any spiritual growth.
This isn’t to say you do nothing, but you act in the moment that presents itself. When unfairness happens in front of you, you act in such a way to let go of attachment to self. You step in to defend the helpless, to care for the downtrodden, to give to the needy. But if you seek out unfairness, you’ll be drawn back into the world of duality – into the polarized reality of us vs. them.