Should Contemplatives Fight The Establishment?

I got an email this morning from a conservative magazine as part of a campaign asking me to help fight the establishment by donating to their organization. A couple emails later I got another email from a progressive group thanking me for helping to strike a decisive blow against the conservative establishment in recent East Coast elections.

Should Contemplatives Fight The Establishment?

So who is the establishment? It keeps changing depending on who’s talking. Fox News has the highest ratings, but everyone else is the mainstream media. We Christians are the majority faith in this country, but carry a narrative of oppression and persecution. The establishment is the liberal media, no it’s the deep state, no it’s the giant tech companies, no it’s the 1%, no it’s that best-selling Rob Bell and those liberal theologians, no it’s those megachurches, no it’s those heathens who want to corrode our Judeo-Christian values. We’ve all got a story in our heads.

The establishment seems to be anyone who disagrees with our point of view that has any kind of following, influence, or social traction.

We do a pretty good job identifying our oppressor, our opposition. We have a language for it, we have a mental framework for it, and we walk about with that framework in mind and keep filling it in with something or other.

We filter reality through that lens.

We’re all romantic heroes fighting overwhelming odds in our own minds, regardless of the real life situation.

And we always have an enemy. In the emails they called it the establishment. Both sides did. We seem to be imprisoned into a hardened position by our concept of an establishment out there somewhere. We cling to our imagined enemies as a sacred cow.

We’re trapped in oppositional thinking. It’s reactive, it fosters anger and resentment. It’s incapable of the kind of inclusive love the gospels invite us to.

One way through this double bind is to identify the underlying wounds. We all have them. So many of us spend our energies fighting a projected enemy to protect against the wound, rather than letting it serve as a point of connection.

Richard Rohr writes the following in his study Hope Against Darkness:

By temperament, most of us prefer one side to the other. Holding to one side or another frees us from anxiety. Only a few dare to hold the irresolvable tension in the middle. But to be cross-bearing as a Christian means exactly that—to put yourself in the “middle” without letting go of either party in order to bear, in our body, the dilemmas of the world. It is a call to stand in the gap between opposing sides of every issue—between nations, between people and their sin, between wisdom and folly, between power and weakness. It means learning how to bear vulnerability, nakedness, exposure and even failure in our body just as Jesus did, so that a bridge between the polarities might be encouraged and, eventually, formed.

It takes a high level of awareness to remain in this space. It takes witnessing then disentangling from our habitual ego identifications and our conditioning. This is the invitation of the contemplative path, to transcend the pettiness of the small self’s egoic position and to stay in this moment, shot through with grace.

There’s a death required. A rite of passage.

You have to let the establishment die. The establishment within our own mind, our own desire to win, our own need to be right. That’s the establishment. Our established ways of looking at the world from our subjective egoic point of view. And when we let go of ego, when we return to the present moment, it’s death to the establishment.

Grace is a deep inner acceptance of what is, within us and in the world, then bringing an active love into that situation, consistently mindful and setting aside our own propensity to develop new attachments. It transcends oppositional thinking.

Our various demons that bedevil us, our various mind-forged establishments need not concern us. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about peace or justice, but we don’t get to predetermine what that looks like. Right action is possible out of a clear sighted heart. Instead of figuring out who do we fight next we ask, what does love require of us right now?

And even if that looks for a while like what everyone else might call fighting the establishment, it has a transcendent, inclusive, peaceful, loving quality, refusing to get ensnared in binary thinking, in ego battles. It points toward a higher way of being altogether, of seeing through surface labels and definitions. Though we may take action and speak truth, it’s rooted in wisdom and self knowledge, in an already broken heart.

Going Further

Richard Rohr on The Dualistic Mind

Center for Action and Contemplation on Non-Duality in The Cloud of Unknowing

Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice

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