The courage to stay in no-man’s land


So I’m back at the adventure pool. This is really where things happen! Hot and sweaty I drop down on the bench in the communal changing room and heave a sigh of contented relief. Another 45 minutes done. The lady next to me – already dressed – looks at me and says ‘lekker he?’ It’s the Dutch equivalent of ‘feels good right?’

nomanslandI nod and wait to see if there is anything else she wants to say. I’m learning to keep my mouth shut a little more often.

“It’s a worry with all those refugees isn’t it?’ She says, looking at me sideways. I still hold my peace, continuing to practise verbal restraint. I’m curious to see where this opening will lead. She continues…. “I read today that they were barricading a sports hall and a swimming pool in protest.”

“Here?” I ask.

“No, somewhere…else. I hate it. All that anger. But then, they also say that the refugees have been complaining about having to share a room. You’d think they’d be happy to be safe.” And she sighs, looking at me with clear blue eyes.

I fancy I hear my own confusion reflected in her words. When you refuse to pitch your tent in either one camp or the other, you end up in a conflicted no-man’s-land. When neither howling ‘close the borders’ nor inviting the refugees to share your home, you can feel a little lost. You may even feel guilty about being unsure. We like the certainty of an opinion. Definitely in a conflict. And bringing it right back to basics, each conflict comes down to ‘either you die or I die’.

“People are scared.” I offer. “I’m scared.”

She nods. “I was at a pleasure park with my kids yesterday. Normally I attend church on a Sunday, but the kids wanted to go there instead. There were hordes of people. Too many. And while my kids were taking their rides I prayed ‘dear God, what if all these people here found their way to You?’” She looks at me askance to see if I judge her for being silly. Then registers my gentle smile. “But then,” she continues, now firmly establishing herself as a fellow traveller on the middle road, “Religions haven’t exactly got clean hands either. And all this stuff about love; loving your neighbour. There are people who are just not nice. What do you do with those?” We laugh and metaphorically shake hands in no-man’s-land.

There are no easy solutions in that middle ground. And in a perfect mirror of individual internal confusion we once again see the great power blocks of the modern world limbering up to pitch their tents in opposing camps. That way we all know where we stand.

I look at her. “Perhaps organised religion may have had its day, deservedly some might say, but the search for a Deeper, Higher power, a sense of putting our trust in something Beyond our ego is more alive than ever before. Maybe we shouldn’t be too worried about the baby, or Baby being thrown out with the bathwater?”

She laughs and adds, “Yes, I hate those stupid Facebook slogans, but sometimes they’re right. We do have to change ourselves to see the change in the world, and I guess we need our own Highest self to help us.”

I nod and add, “And perhaps love, at least at the human level, doesn’t mean just being nice and being without boundaries. Maybe sometimes we need to say, even if it is with love, ‘to here and no further.’”

She smiles and she picks up her bags and gets ready to leave. “That was nice. It’s always good to start the week with some philosophy. Enjoy yours.”

On the way home I continue to reflect on the task of healing a broken world, beginning with yourself. As a good little Calvinist I was taught to turn the other cheek. Yet I remember the words of my father, an otherwise gentle Naval Officer; “Fine. As long as they keep their hands off the cheeks of my wife and children.” Hmmm. This tribe of women and children in whose name men continue their warmongering. But that’s another article.

So turn the other cheek in Christianity. What else?

Buddhism speaks of non-attachment; if someone steps on your toe you don’t get attached to the emotions this evokes. It’s just part of suffering, and suffering is part of life. It may sound passive but if nine people in a room behaved like that while the tenth person goes around stepping on their toes there’d be no conflict. And at least you don’t have to offer them your other toe. But surely there’s a fine line between being non-aggressive and being a doormat? And after all, isn’t Tibet is still occupied?

Non Violent Communication asserts that at heart we are all compassionate creatures. Violence is just a strategy, supported by the culture you’ve grown up in. All we want is to have our needs met, and when we recognise this fact in the threatening behaviour of the other we can respond from a different place, temporarily suspending our own needs to work out the needs of the other. To forego the satisfaction of meeting our own needs and explore the distorted communication coming from the aggressor requires that we have our emotions under control. And our thoughts, since the mental twin of ‘reactive’ behaviour is ‘intolerance’. “Who does this person think they are?”

This echoes the way the Gene Key system talks about the 49th archetype, which has everything to do with how we approach conflict and change in the world. Its keynotes are Reaction, Revolution and then Rebirth.

Reaction comes from a very emotional place, a place of need. We may be thinking; ‘If all these refugees come to my town I won’t get what I need anymore’. Conversely, we may have obliterated our own right to have our needs met and tell ourselves that refugees are far needier than I and so they can live in my home. Generous, but without the energy of reflection, perhaps misguided.  Instead of ‘reacting’ from that binary, either/or emotional place we can stop and assess the situation with a little more detachment, entering that no-man’s-land where my pool friend and I played earlier in the day.

But why, why should we do that? Why not just fight for our own little patch of ground, our own little patch of ego, and that of tribe, our wives and our children?

Although he never used the terms himself, the philosopher Hegel suggested that evolution moves forward through a collision between the current position (Thesis), and a counter-position (Anti-thesis). This is the field of Reaction and Intolerance. The yes/no debate. Us and them, either/or, either it dies or I die. It is the field of duality, and we see it reflected on the world stage in the two-party British and American parliamentary systems. We see it in the power blocks now positioning themselves in the Middle East.

And then we see a struggling UN trying to hold a position in a no-man’s-land. And remember. We may scoff at the UN’s perceived impotence, but in the days of Napoleon and Alexander the Great there wasn’t even an attempt at a third more reflective way. At least not overtly. So there is progress. The kind of progress that Hegel calls the healthy ‘composite’ of the two warring positions, Synthesis. Just like the laborious continental systems of coalition governments.

Yes, yes, it’s hard work staying in the middle ground. And it looks slow and boring, even cowardly. There are no sirens and bells, but there is evolution and slow healing progress. Individually and Collectively. And it starts with each individual holding the vision of a reborn world, a healed and forgiven world, where we travel through Revolution or Synthesis and Understanding.

Synthetic change, or, as the Gene Key system calls it, ‘Revolution’, doesn’t chuck babies out with the bath water. It takes time to look at both positions – assess what works and what doesn’t. Revolution isn’t afraid to prune the tree where it no longer bears fruit and yet to take the healthy parts into a new organism.

This wonderful lady and I met in the confusion of wanting to stay in the middle ground where Revolution is possible. Where Synthesis is possible. Revolution is hard. It takes courage to stand aside in a toe stamping match and refuse to be drawn in. Not at once. And not just from a reactionary place.

So every time we are triggered to react by that little panic button in our primitive brains called the amygdala, we can choose to choose. We can take the perceived threat to getting what we need a little way up the mountain and from that clearer place wonder if the toe-stepper just slipped. And in that case, accept their apology and ask if they need a pair of trainers instead of ten inch heels.

Or maybe this person has a habit of stepping on your toe. If so, what’s that all about? Do they need attention? Do they need glasses? Are they just rude? Can they be helped to express their needs in a more healthy way if you express non-violently that the toe-stepping hurts. Or is this person, this habitual toe-stepper, part of what needs to be eliminated from your life?

Or maybe it’s your toes need eliminating?

At the level of Revolution there is the space and therefore the ability to assess what needs to be pruned away and what can be taken into a new cycle. Reaction, Revolution, Rebirth. Or as Hegel would say; thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis.
And of course, to do that we need to embrace the Beyond within ourselves. To know our needs have been met Beyond measure and to know we are loved Beyond words. The God, or Spirit, or Higher Self, or whatever name works for you, can take you out of a world where emotional knee jerk reactions don’t rule anymore and where Revolution and Understanding eventually lead to a world Reborn and full of Forgiveness. The seeds are there in our human nature, yes, even in our base human nature, but we need to water them. And we need to water them in ourselves….. not start by chucking water at other people. Because having nurtured them in ourselves our attitude will naturally evoke a different reaction. Not overnight. Not tomorrow or the next day. Maybe not for another five or ten generations.

What we teach our children today and all the children of our tribe, is what will be passed on.

Yes it’s hard work. Yes it means you often have to say ‘I don’t know’ to all the events in the world.

You may have to use discipline to take your fearful emotional ego up the mountain to let in bath in the Light. But it’s worth the climb.

And who knows the lady from the pool and I will be up there playing too!

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