We have grown so accustomed to viewing ourselves, our beliefs, and our world as a struggle between extremes that it’s difficult to pry ourselves away from that for one week of Lent to become non-dualistic. But if we manage such a colossal feat, we may be surprised with what we discover.
WHOSE DUALISM ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE?
First, let me highlight the fact that I won’t be covering all modes of dualism in this article. That would require a book; maybe a couple of books; maybe a dual assault of pros and cons … Ah you see what I’m doing there? Slipping into the simplest form of dualistic thinking.
At the core of any dualism is the conviction that there must be two opposites of a subject, a concept, a reality, anything. Just like what I did above, we tend to think it terms of positive and negative. For every positive aspect of some thing, person, or idea we just assume there must be a negative aspect as well. This is what we’ve been conditioned to do.
So for the purposes of this article I’ll consider the general movements of every dualism, rather than a particular one.
LIGHT AND DARK?
Let me throw out some dualisms for ya: good vs. evil; rich vs. poor; black vs. white; mind vs. body; spiritual vs. physical; higher self vs. baser self; secular vs. sacred.
That’s just scratching the surface of all the ways we are comfortably dualistic in our outlooks, relationships, belief systems, and more. Each of these things are dichotomies that aren’t real; they only exist because we say so.
For example, let’s take a most basic of dualisms: light vs. dark.
We can easily agree that these are two separate and distinct things, can’t we? Not so fast. Without the inception of light, we wouldn’t be able to name something as “dark.” Only when we recognize light can we discern something other than light and thereby give it a name: “dark.” And let’s say we are standing in the middle of a room that is entirely isolated and enclosed. It is in complete dark. Then, right next to where we are standing, a lightbulb suspended from the ceiling is illuminated. Suddenly we are not in complete dark. But if we move toward any corner of the room away from the center, we will be stepping away from the light. What are we stepping into? The corner is still illuminated, though dimly. Is this dark? Where is the clear dividing line between what is light and what is dark? And if this room happened to be some engineering marvel that is 1 mile long and 1 mile wide, with no interior lights save that one lightbulb suspended from the ceiling, we might journey to the very end of the room. As our eyes adjusted to the near darkness we could look back and still see that single lightbulb. So then are we in the dark? Or are we in the light?
See the difficulty of narrating the world as a system of extremes and opposites?
ALL IN ONE AND ONE IN ALL
What if for just this week, we named all our dualistic thinking as false; yes, as false dichotomies, and we embraced a more holistic view of reality?
Those of us who are in some measure religious might discover that everything is sacred. Instead of “this” and “that,” we can take this week to embrace “all” by recognizing the “all-ness” of every “this” and “that.”
“What about all that secular stuff?” someone might ask.
“Who says its secular?” I’d questioningly reply.
Because guess who created “secular” space in the first place? The church.
At one point, all was sacred. All of life. All of reality. All people. But around the time of the Protestant Reformation, the church began to name spaces and activities “off-limits” for church folk. I’m not talking here of sin, whatever that may be. I’m talking about the dualistic thinking of us and them.
For example, religion very much instituted theatrical performance and the art of stagecraft. In Ancient Greece we have the religious plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, and others that put the religious experience into live story form. The medieval Catholic church reintroduced theatre through the use of miracle plays and pageant wagons. But at the time of perhaps our highest, most prolific, and best theatre produced — Shakespeare’s Renaissance — the church decided that the stage was “secular” and attending the theatre was not for believers, much less a profession in the theatre.
This is just one example of beginning to name something as “other” than us in a disparaging way. This is the beginning of inventing a world of extremes.
The major problem with adopting an outlook of extremes, in other words the major problem with being dualistic, is this: being dualistic makes us less human and unable to interact humanely with others.
Being dualistic makes us less human and unable to interact humanely with others.
That’s a big claim, I know.
But if I see myself as “this” and others as “that” then I spend all my relational energy with a “that” trying to get them to become a “this” like me. Additionally, since I’m a “this” I might think of a “that” as less than me. Herein is the beginning of all manner of undesirable things: bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and so much more.
Instead of carrying on as if our differences qualify us, we could see ourselves and others as simply human.
I’d suggest we could become non-dualistic for far longer than a week. It might be a lifelong journey. For now, here are some practices to try out.
- Refuse to see anyone else this week in light of their differences from you. Instead embrace the common humanity you share with them and see how that changes something as simple as your tone of voice when you speak to them.
- If you follow Jesus, dare to see everything as part of the creation that the God he called Father declared “good.” See everything as good, and maybe reduce some of your unnecessary tension.
- Take notes on every time you notice yourself defining your world through the language of “extremes.” Is the extremism justified, or could you push yourself to not settle for opposites-type thinking?
And check out all the resources for “Becoming ‘Non’ for Lent” here.