Author Archives: Paul Nyklicek

Who We Are

Centuries have gone by and human beings have remained busy inflicting all sorts of destructiveness upon ourselves, other animals, plant life, and the Earth’s biosphere as a whole. We call this our history. At times we have called this “progress.”

What is it that we have been doing throughout our history? We have been “othering” our fellow human beings as well as every one of our biosphere’s inhabitants. We have perpetrated obscenities against Mother Earth in the name of “progress.” We have become delusional in our assumption of human superiority and sense of entitlement to dominate.

How is it that so many centuries later we still don’t know what we’re doing?

As a species we still don’t know what we’re doing because so many of us still do not know who we really are. Many of us still believe that we are nothing more than biochemical machines who consume material resources. We believe that we must consume or be consumed and that there simply isn’t enough for all of us.

There is a prevailing acceptance of this view as being based on science and therefore true. Seeing ourselves as biochemical machines, we believe we are separate from each other and independent of each other. We have hypnotized ourselves into believing that our independence is virtuous and that any form of dependency is evidence of weakness and deserving of shame. This perspective has become very advantageous to certain individuals and groups. They have gained and seek to maintain control over others without the bother of getting informed consent. It is a form of covert domination.

We have gotten it wrong for so long now that we assume the pessimism about human nature to be a given. “Why do people do these things?” We ask when we reflect upon the atrocity de jour in today’s news cycle. “It’s human nature” we are told. That is supposed to end the discussion.

“That’s not who we are.”

This has become an almost mandatory statement in defense of our collective identity when one of “us” does something horrific within our own society. We heard this disclaimer time and time again after the killing of George Floyd by police officers in 2020. If the perpetrator is too closely associated with our national power structure there is the inevitable recycling of the “few bad apples” explanation to protect the integrity and reputation of the existing system. The explaining away of the atrocities that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq a few years earlier is another example of this tactic. Police officers and military personnel may need to be held to account but as institutions, the police and the military must not be accused or held responsible.

If we are to stand firm in our denial of being psychopaths we must ultimately answer the question that will haunt us until we do:

Who are we?

The answer to this question is critically important because our understanding of who we are has major implications for how we behave.

So, to what extent do our beliefs about who we are influence how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives? Quite a lot, actually. We have come to know this as the phenomenon of “self-fulfilling prophecy.” This is the process by which one or more individuals live up to or down to the expectations that they absorb from beyond themselves. What are happens if our beliefs about our identity are inadequate or incorrect?

After Martin Luther King, jr. was murdered in 1968, an elementary school teacher provided a fascinating and illuminating lesson to her students and the rest of humanity. The teacher, Jane Elliot, informed her young students that blue-eyed children were scientifically proven to be naturally more intelligent than brown-eyed children. Then each group was given corresponding privileges or challenges. The children quickly adopted their new status. The blue-eyed children lorded their imagined superiority over the brown-eyed children who accepted their alleged inferiority. A day or so later she explained to her students that a mistake had been made and it was actually the brown-eyed children who were the naturally better students and that it was the blue-eyed students who were less intelligent. Now the brown-eyed students took on the mantle of bestowed superiority and dominated the blue-eyed students who were now regarded as the inferior ones.

We identify ourselves in so many different ways. We call ourselves Americans or Russians or Ukrainians or Palestinians or Israelis. We say that we are Hutus or Tutsis or Cherokees or Sioux. We claim to be Muslims or Hindus or Christians or Jews or Buddhists. We wear red and call ourselves conservatives or we wear blue and call ourselves liberals. Others call us communists or socialists or capitalists or fascists.

We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about what it means to be whatever label we choose or have imposed on us. These stories typically invoke a comparison that serves to clarify that “I’m one of us and not one of them.” This seems to have satisfied humankind for much of our history.

It has also been the source of much of humanity’s greatest suffering.

The time has come to stop accepting ownership of any label that invites an “us and them” framework that colonizes our hearts, minds and the fabric of human society. This corrosive mentality promotes fear and hostility. It sabotages compassion and rationality. It blocks our true potential as human beings. It makes us far less than who we are.

So who are we?

We are schoolchildren on a field trip. Our field trip isn’t simply a matter of going to a national park or a museum to look at what is there. Instead, we have been sent to a little blue planet orbiting an average star within an average galaxy. Rather than simply observing the inhabitants of this little blue planet, our teacher has arranged for us to become them in order to learn all that we can about what it means to be human beings living in human societies. One thing that we didn’t know is that upon arrival, our memories of who we really are would be hidden from us. A little surprise from our teacher perhaps? So we “forgot” who we were and believed that we were the humans we came to learn about. So for thousands of years we have lived as human beings with all the imperfections that are part of the human experience. We have had innumerable opportunities to make all kinds of mistakes from which to learn and we have indeed made an incredible number of them. We have learned from some of those mistakes and it is painfully obvious that we still have much to learn.

And yet…

There are occasions where, like the title character of The Truman Show movie, we have started to notice small oddities and little cracks in the illusion of who we think we are. While not all of us are haunted by a nagging sense that there’s something more going on in life, some do experience a persisting mystery that is difficult to dismiss. We hear the stories of people like Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and the Buddha as well as more contemporary stories of the lives of Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, Mother Theresa, Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. The lives of these compelling people and others give us moments of insight and awareness that question the assumption that we are merely biochemical machines. We begin to doubt how separate we really are from each other. We become skeptical of the hyper-competitive “survival of the fittest” mythology that would have us believe that only the “strong” deserve to live. We begin to remember echos from the past reminding us not to be afraid. We become open to the possibility that those reminders come from a truthful source.

What happens if we listen to the voice saying: “Do not be afraid”? What happens if we make choices and act based on a foundation of something other than fear? If we are no longer blinded and dominated by fear, what will we be able to see and know? When we get beyond the obstructions of our fear what will we then have room for in our hearts and lives?

As we find our way beyond our fear we will be able to reconnect to who we are.

There is an apocryphal story about the legendary artist Michelangelo. The story goes that he was asked how he was able to create such extraordinary sculptures out of blocks of stone. He replied that he saw the completed sculpture within the block of stone and that his work was to “free” the sculpture by chipping away all that was not part of its true form. He considered his work complete when he had removed everything that was not part of the encased figure.

Might we be living versions of Michelangelo’s sculptures? What if we are the ones encased within our own “stone blocks” of fear? As we help each other and ourselves to become free of these prisons we will know that we are so much more than just combinations of subatomic particles interacting with electromagnetic radiation. We will come to discover that “human evolution” is far grander than any mere materialistic process.

When we remember who we are, when we connect the dots and get the picture, we will be unwilling to hurt each other anymore. We will come to love and respect the other forms of life with whom we share our one and only planet. We will know that competing against each other is pointless and absurd. Competition becomes uninteresting. Instead we will find that we are now much more interested in helping and supporting each other. “How can I help you?” becomes our default setting replacing the “greed is good” ethos of our time. Each of us will come to experience our identity as both “me” and “we” without contradiction.

No one is sub-human or super-human. All are lovable and deserving of love. No exceptions. This is our journey from the illusions and distortions of our fearfulness to an ever increasing awareness of our true identity as beings made by Love, from Love and for Love. Despite the multitude and magnitude of our mistakes, we are loved beyond our comprehension. All of us belong in the Beloved Community.

When we finally realize who we are, we will fully understand that we have no enemies. It will become obvious to all of us that any attempt or inclination to harm is unthinkably absurd. We will know ourselves and each other as the sacred children of the Ultimate Mystery, loved beyond our wildest dreams.

In Our Name

It is long past time to stop calling what’s going on in Gaza a “war.” On October 7, 2023 the Israeli government essentially got “sucker punched” and has responded with a staggering campaign of death and devastation. I am by no means excusing or minimizing the killing of approximately 1200 Israeli citizens and the abduction of others yet the extreme disproportionality of the Israeli government’s response is truly shocking. It is as if someone decided that the death of one Israeli human being must be answered for by the death of one thousand Palestinian human beings.

This is not a war. It’s the indiscriminate slaughter of human beings living in Gaza. What is being perpetrated against them is nothing less than State-sanctioned mass murder. It is the war crime of all war crimes. It’s an on-going genocide that is painfully obvious unless one has the capacity and willingness to enter a state of massive denial in order to not see it or believe it.

It is no exercise in excuse-making to put this event in its proper context. The history of conflict between Israel and Palestine did not begin in the autumn of 2023. It goes back at least to 1948 when the Nakba (“catastrophe”) began. This word refers to the process of “ethnic cleansing” in which the homes and villages of Palestinian people were taken or destroyed and those people who did not meet the criteria of being Jewish or Israeli were forcibly displaced with many becoming refugees. This process has waxed and waned since 1948 but it has not stopped. Current data indicates that there are approximately 6,000,000 Palestinian human beings officially recognized as refugees.

We would do well to ask ourselves how desperate we would be if we were the ones existing under such conditions with that history of oppression and degradation on our backs. We might be just as desperate. When people feel desperate enough they will tend to act out of their desperation rather than from wisdom or compassion. Is that what happened on 7 October?

The bitter irony of this genocide is that it is being carried out by a nation that was created as a direct consequence of the holocaust of World War II in which millions of European Jews (and others) were horrifically tortured and murdered by a fascist government. Does the historical oppression and attempted annihilation of human beings who identified as Jewish, translate into a license for the government of Israel to perpetrate its own version of oppression and annihilation against fellow human beings who identify as Palestinians? Amazingly, it appears that for enough people with enough political and economic power the answer is a resounding Yes.

An important distinction needs to be made between a nation’s government and its people. This needs to be emphasized because it is a mistake to assume that a nation’s government truly represents the people who live in it. Governments, of course, like to portray themselves as leaders who carry out the will of their people but simply because government leaders claim something doesn’t automatically make it true. Without this distinction it becomes all too easy to blur that line and blame a people for the actions of their government.

“Israel has the right to defend itself” is the justification repeated ad nauseam by politicians and pundits alike to apply a veneer of legitimacy to what the Israeli government and military have been doing to the people of Gaza. How exactly does the indiscriminate mass murder of ordinary people, many of them children, qualify as “defending oneself”? Another question that is rarely, if ever, publicly asked is whether the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves. Do they have a right to self-defense that is equal to that which is ascribed to the nation of Israel? Perhaps the deafening public silence on this point is an implicit assertion that the Palestinian people have no such right.

What does this mean for those of us living in the comparatively safe and comfortable United States? We do not have to worry about being bombed from above or being shot by soldiers in our hometowns. While life in America is certainly not serenity and bliss for all of its inhabitants, it is hard to imagine that any of us would want to trade places with those in Gaza now.

What if it’s possible for us to love the places we call home and have no less love for those who live in the places they call home, wherever that may be? What if we can accept that the idea of “nations” and “countries” are artificial constructs that have no organic or sacred reality? Can we understand that these are merely stories that we have created to give ourselves a sense of group identity and group safety?

When astronauts looked at our planet from space they did not see separate countries with national borders. Instead they saw our little blue world floating silently through an unbelievably vast universe. They saw through the absurdity of the artificial divisions we organize our lives around. They saw the illusion for what it was.

The United States of America was initially formed as a constitutional republic to be based on democratic principles. Tragically, it has devolved into an oligarchy based on sociopathic principles. This assertion is not merely conjecture but is supported by research conducted in 2014 by professors from Princeton University and Northwestern University. These researchers studied data and came to this conclusion.

Our government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people” but has instead become a government of, by and for a group of corporations that hold excessive influence over it. It has become a handmaid to the military industrial complex, to Big Oil, to Big Pharma and the like. It sells itself to these entities and sells out its people again and again.

What happened to us?

Regardless of how many layers of disinformation and phony mythologizing that political and corporate powers may promote, some core truths about us remain intact:

Everyone belongs.
No one is disposable.
War is not normal nor is it a “way of life.”

These truths may be deemed “bad for business” by centers of materialistic power who act according to highly myopic self-interest but that does not diminish their truthfulness. If “doing business” means that people are regarded as disposable, that “us” versus “them” is how we must see the people of the world and that conflict must be resolved by killing, then the “bottom line” will only read: Complete Annihilation.

Many who call America their home are deeply horrified by the relentless and pervasive mass murder of the people who call Gaza their home. Many yearn to do something to stop the carnage. Many have contacted their senators and representatives. Many have demonstrated in public spaces. Despite significant public opposition to the actions of the Israeli government, the United States’ government remains steadfast in its support for its political ally. It continues to provide more weapons, more military equipment and more financial support to the Israeli government. This bounty of destructive resources are then used to kill innocent civilians, destroy their homes, obliterate hospitals and places of worship. It is the systematic erasure of all that was once Palestine. The United Nations would have passed a ceasefire resolution except for the United States exercising its veto power to prevent it. The United States has now vetoed such a resolution three times since October 7, 2023.

The United States government is supporting genocide.

It is doing so by unflinchingly and uncritically providing the government of Israel with the most modern and lethal weapons of war without which it could not do what it is now doing in Gaza. The U.S. government is also providing considerable psychological support to the Israeli government. This form of support emboldens the government of Israel to do as it wishes because it understands that it has the backing of the most powerful military anywhere on the planet. Understandably, Israel’s government may confidently believe that, with U.S. backing, no one can stop them. Who will even try?

We who live in America who do not hold positions of power within dominant corporations or our government, who see and understand the moral implications of what our government is doing are painfully forced to arrive at a very sobering conclusion:

This is all being done in our name.

Armistice Day 2023

It was Veteran’s Day in Hartford, Connecticut. As members of Veterans for Peace, we greeted the thousands of basketball fans making their way into the XL Center (formerly the Hartford Civic Center) to attend the game between the defending national champion UConn Huskies and their opponents from Stonehill College. The stadium’s main entrance still bears its original moniker: Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It was a brisk but not brutally cold November morning. We met them with our voices, our signs, our flags and a Tibetan singing bowl that one of our members rang throughout the hour as we called attention to the devastation unfolding in Gaza. We wished them an enjoyable time at the game and we wished them all a happy Armistice Day. We also urged the crowd to be aware of what was happening so far away and to take whatever action they could to stop the horror. As it always does, violence begets violence. It becomes its own narcotic.

We wondered how many of these basketball fans actually knew about the history of Armistice Day and how it became Veteran’s Day in the mid 1950’s. Did they know that it was originally a day to celebrate and promote peace as World War I ended? Did they know why it had been renamed Veteran’s Day? The stated purpose of this change was to emphasize the sacrifice of all veterans of all wars in our nation’s history. The actual effect was to shift the focus from peace to war and to equate war with patriotism while implying that opposing war and/or being for peace is somehow unpatriotic.

We noticed how few of those making their way into the XL Center would even look at us let alone react to us as we called for an immediate ceasefire and as we attempted to bear witness to the death and destruction occurring in Gaza. A few people did nod and smile at us. A few thanked us for promoting peace. A few grumbled cynically about the idea of a ceasefire but the vast majority just walked on by as if we weren’t there. It was both interesting and disheartening to experience this apparent indifference.

I wondered why it was so difficult for them to even look at us. I wondered if this avoidance of eye contact was related to an intuitive desire to not feel something too uncomfortable to feel. I wondered.

Many have described what is going on in Gaza as a genocide in progress. Genocide is not a word to be used casually. In 1951 the United Nations held a convention to established a definition of genocide. It put forth a definition which states that “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”:
It then lists the acts as follows:

Killings members of the group.
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about
its physical destruction in whole or in part.
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

You may decide for yourself to what extent these criteria are being met currently in Gaza.

I thought about the Holocaust and the question so many have asked themselves: How would I act in a society under fascist rule? Would I lash out at my oppressors or would I simply try to survive at all costs? Would I actively resist or would I make myself invisible? Would I have hidden and protected Anne Frank’s family or would I have turned them in to the Nazis to save my own skin?

Like most, I tell myself that I would do the right thing. I would resist the coercion and intimidation with every fibre of my being. I wouldn’t cave in to the pressure to cooperate with the oppressors. Or would I? I don’t actually know. I’ve never lived under such conditions.

The question of how we might act while a genocide is under way is no longer a merely theoretical one. It is happening in Gaza now. As of early December, 2023 there have been over 15,000 deaths of people who once lived in Gaza. Many of those were children. How many more uncounted deaths there are remains to be seen. Still more will die as life-sustaining resources have been cut off from the people of Gaza. Many will die of disease and starvation.

Many Americans are looking at their government’s extensive support for what the Israeli government is doing to the people of Gaza. Undoubtably, some Americans believe that the United States’ support of Israel is appropriate and justified. Even so, many others are wondering if the American government’s support is wrong and immoral. Certainly some Americans have painfully concluded that their government is complicit in a genocide being perpetrated against the Palestinians living in Gaza. How bizarrely ironic it is to see one nation that emerged from the tyranny and oppression of the British monarchy in the 18th Century and a nation that emerged out of the Holocaust of the 20th Century teaming up in the 21st Century to try to annihilate an impoverished group of human beings living in Gaza under an apartheid system that the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu once described as being comparable to South Africa’s.

It’s easy to understand why many of us feel powerless and disconnected from what our government does. Coincidentally or not, most Americans have become passive observers and perhaps even disinterested non-observers. We have our 21st century version of “bread and circuses” to keep us distracted and mollified. Many complain about being “taxed to death” yet how many of us realize how most of our tax dollars go straight into the Pentagon and then quickly into the coffers of corporations that provide the U.S. military with its weapons and related technology? American corporations provide a large percentage of all weapons of war manufactured worldwide. Death and Destruction: Made in the U.S.A.

How many of us are completely unaware of how obscenely profitable these corporations are and how they grow ever more wealthy and powerful as a result of the death and devastation they deliver? These corporations thrive on war. They incentivize war. War is good for their investors. To put it simply, war is very good for their business.

What language do such corporations understand? What convinces a corporation to stop doing what it’s doing? How do we reconcile the legalized fiction that declares that corporations are “people” while at the same time these “people” are absolved of any moral responsibility regarding their behavior? Are corporations subordinate to government or is government subordinate to them? If it is the latter, are we right to be cynical about the role of government to represent the will of the people and to act in support their well-being? If Big Government is actually the handmaid of Big Business it means that the high ideals of “liberty and justice for all” have been reduced to a marketing strategy to frame whatever government does at the behest of corporate power as something patriotic and justified.

These are some of the things I wonder about. I wish I had all the clear and correct answers to my questions. Maybe my questions aren’t even the right questions.

Our time of bearing witness comes to an end. It’s game time and there are just a few late arrivals hastily entering the XL Center. Our little group gathers and prepares to have lunch together.

It’s fair for you to ask if a small group of peace-mongers attempting to disturb the complacency of the general population is enough to make a difference. In one sense it is obviously not enough. I can easily imagine many of those basketball fans feeling briefly perplexed at why we even bothered to show up and protest the devastation of Gaza. They may think: “No one is listening to you.” They might be right about that. And yet there is something inside that says: “Do it anyway! This is what you need to do.” It says: “Don’t stop! Do more!”

And that “something inside” won’t take “no” for an answer.

War is Our Heroin

America is a heroin addict and War is our heroin.

In its comparatively brief history, the United States of America has been at war with someone, in some way, for almost our entire national existence. Within American society itself, various forms of violence are part of everyday life whether as barely noticeable slow burns or as major eruptions that become front page news. What is less obvious is the question of why this is the case. What causes Americans, as a people and a nation, to be so inclined toward violence both internally and internationally?

America is a deeply traumatized nation. We have been traumatized by what was done to us and what we have done to others. As a nation and as a people, we are more traumatized than we know or want to believe. Like the proverbial fish that doesn’t know that it’s wet, our collective trauma is in the air that we all breathe. It’s so pervasive that it feels “normal” to us. Our political leaders are not immune to this. Neither are our military or business leaders. All who are human are susceptible. Those in positions of power are all the more vulnerable to the temptation of misusing their power in an attempt to negate or escape their own pain.

Our behavior as a nation is a manifestation of our unhealed collective trauma. This aspect of our history goes back to a time well before 1776. It actually goes back generations before that famous year, before those Europeans eventually started to travel across the ocean to the “New World” to try to make a better life for themselves than the life they left behind in the “Old Country.” Why would people undertake such a long and dangerous ocean voyage to unknown territory? Why would they take such a risk if things were fine where they were? They wouldn’t. People leave their homes behind if things are really bad. Except for those with a good deal of wealth and status, life for the rest was very hard. They left because of their great suffering.

It did not take long for those traumatized Europeans to start projecting their pain onto the human beings who were already living in the proclaimed “New World.” Assuming an inherent superiority, those Europeans declared the land to be theirs for the taking. They proceeded to do just that. The human beings native to this land quickly became an obstacle for those Europeans. The “othering” of native peoples began with labelling them as sub-human savages. It quickly went downhill from there. The subsequent history of European immigrants, the ancestors of future Americans, includes the de-humanizing of various groups of “different others” such as the people abducted from Africa who were forced into the abomination of slavery. These and other ethnic groups were regarded as second class at best and often as far worse. The pattern is one of trying to escape our own trauma by projecting it onto whoever is designated as “not one of us.”

Present day America remains highly traumatized not only by the events of centuries ago but by current events that cause tremendous emotional pain and reactions of great fear, rage, indifference, and psychic numbing. The evidence of this is in almost every news story you may read or watch on any given day.

Going back just a little over a century, America has endured World War I, the Great Depression, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our subsequent entry into World War II, our fire bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo as well as the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the “Cold War.” We have lived through the Korean War, the assassination of President Kennedy, the My Lai massacre and the Vietnam War as a whole. We have suffered the brutality of individual and institutionalized racism in America. We have seen the vicious opposition to the Civil Rights movement by substantial portions of our people and our government. We have witnessed the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

We have been shocked by the abuses of government power through the public revelations of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate hearings and the national humiliation of the Iran Hostage Crisis. We were shaken by the near assassination of President Reagan, the Iran-Contra scandal, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

We were devastated by the events of 9/11 and we were then coerced and compelled into the “War on Terror.” We were sedated into accepting the Patriot Act which opened the door for American citizens to be spied on by branches of their government. The revelations via Wikileaks of the blatant murder of civilians in Iraq by U.S. armed forces personnel and the news of the torture of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison left us more numbed than outraged. This was also the case when we learned of the practice of “extraordinary rendition” in which persons are abducted and transported to undisclosed locations, held indefinitely and where “enhanced interrogation” techniques (i.e. torture) could be utilized without the inconvenience of due process or any semblance of the Rule of Law we Americans are so proud to claim as the bedrock of our society.

This is by no means a complete list of the collective experiences that have traumatized us and produced an internalized national shame. We have endured all this in our own lifetimes, the lifetimes of our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents. This a snapshot of the collective trauma accumulated in the American psyche over the past several generations. Over time, our silence has become our complicity which has become our collective trauma.

This pattern has not stopped because the healing has yet to begin.

As individuals and as a nation, we buy into the fantasy that we are primarily rational beings who make choices and act upon those choices in a rational manner. Admittedly, it is a very attractive story. If only it were true. Individually and collectively, we continue to act irrationally. Two of the most toxic sources of our irrationality, fueled by pain and fear, are the beliefs that “might makes right” and that “the end justifies the means.” These pernicious siblings set us up to hate and oppress. They set us up to dehumanize and to kill, to go to war and to commit genocide. They seduce us into believing that domination, destruction and death are the way to solve problems.

When we make choices and act from places of great pain we are much more likely to think and behave with a singular agenda to not feel our pain anymore. In such a compromised state we are tempted into a kind of magical belief that we won’t have to feel our pain anymore if we can offload it somehow.

On some primal level, present day Americans feel the moral weight of what our ancestors have done and of what was done to them. Some cling to forms of justification for why previous generations acted as they did: “they just didn’t know any better”, “they were desperate”, “it was culturally ‘normal’ for them”, “they were just trying to preserve their way of life”, etc. Ultimately, those veneers wear thin and don’t hold up. Deep down we know that our ancestors, our people, have both oppressed and been oppressed, have degraded and been degraded, have killed and been killed. This is a historical truth we cannot escape.

We want so badly to escape that very painful truth but how can anyone escape what is inescapable? It is exactly here that addiction seduces us into a fantasy of escape. It appears on the scene when we are desperate for something to put out the fire of our agony. Like a heroic firefighter, addiction arrives to save the day and it is only after we have given our hasty consent that we discover that he is trying to put out our fire with gasoline. This is any addiction’s positive intent tragically paired with toxic strategy.

Addiction hijacks individuals, families and whole societies. There are pockets of resistance within each but the power of any addiction should not be underestimated. The drive to stop feeling intense pain is very hard to resist.

Addiction is a reaction to trauma. When we are in enough pain, regardless of the nature of that pain, we seek relief. That is the nature of addiction. There is nothing inherently pathological about seeking relief from pain. The problem has everything to do with how we go about it. The “War on Drugs” is most certainly not the solution. In fact, the War Paradigm itself is a big part of the problem. If you have cancer and your doctor told you that the course of treatment required injecting more cancer cells into your body you would probably seek a second opinion! Imagine if someone came up with the notion of declaring “War on War” as a way to Peace! War does not solve problems any more than cancer cures cancer. War always creates new problems that have to be solved.

We go to war to attempt to relieve our pain and our sense of powerlessness from which we feel shame. It is our national pain-killer, our prescription opioid, our “heroin.”

This is our recent history of the “War on Terror.” We suffered the horror and agony of 9/11 and then we lashed out with rage at “those people” thousands of miles away who “did it to us” because they “hate our freedom.” We were badly hurt and we craved revenge. Our desire for “justice” served as a veneer of legitimacy for our craving for retribution. America often boasts of being the most powerful nation in the world yet the events of 9/11 were not only intensely and legitimately painful to our nation but our sense of vulnerability and our helplessness to stop the attacks were deeply shameful to us as well. Shame ignited hostility within us and opened the doors wide for our violence to be projected outwardly. We did so in a “patriotic” fever. We compensated for our self-perceived weakness by going all-in with a sustained demonstration of our military omnipotence. Now it would be “their turn” to feel “shock and awe” courtesy of Uncle Sam. Here at home we were fed a steady diet of messages explaining how justified we were in attacking those countries because we were told that they were harboring the terrorists. We were reminded of how completely necessary and right it was for us to go to war. American Exceptionalism, now on steroids, was loudly proclaimed once again.

We needed to show ourselves and the world that we were not weak and when we waged war we felt powerful again. Our willingness to destroy nations and end life on a massive scale was our proof. We filled ourselves with a nationalistic pride that covered our shame. The problem is that this pride is unsustainable and we have to keep inflating it. If we don’t, we are left to feel the pain of our vulnerability and helplessness. That would be tantamount to a hard core heroin addict quitting cold turkey and going through a dangerous withdrawal and an agonizing detox. We avoid it at all costs. This is also an intolerable option because we are loyal subscribers to the idea that it is shameful to be vulnerable or helpless, in other words, to rely on another’s mercy. As long as we continue to believe in that story we are its prisoners. We remain enslaved to Mars. We are the addicts convinced that there is no way out of our addiction. So we keep going to war, injecting our “heroin,” and we postpone the inevitable “hitting bottom”as long as possible.

And what has been accomplished in the years since 9/11? So many more dead human beings, massive destruction and yet another generation traumatized by war. Those not physically killed often carry “invisible wounds” with them that become an inner torture chamber following them everywhere they go. These men and women hear a well-conditioned civilian population say: “Thank you for your service” as if it is the last piece of the puzzle allowing veterans and civilians alike to “get on with their lives.” “Service” has become a cruelly silencing euphemism.

In a manner of speaking, America needs to go through detox. It will be difficult and painful. As a nation, we have become dependent on war, our drug of choice, our “heroin.” We have become dependent on it both psychologically and economically. Our current way of life has emerged from this addiction to war. It is a retreat into fear that has been well-camouflaged by our national bravado. If we are to be free of it we must see it for what it is and see it for what it is not. It is our attempt to escape from our collective pain. It is not a means of rationally solving domestic problems or international conflicts. It is an escapism that perpetuates our denial of who we really are and leaves us with a cheap, fictitious belief that we are nothing more than separate biochemical machines. That belief is the Biggest Lie. We have too long been seduced by it and enslaved to it.

This will not change until we remember who we really are and who we are to each other. Recovery is the process by which we rediscover and reclaim our true identity as spiritual beings having human experiences. The fact that we are relational beings is central to our innermost truth. Our reality is one of community that is enriched by diversity and impoverished by conformity. We are conceived out of Love and Love is what we are meant to be part of.

Recovery is the most natural response to any addiction. Unfortunately, natural does not mean easy. It will not be easy. It will require letting go of long-cherished narratives of our superiority, our sense of entitlement and our “greatness.” It will require embracing honest humility and committing to courageous love as our path to the future. It will require an on-going process of reconciliation within ourselves, with each other and with our neighbors around the world. We will need to adopt and live out a set of values that prioritize the inherent sacredness of all human beings and all life in our world. No human being nor any part of the natural world can continue to be regarded as merely a “resource” to be used for the benefit of a privileged few. We must become free of the slavery to a materialism that limits us to see only “things” regardless of who or what we look at. This freedom is our birthright. It waits patiently for all of us to know it and claim it as our rightful inheritance as Children of the Ultimate Mystery.

Letter to an American President

Dear Mr. President,

I hope you, your family and all who you love and care about are well and happy.

I write to you today out of deep concern for the state of our country and of the world to which we all belong. We are living in interesting times to say the least and humankind has never been in greater danger.

As I’m sure you know, we are living in a climate crisis that is escalating before our very eyes and it is doing so faster than we expected. The summer of 2023 has seen record-setting heat. Texas is sweltering, Vermont has endured devastating floods, Canada is on fire and the world’s oceans are growing warmer and warmer. I know your administration has acknowledged this crisis and taken some action to address the situation but honestly, so much more is needed.

How can it be that as the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world and with all the resources at our disposal we are not doing so much more? We could be leading the way to a world that will be truly livable for all of us. Is it possible that our government which was meant to be of The People, by The People and for The People has been taken hostage by corporate power? Is this what stops us? It will cost too much money? Prioritizing profits over people is a 21st century Golden Calf. We worship this idol at our own peril.

As if the climate crisis isn’t enough, scientists have recently set the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight. We have never been closer to self-annihilation. The threat of thermonuclear suicide for all of humanity, indeed, for all life on our one little planet has never been more dire. Is it possible, Mr. President, that we have lost our appreciation for the staggering magnitude of how devastating these weapons really are? Do any of our military leaders actually believe that these weapons can be used in a “tactical” manner? Honestly sir, that notion is completely delusional. If we or anyone else uses a thermonuclear weapon we all lose in a very big way.

More broadly Mr. President, how is it that in the 21st century we still believe that militarism is the way to resolve conflicts? We cloak this belief with a faux rationality yet war is arguably the most irrational of all human behaviors. Believing that that we will get peace from war is like believing that if we plant apple seeds we will get trees that give us oranges. We reap what we sow and if we continue to sow the seeds of destruction we will get destruction. And yet…..we persist.

War, of course, cannot be separated from the climate crisis. As I’m sure you are aware, sir, the United States military has a carbon footprint larger than that of several countries. Our armed forces pollute the land, air and water that all life depends on. They do this with impunity. This is unacceptable if we are to bequeath a livable world to our children and grandchildren.

Lastly, Mr. President, can we please stop pretending that America is God? There have been too many episodes in our nation’s history where we have acted as if we were the Almighty wielding the power to end life. In World War II our firebombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo revealed our willingness to target civilians as did our use of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our use of napalm in Vietnam likewise made no distinction between military targets and innocent civilians. The My Lai massacre remains an ugly stain on our nation’s history. Too many still believe in the pernicious lie of “American exceptionalism” and use it to falsely justify their destructive agendas. They conflate a twisted concept of patriotism with Divine Leadership. This is a highly toxic combination. It is a cult-like dynamic. It is a way of death, not life.

Yes, let us love our country. Yes, let us respect our nation and the high ideals that gave birth to it. But let us not become hostage to the dishonest nonsense of “American exceptionalism” which is nothing but a modern re-branding of Manifest Destiny. It is as arrogant as it is wrong and it is high time that we officially and publicly reject it.

Let us be patriotic but not at the cost of being ensnared by “Us vs. Them” thinking. Our patriotism needs to be fully inclusive such that the full spectrum of human diversity is embraced, honored and respected. Let us remember that any “patriotism” that is devoid of humility and historical honesty is nothing but cheap propaganda.

In 1953 President Eisenhower made a speech in which he said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

What President Eisenhower said 70 years ago is even more true today. The Military Industrial Complex he warned us about has consumed American society and has made us a nation addicted to war. This addiction has infiltrated virtually every aspect of our society. Our recovery from this addiction is one of our most difficult and necessary tasks. If we do not rise to meet this challenge, we will meet the fate of all addicts who do not recover. We will suffer and die. This need not be our fate Mr. President. Together we are more than capable of meeting every adversity the Road to Recovery puts before us but to do so means that we will need to make room for a new consciousness to grow within us both individually and collectively. We can choose to humble ourselves or we can be filled with pride before our fall. We need to recall and reclaim our true identities as members of a sacred human family whose kinship transcends all the false and superficial barriers that have been the source of so much of humankind’s pain and suffering.

Mr. President, we have so much healing work to do as a nation. I know that this is a very heavy burden for you to bear and it cannot be yours to bear alone. Each of us must shoulder it as best we can. Recovery must happen in the community of America and in the larger global community. None may be excluded. We have many amends to make to our own citizens, to citizens of other nations and to nature itself. It is imperative for us to do this work so that we can truly be free. We will not be free otherwise. We have done great harm to so many and we need to assume full responsibility for our actions. We must make meaningful reparations for all the injuries we have caused. We need to start now.

Thank you sir, for your kind patience and consideration of my concerns.

In Friendship and with Respect,

Paul Nyklicek

Good Friday 2023

A few weeks ago, a group of peace activists stood in front of a city cathedral on Good Friday to call for an end to War and for the beginning of a Just Peace.

Good Friday, of course, is the day Christians commemorate the death of Jesus of Nazareth. More precisely, his death was a state-sanctioned execution by slow torture. The most powerful empire in the world at that time with an unrivaled military force carried out his death sentence.

A few weeks ago, just over two thousand years after Jesus’ crucifixion, a group of peace activists living in our current world’s preeminent military empire, the United States of America, gathered in front of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut. Though small in number, this group sought to disturb the complacency of a society that has become far too numb to its state of permanent war. On this holy day, a day of remembrance of the horrific state execution of an innocent prisoner, we stood outside the cathedral to bear witness to the countless innocent victims of modern warfare. So many have been senselessly killed only to be euphemistically categorized as “collateral damage” by the Masters of War. So many who did not die physically have been deeply traumatized by the raging insanity of War. Death and destruction are the immediate fruits of War while the enduring emotional trauma of War become the seeds from which future Wars emerge. This is the legacy of War.

If one seriously claims to follow The Way of Jesus, to follow his teachings and his example of how to live, one must regard all who are physically killed or psychologically maimed as nothing less than our full brothers and sisters. Their humanity and the sacredness of their lives cannot be diminished by labelling them with dehumanizing language which happens all too frequently in the reporting of War.

The question can be legitimately asked: Why would anyone stand on the side of a city street with a banner proclaiming PEACE IS STARTING and hand-held signs denouncing the madness of War? The pragmatists will ask: “What good will that do? It’s not going to change the minds of those in power.” If one sees our reality from a purely materialistic point of view where reality is composed only of atoms randomly rearranged over billions of years then the skepticism of the pragmatist is well-founded. Such protests, from this perspective, are a pointless waste of time and effort.

The answer to this question by those of us opposing War has everything to do with the rejection of that Old Story of us and its purely materialistic view of reality and of humankind. The Old Story of humanity is based on the mythology of “survival of the fittest” where we are all expected to relentlessly compete with each to have access to resources that we all need but don’t have enough of. This view of human life holds that we are fundamentally separate from each other and therefore declares that we must fight each other for the right to live. In this framework, those who are not “strong enough” or “don’t work hard enough” don’t deserve necessary resources. Ultimately, this means that certain people are not as deserving of life as others.

Which brings us back to the problem of War and the need to resist War in all its forms.

War is nothing less than a trauma factory on steroids. It destroys, degrades, and deforms everyone and everything it touches. War must be opposed for these reasons because ultimately War brings all of us closer and closer to suicide. We see this in terms of the epidemic of suicides among veterans and active military personnel that goes largely unacknowledged by those promoting the United States’ obscenely bloated “defense” spending year after year. It is also suicidal in the form of the very real danger of nuclear annihilation either by human or technological error or by the insane belief by any political or military leader that the use of nuclear weapons would somehow not be catastrophic for all life on our planet. Finally, War is devastatingly toxic to the natural world. Military activity significantly pollutes the air, water, and land that all earthly life depends on. The carbon footprint of the U.S. military alone is greater than that of many nations. This represents the “boiling frog” scenario in which humanity is the “frog” slowly but surely being boiled to death by the constantly increasing heat that Mother Earth is less and less able to mitigate for us.

Opposing War is opposing suicide. That is why we denounce it and reject it. It is not a form of “problem solving” or diplomacy. It is not a way of life. It is only the way to death.

So what is the alternative?

The alternative is based on the embracing of a New Story of humankind. It is an updated and scientifically-based understanding of human nature. This understanding proclaims that we prefer peaceful cooperation and coexistence far more than any inclination toward violence. This New Story of us is based on a conscious shifting toward the Power of Love and away from the Love of Power. It expands our awareness to know that who we is far beyond our mere biochemical physicality. We are not independent from each other but instead we are interdependent with each other. What we do to another we ultimately do to ourselves. Whether we like it or not, we are all profoundly interconnected. This concept is hardly a new one. Spiritual leaders have expressed this notion for thousands of years. Many traditions have some version of the Golden Rule as a key element of their faith.

So we gathered on Good Friday in the long shadow of the crucified Jesus so many years ago. We sought to make a most subversive statement to our present culture: Peace is possible and War is not inevitable. However imperfectly, we attempt to follow Jesus’ instructions for us to become the human beings we were meant to be. We have been invited and encouraged to follow his lead and live the way he taught us to live. He told us to love each other the way he loved us, to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. He told us again and again not to be afraid. He asked us to follow him. Then and now.

Every voice lifted, every loving action taken for the cause of Peace with Justice is never a waste of time or effort. These actions may not resonate in the surface realms of corporate capitalism, white supremacy, and militarism but they resonate significantly in the greater depths of agape love. Like anyone caught in the riptide of a powerful addiction, those whose drug of choice is the assumed power of financial, political or military dominance will at first misperceive the notion of recovery as impossible or crazy. All who are addicted to the “bottom line” remain functionally blind until something happens, an ordeal is experienced that becomes “eye opening.” Some have argued that such deep-level change happens only when we experience either great pain or great love.

The first Good Friday was full of both.

The Shame of it All

There is an understandable temptation to shame the perpetrators of the attempted insurrection earlier this week at our nation’s capital. Perhaps even more tempting is the desire to shame all those in power whose rhetoric fueled the eruption of violence we saw. To shame any such person is to forcibly impose on them the label of sub-human (usually with much more graphic phrasing) and to unilaterally declare them unworthy of humane treatment. To shame someone is to humiliate them. There is, of course, a reactive desire for retribution when we feel assaulted or offended and we feel very tempted to “get even” with the perpetrator and we make a case (publicly or in the privacy of our our thoughts) for the justification of the “payback” to be delivered. The Grand Fantasy, of course, it that this will somehow be corrective and healing for us or at least make us “feel better” (translation: a massage session for our ego) and that it will “teach them a lesson” and will “make them think twice before they act that way again.”

Someone from another world might look at us and ask: “How’s that been working for you humans?” I think if we’re honest, the answer is that it isn’t working for us. I suspect that we keep at it because we think it “should work” (because we’re the smartest people we’ve ever met!). So we keep punishing each other and wonder in amazement when those being punished “don’t get it.”

Here’s the thing: Shaming does not produce enlightenment. Shaming does correlate to violence. Significantly so. I contend that this is the case because shaming is violence. It is a direct attack on the human spirit embodied within every one of us (no matter how obscured it might be by multiple layers of “baggage” we have accumulated over time) and attacking anyone in this way does not induce them to become well behaved. When any of us is in enough pain we will tend to either lash out at others or lash inwardly against ourselves. We saw lashing out in Washington, D.C.

I am not in any way condoning or making excuses for the would-be insurrectionists or those who egged them on. I am adamantly opposed to their actions and beliefs. People, however, are not the problem. The problem is the problem. So what’s The Problem? Here’s my answer: The Problem is the belief that violence in whatever form is an effective way to resolve conflicts or heal injuries. Certainly we in America have romanticized and relentlessly promoted the fiction that “violence works.” This fiction permeates our politics, our economics, our legal system, and our popular entertainment just to list a few examples. We have been swimming in this fiction for far too long. We have learned to revel in the defeat of the “other” and to glorify ourselves in our “winning.” This may serve the pleasure center of the National Ego and our little individual ones but it does not serve our actual wellness as members of the Human Family.

It stops when we stop it.

Peace Day

In 1981 the United Nations declared by unanimous resolution that September 21 be recognized as The International Day of Peace. This is a “globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.” (see:

Why is “building a Culture of Peace” so hard for us?

Every reasonably intelligent person will say that they want peace and yet a Culture of Peace eludes us. At this point many a reasonably intelligent person will also reflexively qualify their desire for Peace with some form of the following: “…but we can’t have Peace as long as they…”. So the work to establish a Culture of Peace stalls.

“Who do you think you are?” is usually expressed as the indignant rejection of an insult but if we consider it as a serious question for ourselves to answer, it may shed some light on why it’s so difficult for us to establish that Culture of Peace.

Maybe we think we are inherently a violent and warlike species. Maybe we think it’s “in our genes” and that “we can’t help it.” Maybe we believe that, despite our best efforts, we are killers from a long line of killers.

That is the Old Story.

This is the story of us, locked into a world of toxic competition in which some must “lose” in life in order for others to “win.” It’s the concept that supports capitalism as we know it and keeps us in seemingly endless wars.

But is this who we really are?

There is a New Story (see: of humanity that is emerging. This story paints a very different picture of who we are. It shows us that, at our core, we are actually good rather than evil. We are inclined to cooperate and help each other succeed in life. We see this truth emerge again and again when some sort of disaster strikes (remember how people treated each other right after 9/11?) and our differences are quickly put aside. For however brief a time, we see each other clearly. We see each other as fellow human beings instead of as members of some artificial category.

Creating a Culture of Peace becomes not only possible but natural when we start to remember who we really are and start letting go of the false narratives that hold us prisoner.

As a means to reaching this end there is the concept of the two hands of Real Peace. One hand is closed and says “I oppose your injustice and destructiveness” while the other hand is open and says: “I’m open to you as a person.” This is a realistic practice. We can affirm the humanity of every person without exception while standing firmly against all systems that oppress any person anywhere.

This Real Peace rests on the foundation of our relationships with each other. These relationships form the bonds of our inter-connected nature. That is where our real security begins and how it thrives. It is not our neighbor’s fear of us that makes us feel safe. We feel safe with each other because, in some way, we see each our neighbor as family. Security is the result of knowing that what happens to any family member happens to all family members. We have defined “family” in an exceedingly narrow way for far too long. That needs to change and change fast.

Building a Culture of Peace does not mean that we will live in a conflict-free world. There will be conflict well into the future as long as human beings are involved with each other. What it does mean is that we solve our problems without resorting to violence. It means we recognize that the problem is the problem and not that people are the problem. It means that we give up the illogical belief that hurting others, or ourselves, is a viable way to resolve conflicts.

Building a Culture of Peace is both realistic and natural for the human family when we understand who we are in relationship to each other. We hold ourselves back from this realization by continuing to cling to our artificial categories of identification. We imagine that we are members of a particular nation, religion, political party, profession or class. No such category gets close to the depth of who we really are as beings. That would be like going for your regular medical check-up and having your doctor assess your health by examining the clothes you’re wearing. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.

If we want to establish a Culture of Peace in human society we will need to establish that culture within ourselves as part of the process. We need to heal the injuries sustained by our fragile humanness by claiming the truth of our own sacredness. Not only our own but the sacredness of everyone else as well. There is no one who isn’t. This sacredness is by no means limited to human beings. It encompasses all of creation.

We get to the heart of the matter when we recognize the sacredness of All. There we will find the Culture of Peace.

Hitting Bottom

We are moving through a remarkable period in our history. We are contending with the COVID-19 pandemic. Racist behavior continues to emerge in our country and elsewhere. Authoritarian governments are on the rise both in the United States as well as in the international community. As a nation we have been involved in the so-called War on Terror in multiple fronts in the Middle East for nearly twenty years with no end in sight. People everywhere are facing the consequences of toxic human behavior upon the biosphere that we are completely dependent upon. The potential devastation from this situation alone is dire enough to dwarf all others. In short, we find ourselves in a “perfect storm” scenario.

It is well understood by people in recovery that an active addict will need to “hit bottom” before they are ready to commit to meaningful changes in their way of life. A person, caught up in an addiction process, will resist and deny with all their strength until the painful reality of the consequences of their lifestyle comes crashing through their last layers of denial.

Hitting bottom for an individual can take many forms, among them are: broken trust, job loss, homelessness, losing friendships, being shunned by family members, serious injury, divorce, and the death of a loved one. This is a person’s direct experiencing of the natural consequences of a destructive way of life. The common denominator is that hitting bottom is extremely painful. The painfulness is ultimately what breaks the fantasy bubble of addiction and reveals the hard truth of What Is. The fantasy world of addiction is inherently unsustainable.

This is all fairly straightforward and understandable when we look at it thought the lens of individuality. Any individual person can get caught up in an addiction process if they are in enough pain. The challenge we face now is to see the same process occurring on a societal level. This is difficult because we are heavily conditioned to think in terms of individual responsibility rather than in terms of shared responsibility. In the world of addiction this is exemplified by the active addict’s false assertion that “I’m not hurting anyone but myself.” This is one of the many variations of his or her denial system.

However, what if we take an honest look at ourselves through a communal lens? Would we see that, as a species, human beings are also caught up in an addiction process? Are we as a human community addicted to a destructive way of life? Are we also in a state of denial to some degree?

Obviously, we cannot speak of every individual human being behaving in lock-step conformity. We can instead speak of a “critical mass” of humanity whose collective behavior makes a significant impact on the world. What is it that enough of us do with regularity that would constitute an addiction process?

What is humanity addicted to?

Control and domination. In other words, we play God.

We do it to each other, we do it to countless other animals, and we do it to all sorts of plant life that share this planet with us. We convince ourselves of our superiority in order to justify the way we use and abuse human and non-human life in order to make ourselves more comfortable and to feel special. We get a rush when we imagine that we have “conquered nature,” “tamed the wilderness,” or somehow defeated someone or something. In our addiction to control and domination we act with little concern for the consequences of what we do in the name of “civilization.” In our addiction we care about getting what we want. Anything else is secondary at best.

We are tragically addicted to polluting the air, water, and soil that every form of life on this planet depends on. Humanity does this in so many ways that we simply consider them to be part of “normal” life. The list is extensive: Extracting and burning fossil fuels, industrial waste, plastic waste, nuclear waste, and, of course, the extensive toxicity of our constant warfare. This constitutes an incomplete list to be sure but I think the point is made. We do a lot to try to control and dominate the world that is truly devastating to animal and plant life in global ecosystems. Basically, we treat Mother Earth as if it’s exclusively our species’ Town Dump.

Part of what characterizes an addiction process is the absence of awareness or concern for the natural consequences of one’s actions. While our awareness and concern has definitely been increasing over the past 50 years or so, it has not been nearly enough to significantly change our destructive behavior patterns. Is it possible that, at this point in our collective history, our addiction to poisoning the biosphere so that we can feel dominant and “in control” of “our world” has finally caught up with us?

Has our addiction to believing in “human exceptionalism” and the multitude of quick fixes and instant gratifications we have indulged in for so long finally brought us to the point where we are hitting bottom?


Responsibility is a choice but accountability is inescapable. We can choose to avoid our responsibilities for some period of time but they will always catch up with us. We can choose to accept our responsibilities but if we do not, accountability will be imposed upon us. If this happens and Nature ends up holding us accountable it will be a much more unpleasant process. Being proactively responsible won’t be painless but it will be a lot better than being forced into accountability.

If we willingly choose to be responsible for our destructive behaviors we will need to accept humility. Genuinely humbling ourselves means a lot of letting go. We will need to let go of our assumed “human exceptionalism” and our assumed right to dominate other people as well as other life forms with whom we share the Earth. We will need to let go of our assumed “master-servant” relationship with the world. We need to let go of our belief that Mother Nature is supposed to clean up after us no matter how big a mess we leave for Her.

Maybe the toughest thing to let go of is our allegiance to the materialistic paradigm that has dominated our society for so long. This mindset is something that most of us have been conditioned to see as “natural” since childhood. This is a belief in the primacy of things and that these things must be bought with money. This paradigm claims that having enough things will make us happy and satisfied. Having enough things will make us safe and secure. It says that this is the way we need to live our lives. This is a perspective that tells us that “greed is good.” It spins fairy tales about who is deserving of a “good life” and who isn’t. This paradigm supports an implicit justification for cruelty as a necessary component of a grand competition that rewards the “strong” and punishes the “weak.” This is all logical if we on our tiny planet moving around within an unimaginably vast universe are nothing but a collection of randomly assembled atoms and molecules. Such a premise requires an enormous level of human arrogance. It means asserting that we know all we need to know about our world, what it consists of, how it operates and that we are quite comfortable with dismissing whatever doesn’t fit with what we “know.” That’s a lot of arrogance.

So if we let go of our desire for control and domination, embrace genuine humility, and stop playing God, where does that leave us?

If we can overcome our fear of change we will be able to see something we’ve been blind to just as every addict is initially blind to what recovery is really all about. We will become open to a new framework of a healthy individual and communal life. What might such a new framework look like? We can begin by re-examining the framework of active addiction and ask ourselves: What would be radically different from this?

The unofficial mantra of the active addict is as follows:

“I want what I want when I want it!”

This expression emerges from a particular mentality. This mentality is the problem as well as the point from which real change emerges.

Our growth begins when we addicts finally hear Reality answering us with Tough Love when we beg for things to stay the same:

“Please, don’t make me do that! I promise this time I’ll…”
“It’s too late for that.”
“Wait? What do you mean? Do you actually mean that I have to……?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what I mean!”
“But what about…?”
“I promise that this time…”
“I said No!!”

Left with no other option, we relinquish our desire for control, dominance and and our imagined greatness and we finally dare to place our trust in something beyond ourselves. In the language of recovery, we surrender to a Higher Power.

There can be no recovery from addiction without mindful healing from the traumas that sparked and fueled the addiction process itself. As a a nation, we have a number of unhealed injuries that desperately still need healing. A short list includes our history of racism and its fallout, patriarchy that still regards women as second-class citizens, hyper-individualism that shames those who are not “successful”, and our destruction of nature in the name of promoting our civilization. Perhaps most critically, we must understand that trauma is actually a two-way street. Trauma occurs in the act of one injuring another and both parties are negatively impacted. This means that the perpetrator is also traumatized during the act of injuring another. This is most tragically revealed in the current epidemic of suicides by both past and present day military personnel. “Moral injury” is the term that has become recognized as this perpetration-induced trauma that so many of these men and women are suffering from. It’s a kind of karmic blowback and it painfully demonstrates the illusion of our supposed separateness from each other. It similarly shows how we are profoundly connected to each other which means that what we do to another we are also doing to ourselves.

It’s no wonder that so long ago we were advised to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

That continues to be a very difficult lesson for humanity to learn. Thousands of years in our classroom and we are still struggling to get a passing grade.

So the opposite of the addiction mantra might be something like this:

“We know that we can wait for what we want. We know that the needs of others are just as important to them as mine are to me.”

We need a change in our consciousness. It’s actually very possible for us to do that. Millions of recovering addicts have been showing us the way for a long time. It’s ironic that the very people that society has so long despised are the very same people that have implemented this change in their lives. A teacher of mine claims that the universe runs on irony!

One way to begin is to choose to cultivate a consciousness of compassion. It needs to begin as a choice just as one chooses to exercise and eat a healthy diet in order to get in shape. It requires consistent practice and dedication. We have to do the work. Shortcuts won’t get the job done.

What does all this mean for a society addicted to whatever it can get its hands on to feel in control and to not feel the pain of all the injuries it has caused and endured?

It means that we truly appreciate the gift that this world is for every life that shares it. This gift is not just for humans to do with as we please for our exclusive enjoyment. Mother Earth is a gift for all who live on her land, in her waters, and in her air. It is a gift that deserves to be respected.

We are not respecting this gift when we make excuses to keep dumping toxic material wherever we please. When we engage in the state-sanctioned mass murder known as war, when we perpetrate deforestation on a mass scale and destroy whole ecosystems, and when we burn whatever will burn in order to “advance” human society we are not respecting our gift.

It means that we stop expecting others to clean up after us. Healthy adults clean up after themselves. Viewed through the communal lens this means that humanity grows up, stops treating Mother Earth as our town dump, and starts to clean up all the mess we have made.

It means that we accept responsibility for what we have done and hold ourselves accountable for all of it. We need to make amends and reparations everywhere it is appropriate to do so. We need to express our genuine regret and remorse to all whom we have injured. No phony “celebrity apologies” will suffice. It’s got to be real.

We need to continually commit ourselves to growing in wisdom and compassion.

Finally, we need to remember that we are always susceptible to relapsing back to our old addictive ways. We are either busy recovering or we are busy relapsing. We become the process that we invest in.

Have we “hit bottom” as a society? Are we ready to say “Yes” to our recovery process?

We are about to answer those questions.

The Child of Fear

It seems that all too frequently we see eruptions of hatred in our world. We see episode after episode of hatred boiling over into violence. We see this on the international stage, locally, and everywhere in between. It has become an un-ending parade of horrors that we are compelled to witness. Our schools and places of worship have been consistently targeted. People who have been marginalized within our society have also been targeted although they often don’t get the same level of media recognition.

Hatred is the child of fear. When it grows large enough, hatred gives birth to violence.

There is nothing new about hatred boiling over into violence. Tragically, this has played out in human history from our very beginning. Here we are, now in the 21st century, still hating and killing each other.

In one respect, fear is the beginning of our evolution. Our ancient ancestors survived, in no small part, due to their ability to experience fear. As they learned how to balance their fear by applying their intelligence to dangerous situations they learned how to be careful. As our ancestors developed the habit of cautiousness, our existence as their descendants became assured.

Long ago we humans learned to fear whoever seemed “different” in some way. Long ago this was literally a matter of life or death. It’s not so hard to understand the power of such primal learning. Once upon a time it was highly adaptive and beneficial. Such conditioning runs deep in us even now.

Hating can be understood as going on the offensive in order to protect and defend against some perceived threat. Attack “them” first and make “them” think twice about attacking ”us.” Assuming, of course, that “they” are actually planning to attack.

Haters are afraid.

They fear annihilation. They fear degradation and humiliation. They fear being displaced, replaced, and having their culture erased.

This is an intensely painful fear!

How can such pain-fueled hatred be met?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that you “fight fire with fire” and respond with exactly the same kind of energy and if at all possible, do so with even greater force. The main problem with this conventional wisdom is that it’s really unwise It is the inside-out, upside down logic that wants us to believe that someone with cancer is going to be saved by having more cancer cells injected into their body. If your doctor told you that was your treatment plan you would probably seek a second opinion.

Instead, we need to go further down the rabbit hole. It’s not enough to see that hatred emerges from fear. We are speaking here of a fear that is the result of not recognizing the difference between fact and fiction. We need to understand where that fear comes from. When we go deeper we find this fear is product of ignorance.

In human terms, this ignorance is the belief that someone or some group is actually not good enough and therefore undeserving of equal treatment or even existence. Such beliefs are based on irrational judgements of perceived danger: “They are threatening our way of life.” “They are going to take over and we will be at their mercy.” “There’s not enough for all of us so someone will not get what they need.” Will it be “us” or “them” that is deemed unworthy? Ignorance says that someone doesn’t deserve to stay in the lifeboat and everyone in the boat looks at everybody else while silently thinking “It’s not gonna be me that gets kicked out!”

What are the people in the lifeboat ignorant of? What don’t they know? More to the point, what are they believing that is not true?

Here’s the Big Lie:

The tragically-believed lie says that we are all separate from each other and the rest of Creation. The Big Lie is that we are separate from the Ultimate Mystery that created us. This ignorance of our true inter-connectedness and interdependency keeps us stuck in an Illusion of Separateness and trapped in the Fear of the Different Other.

The liberating truth is that each of us is profoundly inter-connected. We are intimately part of each other and all of Creation. All of Creation is likewise part of each of us.

We all come from the same creative energy, the same Sacred Source. In traditional religious language, we are all part of the body of Christ. If you prefer a more secular narrative, we all come from the same recycled stardust. As far as we can tell, biodiversity appears to be the modus operandi of the Ultimate Mystery that all of us have emerged from and continue to be a part of. Diversity, not uniformity, seems to be the way of the universe. It is interesting to note, however, that uniformity seems to be the clear and consistent preference of all authoritarian groups throughout human history.

What drives a segment of the human population to embrace a social system that requires everyone to “follow the leader” in order to avoid being severely punished? What is the incentive for people to stop thinking and being responsible for themselves and allow “those in charge” to think and decide for them?

In a sense, this can be seen as a choice made out of frustration with the democratic process-how nothing ever seems to “get done” to improve things. In another sense, this choice can be understood as an evasion of personal responsibility insofar as it is a consent to let the powerful make decisions without interference from those without power. In return the powerless are promised to be looked after and protected by the reigning elite. It’s the old deal of trading away freedom in exchange for security.

If we know what a bad deal this is how do we keep agreeing to it? What motivates a person to sign on the dotted line?

A conspiracy of ignorance and fear.

Our “old programming” for irrational fear has never been deleted. It remains dormant within us just waiting for an injection of energy into its system. Unfortunately, there are groups who want to cultivate fear in as many people as possible. The reason for this is simple: People are much easier to control when they are scared.

We are presently caught in a riptide of fear-based hatred in our society. This is the consequence of a culture that has been structured according to a primitive fear of the Different Other. The violence that is the natural progression of hatred is the response to a misperceived threat. This misperception is part of the “old programming” that remains within us such that different-ness is misunderstood as danger. Since this fear is embedded in our culture we must recognize that it is systemic in nature and systemic problems must be met with systemic solutions.

We need to recognize this fear as a remnant of our ancestral survival. It is now time for the old way of survival to step back and make room for living as we were meant to live as human beings, as Sacred Children of the Ultimate Mystery. While we recognize the old way as an early human adaptation, we must now firmly assert its obsolescence. This primitive fear has served its purpose and now our evolutionary journey needs to continue toward a rational compassion that excludes no one. This attitude of compassion rests on the scientific foundation of the inter-relatedness of all life on this planet. The reality is that we are all part of the same family. Perceived differences are superficial and obscure our unity only by a veil of ignorance.

The work of our time is to remove the veil of ignorance that interferes with the expression of natural compassion for all. We seek to open the way for an appreciation and expression of the healthy diversity of the human family. The challenge we face today is to love courageously in response to all forms of hatred and any violence that emerges from that hatred. We do our best to love the person infected with hatred and refuse the temptation to retaliate with violence when the hate-infected person lashes out. It is extremely difficult work but it is absolutely necessary because we are all in this together. We cannot escape our inter-connectedness. Either we will all go down together or together we will all rise up and be who we really are: People of Courageous Love.