Uncovering Polarization: Cultivating Compassionate Exchange  

By Sandra Ladley 

I hope you’ll join me for an introduction to Karuna Training on the topic of Uncovering Polarization: Cultivating Compassionate Exchange on Wednesday, July 17th, from 6 – 7:30 pm MT. The session will include remarks and discussion on polarization, an introduction to Karuna Training methods for working with intense views and emotions, meditation, and time to share our longings going forward. The link to the event registration is here.

I recently read that the distinguishing feature of our current global predicament is not so much the polarization we’re experiencing but the pandemic of helplessness that we share. Polarization is a naturally occurring phenomenon, how waves of energy and light move and oscillate. It is also an ongoing part of our social psychology. But our history of bloody wars shows that it’s not easy for us to resolve polarization on a human scale. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to stay current with events and different views, but now, with the overwhelm of global war, conflicts in the US, systemic injustice, and climate change I can barely microdose the daily news. I feel an ongoing sense of doom and longing for a resolution to so many things. I recall like a mantra, the title of the old Broadway show Stop the World I Want to Get Off! 

In planning our classes for Karuna Training, we’ve observed that, after the pandemic, people don’t seem to want to come together in person - or online. Then where can we meet? I see people needing to care for themselves and to numb and escape. I experience this myself. Unfortunately, our entertainment industrial complex has monetized the need for escape and markets a Mobius strip menu of choices, making it hard to find entertainment as solace. At times like this, I recall the title of Pama Chodron’s most famous book, The Wisdom of No Escape, which sometimes helps me to remember to take a few breaths and stay present with my feelings. Recently, I’ve found myself imagining that I’m playing in the dirt like children do, or cleansing myself in the dirt like birds do, looking for a literal earthly ground underneath it all. Can you relate? What can we do for ourselves and others during this time? How can we act on our helplessness? How can we find a shared ground of sanity for the benefit of all and our planet?  

Like many, I first experienced polarization and a sense of helplessness in my family home. In my family, I felt like the outsider, the arty wild child plopped into a conservative environment at birth, I was on one pole while the others were on the other pole, and it remains true to this day. I moved away from east to west at age 20 and, in so doing, found kindred spirits and a family of choice. Yet, despite spending most of my adult years in the liberal SF Bay Area, I found myself re-enacting the experience of feeling like an outsider and polarization in my life choices. I chose to work in a conservative setting and I sought spiritual sustenance in a conformist spiritual community. My outsider experience could be described as one of fear that, at any moment, I would express or do something that would make others uncomfortable and that, as a result, I would be judged or shunned. I’ve likely sought these environments because they are familiar to me, a habitual pattern of seeking crumbs of acceptance and love from those who feel different from me. I’m aware of my privilege as a cisgender white-bodied woman and know that many others experience far worse dangers and powerlessness from their perceived differences in an ongoing way. I am humbled and am continually learning. My childhood experience of the fulcrum of polarization has oriented me toward wanting to understand, empathize, and bridge differences. More than just ‘can’t we all just get along’ I keep seeking ground that is inclusive of our diverse views that will benefit all of us and our planet in the long run. This is not a fantasy, though it may be increasingly hard to see. It has happened before in our history. I’m inspired by, for example, how Abraham Lincoln famously created his “team of rivals,” his cabinet of enemies.  

We are so hardened up into our fixed views. On one side, a friend recently told me I should cut ties with my family; they’re “fascists.” On the other side, another friend recently dissed me when I tried to describe the meaning and relevance of the term “woke.” It seems nobody wants to get into another person’s shoes anymore or to listen to, understand, or empathize with the other point of view. I remember how I was trained to do this in high school debates. I learned so much from researching and conveying a point of view that was opposed to mine. I am inspired by and hope to join a dear friend who has recently been canvassing door to door. After an initial greeting, she will ask the person she’s talking to “What is most important to you?” She’s found that this can open the door to a compassionate exchange of listening and learning. So many of our toxic divides now are around issues that are a matter of life and death. We have no time to waste being tangled up and manipulated into rigid stances that prevent us from listening, exchanging hearts, and finding solutions to these urgent matters. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of current research and discussion on polarization. Why do we get into polarization? How do we get out of it?  What do you think? 

In the 90-minute session on July 17th, I will present themes from this research. I will also introduce Karuna Training methods that have practical applications for navigating these horrible times of polarization. These include meditation, embodiment, compassionate exchange, working with intense emotions, and being held in an open-hearted community. The session will also offer an introduction and Q&A on the next Karuna Training cycle. I hope to see you there.   

Article written by Sandra Ladley

Related Posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram