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On Realising the Political is Personal

Over the last few weeks, members of the British Government have repeatedly described the newly-elected Leader of the Opposition as a threat (to national security, to the economy, and to what they describe as family security). His opponents in the media and politics have been busily employing the rhetoric of fear, painting a vision of the doom-filled future that surely awaits if the British electorate eventually elect him as Prime Minister.

There’s nothing new in this, of course. We’re all familiar with the play of oppositional, fear-fuelled politics. Don’t elect them. They will damage you or threaten your lifestyle (or your life) in some way. Whether it’s the other political parties, or other countries, or a particular group or kind of people, the dynamic is the same: there’s them, and there’s us, and never the twain shall meet.

There are occasions when those in power (or who aspire to be in power) pose a real and immediate physical danger, of course. I fully acknowledge that we don’t all live in states where the rule of law (mostly) holds sway.

In the early 1970s, feminists coined the phrase, “the personal is political.” I’d suggest that the reverse is also true: the political is personal. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to look for myself.

Since I was young, I’ve sided with the underdog. I’ve worked and lived in disadvantaged inner city areas. I’ve expressed disdain for the one per cent, the bankers, the flagrantly rich. As I looked with another facilitator, an underlying story became very apparent. I saw the words, I have to be modest. In addition to the words, there was a strong sensation and numerous images. Not only was there a self here who has to be modest, but also a command or instruction to be modest (and I began to see how this played through in many areas of my life).

I don’t yet know how seeing through this story of having to be modest will play out. We look, and see what follows from the looking. There’s no prescription here. Whatever happens from now on, I’m no longer carrying that previously unconscious story of having to be modest, which was understandably triggered by images of people living in grand, distinctly un-modest opulence. I no longer need to project it onto others; if it arises again, I’ll most likely be aware of it. If not, I can simply inquire further.

Wherever you sit in the political landscape, take a look at those you think of as them, whoever they are. Whoever you hate, or passionately disagree with, or campaign against, or shout at when you’re watching the news. Be it the Tories or Labour, Muslims or Jews, black people or white people, refugees, feminists, paedophiles, the religious right, the religious of any shade, those in same sex relationships, immigrants, Darwinists, homophobes; this isn’t about deciding who is right or wrong, but looking at how and where the political is personal.

Rest for a few moments; close your eyes, settle into your body, and take a couple of breaths. Then bring an image of them to mind, and have a look at it. Simply look. Judgements about them may well arise. That’s okay. We can come to those later. For now, see the image there in your mind’s eye and see if it’s a threat (or danger, or attack – find the word that fits the best). Remember, this isn’t an intellectual or cognitive process; let your body give you the answer. If it responds in some way, that’s a yes. However the response comes (as a sensation of tightness or contraction, a feeling of fear, some kind of emotion), let the response happen just as it’s happening. Take time to feel it. And then let the process unfold, looking at the words and images that arise, and feeling the sensations and feelings. See exactly where the threat lies, going by your body each time.

You may also notice that a self identity arises in response to the perceived threat. You may notice words like I’m under attack or They want to take something away from me or I’m inferior/superior to them. Look for that self, too.

It may also be useful to use the Boomerang or Panorama Inquiries here. (We use the Boomerang for one triggering person or situation, and the Panorama for more than one). When we project qualities onto others, be they positive or negative qualities, there’s nearly always a deficient self identity in play. Again, rest and bring an image of them to mind. As you look at them, see what the image of them says about you and who you are. Who are you in relation to them? Ask the question, and listen for the answer. Ask several times; different answers may come each time. See which one your body resonates with most strongly, and continue looking for that self in the words, images, and body sensations and feelings that arise.

Using the inquiries in this way helps to defuse the fear and sense of threat around any political issue. Even things that seem inherently real (global warming, the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the financial crisis in Greece, whatever you feel affected by or that you find yourself preoccupied with) can be inquired into in this way. No stone need be left unturned. Note that to inquire isn’t to deny the existence of things, or to arrive at a conclusion about them; it is simply to explore our experiencing of them, and to see where there are unexamined assumptions and beliefs operating.

When we’re looking in this way, we can let go of any notion of being politically, emotionally, or spiritually correct. The inquiries allow us to be gut-level honest in any given moment. We may be shocked or embarrassed by what comes; that’s all part of the process. If there are places we dare not tread, we can look. What’s the worst that could happen if we look at these words or images, or feel these feelings?

When we take the time to disentangle the personal from the political, we often find there’s more clarity, flow, and spaciousness around our opinions. Perhaps we discover that the anger that we’ve always felt towards the other side actually stems from an unconscious deficiency story, or we find that we’ve aspired to be like our parents in order to gain their approval, sidelining our authentic selves in the process. Whatever we discover, we’re left free to hold whatever views make sense to us, minus the rigidity that comes from fear or deficiency.

2 comments

  1. Mark Hurwit says:

    I have come to notice that there is this “something” at work in me, and in others around me, when we express strong political views about things. And, while often accept the validity of others’ views (especially if they correspond to mine), this other “something” leaves me feeling that the holding/expressing/acting on such views is not really touching on or doing anything, really, about the issue under consideration. So many things just look like reaction, or at least containing reaction; and, strangely, the existence of that kind of operation in us seems itself like the very problem we are getting upset about in the world. I’m maybe not saying this that well, but I’ve felt it for quite some time, and it’s left me with a different orientation to “political events” than many friends around me; and my table conversation, at least regarding political and world events, has become rather lame.

    But I wanted to thank you, Fiona, for expressing clearly a path we can all take when we become aware of that “heat” rising in us. My conviction is that, without such awareness and work, no efforts in the public/political arena will bear the kind of results we hope for. You all have your political goofballs over there; we’ve got The Trump and his hordes. The need to see clearly OUR responses to all this grows daily. Who knows, maybe that’s why all these nutcases exist… to give us the opportunity/need to get it right ourselves.

    • fiona says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughts on this, Mark. Yes, that’s my experience too. Whilst it’s so easy to get involved in the reactions and the ‘aren’t they so awful?’ dialogues, it seems that inquiring takes us into a deeper place of understanding with all of this, even if outwardly our opinions remain the same. And it is very instructive and humbling when we see that our own inner drives and feelings are being reflected by our political opponents, as you describe.

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