Revolutionaries are Sexier than Revolutions

Revolutionaries are sexier than revolutions. We know their images, their hand-selected quotes, the steady curation of image that comes particularly when the revolutionary and their revolution is no longer a threat to the modern-day. Though their ideas and images continue to live, the dominant culture tends to take what is most palatable and discard the rest—unless the revolutionary serves a better purpose as the villain, in which case the culture takes what is most disturbing and elides the pointed critique.

Parthenon, by Thermos

There’s something magnetic about the marriage of the idealized vision and deep, transformative passion. The eyes inspire love or hatred, devotion or utter opposition. That depth of passion creeps through all that is joyous and heavy, loving and ferocious, creeping into the most crooked and unsettling parts of the human heart and brings it into service of the grand vision, the dream of a better society, a better life, a more egalitarian world. With this ferocity of dedication, all manner of ills suddenly seem all too easy to rationalize and use. Intoxicated by this passion, we see revolutions that become even more repressive than the tyrannies overthrown—the suppression of religion, free thought, the removal of liberties and “decadent” cultures.

When faced with the possibility of change, often the emotional parts of us that want safety and stability will push back hard, to clamp down, to become ferocious and punitive. Our systems of protection, feeling under attack, permit themselves to push back harder, crack down more fiercely, take on heavier firepower. Suddenly a simple disagreement becomes an ideological battle in which lines must be drawn and people must swear allegiance. We forget that our ideals are always and ever imaginary visions to which we aspire and cannot be effective laws to rule a species so diverse and contentious as humanity. Something will always rebel under the yoke of such legislation.

The heart of fervor could also allow room for the heart of deep love and compassion for the beauty and weakness of fellow humans. When this heart comes into contact with pure intellectual vision, those sterile guidelines can begin to relax. Instead of demanding our fellow humans adhere to a standard of morality that is devoid of humanity, we can bring those grand visions and ideals into an experimental practice. We can strive for equality while recognizing the inescapable tendency toward hierarchy. We can admit that our new ways of thinking and acting must by necessity overturn someone else’s world, a world that to them was perfectly suited to their nature—or at the very least, their nature had come to fit the world. We can recognize the distress of the privileged when it arises to meet the changes we push to see in our lives, our relationships, our civic communities. Change is coming, and for some it will be painful and arduous, while others might find themselves more free, more empowered.

The Angel and the Sun

A certain amount of social grace is useful: the ability to make small talk, to build connections between others, to find points of commonality and bring them together. We need people who knit us together as much as we need people willing to confront what is unspoken or unjust in community. We need those who quietly take part, finding a place among the throng, offering a simple contribution that makes sound the greater whole. As much as we love paying attention to the famous, the celebrity, the larger-than-life, it would be exhausting and unworkable if every person we met burned with the same fire.

Even still, we might feel some longing to stick out in some way, to be seen as divine even if only by one person. We might have some need or want that demands attention. A feeling of urgency arises, demanding action. “This matters to me, and it should matter to us all!” But the mind responds with a quickness, providing hundreds of completely reasonable arguments about why we should keep this to ourselves, why expressing it could disrupt the group and our place within it, why this is not the attention we really want.

Chumash Sun-Child-Adult, color-enhanced photo by Millennium Twain

Underneath these numbing arguments is the anxiety that comes when the instinct to act meets with inhibition. This anxiety says that if I do the thing I really want to do, everything will change and I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage the changes well. Maybe things will change in a way I like, but I cannot guarantee it. The mind thinks that offering these soothing reasons will be enough to convince our wants and needs to lay down quietly and go back to sleep, but these needs and wants are like insistent young children. They do not understand reason, they only understand their urges.

If we do not allow ourselves to admit to our desire for attention, we find ways to push away and undermine the efforts people do make to recognize and praise us. We get uncomfortable, shy, awkward, or put ourselves down. We make the person attempting to praise us uncomfortable or wrong.

When this want to express and be seen gets repeatedly ignored, they’ll begin to act out in ways that cause more problems than possibly would have happened in the first place. Instead of graciously accepting the attention we receive, we might become resentful and toxic toward those who naturally receive attention and praise. We might gossip, destructively criticize, or undermine those people who seem “too good for themselves.” We might try to get attention by completing negating ourselves, martyring ourselves in the hopes that if we suffer enough someone will finally see it and pull us out. We might cling to our problems and magnify them with the energy that we could have spent creatively.

What wants attention today? What today feels in conflict within the self? What in the mind is limiting the ability to take action? How do our impulsive behaviors undermine the ways we think we want to carry ourselves?

Comfort and the Push for Change

At times, something in the self grows wary of revolution. Even when one feels the way things are do not work, the current system of self-management or social management are harmful to well-being, there is still a fear of what will happen in the gap between the old and new systems. Revolutions are rarely without cost, and the cost is felt for all. Huge moments of change open up possibility and free a chaotic kind of energy that cannot be easily tamed and directed. Indeed, this energy is available to all, and might run counter to one’s intentions.

A part clings fast to comfort and stillness. When this part is not aligned with the change at hand, it saps the energy and will one needs to bring forth the change. We grow bored and resentful at our jobs and dream of a life of radical independence, but when the time comes to take the step, we look at our lives and wonder, “How will I pay for all this? What if I lose the comforts I have? What if what happens next is worse?” But if instead we denying this need to stop, to be still, we tear the roots of the self and distress the entire organism.

Der Stier, by Franz Mark

This stillness provides space for the imagination, giving it room to root into the soil and experience the change needed to bring vision into manifestation. Instead of narrowing our focus to a rigid view of what we think should happen, stillness brings a broadness and softness that helps us to adapt without losing the core of our vision.

This need for comfort pushes against the desire for radical change. We need a place for stillness, a place where we can rest and receive pleasure. Instead of pushing this away, how can we include this in the life and world we are attempting to create?

Many goddesses of love and pleasure are also known as goddesses of war: Freya, Aphrodite, Ishtar. Is love and pleasure included in the change we want to enact? Are the animal needs of our bodies given due honor, or are they shamed and suppressed? Even a vow of abstinence must allow space for the energy of craving and lust, else those urges sneak out in unexpected and unfortunate ways. Denial of the needs and wants of the body is a poor foundation for a revolution.

Our bodies and instincts offer power to the vision. When aligned to a sense of purpose, the body can tolerate incredible adversity and deprivation, but it cannot escape its own basic needs. Instead of attempting to assert “mind over matter,” bring the mind into the body. Feel your creatureliness, your pleasures and pains. Invite your mind to truly know and inhabit the body. Breathe into the places of tension and resistance, letting yourself feel what is happening without commentary from the mind. Exhale, allowing that tension to ease and space to expand. Within the bones and muscles is power and stillness.

Dreaming the Impossible

The season shifts slightly after harshness, high expectations and demands and a lingering sense: “Is that all there is?” Outward conditions seem much the same, but our awareness begins to shift away from that sense of constriction to dreams of life as we think it should be. For some, that image of “life as it should be” is not a mere fantasy but a thing in itself, so obvious in its elegant workability that the failure of others to see so clearly leaves the dreamer feeling alienated.

Those dreams seem so tangible and real that one feels tempted to simply turn aside from the rote necessities and compromises of the world as it is and invest wholly in the dream, to push for a radical alteration in outer conditions to make possible the vision. “All I need to do is push, and others will see.” So fixated can we become on the change we want that we might begin to withhold from ourselves or others any information that complicates or undermines the effort, which in turn renders the effort more vulnerable to problems related to this information. Think of a politician striking out a bold new campaign with a secret lingering in their history, a secret they pray is never made known. Now the secret is a land mine waiting to go off, where the politician could consciously defuse the mine and control the narrative by revealing the secret in their own way.

Our beautiful imagined city could never exist in this world because the mind is capable of imagining infinite possibilities while removing inconvenient laws of nature or emotional realities from its estimation. When we allow ourselves to be seduced by an elegant and simple vision of humanity, we have likely neglected to account for important realities that will certainly crop up and interfere with the work. Others will rebel or dissent and their disagreements might make no sense to us. Many of the most heated intellectual arguments between people become fixed and unresolvable because they do not account for the underlying emotional complexities. Two people may essentially agree on a vision but stay stuck in their conflict because parts of them are afraid of being left out or oppressed if the other person “wins.”

We need our dreams, nevertheless, and our beautiful perfect fantasies to lift us from the morass of accepting life as it is, particularly when life as it is feels unworkable, unjust, or painful. Dreaming allows us to imagine possibilities that are not immediately practical. Dreaming accesses the spark of inspiration that feeds action and sets things into motion. What is within yearns to mix with what is without. When we risk putting our dreams and inspirations into a form, to bring them into being, then we begin the alchemical process of transforming self and world.

What vision of life have you not yet dared to dream? What kind of society would you want to enact? How can we begin to share our visions and hopes in a spirit of building coalition and spinning together a communal vision of possibility?