New Year. Again.
Yesterday, I sat down to write up some pleasing recipes that I developed over the holidays but what happened instead was…this. I did include one very tasty snacky thing, and will certainly offer more in the future, but for now, my heart is apparently so full it’s overflowing.
I used to find comfort in the swing of the year, in the idea of a new beginning, a fresh chance for change to emerge. Eventually a cycle of hard situations drained energy away from that little faith and left me without much hope. However, despite the obvious, not to say screaming probability of extraordinary challenges ushered in by this particular new year, I find myself swinging back toward a deeper, perhaps more truthful hope.
In correspondence with Carl Jung, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous discussed genuine conversion experiences from addiction to freedom in terms of ‘ego collapse at depth’. Another term for this state is despair. Out of true despair, we can find our way to freedom, to hope, and to the ability to change. In seeking to bring progress to humanity (or humanity to progress), those of us who work for change are essentially trying to change human nature. The bad news is that it’s very difficult. The good news is that it’s working.
And in fact, changing human nature is both difficult and simple. There’s a line in South Pacific that tells us we have to be carefully taught to hate, and that turns out to be largely true. When children are raised in a culture of kindness, the majority of them will become kind adults. When our cultures promote willful ignorance, bias, anger, mistrust and hatred, a significant proportion will become mistrustful and easily roused to anger and even hatred.
That’s horrible, right? Yet in this horror lie the seeds of true change, because for the majority of people, acting hatefully is not that easy. False hatred needs to be fed and fanned to keep it going. One on one, in personal interactions, in active listening, in seeking common ground, even heavily indoctrinated people may be brought into clarity and freedom of thought.
Which Brain Will Win?
Human brains are complicated but brain science teaches us that we all rely partly on a very ancient, reactive fight-or-flight brain pattern (sometimes called the lizard brain) as well as a newer and more deliberate, responsive, capacity to think, process, and understand. This newer brain (also called our monkey brain) allows us to communicate and feel empathy with others and to relate to experiences we haven’t shared. Our inner lizard is quick to retaliate to any perceived threat, quick to anger, and quick to strike. Our inner new human can take a moment to evaluate a situation, consider possible responses, and select one with benefits for others as well as for the self.
So where am I going? I’m guessing that the coming year(s) will hold many, many opportunities for ego collapse at depth as perceived goals are betrayed and unforeseen means are used to reach unforeseen ends. That time of brokenness is a time of opportunity for true, deep, and abiding change to occur. As Gandhi wrote: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Let’s Be The Change
It’s easier to use the shorthand version that’s usually attributed to Gandhi, and had he lived into our time of sound bites, perhaps he would have condensed his thoughts into that tidy little phrase. If it feels more natural to ask ourselves to be the change we want to see in the world, let’s do more than ask. Let’s do the work and be the people of change who make change possible. The world has teetered on just such a brink many times before but never before have so many people been educated, been exposed to so many divergent ways of thinking, been able to connect with many worldwide cultures.
Indeed, several billion people now own smart phones with the ability to fact-check (governmental agencies permitting). If willingness is not guaranteed, it’s encouraging that younger generations have a far broader sense of community than their grandparents. Change is coming, faster than many people can handle. So let’s become more compassionate, let’s be better listeners, and let’s never stop working for peace, for economic justice, for climate and environmental protections. After ego collapse at depth, a new tomorrow and a new world order.
A Most Versatile Snack
Some friends organized a progressive dinner on Saturday and at each house, we considered a thoughtful question together. Our responses–and the questions, which tended to morph quite a bit–went all over the place and I came home with a renewed sense of hope for the imaginative, creative future we will make with each other. I chose to be the first stop and spent an enjoyable day making more-or-less healthy appetizers. Here’s the one I liked best.
Spread this delectable mixture on thick slices of crisp Persian cucumbers, use it as a dip for fresh pepper spears, tuck it into pita pockets with chopped Romaine or shredded cabbage, or serve it over brown rice or wide noodles. Because goat cheese has less fat than the more usual cream cheese, this version of the classic spread is less cloying and artery clogging yet marries the various flavors with panache.
Smoked Salmon Spread
8 ounces soft goat cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 green onions, thinly sliced
4 ounces smoked salmon, skinned and flaked
Mash goat cheese with yogurt until well blended, then stir in dill, lemon juice, horseradish, salt, and paprika. Add green onions and salmon and gently fold until well mixed. Serve at once or chill until ready to serve. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days. Makes about 2 cups.