Letters from Berkeley: Finding a personal revolution


I sometimes find myself in situations that make me wonder what I would have done if I’d lived in a Soviet-bloc country in the Communist era. I’d like to think I would have been a dissident, reading and writing banned material, helping to work toward nonviolent revolution and freedom from a monstrous system that amazes me still with how it perpetuated itself even though nobody liked it.

It seems more likely, though, that I’d have been passive, acceding to the game without making any waves, breaking rules only in my imagination. Maybe I’d even have joined the Young Communists, or been an informer, or a rude shopkeeper. See, when I look at the dichotomy of autonomy-belonging, I like to say I’m the autonomous type. But then I look at situations like this:

I was sitting in one of my seminar classes last week and, having a moment of utter boredom, let my eyes wander around the table and to the professor in the front. He was standing pressed back against the chalkboard, both arms crossed over his solar plexus. His tie was crooked, and his face gleamed with a faint sheen of sweat.

I looked around the room and discovered that every single person in the room was “matching” the professor. Every person except the woman with the laptop and myself had their arms crossed, their shoulders hunched. The woman with the laptop crouched behind her screen as if it were a shield.

Experimenting, I opened my body — arms and legs uncrossed, feet planted on the floor, spine straight, shoulders back. And my third chakra — the energy center smack in the middle of the solar plexus — felt hard as a rock. I wanted to hunch my body over again, cross my limbs, and protect myself. From what? Probably the vibration of pain everyone was in.

Bodily discomfort, I have learned, is a communication indicating that a change is desirable. The change I wanted was to pick up and go do any of a number of things I was fantasizing about during class — mostly running along the lines of sleep, food and masturbation. Looking at everyone in the class, it seemed no one wanted to be there, not even the professor. So what kept us going? Some strange Communist-type game told us we had to keep plugging away, without making any waves.

I read something once about how the split between one’s authentic being and one’s social self is the basis for alienation — the root of the feeling that one cannot do anything. That disjunction in the relationship between facets of one’s own self is reflected in an individual’s inability to break free of the lies she is trapped in and perpetuated through social agreement.

The third chakra is sometimes described as a person’s center of power in relation to the physical world. I’ve seen it as my self-esteem, how I feel about myself in social relation to the world. This is in contrast to the fourth chakra, the heart center, which is the source of self-affinity — how I love myself. When I become my social self by orienting my perspective through the third chakra, I identify myself with whatever social game I’m involved in — law school, legal career, citizen, whatever. The lie is that if I keep grounding through my social self, I’ll stay in the game, and maybe even win it. The problem arises when the esteem society has for me by playing the game doesn’t match up to my affinity for myself. When the game loves me but I don’t, that’s when the pain comes in, as validation must come entirely from the outside.

Why do I not high-tail it out of unpleasant situations like boring classes I learn nothing from? There’s that oft-heard saying that the point is to be in the game but not of it — in other words, not to match the vibration of pain felt by the vast majority playing the game. The way to unmatch is to make sure that space of self-love equates self-esteem. As usual, balance and holism is key — not thinking about how to compromise between facets of self, but looking at how they are part of the same body, each a reflection of the whole.

I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. But there’s a revolution in the making somewhere in me, and it seems part of the key to allowing it to happen is self-love no matter what, even if my more romantic side calls most of what I’m doing in school a sellout. It doesn’t have to be — the peace comes from being comfortable wherever I am in present time.

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