essays on suffering and awakening

The British unraveling

By over a million votes, Britain has chosen to leave the European Union. My first reaction is that I feel deeply unsettled by the news. The EU exists because Europe has learned to come together after many centuries of constant warfare. It has led to the free movement of people, greater prosperity and a peace that has lasted three generations. I see that as real progress.

However, after spending several hours reading and worrying, I want to take a breath. If I step back from the fear cycle, there are two other thoughts I have about yesterday’s vote.

The first is an old story about a farmer who lives in a small village. One day his only horse runs away. “How tragic,” his neighbor says. “Perhaps,” the farmer replies.

The next day, the horse reappears, leading a herd of wild horses behind him. “Amazing! Such good luck!” the neighbor now exclaims. “Perhaps,” the farmer says again.

While training one of the wild horses, the farmer’s son falls and breaks his leg. “I guess your luck isn’t so good after all,” says the neighbor. “Perhaps,” the farmer answers.

While the son is recovering, the a group of soldiers comes to town. They force all the young men to enlist to fight the king’s enemies, except for the farmer’s son. “His leg is broken. He’s of no use to us,” their commander says. The neighbor again congratulates the farmer on his good fortune. You can guess what the farmer says.

We know that the British vote is a major shift, but we have no idea what it will lead to. Rather than looking at it in terms of good and bad, I think it’s more helpful to acknowledge that it is a powerful change that affects everyone on earth in one way or another.

As with any change, we have a choice — we can approach it with fear and resistance, or we can look at it as an opportunity for growth. I don’t like big changes any more than the next person, but I do know that they tend to show us what we’re stuck on. They can be a teacher, rather than an obstacle, pointing towards what we need to let go of to get free. I think each of us can learn something from our reactions to change.

My second thought is the idea of the spiral. What makes the British vote so shocking is that the world today is so interconnected. That people would choose to sever some of that connection seems like a step backwards.

I believe that the external world is a reflection of our internal state. As we become more connected to the spirit within us, our countries and societies become more integrated around us. The spread of peace and prosperity between the nations of Europe mirrors the rising tide of human consciousness that has occurred over the last century.

However, many teachers have described the journey of awakening into the spirit as taking the form of a spiral. This means that as we move forward and get closer to the center, we keep circling through places we’ve been before. It may feel like we’re going backwards, but we’re not. We’re unraveling into ourselves, and getting a chance to look with fresh eyes at the stuff we’ve been hung up on in the past. As much as it may seem otherwise, that too is real progress.

Ian Cooper