By Caitlin Johnstone
People don’t generally leave abusive relationships in egoically satisfying, Hollywood-friendly ways.
I point this out because those of us who are watching the people’s abusive relationship with predatory power structures and hoping for revolutionary change often tend to envision the status quo ending in an epic way that will make for a good story and let us feel good about ourselves and how right we were. And that just isn’t how these things tend to go.
One of the most shameful things about being in an abusive relationship is how much longer you’ll let it go on for than an outside observer would expect. How much brutality you’ll put up with and the ways you’ll justify it to yourself.
The shame of this can be soul-crushing. A friend once said, “The worst part wasn’t when he raped me, it was having to make him breakfast afterward.” The shamefulness of the abuse and degradation you’ll put up with because of where you’re at in your mind is why people don’t discuss this aspect more, which is why the loved ones of people in those relationships often have such a hard time understanding it. People don’t talk about it, so many don’t understand how common it is.
Generally when someone leaves an abusive relationship it’s not really because they were hit one too many times. It’s not because it got worse than it used to be. Sometimes it will be because the abuser started to assault the victim’s child, but even that will often happen in ways that are a lot more complicated and shameful than the victim acknowledges when telling the story later on.
Generally when someone leaves an abusive relationship it happens for the same reason flowers bloom: because it was time. Something just shifts, and suddenly you’re seeing things you weren’t seeing before. You start noticing patterns, noticing manipulations, noticing the malice in the abuser’s face that you’d previously compartmentalized away from seeing.
And then when you leave the reality of it doesn’t often make for a great Hollywood movie or Hallmark TV special. It doesn’t fit well into egoically gratifying stories. A process just kind of plays itself out, some things happen in ways you probably didn’t anticipate, and then one day you’re not waking up next to the same person anymore. You might try to tell heroic stories about it, or others might do that on your behalf, but really it just kind of happened when the happening was ripe.
Spiritual enlightenment often happens in the same way. Zen Buddhism is full of stories of sudden awakenings where a monk meditates for thirty years while remaining locked in delusion and then suddenly experiences satori after slipping and falling or hearing a teacher say something unexpected or whatever.
It happens when it’s time. A good teacher might offer some spiritual practices to help “lay the groundwork” for awakening, but one person can take those practices and never awaken while another can awaken very quickly. It’s not like building a house or learning a new language where you set to work and do certain things in a certain way and then eventually you have what you set out to obtain. Awakening doesn’t work that way. It’s not the product of personal will. It happens when it happens.
A pot of water can sit there on the stove for minutes without looking like much is happening. When people look at our current environment of murderous exploitative status quo systems and deeply propagandized populations they’ll often despair because it’s very much the same: it doesn’t look like much is happening.
But then the water begins to boil. But then the battered wife escapes to safety. But then the spiritual aspirant sees beyond the veil of illusion. But then the people rise up.
Humans are storytelling creatures; that’s why it’s possible to gain such a tremendous amount of power over us by controlling our stories. We are storytelling creatures whose primate brains weren’t evolved for the purpose of giving us any absolute understanding of ultimate reality, whose senses only take in a tiny fraction of our surroundings, whose minds don’t process what’s happening in the ways science tells us things are actually happening.
What do you get when you have a storytelling animal with a very limited capacity to perceive life as it really is? You get a lot of things happening in ways that the creature did not expect, because none of their mental stories told them to anticipate it happening in that way. And then probably telling a bunch of stories about what happened which don’t truly reflect reality.
If and when humanity does wake up from its propaganda-induced coma and push for the changes needed for us to evade extinction and create a healthy world together, it will happen in ways we’re not expecting. It will happen in ways that aren’t pleasing to the ego. It will happen in ways that don’t allow us to stand up and say “Aha! You see? I was right all along!” It will happen in ways that don’t form a compelling narrative.
And how could it? If humanity is to survive into the distant future we’re going to have to transcend the egoic mental habits which led us into this mess. We’re going to have to transcend our unhealthy relationship with mental narrative which made us so easy to manipulate and propagandize. We’re going to have to transcend our self-destructive patterning, which will necessarily have to come from an unpatterned, and therefore unexpected direction.
It will happen when it happens, in a way we couldn’t possibly have predicted it would happen.
So don’t despair if it looks like things aren’t headed toward change. The boiling water, the escaped abuse victim, and the deeply enlightened mind all looked the same at one point.
Don’t despair, and don’t fear the unknown. The unknown is the only direction humanity’s salvation can possibly come from.