I've traversed the different philosophies, the political firestorms, the wars we humans are determined to engage in, traced them with a finger driven by compassion. Still, no matter what issue I bring to the forefront, it seems the opposites emerge as a driving factor. The opposites we've accepted as inevitable, if not inherent aspects of our humanity.
In recent years I've come to believe otherwise. There is a place, a wide plane of openness that has little to do with judgment, or choosing, or opposites. It just is, which means we are fundamentally just us, just here, just now. This openness leaves no room for competition, for one-upmanship, for ego-driven living.
But are we ready to enter the field of non-duality? Are we mature enough as a species to just be where we are without complaining, grasping, competing? What does our world look like without The Voice or Chopped? Without MSNBC or FOX? Without outwit, outlast, outplay? Can we stop pitting one human against another, one political agenda against another? Can two candidates be equally viable choices, or must we demonize one to uphold the other?
In writing, we find this same choice, competitiveness or expansive acceptance. Do we write to compete with our neighbor? Do we rack up acceptances? Do we wince each time someone else has a financial or artistic success? Can we imagine a literary world big enough for all of us?
The Internet has leveled the literary playing field. Our work can be out there with little forethought or effort. But the flip side is that we now have hundreds of MFA programs, and a new kind of pecking order. The game is played out again, but with new rules and new players. We can't seem to leave things alone, when there is a void we fill it with still another competitive venue. No wonder so many writers become discouraged.
I co-edit and publish a (very) small press journal. I read hundreds of poems yearly, some from new writers afraid to lick the envelope shut, some typed on typewriters, some written in prisons. We are mailed envelopes filled with broken marriages, first loves, secret temptations, and endless observations. We choose one poem over another and feel bad for the one we did not choose.
Non-duality does not mean a poorly-written poem is equal to a well-written one. It means we are in a liminal time in history, a shifting time, where the need to compete is less important than the need to agree, to discover common ground, where the need to communicate trumps the need to win out over someone else. Even if a poem isn't chosen, it is just as viable as one that is.
If we can let go, even for a moment, of the competitive urge, what will our writing look like? How many more poets will be born when writing is simply writing for the joy of it? And will the writing itself become more positive, more life-affirming, if it is written from a place of collective acceptance, instead of from the place of literary criticism?
Recently, I visited a poetry-only bookstore in Boulder, CO. A college student was sitting on a bar stool at a skinny wooden bar facing the street. His notebook was filling with lines of writing and he was lost in his own creation. I thought how good it feels to be in that place, to be oblivious to your surroundings, to not hear human voices, or notice that the sun is setting. In that place, there is no duality, no wrong, no right, and absolutely no one to compete with.