The New Age of Enlightenment

A scene plays in my head. It’s from the latest instalment of Indiana Jones, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where Indi and his crew are in a race against “the Russians” for the answers of this supernatural entity.

SPOILER ALERT: Because it’s Hollywood, we’re given somewhat of a resolution and discover the origins of the skull. In one of the final scenes the villainess says “I want to know,” begging the council of extraterrestrials to show her the secrets of the universe.

It’s too much. She can’t handle it. And she ultimately dissolves into the abyss. 

I consider this a lot, actually, as it is one of the greatest visual metaphors I’ve seen of enlightenment. There’s some merit there.

Another example of “enlightenment” is from the ancient teachings of Buddha. Buddhist ideals span the globe, and, at its core, teach people to work through seven stages of enlightenment. 

Without boring you too much, I’ll share that the very first stage is “mindfulness: the simple awareness of reality”. The final stage is “enlightenment: when the truth of life is uncovered and the cycle of rebirth ends.” This is Nirvana–a sort of heaven. A place of peace and rest and no more questions. The great righteous beyond.

This process can span several lifetimes, as you’re reincarnated to try working toward Nirvana again and again.

In both examples of a quest to be “all-knowing,” humans are limited to the capacity of their minds. Ultimately, we’re not equipped for the answers.

That’s not to say that our minds are not capable of great things. 

While the fact remains that there are animals who are so smart that they use tools and communicate in their own languages, it seems still that the only ones who have the capacity to build cities and invent an iPhone are humans. That we ever evolved to stand upright and become a more sentient being is a form of enlightenment that we all share.

Standing up shouldn’t have been our last unified step. 

In today’s world, it seems, everything needs to be explained, so I’ll explain my meaning for using “enlightenment.”

Enlightenment in, at least in my context, is a quest to gain and hold information–inclusive of opinions, histories, states of mind, fact, and indeed fiction–and obtain answers to all of life’s questions.

The Age of Enlightenment was based on these ideals, and lasted for more than two centuries. It was, specifically, an intellectual movement emphasizing the three central concepts of “reason, the scientific method, and progress.”

As such, enlightenment is hard. It challenges you to push out of your comfort zone, asking questions of what you may have already committed to be a rock-steady belief.

As an American today, seeking enlightenment is doubly hard. 

It’s hard because ultimately you have to say: damn America, you’re not looking so good.

It seems that anything anyone has to say on the topic is controversial, still I move forward in expressing my ideals hopefully through an attempted scope of reason.

When you start to ask the question of why America is the hot seat of action today, we’re conditioned to look only in two directions: the left or the right. There are plenty of ideals and beliefs in between but, for the most part, our society is structured in a way that stokes your natural human inclination to pick a side.

No matter what side of the argument you’re on, the inalienable truth is that, in America, something is wrong. 

One side of the fight is asking for change while the other denies the existence of any problems. One side wants movement, the other wants stagnation.

But I’m not a politician, so I try my best not to encroach on politics. Instead, I consider myself a student. A seeker of knowledge. 

I was once a journalism-hopeful. As someone who didn’t go on to take the road to *enter your favorite news anchor here,* I sleep at night knowing that if I keep seeking knowledge, something will come of it. It’s something my mom always said, but I didn’t really understand; that I may always be a “professional student.” I didn’t realise how true it was until years after I got “I’m still learning” tattooed on my arm, but it’s something that has been almost as proven as a prophecy. 

I like to learn. I am driven by an insatiable curiosity for more information. Sometimes, I’m too lenient with the questions and more forceful with what I’ve already learned. That’s a flaw I’m learning to rectify, and I think that’s something a lot of people should sit with and consider. 

“Do you wait to talk or do you listen?”

What is happening in America right now has prompted me to listen. Listen not only to those in power, but those close to me. What are they saying? What are their beliefs? Do they align with my own? Should I assume them as my own?

When you’re in the thick of it all, there’s a pressure to decide. But right now, I’m stationed in Australia, affording me the unique opportunity of watching from afar.

And what’s on screen is shocking.

I don’t need this blog to reiterate what the news and social media has already extensively documented. But this blog has given me a voice–a space for me to say what I have to say, whether or not anyone agrees or even reads.

The problem is, I don’t really know what to say. 

I’ve always been somewhat of a grey person. I do my utmost not to speak in blanket statements. If my DNA is anything to go by, it’s just not within me to do so. 

Going back to my days at school, taking SATs for example, I didn’t know what to choose: White (Non-Hispanic) or Hispanic (Non-White). Because I’m both. It seemed that the system always wanted me to decide which I was going to be.

There’s no pity party to come of my life, though, as I’ve been given everything and more, including the gifts of both education and travel.

I’ve been to plenty of places around the world, and what I’ve found, everywhere, is beauty. In the people as much as the landscapes. 

That’s what this whole blog is about, anyway. Isn’t it? Making friends around the world. Looking for beauty everywhere I go. Trying to get others to see it, too.

But people will only see what they want to see.

Such is the issue with the news cycle. The biggest news sources in America cater to the beliefs of their followers. This makes it very easy for the rest of the world to see the division. Both the left and right political parties of the country have their own personalized press that pushes forward the ideas of the people who follow them.

They just reword the same beliefs over and over. Reframe them to fit into the latest stories. And viewers never get the chance to question what they already believe.

It’s not surprising then, that there always seems to be a stark divide between the people of America. The country has always been fundamentally divided. 

The North and the South. 

The Red and the Blue. 

The White and the Black. 

Such has been the case in America since it was formed. Most people in America don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of them. Even now, the world weighs in, and America turns a blind eye.

“Why should we care if Sydney and London and Holland and Auckland think about what happens here? They have no idea.”

But Americans should care because that beautiful plot of land is not the center of the world. Americans should care what the rest of the world thinks, especially those countries who have proven to be more successful and protective of their citizens than America. Because so long as America is divided, it is weak. And the rest of the world has noticed.

America should care because being part of the world is all we’ve got.

We all live in this world. And really, all it is is rock. To move around it is a great luxury that we have. It’s what helped cultures to evolve since they migrated from the cradle of life. And now we’re looking to spread even further. 

The International Space Station is kept in orbit with the help of astronauts from 15 countries. The people of planet Earth have officially occupied “the space” outside of our own stratosphere–and they’ve done it across borders and outside of the conditions that are vital to breathe–to sustain life. 

And still there are Americans who don’t believe we should heed the warnings and receive the knowledge of other territories, other populations, of the very same planet? That’s weird to me.

It’s even weirder when you consider the other major global event of the year. The a virus that came from “somewhere else” arrived in America and took out 114,000 (and counting) of its citizens. Even still, many Americans can’t seem to look to other countries and say, “Wow, I can relate. Look how similar we truly are. What can we learn so we, too, can beat this thing?” America seems to say, “why do I need you when I’m already great?”

Pompous, perhaps, stubborn, but not great.

What’s great about America is the physical space it occupies.

We love the land so much we call it “America the Beautiful.” The sad thing is that even that is an empty sentiment. Today, the powers that be reversed a bill that protected the first U.S. national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. In doing so, it has re-opened waters to commercial fishing and put already endangered species back on the chopping block.

How can America remain beautiful if it does not even protect what’s just beneath the surface? 

In a similar vein, how can America embody progress when it isn’t open to it?

How can America stand for equality when “black lives matter” is a controversial statement?

It’s weird to me that Americans, these very descendents of new world hopefuls, can’t understand the ethos that fuels the movement that is shaking the collective consciousness of the world right now; the one that erupted after the killing of George Floyd.

The divided news in America paints it all in the name of George Floyd, which I can only view as somewhat of a misstep. The cop that killed him is a bad guy. You could see that from the 18 other complaints against him. That cop is the villain in this story, which is about the only thing most people can seem to agree on. 

Strip away the badge and the race and what you have is one man killing another. That’s the true “bare bones” of it.

But in raising up the image of George Floyd, it’s given fodder for one side of the argument to say “he ended up dead because he did something wrong.”

It draws the main point away from the fact that Ahmaud Arbery, a teenager shot and killed out on a jog, and Breonna Taylor, shot and killed in her own home, are stories of blatant racism. 

It neglects the stories of Tamla Horsford, a mother of 5 killed at an adult sleepover; the only one of the 8 attendees who happened to be black. The only one who ended up dead.

It neglects the truth of Kendrick Johnson, rolled up in a gym mat at his own high school.

The common theme of these premature deaths is that instead of sniffing out the red hands or, worse, putting the onus on those where the evidence cleary leads, it’s covered up. Investigations were deemed unworthy of continuing.

Therein lies the problem. Therein sparked the outrage. Not solely that it happened; that it happened and no one seemed to care. 

What’s shocking is instead of saying, “Wow, how horrible, those families must be in so much anguish.” The “right” response is “but white people are killed, too!” and “Cops are killed every day!”

And the truth is that when a cop is killed, they advertise monetary rewards on billboards. 

When white people are killed, the full powers of investigation are deployed. Even the murder of Jonbenet Ramsey remains an open investigation 24 years later.

So I, as a seeker of knowledge and understanding, have no trouble understanding that when acts of violence are met with nonchalance, the people feel failed by their own system. 

And so begin the protests.

Aside from those “bad apples”–the cops who kill because of racist motives, the looters who destroy and steal because the opportunity arose–you have the people of America drawing attention to a problem. Using their “first amendment right” to “redress grievances.”

It seems ignorant of one side to think this is unfounded. Would you put yourself in the literal line of fire just for “something to do”? Some people, perhaps. But as the saying goes, all of Rome can’t be wrong.

It’s hard to side with those who seek to preserve today’s America when within the country there still remains a terrorist group that has hardly been prioritized for dismantling. 

Is the KKK not a domestic terrorist group? I Googled to see if there were any organized attacks or missions to dismantle them from police or the FBI. What I found was that the last time the FBI probed this group was 1964–the last Civil Rights Movement–when three young men went missing. They found the bodies, buried, of course. What they also found was “that members of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office, and the Philadelphia Police Department were involved in the incident.”

And, by the way, two of the three murdered in this event were white.

The case for Americans supporting the black community is weak. 

But whether you believe that or not: don’t you think it’s time America starts rewriting its history? Shouldn’t the American people be rallying together to understand exactly what it is we send troops overseas to protect?

America is not, and should not, be done growing. 

And if that belief makes me a radical, so be it. 

America touts itself as a nation of freedom and equality. The country was founded on these principles, but this civil unrest has not portrayed those words to hold any weight, either. 

Those words were written when slaves were still legal, so how could they possibly be representative of the nation today?

If this movement asks for anything, it should be enlightenment.

Enlightenment to try to be better. An unwavering commitment to true understanding.

It should make all of us, young and old, want to seek knowledge and move beyond just protecting (f)laws.

It should make people be open to understanding each other so we can move in the right direction. Idealistic, I know. But it beats the alternative: hate speech, racism, blindness, and ignorance. 

This moment is for everyone around the world to take the chance to learn something new; to understand that all people, whether you relate to them or not, experience profound things throughout life. 

And if I can’t convince anyone else to do it, the best I can do is do it for myself, so that when I do have kids, little ancestors of the stars and stripes, I can raise them up to be a new breed of world citizens. A new generation with strong hearts and brilliant minds and open arms who understand the importance of mobilization–not getting stuck in any one place or any one ideal.

Being enlightened will blow your mind. 

It will uproot your sense of self, cast shadows of doubt on what you deemed immovable. 

But nothing is immovable, if only you’re up to the task of experiencing the discomfort. I get nauseous on every plane ride I take, but I still get on planes. Mountain ranges rose as a result of movement in the earth’s crust. It transformed an old landscape into one we now know, and in the millenia to come, it will happen again. 

But in both the physical and the metaphysical sense, change takes time. Lots and lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of time. Time that people, in our short life spans, don’t have, which is why it can be not only difficult, but in some situations, within some people, impossible to enact change. 

But when you do consider things on a larger scale, much bigger than our individual selves, it’s clear to see that change is inevitable. Change is necessary.

The state of the world is uneasy.

The state of America is devastating. But knowledge is the only thing that has any promise to effecting positive change. And it’s not an easy or comfortable process.

That, I understand. In moving to Australia I made the biggest change of my life. Some days it hurts, some days I feel triumphant; every day, I’m glad I allowed myself the gift of growth.

I can’t be sure I’ll reach ultimate enlightenment in this lifetime. In fact, I’m downright certain I won’t. My only hope in being an integral part of this moment in history is to listen, and when the time is right, to speak, so that when my kids ask me questions, I can enlighten them. And hopefully, they’ll be a better person than me. Hopefully, they’ll have a better world to call home. 

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