So part of capacitance is being able to sit with the existential uncertainty of life, being able to just hold it, to tolerate it, to let it disturb you or not without feeling you must do something about that.
And then there’s mystery, when you look harder and harder and harder and you can’t figure it out. And beyond that there is the big Mystery, the fundamental unknowable basis where reality itself come from. We think we have established things like, “Reality is something solid.” You can pound on the table and it’s really there. Yet we have quantum mechanics telling us that, no, there are just fields of probability going on there. There is – in a very fundamental sense – nothing there. And mystics tell us it is all just void. But it is clearly still there, so what’s going on? We can tell various stories about that. That is all fine and good but language and concepts and human cognition are insufficient to grasp everything. So there is also a fundamental mystery to life – and we can be awed by that, be respectful of that, and carry-on with life even though there is this Mystery at its heart, or even be grateful that there is this Mystery at its heart. For some people there is a lot of flexibility in life because this Mystery is there. There is no box to contain it and therefore to a certain extent there’s no box to contain their spirit. There’s an ability to hold it without getting rid of it – to just be with it.
Then there’s paradox, the yin-yang, the sense that some things are opposites and should not (theoretically) coexist, but they do. Being able to hold that, to be able to see multiple viewpoints that seemed to be irreconcilable, to be able to step into somebody else’s shoes and just be there and go, “There may be no resolution to this.” There’s a dance going on between these incompatible realities.
As an example: Is a fetus a living human being? The pro-lifers focus on this and say “Yes, it is a living human being and you should never kill an unborn child, no matter how early its gestation process is.” And the pro-choice people say, “A woman needs to be able to control her body and there should not be unwanted children. A woman should not have to bear a child that was not intended and should not be born.” There is a sense in which both perspectives are true, and so there’s a dance that goes on between them. We usually feel a need to resolve this tension, to totally invalidate the other side in order to push the agenda of our preferred side. But capacitance involves seeing such a paradox as this complex thing that needs constantly to be part of our conversation and feeling our way. It never will resolve and perhaps it never should. There are lots of issues like that. The challenge is to work with paradoxes generatively, to see and use the dance between the two alternatives as forces that are ongoing, and just hold them and let them be there.
It is also hard to just be with conflict, with your view versus my view. We are going to fight about it, or be in the presence of people who are fighting, and not being able to just be with that. We feel the need to take sides – or the need to run away because the energy of the conflict is so disturbing. These impulses tell us we need to have people who can hold conflict, who are not conflict averse and trying to get rid of it or to move away from it or to cause anything particular to happen. They are just there with it so that whatever needs to get worked through has the time and space to be worked through.
And then there’s crisis! It’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t take it. This is too much!” Again we have the sense of too much. There are people who are quite levelheaded in a crisis, and people who go totally off the handle in a crisis. The people who are more levelheaded tend to have more capacitance, although sometimes the seemingly levelheaded people are just pushing a solution. They say, “This is going to solve it, and you are going to have to do it my way” and they push everybody around. That’s not an example of capacitance. Rather, we’re talking about somebody who is moving with the crisis and feeling their way and responsive to the various forces and people that are going on in the crisis without getting thrown off their center. That’s more of what I’m talking about as capacitance.
And sometimes diversity is too much for us. We think, “You are so off-the-wall. I can’t even imagine how you could think this way, how you can be this way, how you can act this way! I can’t imagine it, or it is so totally distasteful. Everything about the humanist in me rejects the Nazi in you.” We encounter strange people, or people from another culture, and up comes that desire to have things simplified – like sinking into “us and them” – to minimize the diversity, to deny the diversity because it is too much, too other, too incomprehensible… Those are signs of lack of capacitance.
If we are all unique – which of course we are – diversity is an intrinsic part of life, unavoidable. And so it behooves us to be always kind of open to seeing that. We think “Oh, there’s another dimension of diversity and I’m either comfortable or not comfortable with it. But I can just be with that even if I’m not comfortable with it. It’s not them or you that is the problem. The problem is I don’t know how to deal with this or just be with it.”
All these kinds of disturbance can also open us up to more of what’s real, to more of what’s really there because reality is not black and white. Reality is always more complex, nuanced, uncertain, paradoxical than we like to believe. Again, “there’s more to it than that.” So it helps to be able to be with that fact, both generally and as it applies in the specific circumstance we are working with.
So we need to be able to face the often disturbing nature of reality and then take action anyway, make decisions anyway, relate to people anyway. We try to enhance life and make life more beautiful, more real, more sustainable, and to do it in the face of all this disturbing stuff. And the more we recognize these things, the more we become more able to hold. Our purpose is to take into account what needs to be taken into account for long-term broad benefit, and to have the capacity to hold more allows us to take into account more. “More” can include “the Other” and whatever’s confusing to us. To the extent we can take that into account, we are taking into account a larger reality, and that allows us to be more wise, and allows each of the elements in the complexity to offer something to us.
And it’s not only that there are complex entities and relationships going on in whatever we are looking at, but also that the complexity itself has lessons for us. The diverse people each have gifts for us to the extent we can hold these things without turning away from them or reducing them. Doing so allows us to fulfill our mission of taking into account what needs to be taken into account for long-term broad benefit.