Beyond patriarchy there is love. Real love. The kind of love that renders words inadequate and time malleable. The kind of love that reminds us that “open hearted” is not a metaphor, but a literal description of a way to be in our bodies. The kind of love that transforms every hurt into another growing pain. The kind of love that brings meaning into existence.
We all long for this love. We all have suffered from not having enough of it. Many of us have been so contorted by the lack of direct connection to this love that we have come to believe it doesn’t exist. For many, including me, it became easier to think that the love wasn’t real than to reckon with how desperately we need it; how what we had taken to be the light of love was really just a reflection seen in a cloudy mirror; and how real love was right next to us for our entire lives just waiting for us to learn to dance with it.
The love seems distant because we cannot feel it from within patriarchy, and within patriarchy is precisely where we mostly live. We cannot feel love within ourselves as long as patriarchy lords over the territory of our minds. We cannot feel love between each other as long as patriarchy patrols our relationships. We cannot feel love as a collective as long as patriarchy is stitched into the institutions, structures, and cultures that create the fabric of our shared experience. If we truly long for love, we have no choice but to move beyond patriarchy. If we understand that love is our birthright, then we can summon the will to do what is required to allow it to manifest in our daily experience.
There are a thousand ways to understand patriarchy. I understand it as the combination of three elements: separation, dominance, and gender. First, patriarchy denies the unity of existence and understands things in terms of binary oppositions. This is separation. Next it imagines that one side of the binary is superior to the other, and that the superior controls, limits, or excludes the inferior one. This is domination. The final step is to associate the superior with maleness and masculinity, and the inferior with femaleness and femininity. This is gender. Patriarchy is a way of thinking and being on the individual level that creates and is created by structures on a social level.
This process of separation, domination, and gendering is happening constantly within our minds, bodies, relationships, and social structures: it is why the young girl comes to believe the purpose of her life is to please men; it is why the young boy is called names because he feels deeply; it is why the trans-child is told they cannot exist as they are; it is why Congress attempts to control the reproductive cycles of female bodies. It is outside of us, between us, and within us. True love cannot appear on this terrain, because true love knows no separation and no dominance.
We don’t always recognize how our society limits our experience of love because we have collectively reduced our expectations. We have learned to be satisfied by impotent replacements for the love we deeply desire. Things like attention, status, possession, and conquest are all confused attempts to grasp an illusion instead of being in touch with what we really need. It seems to me to be a coping mechanism. It’s easier to learn to be satisfied with the little hits that are readily available to us than to reckon with the fact that we have spent our lives wandering and malnourished, begging for junk food instead of drinking from the rivers that flow through our hearts. At least that’s what happened to me.
I long for self love. I have learned to sustain myself on the scraps of achievement, status, and performance. I live in a world that will congratulate and validate me for competing and winning; whether it is admission to a school, winning an award, having a title, reaching a level of income, or any other way that I prove I am better than other people in some way. When I succeeded I received admiration and attention; sometimes I even felt good about myself, but this pursuit was an addiction.
I was proud not of who I was, but of what I had done. This meant I had to constantly keep competing to get my next hit of victory and avoid the grief of not being able to love myself. I began to collapse my identity into nothing but a list of achievements. I denied the reality of my own heart and soul.
The darkest part of this is what it meant for others. In competition, victory is scarce. For me to feel like a winner, there had to be losers. And the losers had to experience the very feeling that I was running from in order for me to get my little hit of self-worth. This desperate search of dominance weaves its way into every facet of our lives.
Some of the threads are structural: in order for one person to feel good about being rich, there must be someone who is poor, or else being rich isn’t separate, special, and better. In order for there to be a boss there must be someone who is bossed; in order for their to be an important person at the front of the room speaking their must be a swarm of less important people listening.
Some of the threads appear more as false thinking in our relationships: we begin to think that for one to be smart, they must be smarter than another so conversation becomes a competition; for one to be a leader the other must be a follower; for one to be brave they must do things that others are unwilling to do. There is always a better and a worse. The better needs the worse to exist, so if the worse doesn’t exist, it must be created to allow the better to feel superior.
Some of the threads are within our own identities: For us to view ourselves as courageous we must deny we have fear; to view ourselves as strong we must show no weakness; to view ourselves smart we must hide our wonder, humility, and intuition. Our pysche is fractured. We learn to police our internal experience to create the illusion that we are free from the aspects of reality we have learned to shun. In learning to see others as inferior, we learn to be ashamed of our own fullness.
Suddenly all of reality is split. There is a good side and a bad side. If we crawl our way to the good side we get a cookie. If we are on the bad side we are told we are worthless. As we climb to the top, we transform each other into the rungs of the ladder on which we step. The ladder leads to nowhere. The ultimate punchline is that the higher we climb the more addicted we get, the less we can feel love, and the more difficult it is to witness the reality of the harm we have done to feed our addiction.
We long to experience a loving unity, and we use these addictions to numb the pain of our seperation. We want to love ourselves, each other, and the world we live in, but we cannot do this as long as we are trapped in the illusion that competition is the path to love, and only the winners are worthy. We cannot love ourselves if half of us is at war with the other half. We cannot love each other if we are looking to prove we are better than each other. We cannot build a social reality based on love if the flourishing of one demands the degradation of another. When we associate the “bad” parts of the binary with femaleness and femininity, we oppress and degrade the people who embody those characteristics, and we lose access to the tremendous power they have to love, heal, and transform.
Beyond patriarchy there is love. Beyond the separation there is unity. Beyond the dominance is wonder and beauty. Beyond gender, masculinity and femininity become like night and day, each fading into one another, emphasizing the other’s majesty, somehow both are real but never absolute as they constantly move into and out of one another.
As I inch toward the beyond, I notice a paradox: it is already here. The love we long for is closer to us than our jugular vein. The love I crave enters me through the smell of a flower, infuses my breath with words, beats in my own heart, and washes me in compassion the very instant that I turn my gaze toward it. I saw it just the other day. I was looking into a beloved’s eyes, hearing the voices of my insecurities and fears, trying to be “good enough,” and noticing that my very desire to be good enough was causing me to hide parts of myself. Then my beloved touched my heart. I found the humble wisdom required to be wrapped in the blanket of their presence, and the waters rushed into my body and gave rise to ten thousand blossoms all through my body. We were together, basked in love, the moment I realized that we already were.
The love is right here already. Right now as you read this. Can you feel it? It’s right at the edge of your awareness, where body blurs into feeling, where energy is tactile, and you notice that your entire being is held by something greater. It’s right there, where your imagined knowledge humbles itself before the great mystery and thought evaporates into wonder. Right when you start wondering about who’s doing the wondering, the wonderer dissolves into the wonderful. It’s the infinity into which your consciousness expands. It is the thing that is coaxing forth your expansion. It is comfort waiting to meet you right on the other side of every one of your fears. It flows through the embrace of a friend, it chirps in birds, it shines in the sunrise, it sparkles in every act of compassion, and sings in the streets for justice. The love we long for is already here.
Love will guide us beyond patriarchy. Love is what waits for us beyond patriarchy. The only way to truly feel it is to notice its infiniteness, to know that there is always a way to fall deeper into love. The only way to follow it is to hear that it is always inviting you closer to its heart. The best way to be open to it, is to learn to distinguish love from all of the disappointing replacements the world of plastic and patriarchy offers. To relish in your complete unwillingness to be satisfied by anything other that the love you deserve.
The path beyond patriarchy is long and not always pleasant. Love is the only thing that offers me sustenance on my journey. I notice beliefs, behaviors, and patterns I learned that have caused me to not only do harm, but to be unable to see the reality of the harm I did. As I move toward who I long to be, I have no choice but to reckon with who I was, and who I am. And each thing I notice seems to be deeper within me. It calls on me to tend to more subtle parts of my psyche, to question things that have formed core aspects of my identity. It asks me to notice how deep the tapeworm of patriarchy entered my spirit through the portals opened by my trauma.
I am often overwhelmed by the distortion, ignorance, and violence in the world and teeter on the edge of meaninglessness and despair. I am floored by my grief in the face of how much we are hurting each other. I am baffled by the resilience of the people who are forced to bear so much more of the physical and material suffering produced by patriarchy than I can begin to comprehend.
As I walk, I often think about turning back or closing my eyes. For a time I motivated myself through shame; I thought that walking the path was the only way I could deserve to live. This left me exhausted, hurting myself, and projecting my distortions onto others. Then I motivated myself through service; I thought that transforming patriarchy was the way to help the world. Then I realized that I was still caught trying to be the best servant, believing that service was what made my life worth living, and denying my own needs. Now, at least in my moments of clarity, I am motivated by love.
I want to love and be loved. I want to feel safe and make others feel safe. I want to rejoice in the abundance of the mystery. I want to be together. Truly together. With people, plants, animals, ancestors, and spirit. I want real love, it is my birthright, and the only way to truly feel it is to watch the patriarchy crumble and dissolve.
The path to love asks a lot of us. I’ve noticed the path beyond patriarchy calls on us to be truly courageous. We must summon the courage to bring light to the dark corners of ourselves; the courage to feel ourselves and our world more even in this moment of overwhelm and chaos; the courage to reside in an undefended heart, to touch with tenderness, to accept the care we need; the courage to let identities, structures, and worlds fall as we step into the unknown together.
With this courage we can gather in the houses, the town halls, the courthouses, the offices, the schools, the community centers, and the streets. We can create unbreakable bonds between us that enable us to stay vibrant and joyful as we shift to a world where all beings are valued, where sexual and domestic abuse is not tolerated, where people aren’t killed for their gender, where all people have dominion over their own bodies. A world where all gender based oppression is gone, where all of us are liberated, and where the wisdom of the divine feminine pours forth lusciously across the earth.
Simon Mont is the former managing editor at Tikkun and an organizational development consultant.