This past week I finished watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. The series recently received 13 Emmy nominations including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and Outstanding Writing and Directing for some of its individual episodes. It is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, this Wikipedia plot summary will catch you up: “In the near future, fertility rates collapse as a result of sexually transmitted diseases and environmental pollution. With this chaos in place, the totalitarian, Christian theonomic government of ‘Gilead’ establishes rule in the former United States in the aftermath of a civil war. Society is organized by power-hungry leaders along a new, militarized, hierarchical regime of fanaticism and newly-created social classes, in which women are brutally subjugated, and by law are not allowed to work, own property, control money, or read. Worldwide infertility has resulted in the conscription of the few remaining fertile women in Gilead, called handmaids, according to an ‘extremist interpretation’ of a Biblical account. They are assigned to the homes of the ruling elite, where they must submit to ritualized rape with their male masters in order to become pregnant and bear children for those men and their wives.”
It’s not an easy series to get through, especially if you have an aversion to male patriarchy (which you should), literal Biblical interpretation and religiosity (which you also should), and violence against women (which you especially should). The novel’s popularity gained a recent resurgence not only because of the TV series, but also due to the results of our latest Presidential election. Other dystopian novels like George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984” also enjoyed a new spike in readership, no doubt fueled by fears that our new President might actually try to turn his campaign promises into law.
But this is not a post about politics. Not exactly. It’s a post about perspective. Dystopian novels are cautionary tales that seek to warn us what might happen when we lose perspective and choose power or greed or survival or sanctimony as our guiding principles. We who call ourselves spiritual seekers would like to believe we would never make such choices, but the reality is that none of us are immune and life is full of subtleties. Sometimes we choose our comfort zones over kindness. Other times we let perceptions of our resources determine our generosity. Our assumptions about someone’s appearance or speech or orientation or identification trigger unwarranted fears. We even sometimes use our spiritual transformation as a pedestal to look down on others, touting how much more evolved we are.
When our perspective becomes distorted, we inevitably cause harm to others, and eventually to ourselves. We forget that Oneness isn’t just a spiritual concept, but a human condition. The key to maintaining perspective is self-awareness. We have to constantly check in with ourselves, making an honest inquiry into the motivations behind actions. Are we willing to let discomfort be a catalyst for growth or will we let it be the cage that imprisons us? Are we willing to challenge our beliefs, even the ones that seem to be working well for us? Are we willing to commit to living from a Consciousness of Oneness, wherever it may take us, whatever it may ask of us? Are we truly ready to put others not before us, or behind us, but beside us?
Everyone in a fictional dystopian future suffers. Everyone. There is no need for that suffering to begin now.