Chapter 8 of BirthQuake
THE AMERICAN DREAM
"Those whose hope is weak settle for comfort or for violence." Erich Fromm
According to Tom Atlee, the American dream has become a vision of happiness based on the ability to purchase and consume more of everything. The expectation is that by attempting to provide individuals with equal opportunities to compete for material wealth, we in turn offer greater prosperity for everyone. We've been told that the more we buy - the more our economy grows, and the healthier our country becomes. Atlee points out however, that it simply doesn't work that way. Why? According to Atlee, it's because: (1) this logic requires unlimited supplies which results in the exploitation of nature and her people, (2) it becomes necessary to have more and more space into which we can put all of the materials that we no longer want and (3) the dream doesn't acknowledge the inescapable fact that there are natural and absolute limits.
Someone said that an apt metaphor for America today is that of addiction. Like any addict, in spite of the staggering evidence warning us that our behaviors are potentially deadly to the life systems supporting us, most of us remain in denial. A number of professionals maintain that addiction is connected to spiritual alienation and that our compulsions are the result of spiritual starvation. Both William James and Carl Jung proposed that there exists a spiritual force within each of us that must not be ignored. When the voice of this force is silenced, the result is often dis-ease.
In an article for the Earthways Institute, entitled, "Living Well, Living Deeply," Bruce Elkin wrote of moving to the city to teach, after having lived close to nature in a community of like-minded individuals. Cut off from his support system, and doing work that failed to offer the emotional and spiritual rewards of his previous position, he found himself returning from work, discouraged, tired, and frustrated. As his satisfaction with his work and life style decreased, his consumption increased. He found himself turning more often to the pleasures he purchased, versus those he created. While he continued to assert that he valued simple and ecologically sustainable living, (a lifestyle he'd fully embraced previously) his behavior grew further and further away from reflecting his beliefs. He concluded that participating in a community that honored his values, and engaging in work that offered meaning, provided the necessary structure and practice required for maintaining the behaviors he most wanted to engage in.
What structure and community do most Americans possess that supports a lifestyle that can ultimately sustain us and feed our hungry souls? We're disillusioned with many of our leaders, a majority of our jobs offer little personal satisfaction and no spiritual rewards, and we're so hemmed in by the numerous distractions and demands of our lives, that our primary escape from it all has become acquisition, certain substances, and tele-vision.
Jerry Mander, author of "In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations,"spent several years in commercial advertising before becoming disillusioned, and committing his significant wisdom and experience to working with public interest groups. During an interview with Catherine Ingram in, "The Sun," Mander shared his concerns regarding the abuse and misuse of many of our technologies stating:
"These technologies do act as drugs. They are what a society offers to make up for what has been lost. In return for family, community, a relationship to a larger, deeper vision, society offers television, drugs, food, noise, high speed, and unconsciousness. Not only are those the things that are available, but those are the things that keep you from knowing that there's anything else available. It's easy to see why people go for those things and why they become addicted to them, because each one offers some element of satisfaction. Watching television, for instance, keeps you from thinking about other things . . .It tells you a little bit about what seems to be happening in the world, although it discourages any relationship you might have to it. Now if you're asking me how we might change that pattern, I can only say that you have to create alternative visions; you have to get people to experience what they've lost."
Duane Elgin in a report to the Fetzer Institute reported that 98% of all homes in America have televisions further, more households have televisions then own indoor toilets, stoves, or refrigerators. Elgin warns:
"there may be no more dangerous challenge to our future than the hypnosis of commercial television which trivializes the human experiment and distracts humanity from our larger potentials. By programming television for commercial success, we are programming the mindset of entire civilizations - for evolutionary stagnation and ecological failure."
Lewis Lapham, heir to an oil fortune, has been asking people all over the country how much money they think they would need to be happy. Lapham observed:
"No matter what their income, a depressing number of Americans believe that if only they had twice as much, they would inherit the estate of happiness promised them in the Declaration of Independence. The man who receives $15,000 a year is sure that he could relieve his sorrow if he had only $30,000 a year; the man with $1 million a year knows that all would be well if he had $2 million a year . . . Nobody ever has enough."
According to Philosopher, Lewis Mumford, fundamental change in cultures only occurs when its' members alter their vision of what it means to be a human being. Most Americans would agree that one of the primary aspects of being human is the possession of a spirit. In ancient languages the word for "spirit" is the same as that for 'breath' and 'wind.' Herbert W. Schroeder points out that just as in the case of breath and wind, you can't see spirit, you can't grab it and hold it in your hands, but you can feel it, and be moved by it. Consequently, concludes Schroeder, an encounter with spirit may be one in which we feel touched by something that can't be seen visually or manipulated kinetically, but can never-the-less be deeply experienced.
To fully embrace the spiritual aspects of our humanness, perhaps we need to make greater room for these experiences by ridding ourselves of as much of the material clutter in our lives as possible. Meister Eckhart advised, "God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction."
Thomas Berry refers to our obsession with consumption as the greatest pathology of all time, an illness in which acquisition has tragically become the highest human purpose. Vice President Al Gore compared our current culture with the dynamics that exist in a dysfunctional family, in both cases, we can find symptoms of denial, refusal to fully accept responsibility, and an inability or unwillingness to make reparations and effect necessary changes.
Duane Elgin in "Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Human Culture and Consciousness," sounds the following alarm:
"Within a generation the world will become a superheated pressure cooker in which the human family is crushed by the combined and unrelenting forces of an expanding world population, a dramatically destabilized global climate, dwindling supplies of nonrenewable energy, and mounting environmental pollution. The circle has closed, and there is nowhere to escape. These forces are so unyielding, and the stresses they will place on our world are so extreme, that human civilization will either descend into chaos or ascend in a spiraling process of profound transformation."
Elgin maintains that if there is hope that we might ultimately transcend rather than rapidly descend, we'll need to possess a spirit of reconciliation in a number of areas including:
- Ecological Reconciliation (it will become essential that we work to restore the profound ecological damage that we've perpetrated, as well as to learn to live in harmony with the earth's natural systems.)
- Economic reconciliation (we must no longer ignore the tremendous disparities that exist between the rich and the poor, and must establish a world minimum standard that supports all of our brothers and sisters in realizing their potential. The wealthy, including the average American, must voluntarily simplify their lives by turning away from consumerism and towards a lifestyle which offers fewer material possessions, and greater spiritual, cultural, and psychological growth.)
- Spiritual Reconciliation (some of the bloodiest wars in human history have been the direct result of religious intolerance. We must turn away from the religious dogma's that emphasize that which separates and alienates the spiritual traditions of the world, and embrace the perennial wisdom's contained within all major religions.)
- Political Reconciliation (we must learn to work with the diverse political views and values which exist among the people of the world. We need to strengthen the bridge that connects us, and allows us to have constructive conversations regarding our collective future. We can no longer depend upon world leaders to forge these connections, to a large extent it's up to us. We also cannot afford to be silent witnesses and passive participants. It's been said that, "If the people will lead, the leaders will follow."
- Generational Reconciliation (Americans comprise approximately 5% the world's population and yet consume 30% of it's resources, many of which are non-renewable. In doing so, we're not only grabbing more than our fair share of the goods, we're robbing future generations of absolute necessities. It's imperative that we adopt practices that lead to sustainability.)
- Racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation (the people of the world have been profoundly divided by racial, ethnic and gender discrimination, resulting all too often in humanity turning against itself. We must work towards the creation of a global culture based on mutual respect, if there is any hope for the salvation of humanity)
"All things are possible if we do not crave the distinction of being the last generation of man on earth."
For approximately 99% of the time that human beings have existed on this planet, we've been hunters and gatherers - taking from our environment little more than that which was necessary for our survival. Amazingly, it's been during less than the last 1% of our tenure here on earth, that we've managed to perpetuate the most damage. When studied under the brutal light of a significant number of statistics regarding life here in the Unites States, the rewards of our plunder dramatically begin to dim. According to a report issued by The New Roadmap Foundation, in spite of tremendous growth in the United States economy between 1950 and 1980, and the rise in per capita consumption in the last twenty years of a staggering 45%, Americans feel less well-off now than we did thirty years ago. The Institute for social Health recently reported that our over-all quality of life has dropped by 51%.
We spend an average of 163 more hours a year at our jobs than we did thirty years ago, and the percentage of American'swho believe that the "American Dream" is still alive dropped from 32% in 1986, to 23% in 1992 (just four years later.) Furthermore, the amount of garbage produced in the United States each year would fill a convoy of 10-ton garbage trucks 145,000 miles long -- over halfway to the moon. Each year we send to land fills or pour down our drains, 180 million gallons of motor oil. The amount of energy consumed by one American is equal to 14 Chinese, 168 Bangladeshi, and 531 Ethiopians. The average U.S. citizen causes 100 times more damage to the environment than our brothers and sisters living in poor countries. More than half a billion of the globe's poorest people earn less than the typical American child receives for pocket money ($230.00 a year.) Since 1940 Americans alone have consumed as large a share of the earth's mineral resources as all previous generations put together. In the last 200 years the United States has lost 50% of its wetlands, 90% of its northwestern old growth forests, 99% of its tallgrass prairie, and 490 species of native plants and animals, with 9,000 more now at risk. 9 square miles of rural land in our country is turned over to developers every day. We black top 1.3 million acres of land, and lose another 1 million acres of top soil each year. Within the next 50 years, The World Resources Institute warns that supplies of copper, lead, mercury, tin, zinc, and nickel will be completely depleted.
There's no doubt in my mind that mine is a wounding and wounded nation, and yet, I love it still. I read somewhere that, "The United States is a planetary nation, emerging not from a particular race of people but from the efforts, hopes, and dreams of men and women of all races and nations. It is the site of a great planetary experiment; the U.S. emerged with a destiny to serve humanity in ways no other country has ever done before." In regards to the rest of the world, our nation may very well be compared to that of a 'precocious child.' Created from the daring and determination of some of the very best the world had to offer (consisting of people from almost every nation on the globe) we advanced rapidly, gaining momentum and wisdom from the vast numbers of souls who braved their way to our borders. United by a common dream, and enriched by our diversity, we achieved, and we triumphed. But we (the precocious child,) grew too quickly, and were not entirely prepared for the privileges and responsibilities that accompanied our success.
Carl Jung suggested that the most important problems that confront people aren't as likely to be "solved," as they are to be "outgrown." Jung also asserted that this "outgrowing" would result from some "higher or wider interest" that would involve a new kind of consciousness. While this new perspective may not "logically" solve the dilemma, the problems would generally be diminished Jung observed, "when confronted with a new and stronger life urge."
Many of us have forgotten that the 'American Dream' was founded, to a large extent, on spiritual values. Ironically, we can be reminded of our original legacy every time we hold a dollar bill in our hands. On every American dollar bill our great seal is stamped. On one side of the seal is an incomplete pyramid with an eye placed above it, and contains the words, "annuit coeptis" (he favors our undertakings.) It's been interpreted that the eye represents the eye of God, and symbolizes spiritual vision and purpose, while the pyramid represents the material world. According to futurist, Willis Harmon, author of "Global Mind Change," the incomplete pyramid indicates that our nation's vision will require divine insight in order to be fully realized.
The eagle's been said to represent spiritual guidance, and like the monks who shaved their heads in the middle ages in order to remain open to receiving the spirit, the eagle's head too is bald. While it clutches both an olive branch (a universal symbol of peace), and arrows in it's talons, it distinctly faces the olive branch. The banner held by the eagle asserts,
E pluribus unum (unity from many) and, novus ordo seclorum (a new order of the ages is born), announcing, according to Harmon, that our country would introduce a new spiritually based order to the world.
It's been said that if we in America are going to effectively meet the numerous challenges that confront us, we'll need a new dream. Maybe that's true, on the other hand, perhaps instead, we only need to revise or reconnect to an old vision, one that has enormous potential to serve us. A vision where the "pursuit of happiness" isn't overshadowed by the pursuit of money and possessions, where "the pursuit of liberty" includes the freedom for families in the poorest of countries to acquire that which is necessary to sustain them emotionally, physically and spiritually, and where "the pursuit of life" takes into account the lives of those not yet born.
FAITH AND SCIENCE
"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Thoreau
Margaret Mead, anthropologist, educator, social activist, and humanist possessed a tremendous thirst for knowledge. This thirst, coupled with her commitment to action, led Time Magazine in 1969 to name her, "Mother of the World." She cared deeply not only about the fate of her fellow Americans, but about the well-being of all her brothers and sisters who shared the home that she described with tenderness as "small and lonely and blue."
Understanding that we must change what we think before we can effectively alter what we do, she sought to change the attitudes that imperiled each and every one of us. Mead advised, "It is our thinking that we must modify if we are to make and implement the decisions necessary to protect the world we live in." She warned that we were living beyond our means and urged Americans to embrace those values that might lead us to a new era. A new era in which, "... the entire nation is involved in a search for a new standard of living, a new quality of life, based on conservation not waste, on protection not destruction, on human values rather than built-in obsolescence and waste." She recognized the power of each and every one of us to make an impact in our communities and redirect our course. "If we are to restore some kind of balance to the relationship between population and earth resources, we will have to find ways to shift human beings from the present retreat from individual responsibility to a recognition of just how creative and significant each individual can be," noted Mead.
While not generally recognized, Mead was a deeply religious woman who called for a "20th Century Religion" to meet the present needs and demands of human kind. Her conceptualization of such a religion included the following beliefs:
(1) Science and religion could and should work hand in hand to solve the world's problems. In 1966, at the World Conference on Church and Society, she said: "With knowledge and no faith, we may well see a world destroyed. With faith and no knowledge, we may still see a world destroyed. With faith and knowledge bound together, we can hope to cherish and protect the lives of the men and the life of the world." And Mead asked, "Is it Christian to insist that it is nobler to minister to the individual sufferer than to use technology to wipe out the disease from which that individual is suffering?"
(2) Those who were determined to adopt a "20th Century" faith should actively support the establishment of international law and worldwide institutions. "They should encourage the development of food banks to prevent famine and the removal of restrictions on the use of contraceptives to control population growth. They should support interim measures to bridge the gap between rich nations and poor and should encourage equality of opportunity for all races and socially dependent groups. They should be in the forefront of the environmental movement."
(3) A universal language should be established which every person in the world could speak.
While Mead was an Episcopalian, I was struck by how similar her beliefs were to those of the rapidly growing Baha'i faith, which holds the following to be "Truths for a New Day:
1. The oneness of mankind.
2. Independent Investigation of Truth.
3. The foundation of all religion is one.
4. Religion must be the cause of unity.
5. Religion must be in accord with science and reason.
6. Equality between men and women.
7. Prejudice of all kinds must be forgotten.
8. Universal Peace.
9. Universal Education.
10. Spiritual solution of the economic problem.
11. A universal language.
12. An international Tribunal.
Einstein, whose name sadly conjures up images of the atomic bomb for many, despite his tremendous dedication to world peace, had three very strong beliefs in common with Mead. First, he, too, believed in the magnificence of God, saying: "I want to know the mind of God. The rest is all details" Second, he also recognized our interdependence and urged us to show compassion for all living things, stating:
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe' - a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness . . . Our task must be to fee ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and to the whole of nature in its beauty."
Einstein called for measures to be taken to create a greater unity in the world. In his later years, he repeatedly advocated for the creation of a world government. This government, according to Einstein, would possess power over all military matters, in addition to one other power - to interfere in countries where a minority was oppressing a majority. While he feared the potential for tyranny that the institution of a world government might create, he feared a world destroyed by war far more.
In an interview with Bill Moyers, Patricia Smith Churchland, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, described her meeting with the Dalai Lama. She and a number of other neuroscientists had been asked to give him a tutorial on the workings of the brain. What impressed Churchland most about the Dalai Lama was:
"...he had no dogma. He was willing to change his mind about anything depending on the nature of the evidence. He seemed to take as the most important aspect of the religion of Buddhism those questions of how to live a life. And there he talked about compassion, about honesty, and so forth. But he didn't advert to any dogmas about the nature of the universe... about whether species were created, or whether there was a mind independent of the body, and so on, He said, 'If those are the facts, those are the facts... on the issues of science... he wanted information from the people who knew, or the people who had the most information available. And he was not going to insist that the universe be one way because the Buddhists had thought it was so for two thousand years. He is deeply concerned with how people live their lives and with political issues of compassion..."
ON WAR AND PEACE
"According to ancient Chinese and Indian wisdom, small minds perceive the separateness of things but great minds perceive the unity of all." N.S. Xavier
During the 1991 war with Iraq, I, like so many Americans, found myself glued to CNN in fear and fascination. I kept hearing President Bush proclaim that this was the dawn of a "New World Order." I found no comfort in his assurances. I wrote very little during this tumultuous time regarding the war with the exception of a brief entry in the journal that I was keeping for my daughter that read:
"January 22, 1991.
Our country is at war as I begin this, your second book. As you play at nursery school, radio and television announcers speak of our bombing Baghdad. It troubles me - this war - tremendously. As a mother more than anything, for my prayer is the very same as all mothers everywhere, to keep my precious child safe. I want your dreams to consist of fairy lands and unicorns, not haunted by death and destruction and evil. How do I help you to make sense of this war? You are too little to understand, and as the battle rages on in a foreign land, I am grateful. We don't talk about the bombs, you and I. While mothers place gas masks on the tiny faces of their children, I turn off the TV. We play a game and gaze up at the stars while war missiles streak across the sky far away.
You are afraid of witches right now, and we do a witch chasing ceremony each night at bedtime. Witches, my darling, I promise always to protect you from. But who will protect the children far away from the demons who haunt a foreign land? Demons who themselves were innocent once, at rest in the arms of a mother who loved them?"
As a little girl, I would recite the lord's prayer each night ending with, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The prayer held a great promise. Someday the world would be a better place. It was God's plan. For much of my life, I have understood this prayer to mean that God would assert his will at the appointed time and that we must keep the faith. Reading "The Baha'i Faith: The Emerging Global Religion" by Hatcher and Martin, has prompted me to consider a possible responsibility contained within the promise of the "Lord's Prayer." According to the Baha'i, it's the work of all the people of the world, in addition to their faith, that will bring the peaceable kingdom to earth (as it is in heaven.) Hatcher and Martin point to the formation of the League of Nations and the United Nations as important steps towards making the covenant come to pass. If, in fact, we were made in the image of God with our own tremendous capacities to create and destroy, then it may well be our task to turn our own enormous power towards the construction of a world made safe for all of God's creatures.
"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." Thoreau
We don't raise our young to be dependent forever. We hope that once they have matured, that they'll build from what we've lovingly offered - a life which offers them security, love, happiness, and peace. Should God expect any less of his (her) own children?
There are many visions of world peace, I haven't the slightest investment in who weaves the dream into a reality, only that it is woven strand by strand, and that I myself contribute in some small way to the weaving.
THE GOLDEN RULE
"God is in the details." Meis Vander Rohe
A simple guide for co-habitating on the earth has been given to all people of the world in a variety of languages. While the messengers differ, the message remains the same.
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12.
"This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517.
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary." Talmud: Shabbat: 31 a.
" That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself." Dadistan-I-Dinik 94: 5.
"Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you." Analects 15: 23
"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." Sunnah.
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own
loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien.
This universal message is shared with each of us. It's a message that calls for peace, love, respect, justice, and connection. While we have all been taught it, relatively few have manifested it in their day to day lives. It's my hope that as the new millennium dawns, and we grow older and still wiser, that BirthQuakes will become more common, and that when the final tremors still, the Golden Rule might stand firmly rooted in the hearts and souls of those who've been transformed by their quakes.
"Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is said, from all my teachers have I gotten understanding." Ben Zoma
SONGS OF THE SOUL
"The years teach much which the days never know." Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I think about the beauty of childhood, I often remember a little girl singing as loud as she can. She is described as a spirited child. She sings without inhibition, simply because she feels like singing. She sings to no one in particular - the world is her audience. She skips and she chants in the sunlight. Her song is an expression of the freedom of her soul.
For many of us, the songs of the soul were silenced years ago, silenced by fear, by shame, by loneliness, by distractions, and by so much more. For some of us, reclaiming our souls will mean first facing the emptiness we feel inside, and resolving to no longer attempt to fill it with money, food, drugs, accomplishments, etc. For others, recovering their souls may involve discovering who they truly are, and allowing their authentic selves to have a voice. For still others, embracing their spirit will require that they embrace their bodies as well. There are many paths to the soul...
THE ULYSSEAN ADULT
"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it too." Diane Ackerman
According to John A. B. McLeish, author of "The Ulyssean Adult: Creativity in the Middle & Later Years," the Ulyssean adult possesses the following characteristics: a sense of quest, courage, resourcefulness, resiliency, creativity, and unexpectedness.
A Sense of Quest:
The Ulyssean adult maintains or rediscovers a sense of adventure. For this individual, life contains valuable lessons, experiences, and challenges.
In an attempt to provide a portrait of the Ulyssean adult, I would like to share with you a true story about a woman whom I have never met. I don't know where or when she was born, who her parents were, or much about her childhood. I don't even know her name. What I do know is that six years before I was born, when she was middle aged, she left her friends, her possessions, and her home behind to start on a quest for peace. She had no organizational backing or money. She carried with her only the clothes on her body, copies of her message, a ball point pen, her correspondences, a comb, and a folding toothbrush. By the time I started Kindergarten, she had walked 25,000 miles across this country and into Canada, sharing her message of peace.
When I was ten, she began her fourth pilgrimage across the United States, her message continued to be that we must each work to create and maintain peace not only in the world, but in our families, our communities, our workplace, and in ourselves.
By the time I am nineteen and in college, she is walking for the seventh time across America. During her journeys she has been physically attacked, arrested, and has faced death again and again.
The month I am to celebrate my fourth wedding anniversary, she dies on her way to a speaking engagement. She does not die of illness or old age. In fact, she is as healthy (she maintained she was healthier) in her seventies (or eighties?) as she was when she first started walking. The woman who walked for 28 years and known to the world only as the "peace pilgrim," said of herself once, "I am a pilgrim, a wanderer. I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food."
The Peace Pilgrim confronted danger and life-threatening situations on numerous occasions. She shared that the first time she faced death in a blinding snowstorm during her first pilgrimage, "was the most beautiful experience I ever had."
She was walking in an isolated section of the high mountains in Arizona one afternoon, when all of the sudden there was a surprise snowstorm that hit her with more fury then any she had ever witnessed before. Within a short period of time, she couldn't walk without repeatedly falling and could no longer see ahead. Conditions were so treacherous that no cars were traveling on the road. She was freezing, blinded by snow, and totally alone. It grew dark and her body, numb with cold, kept on moving. She had no way of knowing if she remained walking on the road or off into a field. Yet, she didn't panic. She walked on. She began to hallucinate. She heard music and saw beings. She recognized one particular being as a deceased friend of hers. She concluded that it must be her time to die and that her friend had come to greet her. "You have come for me?" she asked, unafraid. Her friend shook her head "no" and motioned for her to go back. Just then, she ran into the railing of a bridge, where she soon found a large packing box with wrapping paper still in it. Slowly and with great difficulty given the numbness in her limbs, she managed to climb into the box and cover herself with the paper. Under a bridge, in a packing box, she slept peacefully while the storm raged around her.
Ulyssean adults don't necessarily possess greater resources than their peers do. They simply use the resources available to them wisely and creatively.
The Peace Pilgrim slept in a bed when one was offered her, and wherever she could find shelter when one was not available. She made use of bridges, dilapidated barns, empty basements, culverts, haystacks, picnic tables, and cemeteries. While another might have walked by a large pipe searching for a place to bed down, she transformed it into a night's lodging by crawling inside.
Eric Fromm perceived creative individuals as those who possessed the ability to be aware of (to see) and to respond. Ulyssean adults tend to look at the world both realistically and optimistically. They can and often do acknowledge difficulties, deficits, and problems; however, they are able to look beyond immediate obstacles and into future possibilities. While one person says, "I can't", the Ulyssean adult says, "I just haven't yet."
The Peace Pilgrim demonstrated her creativity in a number of ways. She utilized her energy and resources in ways that almost always produced maximum results. She developed plans for instituting and maintaining effective peace fellowships. She wrote thoughtfully and well about such issues as conflict resolution, living the spiritual life, dealing with fear and anger, and prayer.
Ulyssean adults have been wounded at least as much as the average person; however, Ulysseans don't completely surrender to suffering or failure in total despair. Instead, they choose to view their misfortune as an experience from which they can learn and grow.
During the Peace Pilgrim's journey through Arizona, while mailing letters, she was arrested for vagrancy. As she was placed in the cell block, she looked around and said to herself, "Peace Pilgrim, you have dedicated your life to service --behold your wonderful new field of service!" She immediately began speaking with her fellow cellmates and got them to sing songs in order to lift their spirits. Next, she taught them an exercise, and then began sharing her steps toward inner peace with her new friends. She later described her day and night of confinement in jail as "beautiful," writing: "Every experience is what you make it and it serves a purpose. It might inspire you, it might educate you, or it might come to give you a chance to be of service in some way."
Ulyssean adults tend not to always follow predictable patterns of behavior. What can and often does make many of us feel angry, might instead cause the Ulyssean to laugh or respond sympathetically. For example, while a great number of individuals are looking forward to retirement as a time of rest and relaxation, the Ulyssean may very well perceive retirement as an opportunity to confront new challenges.
Somewhere between El Paso and Dallas, during the first year of her pilgrimage, the Peace Pilgrim was apprehended by the FBI and booked for vagrancy. When they fingerprinted her, she found the process fascinating. When they took her mug shot, she smiled sweetly. When they brought her to be interrogated and began firing one question after another at her, she took advantage of the opportunity to educate her interrogators, and gladly answered each and every one of their questions.
The Peace Pilgrim was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. Few of us would choose, or be able, to go to such extreme measures in order to experience the benefits of the Ulyssean adult. There are, however, numerous activities and attitudes that Ulysseans engage in that are neither heroic nor dramatic. One Ulyssean man whom I admire tremendously has lived a very quiet and simple life. His quest has always been that of learning, a desire he enthusiastically fulfills primarily through reading. He has demonstrated courage and resiliency in a number of ways. Most striking to me was the way in which he faced a life threatening illness with strength, faith, and optimism. While he's never made a large salary, his resourcefulness has enabled him to travel extensively and to own a lovely home with a breathtaking view. His creativity is immediately acknowledged when one takes a stroll in his "magic" garden. His appreciation of rainy days, his joyful and abrupt laughter, his sense of wonder with so much that his companions consider ordinary, all serve to reveal his unexpectedness.
A NATIVE AMERICAN VISION AND GIFTS FROM THE WEB
I grew up under the dark and ominous cloud of a religion that taught that the world would come to an end by the year 1975. Before 1975, when I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up, I politely answered that I didn't know. But I did. I knew that I wasn't going to grow up, that there would be no adulthood for me. I was going to suffer a terrible and agonizing death.
I knew too much and too little about my dying. I'd seen pictures of what I might experience during my last horrific moments on earth. I lived in almost constant dread and fear. Every thunder and lightening storm, a gathering of birds, or a peculiarly colored sky, were potential signs that today could be the day the world would end. I recall one picture that I used to study in perverse fear and fascination as a child. It was a drawing of massive destruction, and it came from the very same book in which I had first learned how to read. Although it's been over a quarter of a century since I last looked at it, I can still see it clearly in my mind's eye. Armageddon. My stomach muscles clench now as they did then.
There's another picture I remember. It's of a little girl wearing her Easter dress and bonnet. She's smiling down at the little collie lying beside her. She's a pretty child posing in the April sunlight. The camera fails to capture the freckles on her face, and the space between her front teeth. You can see her swing set in the background and the neighbor's farmhouse down the road. It's a black and white picture. You can't tell what color her dress, or the swing set is. There are no details in the photo that would tell you much of anything about the house, the dog, or the scrawny, smiling child. This picture can not possibly paint the thousands of words that might be told about all that you don't see.
My belly ached a lot when I was little. I was diagnosed as having stomach ulcers before I completed the second grade. It hurt. My life hurt.
It's been over twenty years since the year that was to be my last. At the start of the new Millenium, (how ironic), I'll celebrate my silver anniversary of survival. I've buried my pain for the most part, along with my secrets. For the past two decades I've refused to become an official member of any one religion and talk of doomsday till this day makes my skin crawl, and my blood heat. I want no part of anyone's Apocalyptic promises. I refuse to return to the terrible prison of fear that I fled years ago. So while I'm open to future projections based on current facts, and am going to share with you nine predictions made long ago, I still refuse to place my faith in inspired revelations regarding the world's end.
The Hopi's have been handing down ancient prophecies from generation to generation. Among them are the following signs that I understand would indicate to the Hopi that the end of the fourth world was closing in, and the beginning of the fifth was at hand.
The first sign would be the coming of light skinned men, who would strike their enemies with thunder. (Interpretation - the invasion of the white man with his guns.)
The second sign foretold that the land would see the coming of spinning wheels filled with voices. (Interpretation - pioneers traveling in covered wagons which rested on wagon wheels.)
The third sign would be a strange beast like a buffalo with great long horns, which would overrun the land in large numbers. (Interpretation: the long horn cattle imported by the white man.)
The fourth sign predicted that the land would be crossed by snakes of iron. (Interpretation: railroad tracks)
The sixth sign was that the land would be criss-crossed with rivers of stone that make pictures in the sun. (Interpretation - concrete highways and their mirage producing effects)
The seventh sign would be the seas turning black, killing many of its creatures. (Interpretation - oil spills in the oceans)
The eighth sign was to be the arrival of many white young males with long hair who would wish to join with the Indian Nations and learn their ways. (Interpretation - the hippie movement of the 1960's)
The ninth and final sign entailed a dwelling place in the heavens, above the earth, that would fall with a great crash and appear as a blue star. Soon after this occurred, the ceremonies of the Hopi would cease. (Interpretation: the U.S. space station Skylab which plummeted to earth in 1979. It's been reported that to eye-witnesses in Australia, it appeared to be burning blue.)
The fifth sign (I hadn't forgotten it) was that there would be a cobweb built around the world through which people would talk. (Interpretation: electric power and telephone lines.)
It's not my intention to assert the Hopi prophecies are accurate and will be fulfilled. I have no idea. What I do want to point out, is the significance of the prophecy which foretold of the giant web which would cover the world, and through which people would talk, and the astronomical growth of the "World Wide Web."
The WWW, more commonly known as the "net," has connected the citizens of the world to a degree never witnessed before. I'm an average, middle class woman who has conversed via "email" and "chat," with a woman in Australia, a man in the United Kingdom, and a woman from Iceland all in one day. And while the technology available to us is already being exploited and commercialized, it also provides us with enormous opportunities for connection, cooperation, collaboration, and healing. There are a huge number of resources available on the Internet to those interested in social activism, environmentalism, spiritual growth, holism, and so much more. Many not only provide information, they offer opportunities to network and work together on joint projects. There are far too many "gifts from the web" to list here in this book. I would like however to provide you with just a small sample of websites that I highly recommend to those of you interested in co-creating a gentler and more sustainable world.
- The Awakening Earth (www.awakeningearth.org/)
- Action Coalition for Global Change (www.acgc.org/)
- The Citizens Network for sustainable Development (www.igc.org/)
- The Earth Council (www.ecouncil.ac.cr/)
- EarthWatch (www.earthwatch.org/)
- Future Generations (http://www.future.org/)
- Millennium Institute (http://www.millenniuminstitute.net/)
- Envirolink (www.envirolink.org/envirohome.html)
- Frugal Living Resources (www.econet.org/frugal/)
- Simple Living (http://www.simpleliving.net/main/)
- We The People (www.wtp.org/)
- Corporate Watch (www.corpwatch.org/home.html)
- Better World (www.betterworld.com/)
- Yes! Journal for Positive Futures (www.futurenet.org)
LEGACY OF THE QUAKE
"The man who views the world at fifty the same way he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." Muhammad Ali
According to Jung, human beings require four gifts in order to live and grow - faith, hope, love and insight. Those who survive and are transformed by the quake are clearly left in possession of these gifts of grace.
They possess a far greater faith in themselves than ever before. They've been tested, and they persevered. They've been forced to let go, and yet were ultimately able to embrace. They lost much of their innocence, and yet they rediscovered a sense of wonder. They were wounded, and they experienced healing. They've cried out in the wilderness feeling frightened and alone, only to be met with silence, and still they found a way home.
The lessons of their failures, while humbling, have also taught them that they can begin again. They've come to understand that while they might not have obtained or achieved everything they had dreamed of, they've received far more than they would ever have thought possible to ask for. They've fallen down, only to rise again. They've learned that it's a gift beyond compare to have those whom they love (and who love them) in their lives.
They've looked into their own hearts and souls and have come to an understanding and acceptance of their unique assortment of strengths and weaknesses. And while their eyesight may not be as keen as it was when they were younger, they now possess the vision to more often see beneath the surface and beyond the horizon.
They recognize that the natural resources (including their own bodies) that they used to take for granted, are finite and at risk. They acknowledge this fact, not with despair, resignation, or indifference, but with a sense of responsibility, of purpose, and of appreciation. They've learned to handle all living things with respect and care. They're prepared to act upon what they know when it's prudent, and wise enough to proceed with caution when they're uncertain.
Yes, they still fear, but they seldom panic. And yes, they still hurt, but can maintain hope. No, they aren't above such human traits as selfishness, envy, anxiety, etc., but their quick to recognize them when they feel them, and are committed to working towards resolving the issues which confront them. And when they fail, they can both forgive themselves, while still accept responsibility for their mistakes.
THE SECRET OF THE QUAKE
"Wisdom is a healthy balance of reason and intuition." N.S. Xavier
Abraham Maslow, renowned psychologist and teacher, said that it's not possible for the young to achieve self-actualization (the state of reaching one's greatest potential.) While it may not be particularly kind or generous of me, I must agree.
In order to arrive even close to the very height of one's potential, one must have traveled a tremendous distance. This is a journey requiring years of wandering (and wondering), and it's one that's undertaken without a map. There are few guideposts - for the self is, and always has been, uncharted territory. The interior of the soul is beautiful, and yet, still it remains a wilderness. And while one may be young when starting out upon the path; this is a sojourn that most assuredly will only be completed by a mature adult. No matter how brave, how strong, how promising the youth that begins the journey might be, he or she is not equipped to successfully navigate its unmarked and untamed regions. Each will find again and yet again, that they are lost.
Most quickly find a place to settle, and then stay put for years before gathering the courage or momentum to venture out again. Others are forced out of their secure and safe havens. Regardless of how they came to be out of their zone of comfort and security, most are frightened and unsure. There is tremendous comfort in the familiar; however, it's often in unfamiliar realms that we achieve our greatest wisdom.
It's impossible to avoid risk. To live is to risk. It's also not possible to escape the trauma of a quake. Quakes eventually find everyone. The only choice you have in regards to a quake is how you choose to handle one. Will you retreat if you can? Will you allow yourself to be swallowed up? Will you hold on and stand your ground? If you choose to (or are forced to) endure the full measure of the quake, will you pay attention to its lessons? Will you act upon what you've learned? If you fail to do so, you will still be a survivor, but you won't have fully grown. Instead of being transformed, the experience may only have proven to damage and diminish you. The pain was unavoidable, you could do very little to control the suffering, but determining the outcome is very much within your power. The choice is yours.
Experiencing a quake isn't simply facing a life crisis. A life crisis can mistakenly be interpreted as threatening one segment of a person's life while seeming to leave the other components of his or her life relatively untouched. A quake envelops the whole person. It demands in no uncertain terms that you confront all aspects of your life. If you're perceptive enough to get its message, and wise enough to respond, then you will look at yourself and your world in its entirety. You'll explore how you're dealing with your body, your spirit, your intellect, your relationships, and your environment. You'll look long and hard, and then you'll begin making changes. I'm not suggesting that you do an immediate and complete overhaul of your life; only that you begin to attend to those issues that need tending by taking one step at a time.
A life crisis is often created from an external source such as a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Quakes can be triggered by the very same events that prompted a life crisis. However, the power and the fury of the quake is generated from an internal source. The darkness, the anger, the agony, the terror, and so much more - all that you've repressed for a lifetime, may burst forth with tremendous intensity, and is carried to you and through you via the quake. You've come face to face with the most formidable adversary (and ally) you will ever confront - yourself. From within you resides the flame that feeds the extraordinarily powerful source of the quake's force.
I've written about the power of the mind, of the body, of the spirit, and yet, have I truly for a moment had you convinced? Can you now begin to imagine the tremendous forces that exist within you, within me, within each and every one of us? I ask you to consider it now.
When you cut yourself and your body immediately begins the process of rejuvenation without your so much as lifting a finger - that's power! When you look at someone from across the room whose attention is elsewhere and they respond by looking towards you because they can sense you - that's power! When you are so furious with yourself that you cause the very cells in your body to turn against other cells in retaliation, - that's power! When you close your eyes and go to sleep, and from the stillness of your slumber a whole other world comes forth to greet you in your dreams - that's power! When you gently caress the head of a loved one who is agitated and cause their heart rate to slow and blood pressure to drop - that's power! When you smile genuinely at someone who is hurting and cause him or her to smile back at you - that's power!
This is a pathetically small accounting of your enormous ability to impact your own world and the world of others. Let me remind you now of one fundamental fact about power - it can be used to create or to destroy.
PHASE ONE: EXPLORATION AND INTEGRATION
"The only devils in the world are those running around in our own hearts. That is where the battles should be fought." Mahatma Gandhi
Recognizing that our quakes ultimately evolve from our own inner demons (and angels), doesn't mean that within us lurks a great force waiting to break free in order to destroy or save us. Instead, the quake is a mighty testimony of how deeply our experiences have touched us. We've lived them, and now they continue to live within us. Our memories may have settled deep down beneath the layers of our consciousness, unseen but not entirely forgotten, quiet but never completely silenced. Their echoes recall our broken dreams, our shame, and our fears. They speak of our secret longings, our regrets, and of our neglected potential. They sing our forgotten and unsung songs. Their individual verses, when united, calls forth a brilliant and unique melody, each person's own individual song.
The onset of the quake becomes a time when attention to our own inner lyrics becomes important. A time to examine and acknowledge the vast and sometimes contradictory aspects of ourselves. A time to direct our vision inward in order to later modify and enlarge our view. The quake initiates a process whereby we can begin to claim those pieces of ourselves that we've denied or buried. We may ultimately reject them once again, but first, we must own them, rather than project them outward onto other individuals or groups. In doing so, we begin to admit that it's not simply "they" (the blacks, the whites, the communists, the government, our children, or our parents) who're greedy, evil, selfish, blind, prejudiced, and so much more. We come to recognize that within ourselves there exists the capacity to commit harmful, irresponsible, and perhaps even evil acts. We accept that we too can be selfish, greedy, closed-minded, naive, etc. In acknowledging our own dark side, we become more compassionate and less judgmental of others. On the other hand, in bringing our hidden or minimized strengths and potentials out into the light, we become far less likely to look outside of ourselves for answers, for wisdom, and for salvation. We begin to recognize that it's not "them" (our leaders, our gurus, our parents, our children etc.) whom we need to depend upon for our own well-being and survival.
Tom Bender wrote that, "like a garden, our lives need to be weeded to produce a good crop." That's what we begin to do in the first phase, to look at where in our lives we need to weed, to plant and to cultivate. Bender also maintains that in order for a person and a society to be healthy, there needs to exist a spiritual core and that this spiritual core involved honoring. I believe an important question to ask during the exploration and integration phase is "what do I truly honor, and how does my life style reflect that which I honor?"
PHASE TWO: MOVEMENT
"I have no doubt that most people live--physically, intellectually, and morally--in a very restricted circle of their potential being....We have reservoirs of life, to draw upon, of which we do not dream." William James
In confronting our shadows we empower ourselves. We only transform what we're willing to confront. We begin to decide what it is about ourselves and our lives that we want to change. We begin to utilize both old and newly acknowledged strengths and abilities. We might begin to take more risks. We may begin to hold more closely, those gifts in our lives that were previously unrecognized or taken for granted. We might step up our pace or slow it down. We might begin to plant in our symbolic gardens, weed, or more likely, do a little of both. We might move away from that which no longer fosters growth or closer to that which does. Whatever we do during this phase of the quake, it's movement and change that best characterizes phase two. The changes aren't always manifested behaviorally, or with great fanfare and drama. They might evolve quietly and may be imperceptible to outsiders, limited to a change in attitude or perception.
Tolstoy, literary genius (and political and social activist during the later years of his life) was characterized as a narcissist in his youth. He had no doubt that he was extraordinary, and couldn't imagine living the life of an ordinary individual. The thought of raising a family and settling down to a regular routine made him shudder. His passionate nature demanded intensity, danger, speed, a multitude of experiences, and life on the edge. When he finally did marry, not surprisingly, his initial adjustment to living within the bounds of a life-long commitment was a difficult one, leaving him often feeling overwhelmed and restless. As time went on however, as he matured and witnessed the growth and development of his children, he began to experience a sense of contentment for the first time in his life. During this period, he wrote the following to Alexandra Tolstoy:
"I feel like an apple tree that before grew with all its branches stretching upward and on all sides and that life has now pruned, lopped off at the crown, tied, and propped up, so that it does not inconvenience others, so that it sinks its roots deep and grows straight."
In can take years sometimes to shift from exploration and integration to the movement phase, a process that typically involves growth and change on a personal level.
PHASE THREE: EXPANSION
In 1874, at the age of 35, Frances E. Willard was without a husband, without savings, without a job, and without a sense of direction. It was during this unhappy and uncertain time in her life that she became involved with a movement which would be instrumental in charting her life's course - the Association for the Advancement of Women. At the end of her impressive career as a social reformer, Willard had managed to build the largest national organization of women in the nineteenth century - the Women's Christian Temperance Movement. In her book, originally titled in 1895, "A Wheel Within A Wheel," she utilizes the metaphor of learning to ride a bicycle (an activity few women knew how to do at the time) for effectively negotiating the challenges of life. While discussing those periods when she made very little progress, she recalls a teacher who informed her that:
"...there were growing days and stationary days, and she had always noticed that just after one of these last dull, depressing, and dubious intervals she seemed to get an uplift and went ahead better than ever."
Willard's recollection serves to illustrate the fact that as one initiates the process of change, the motion is not always continuous, in fact, there are often many stops and starts.
"If you want faith, you have to work for it." Flannery O' Connor
The flow of the quake is never stagnant. It's continually in motion, spiraling outward and shifting much of what it encounters. As we ourselves stir and evolve in response to the quake, we gradually gather momentum until we're no longer only transforming our own lives, but triggering alterations (however small) in our own tiny corner of the world. For instance, if I've begun treating my spouse with greater love and consideration in recognition of how precious he is to me, he in turn is likely to respond by dealing with me more lovingly. If I stop striking out at my child in anger, she may be less likely to wound another. If I choose to smile more often and more genuinely at strangers, it's likely that I'll encounter more kindness when I venture out into the world. If I plant flowers and nurture trees in my backyard, I will be greeted by a more beautiful world when I look out my window.
As we begin to reap the rewards of both the small and more substantive changes we've made in our lives, we grow and mature. One major hallmark of maturity is the ability to extend our awareness and concern beyond just ourselves and towards others as well. It's during this process of moving beyond the self centered "I" to include the sacred "We," that the convulsions of the quake give way to reawakening and rebirth. When one is reborn from out of the chaos of the quake, one stands firmly rooted in the world as a fully differentiated "I" who is also aware that he or she is also fundamentally connected to all of the other equally essential beings who share the earth.
Rama J. Vernon became intimately acquainted with "We" during his travels in the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war in 1984. Before going to the USSR, Vernon, like most of his peers, considered this cold, northern land to be the "Evil Empire" that Ronald Regan described. And yet as he visited Lenin's tomb, the Kremlin, Red Square, schools, churches, and individual homes, what he found in the land of his enemy - were the faces of his friends. He recalls visiting the marketplace in Leningrad where an elderly woman approached him. She asked him if he was Italian. He said no. She then asked if he was American and he responded affirmatively. She immediately sank to her knees, placing her hands together as if in prayer and implored him, "Mir...Mir" (peace...Peace.) He pulled her to her feet and they embraced. It was then that he realized that Russians and Americans fear one another and pray for peace in equal earnestness. "As I crossed the line to 'the other side', I found that no sides exist - we are part of the same humanity."
The lessons Vernon absorbed during his travels prompted him to devote his lifework to the achievement of world peace. He's learned that there are no borders or boundaries that exist "between the souls of people...I have learned that our old, secure world is painfully dissolving into the dawn of a new world order and that old structures must crumble for this new world to be born."
Individuals evolving in the third phase of a Birthquake continue to encounter periods of pain and uncertainty. However, they've come to recognize that it's just as likely to be a person, as an event, which will be instrumental in helping them through. They've learned that in order to successfully navigate through their life journey, guides and companions will be required from time to time. It's in recognition of this truth that they not only hold out their hand to assist others, but also reach out for guidance and support when necessary.
One aspect of my own life that I've chosen to develop and strengthen, and which has most contributed to my growth, are my relationships. I've come to love long and deeply, and while still imperfectly, I've come to love well. Out of my loving has blossomed a marriage now spanning two decades. The marriage that I entered into while still an adolescent, and for so many of the wrong reasons, has continued to evolve and grow in spite of its dubious beginnings. I also remain closely connected to special friends of my childhood, whom I've periodically neglected, but never stopped loving. I've been sustained by the love of my family and my friends (both old and new). They've been my witnesses, my teachers, my first line of defense, my playmates, my mirrors, and, more than once, they've been my salvation. For the most part, I see myself somewhere in the middle of phase two of my quake. If I am ever to progress to stage three and maintain residency there, it will surely be to a large degree due to the lessons my loved ones have taught me.
Awakening involves not only the ability to see further and farther than ever before, but also to see what you've always seen with greater clarity. Awakening implies that you won't only possess new knowledge, but that you'll finally acknowledge what you've known and may have ignored. You begin to act based on this knowledge, not only on behalf of yourself, but also on behalf of the others who share your world.
"You can't have a sane life in an insane society." Michael Ventura
It's the expansion phase that truly involves wholeness. Many of us have heard that wholeness involves the mind, body, and spiritual aspects of an individual. And while that's certainly true, I believe that this description leaves a critical component out of the equation. From my perspective, wholeness extends beyond the individual and encompasses the external world as well. In moving towards wholeness, we aren't only attending to the needs of the mind/body/spirit, but also connecting to the greater world to which we each belong.
Researchers have informed us that there's a significant correlation between mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, with too great of a preoccupation with the self. Another piece of research indicates that a critical ingredient of happiness seems to be to maintain somewhat of an outward focus. So, for those individuals who've arrived at the expansion phase of a BirthQuake, who've looked deeply inward, but have also reached out, there seems to be the well deserved benefit of enjoying a substantial increase in over all well-being.
RESIDENTS OF PHASE THREE
"It is not enough to have a handful of heroes, what we need are generations of responsible people." Richard D. Lamm
There are many that have traveled and continue to move further forward into phase three. Some are famous while others are unknown; some are simple people, while others are decidedly more complex; some are saintly, and others all too human. The lives of those individuals, who've reached the expansion phase of the quake, serve as testimonials that when both sight and soul are enjoined, triumph will follow.
Nelson Mandela is considered to be one of the great political and moral leaders of our time. He's called an international hero whose dedication to the fight against oppression in South Africa earned him the Nobel Peace Prize as well as the presidency of his country. Released in 1990, after being a political prisoner for more then a quarter of a century, Mandela's been instrumental in bringing his homeland closer to racial equality.
In "Long Walk to Freedom," Mandela recalls that he wasn't born with a hunger for freedom, and that as long as he obeyed his father and the rules of his tribe, the laws of man or God didn't trouble him. It wasn't until he grew into young adulthood and came to recognize that he'd been robbed of many of his rights that he began to yearn for freedom, not only for himself, but for all people - black and white. He reflected:
"It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. "
From the moment Mandela stepped beyond the boundary of his prison, his mission was to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor, as he had come to understand that both groups are deprived of their humanity.
Mandela has accomplished more than some ever dared to dream during his long walk to freedom, and still he keeps on moving upward and onward, reminding himself that while he can rejoice in his peoples' achievements, there are many miles before him left to trek. His ultimate destination has never been to simply cast off the chains of oppression, but towards a time when we all can live in a manner that respects and enriches the lives of every man, woman, and child.
While attempting to put the mystic consciousness into perspective, John C. Robinson, in his powerful book, "Death of A Hero - Birth of A Soul," explores the findings of those who've researched spiritual and religious experiences, including the work of William James and James Fowler. I'll briefly discuss Robinson's summary of James and Fowler's findings, as I believe that they're highly relevant to the expansion phase of a Birthquake.
James Fowler, in "Stages of Faith,"identified several progressive stages of spiritual and religious development that can occur during the life span of an individual. The first stage represents the literal beliefs of the young child. The second stage is representative of the older child who conforms to traditional religious authority; the third stage involves the re-examination of the young adult of his or her faith and how it measures up to his or her actual experience and personal values. According to Fowler, most people remain at this stage with relatively few venturing further. However, Fowler also noted that during midlife, some individuals begin to experience an awareness of the common threads that link all religions. Aldous Huxley defined this link as the "Perennial Philosophy." Huxley asserts that in all religious traditions of the world there exist certain unifying themes. The four fundamental doctrines at the core of each religion, according to the Perennial Philosophy, are: (1) our individual experiences and consciousness are manifestations of a greater and divine reality that is pervasive; (2) the existence of a higher being can be more readily affirmed by using our intuition rather than our reasoning and intellectual capabilities; (3) in each of us there exists the capacity to gain access to aspects of ourselves that transcend everyday experience and reality; (4) this transcendence (also identified as "Enlightenment", "Awakening," "Salvation," etc.) is the primary purpose of human life. It's during this phase of spiritual development, when one becomes more attuned to that which unites world religions rather than that which divides them, asserts Fowler, that the individual moves into greater depths of spiritual experience. This deepening and expansion of awareness can serve to propel the individual further along in his or her spiritual development until the most advanced stage is reached. It's in the most advanced stage that a "...radical commitment to justice and love and of selfless passion for a transformed world, a world made over not in their images, but in accordance with an intentionality both divine and transcendent..." occurs.
William James in "The varieties of Religious Experience," describes the 'saintly character' as one who experiences and demonstrates: (1) a belief that life is far more inclusive than one's own individual experiences; (2) the knowledge that there exists an "Ideal Power" which is personified as God; (3) an understanding that the Ideal Power connects and is connected to each of our lives; (4) a willingness to surrender individual will to the control of the Ideal Power; (5) a feeling of tremendous elation and freedom in surrendering the self to the Ideal Power; (6) the focus of love and "harmonious affections" becomes the emotional center of the individuals life.
I doubt very much there has ever been a saint in this century more famous or more beloved then the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Side by side with the Missionary sisters, Brothers of Charity, and an international group of Co-workers, she touched and healed the lives of countless individuals.
In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for doing what she described as, "small things with great love." And while she's been hailed as a saint, she maintained that she was merely, "a little pencil in God's hand." It was never her goal to convert those whom she served to Catholicism. Instead, she wanted "only to make a Moslem a better Moslem, a Christian a better Christian, and a Hindu a better Hindu."
Her initial mission to teach in the small school she founded in Motijhil very quickly expanded to serving the poor in numerous ways: by feeding and clothing the hungry; caring for the physically ill and emotionally damaged; and attempting to provide the mortally wounded with a "beautiful death." When asked to describe a beautiful death, she replied, "A beautiful death is for people who lived like animals, to die like angels - loved and wanted."
Mother Teresa's attempts to assist the needy of Calcutta weren't always met with gratitude. During the early days, stones were often thrown at the Sisters of Charity as they struggled to carry a victim of starvation or illness to safety. Resentment, however, soon gave way to appreciation, and stones were replaced by gifts, as residents witnessed the small group's tireless devotion and numerous acts of love.
The magic of mother Teresa's devotion has expanded beyond the boundaries of Calcutta to include centers and assistance to those in need all over the world. On March 26, 1969, the Constitution of the International Organization of Co-Workers was presented to and approved by Pope Paul the VI. These Co-workers come from all over the globe and represent a wide number of religious faiths. They are united by "Prayer and Good works and ...free service to the poorest of the poor of all castes and creeds."
October of 1995 marked the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Missionary of Charity. What began with the efforts of a small group of sisters to ease the suffering of the poor of Calcutta has blossomed into a world wide movement offering aid to millions - a movement based on love, and enriched rather than hampered, by its religious diversity.
So many have left and will continue to leave permanent gifts behind and most are not, nor ever will be, famous. They are volunteers, foster parents, social and community activists; our neighbors, our co-workers, and friends. They serve as living testimonies to the power of both diversity and that of unity, and they remind us that this troubled and ailing world is beautiful still . . .
VISITS TO THE THIRD PHASE
"To grow mature is to separate more distinctly, to connect more closely." Hugo Von Hofmannsthal
Few of us reside in the third phase on an ongoing basis. Some of us move in and out of it; others live for over a century and never step foot in it once, while still others (although rarely) find their way while still young. In spite of the evil and suffering that exists in this world, role models for extending our love and concern beyond the boundaries of our own small selves are everywhere. They can be found in the words and actions of the young and the old, the living and dead, those facing ordinary - and those facing extraordinary circumstances. I want to not only witness these lessons, but to absorb them into the depths of my being.
The vibrations of my quake have propelled me well into phase two, and I've experienced brief and crystal clear periods within the realm of phase three, but I am far, far away from residing there. I can accept this. I can recognize the value of my midlife struggle and exploration and believe in my inevitable growth, even as I acknowledge my periods of regression. I've also come to recognize that perhaps only in looking back over my story at some point in the distant future, will I truly be able to identify the gifts that were bestowed upon me during the more difficult points in my life.
Dr. Jonas Salk, creator of the polio vaccine reflected, "I now see that the major shift in human evolution is from behaving like an animal struggling to survive, to behaving like an animal choosing to evolve. In fact, in order to survive, man has to evolve. And to evolve, we need a new kind of thinking and a new kind of behavior." My thinking has shifted dramatically since writing this book, and slowly but surely my behavior is beginning to catch up. There are still numerous changes that I'll need to make in my life in order to stay on this new path, and I've even slid backwards on more than one occasion. As I enter middle age, I'm more determined than ever to evolve, not only for my own sake, but also on behalf of future generations. Eda LeShan suggests that in order for us to maximize the benefits of the discoveries we make in middle age, we have to in a sense become like lobsters, which periodically shed their shells in order to grow. If both our children and ourselves are to have a future worth growing into, then it becomes increasingly more important that we emerge from our shells.
AN ANCIENT HOPE FOR A POST MODERN WORLD
"Vision is the art of seeing things invisible." Swift
One is not immediately transformed by the turbulence of a quake. It's a process that once initiated by the first tremors, continues throughout a lifetime. It's most certainly a venture brimming with difficulties and uncertainties, one which reminds me of the wisdom of John Robinson who wrote, "... there is nothing more painful than the labor and birth of a soul that has been... lost, forgotten, or crushed"
There is no completion of the journey, unless it comes with death, but even the end of physical life may only be the next phase in an ongoing cycle of growth. As I mentioned before, emerging from the turmoil of the quake can result in a dramatic movement towards wholeness. Emerson reflected that:
"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the Soul of the whole; the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every particle is equally related; the eternal ONE...We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the Soul."
BirthQuakes don't only occur in the lives of individuals. They can arise within the collective lives of a family, a community, a nation, a world. Is it possible that the suffering, the uncertainty, the struggles, the failures and the triumphs which co-exist in every part of the globe may be part and parcel of the mighty BIRTHQUAKE that we all share, every one of us? In addition then to the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty, might we also embrace the ancient hope? The promise of the Mighty Quake is simply this: together we can build a better world.
It takes nine months for a child to painfully emerge from a mother's womb; eighteen years for the child to reach adulthood; decades for the adult to conceive of and achieve a dream; and longer still for the dream to touch the lives of others. Throughout history, suffering and hope and blood have often accompanied both births and dreams. Let it be time for the fruits of so much toil and labor to be tasted. If the "Kingdom" is to emerge it may not appear as if by magic, but rather by the miracles that we ourselves create with our own hearts and souls and hands.
IN SEARCH OF COURAGE
"The only Zen you find at the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there." Robert Pirsig
Close to 25 years ago, Rollo May observed that, "we are living in a time when one age is dying and the new age is not yet born." He pointed to the phenomenal changes in almost every aspect of our lives, including religion, education, science, technology, family structure, and medicine as evidence that in 1975 we were living in an age of limbo. He urged us not to panic or withdraw in apathy as we witnessed foundations crumble all around us, but to maintain the courage which would be required of us in order to influence our evolution rather than be controlled by it. He asked that we each participate in our own way (however small) in the creation of a new society.
May asserted that courage was "necessary to make being and becoming possible." Courage would enable us to make difficult choices as well as serve to fuel our commitment to act in ways that would promote the worth and dignity of all beings. May suggested that we could manifest courage in a number of ways:
1. Physical Courage
Physical courage according to May did not refer to a reliance on physical strength or brute force, but rather to the development of our capacity to listen with our bodies. He suggested that we perceive all bodies as sacred versus simply made of matter; as a means of communication versus control; as instruments of empathy and empowerment instead of vehicles utilized to manipulate and exploit.
2. Moral Courage
Moral courage meant to May, perhaps first and foremost, the absolute rejection of violence. It also refers to compassion and the identification of one human being with the suffering of another. To possess moral courage we must be willing to look outside of our own comfortable domain and be willing to see the pain which exists outside and then have heart enough to risk by being willing to make it a concern inside.
3. Social Courage
To possess social courage implies that we are brave enough to relate genuinely to others in our lives. It means that we are willing to risk exposure, rejection, abandonment, and heartbreak in order to truly know and be known. It means that we will make a commitment to work on significant relationships in our lives, not to bolt at the first sign of discomfort but to hold still and hold on. May points out that growth occurs not simply by "being one's self but also by participating in other selves."
4. Creative Courage
Creative courage, according to May, is the most critical kind of courage. It is "the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built." Creative courage requires that we move beyond existing structures, standards, and procedures by daring from time to time to pattern our own. Creative courage requires risk, and not infrequently involves failure. It requires the ability to brave rejection, miscalculations and mistakes. It requires the courage to commit ourselves not only when we know we are right, but also when we are aware of the possibility that we might be wrong.
Almost a quarter of a century after the publication of "The Courage to Create," May's observations seem as relevant today as they were then.
It may very well be that we're still caught up in the birthing process of a new age. The beginning of any new era has always marked the eventual end of significant aspects of the one that came before. In beginning my life as a mother, I surrendered a life style that offered substantially more freedom. In embarking on my mission to spend more time with my daughter as well as to pursue my interest in writing, I left behind the financial and emotional rewards of a successful private practice. Every turn in the road that I've taken has removed the previous landmarks (while not from my memory) from my immediate line of vision. For me, traveling new paths has frequently created anxiety and fear, and has often demanded whatever courage I possessed. The Latin meaning of sacrifice is "to make sacred." Emotional and spiritual growth requires again and again that we make what we love sacred.
Before any major transformation, there are those who've said, "it's always been this way, 'it' will never change. And yet 'it' has changed again and again.
Looking back at the history of the United States alone, before and even during the civil war, there were a number of people who believed that slavery would never be abolished. It was. A remarkably short time ago, when my grandmother was a girl, women weren't allowed to vote. For years, many people, including women, thought the suffragette movement, a movement that took 70 long years to succeed, was futile. It wasn't.
Had anyone predicted twenty years ago that within a few short years we'd witness the end of the cold war, the Soviet Union, apartheid in South Africa, the Iron curtain, and the Berlin wall, which had separated families since World War II, how many would have believed them?
I heard once long ago something to the effect that we shouldn't fight against, but instead, strive for. When we fight 'against,' we operate from an adversarial position, and consequently invite resistance. When we strive 'for,' we're far more likely to inspire cooperation. Instead of fighting against those aspects of ourselves and our behaviors that wound us, perhaps we'd be more effective if we clearly envisioned what it is we need to do to live in a more healthy and sustainable manner on this planet, and then strive to create it.
It's been estimated that in the United States alone, 25 million Americans are consciously exploring more satisfying and yet responsible ways of living. Now, this translates into roughly only about 10% of the US population, and many would say that this isn't nearly enough, and I'd agree with them. And yet, I also whole-heartedly concur with Margaret Mead who once said, "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Michael Lindfield, who wrote "The Dance of Change," noted that, before any cultural transformation is completed, there's generally a time of great chaos and confusion, and he suggests that our culture needs a new story to inspire and guide us through what he calls "the coming birth." I believe that we have that story, and that we've always had it, and that we only need to recover it. It's an age-old story about wholeness, interconnection, cooperation, and the sacredness of all life.
MUSINGS FROM THE MIDDLE
"Do our experiences become more marvelous with age or is it that we just don't realize when they occur how really beautiful and precious they are?" Joseph Cambell
Lastyear was a "middle" year for me. Nine years after I married, I gave birth to my daughter, Kristen. Nine years later, I sat watching her defy gravity on her trampoline. I was remembering my baby as I watched my beautiful girl, and I imagined her going off to college in nine short years. It was likely that our time living together was half over. I grew a little sad. I'm not an eternal optimist. I wish I were. My glass is as likely to be half empty as it is to be half full. It's difficult to permanently alter the way you have viewed the world for as long as you can remember. But I will keep on trying.
My friend and "soul sister," Stephanie, shared with me recently that she had begun to understand what I meant when I refer from time to time to bitter sweetness. Her comment struck me. I've interpreted much of life as bittersweet. While sitting in a bar in Charleston one Saturday night this past spring, we began playfully to write a screen play which we entitled, "Bitter Sweet Comedy." We laughed hysterically as we created absurd and amusing situations for our two main characters. One was blonde, bold, and adventurous, based on Stephanie. The other was dark, tentative, and brooding, based on me. Neither was truly representative of either of us, but rather an exaggerated blend of both. Stephanie is the risk-taker, the dancer, the Goddess of Love and play. I am more cautious, more self-conscious, and more deliberate. Together, at any moment, we contain all of the colors of the rainbow. Hers for the most part seem to be from the bolder and more vibrant spectrum. My hues are generally softer and more soothing. Still, Stephanie is as capable of reflecting the darkness, as I am of shining the light.
While we both rejoice in the beauty of life, it seems I am more likely to take note of a blemish. Stephanie has contributed enormously to my growing ability to notice the wonder and opportunity for joy in even a single moment. While a part of me may be always peeping around corners, she is teaching me, and I am learning, to simply exist in the here and now for longer periods of time.
So here I am in the middle. Looking backwards occasionally, peering ahead from time to time, and savoring the present during my finest moments. When my mind wonders backwards, I can grow wistful, recalling the dreams of my youth, the innocence, and the seemingly constant anticipation. When I project myself into the future during a vulnerable time, I can become anxious and sad. I don't welcome the inevitable deepening lines on my face, the gray hairs, the stiffening joints, and most painful - the loss of loved ones. These are indeed bitter pills to me. Yet, when I acknowledge the many gifts that my years on earth have brought me, and the further opportunities for growth that even my future heartaches will provide, I am able to taste the rich and varied flavors of life that are sweet.
I am here in the middle - maybe. Only the end will accurately tell where the middle truly was for me. Wherever I am at this point, I am trusting that my life has been meaningful and will continue to be. While the nature of my visions have changed over the years, I have always, and will always, continue to dream. My capacity to love has deepened, while at the same time it has expanded. I have so much more to learn, and still I have lived lessons that I can teach. I am growing into a more genuine, more thoughtful, and a more caring human being. I have lost and gained, gathered and discarded, learned and forgotten, laughed and cried. Ultimately, I have matured and grown, and still I am just beginning....
"I am convinced that stories go somewhere to roost, somewhere deep inside our spirits..." Daniel Taylor
In his very special book, "Legacy", Eric Sloane predicts that the challenges confronting Americans will become increasingly troublesome, while at the same time offering significant rewards. He warns that it will be painful to overcome the belief that has been with us for over a century - that the purpose of progress is and was to make life easier. It will hurt to confront the fact that material progress has all too often led to spiritual decay. Sloane shares with us a truth that I believe we must all remember: "the challenge and purpose of life, after all, is not to make life easier but to make man stronger."
Each life is precious. Each life contains meaning and purpose. It's not always easy to determine what your own unique purpose is. Often purpose must be created rather than discovered. Throughout the process of a Birthquake, opportunities to grow and create present themselves. From time to time you miss these opportunities, particularly in the beginning when you're not accustomed to looking for them. Once you are aware of their existence, however, you become more adept at embracing them. You begin to acknowledge the lessons that come to you. You begin to recognize your needs and explore your inner being, while responding more fully and effectively to the external world. You come to recognize that the meanings of your experiences have everything to do with the ways in which you perceive them. If you choose to value the moment, the lesson, the experience - then your life will undoubtedly have meaning and purpose. If you focus on what you are thankful for, what you appreciate and desire - then you will experience abundance. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that those who have a purpose larger than their own individual wants and needs tend to be happier people. On average, they also live longer, too. If you choose to live your life in accordance with not only your own personal needs and goals but with the needs and sanctity of all living things in mind as well, your life will become the gift it was meant to be.
You're standing in the middle where many roads intersect. There are roads you have already traveled and unknown avenues still waiting. There are the places you've been which are stretched out behind you, and before you are paths which may lead you to lands you have always dreamed of or toward places you would never willingly venture. Your ultimate destination and total length of the journey remains unknown. You can't refer to the map - you can only create it as you go.
I wish for you the courage and the commitment to create your own profound and beautiful story. A story not without sadness and loss, for that is impossible in real life stories, but a story that is ultimately about triumph. You have the benefits of knowing the outcomes of the stories that have come before you. Learn from them, build on them, and improve upon them. I wish with all of my heart that your tale evolves into a love story filled with compassion, community, creativity, and caring. Bless you on your journey.
For some time now, friends and family have expressed their concern regarding my apparent fixation with both the research and the writing involved in completing this book. There have been all too many days when I've worked from dawn until late afternoon, pausing to spend some time with my daughter and husband and to attended to domestic chores, only to return to work until the wee hours of the next morning. My intensity and obsession sometimes frightened those closest to me. One night, two of our best friends sat Kevin and I down and expressed their growing concern for my welfare. My behavior wasn't healthy they gently cautioned. As we listened to them recount what they'd witnessed regarding my frantic activity and long hours of work, Kevin glanced at me with a look of frustration and helplessness. I felt helpless too. I seemed out of control and it terrified me. Ideas and images bombarded me constantly, and I could barely sleep. I began to wonder if I'd developed bipolar disorder (commonly referred to as manic-depression) and secretly feared that I was on the verge of a breakdown.
I've always been a 'driver,' although I've worked on learning to relax over the years, and have managed to make some significant progress in creating a greater balance in my life. Yet, all of the sudden, for some reason which still remains a mystery to me, I found myself experiencing an urgency far greater than I've ever felt before. I remember during this time, someone close to me saying, "Tam, what if you make yourself sick? What if no matter how wonderful this book turns out to be, hardly anyone reads it, and you've allowed yourself to be consumed for nothing?"
I had no answer for her then, only false reassurances that I would slow down. And I did for awhile. But something inside of me eventually always insisted that I get back to my mission, and feeling neurotic, I'd heed the call.
Working on this book, while a solitary activity, has at some points felt like the most grueling encounter of my life. It's most definitely been during this process that I've ventured the closest to my demons. And I never want to get that close again. I can't begin to express how anxious I've been to close this particular chapter (my final chapter) out - to write the last line, and be finished.
What if my friend is right? What if this book, this mission of mine, fails? Amazingly, as I give this fear expression, it doesn't create the least bit of anxiety within me. Instead, what I'm feeling this very moment is a tremendous sense of compassion for all those people who've ever been pushed beyond what they perceived their limits to be while struggling to keep up with a dream. Bless them all. Bless them.
Will I regret what I've gone through to oblige this voice inside that's haunted me, demandeding that I bring it into this world, if no one else bothers to hear it? No. No, I can say even now, while I'm exhausted and burned out, that I will never regret the pain of expelling it.
Charles M. Johnston in, The Creative Imperative: Human Growth & Planetary Evolution shares that, "In a creative task, we leave behind defining value in terms of the acclaim an act brings, or eventually even in terms of whether what we created 'worked,' to ask instead how, and to what degree, it made life more."
For me, the process of writing this book has made my life "more." The wisdom and beauty of so many good people, both the living and dead, has touched me. I've truly experienced for the first time from the very depths of my being, both love and profound grief on behalf of those yet to be born. I've faced fears that I've spent the past two decades avoiding. And while it has hurt, really hurt, it's also empowered me. Montaigne once wrote that it takes courage to be afraid. Now I know exactly what that means. We all have tremendous reasons to be afraid, and we can choose to avoid our fear by hovering beneath the covers of our addictions, our jobs, our televisions, and the vast number of other hiding places we've managed to create. Or we can come out. Come out and face both the problems, and the opportunities that confront us. Come out and actively participate in the powerful and empowering process of co-creation. It's all waiting, and time is running out.
Chapter One - The Quake
Chapter Two - The Haunted
Chapter Three - Myth and Meaning
Chapter Four - Embracing the Spirit
Chapter Eight - The Journey
Staff, H. (2008, December 25). The Journey, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/the-journey