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The globalization of Spirit requires that we overcome the false dichotomy
between changing our selves and changing societal structures. At times we may
be inclined to say, "I need to work on my own head first, then later I'll try
to change society." But this strategy can be the beginning of a slippery slope
toward narcissistic self-absorption, just as the "I'll change society first
and then worry about inner life" strategy can be a slippery slope to the
insensitivity and spiritual obtuseness of most contemporary political
movements. Emancipatory Spirituality encourages a living synthesis of
individual and social transformation.
No amount of social change can replace attention to one's inner life. The
fruits of social change won't last if they're implemented by people who are
out of touch with their own spiritual dimension--and the change won't ever be
achieved, because most people eventually drop out of social change movements
before they've achieved their goals because they are so lacking in nourishment
for the soul. At the same time, no amount of inner enlightenment can
adequately nourish a spiritual life if one's day is drenched in
soul-destroying social realities.
So where do we start? Both places--with spiritual practice in our own lives
and with attempts to transform the world of work and other aspects of our
political, economic and social institutions.
The civil rights movement in the South began each of its marches with a
religious service at a community church. Those who seek to save our
environment and challenge the globalization of capital need similar spiritual
sustenance for the long, complicated and often frustrating political
challenges that lie ahead. Only if we are rooted in a spiritual practice will
we be able to persevere in the face of media marginalization, ridicule, and
the distortion of our message
Today there are tens of thousands of non-profit organizations whose mission
is to bring healing and change to society. There are millions of people who've
chosen to work in these organizations because they already feel connected to a
higher purpose--and they've decided to give their life energies to pursuing
their ideals rather than their narrow self-interest. These are people who
deserve to be celebrated--and many will play an important role in advancing
the spiritual transformation of this planet.
Unfortunately, many people report that their experience in non-profits
makes them despair of ever achieving the idealistic goals that had originally
motivated them. All too often the experience of working in these organizations
is not very different from working in for-profit corporations, except that the
pay is markedly lower. The non-profits become so focussed on achieving their
goals that they forget to nurture the subjective and spiritual experience of
people working for them. It becomes very easy both for individuals and
organizations to lose their original vision and focus only on the narrow
"tasks at hand," forgetting to nurture the people in their own organization.
And as larger transformative goals recede into more narrowly reformist
solutions, the original visionary impulse of many of these organizations gets
replaced with a narrowly practical focus which lets the current realities of a
spiritually-deadened society shape the frame of reference for these
non-profits as well.
Reconnecting with their own highest vision could be extremely helpful.
Non-profits, government institutions, schools, hospitals, and many other
institutions might benefit from a daily or at least weekly meeting of all
staff in which the sole topic was "what's our broadest vision for the world,
and how does our specific mode of work, and the activities we are engaged in
this week, contribute to bringing about that world?"
We lose our way if we think we can "first" change society and later focus
on inner centering.
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
More and more people are coming to realize that we will not be whole until
our inner and outer realities are congruent. That's why an integral
spirituality and integral politics go hand in hand. Inner healing and social
transformation are like horse and carriage: you can't have one without the
In this chapter, I'll start with some of the changes we need that begin
internally and then move to larger societal change.
The inner change that we need most to make is to recognize ourselves as
part of the Unity of all Being, manifesting the goodness and love of the
MEDITATION and PRAYER
It sounds so simple: recognize and rejoice in the Unity of all Being, stand
in awe and wonder at the glory of all that is, bring as much consciousness,
love, solidarity, creativity, sensitivity and goodness as we possibly can.
But living this way involves much more than holding a correct opinion or
subscribing to a good idea. To actually dwell in this experience, to sustain
this kind of consciousness is extremely difficult. A momentary elevating
thought–sure. But as an ongoing frame of our awareness–not so easy. For
thousands of years spiritually oriented people have struggled with a major
stumbling block: the ego is typically out of control, its fear of its
own obliteration is so overwhelming that it cannot calm down enough to allow
this new awareness to take root.
Spiritual teachers talk about "monkey mind," the chatterbox tendency of the
mind to jump constantly from one thought or feeling to another, unable to slow
down and take in the essential unity of all.
Much of what we call spiritual practice is actually exercise in slowing and
quieting the mind. It is only in this relaxed state of being that the mind is
able to recognize itself as part of something larger.
This is where meditation enters the picture. Meditation trains the mind to
be still and attend only to the present moment, rather than jumping forward
into fears, or backwards into angers and regrets.
Meditation trains us to notice and accept the various states of the mind as
it rushes around on its various trips. We sit quietly, gently noticing how our
mind wanders, and gently returning it to focus on something specific (often
our breathing, but sometimes on a particularly evocative phrase or mantra).
The more we succeed in quieting the mind, the more receptive it becomes to
the Unity of All Being. And the more it can deeply acknowledge the truth of
this experience and hold onto it, the less frenetic it becomes. Eventually, we
become far more capable of integrating this awareness into our daily lives.
Don't underestimate the degree to which the organization of daily life in a
competitive, obsessive society like our own tends to undermine many of the
benefits of meditation. Even spiritual masters often retreat to monasteries to
seek a supportive environment. But for most people on the planet, life in a
monastery is not really an option. The solution is to work on one's meditative
practice, and to work on changing social institutions as well!
Prayer too, can help quiet and focus the mind on a deeper awareness of
ultimate Unity. But too often prayer is rushed through, as though the main
goal were to get certain words said and have it over with. In those cases,
prayer becomes just one more instance of monkey mind, not a counter to it. Yet
prayer can be a rich opportunity to connect with Unity. I generally do
daily prayer after morning meditation, and I find that the two reinforce each
other in a very powerful way.
Along with prayer and meditation, try singing and dancing. Try them by
yourself, but even better, try them in groups. I often sing a blessing before
and after each meal, and when possible, invite people to join in other
meal-time singing. If you have teenagers in your family, they may think it's
weird, but they think everything their parents do is weird. And even they have
a great time when they are doing it with enough of their peers.. Similarly,
dancing can be approached in a meditative mode or as a form of prayer. Moving
one's body often helps connect with aspects of reality that words cannot
access by themselves.
Prayer, meditation, singing and dancing, are extremely nourishing and
health-producing. But they are only rarely sufficient in themselves to sustain
a spiritual consciousness through a normal day in the contemporary world.
Think back to the world of work I described in chapter three, with Samuel,
Joan and the others–and recognize that the spiritual consciousness faces a
massive wall of resistance in the world around us.
Every interaction, every bit of language, every work situation, every
communication we receive from television, radio, e-mail or the Web tends to
restimulate the fragmented, anxious, lonely and frightened consciousness that
finds its expression in monkey mind.
My conclusion: a healthy person will combine inner work like meditation and
prayer with outer work aimed at transforming the institutions of our society.
So, if you've gotten this far in reading this book, and you are convinced
now that Spirit Matters, then this might well be the right time to begin the
process of deepening your inner life. For those who wish to develop some of
the appropriate skills, I suggest the following resources:
Lorin Roche's book Meditation Made Easy (HarperSanFrancisco 1998) is
a user-friendly place to start meditation practice. Then turn to Sylvia
Boorstein, teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California (www.spiritrock.org)
See particularly: Don't Just Do Something: Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat
and It's Easier Than You Think (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997). Another
brilliant teacher is Sharon Salzberg (cofounder of the Insight Meditation
Center at Barre, Ma., www.dharma.org) particularly in her
Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary art of Happiness .
Finding a way into prayer is more difficult. I suggest you start with a
book by Tamar Frankiel and Judy Greenfeld, Minding the Temple of the Soul:
Balancing Body, Mind and Spirit (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997).
The more we can clear the mind of its tendency to be everywhere but here
and now, the more we are able to develop mindfulness, the active
attention to what is.
To be mindful is to know ourselves, to feel our bodies, to be in touch with
our emotions, to honor our intuitions. To be mindful is also to be present to
others, to experience them in their fullness, to allow ourselves to know what
we intuit from them. To be present is, most of all, to not impose our
preconceptions, judgments and cunning commentary on what is happening, but to
allow ourselves to be receptive to it and to take it in.
There is no way to fully overcome seeing reality from the standpoint of who
we are, individually. Even the greatest spiritual teachers were limited
beings, and they understood truth through the framework of their own reality.
Gandhi could see the suffering of the Indian people, and he taught people how
to effectively resist British rule, but he was remarkably silent when
spiritual leaders should have been teaching the world how to resist Hitler and
We can reduce the distorting lens of ego, so we stop seeing other sentient
beings through the lens of our own needs. But we don't want to reduce that
awareness too much, because our ego orientation provides useful
information, because our own needs are also valuable and worthy of attention.
The goal is not to annihilate the ego, but to make it an object of
awareness. Part of our task is to heal it through gentle acceptance rather
than to repress it through harsh self-criticism.
Part of being present to "what is" involves opening ourselves to the
omnipresent possibility of possibility, to the presence of the Force of
Healing and Transformation (YHVH) or, to put it in other terms, the Voice from
the future drawing us toward what could be. To hear that Voice in the present,
to know that the potential for transformation is in everything, is to touch a
central truth of Biblical religion.
Yet that is not all there is to being mindful of what is before us. We will
also be overwhelmed by the beauty and luminosity of all existence. We will be
filled with radical amazement at its grandeur.. We will feel unable to
articulate the wonder that we see. And at the same time, we will be filled
with sadness and compassion for all the pain and suffering that fills our
world. We will feel joy at the life force that flows through us all.
Here are some resources for enhancing mindfulness:
Joel Levey and Michelle Levey: Living in Balance (Conari Press,
1998) provides a very useful account of how to achieve a spiritual balance in
one's mind, in one's relations, in the rest of one's life. Its subtitle: A
dynamic approach for creating harmony and wholeness in a chaotic world may
overpromise, since it lacks a serious sense of social transformation, but it
contains a lot of good tips for a mindfulness approach.
So, too, does Larry Rosenberg in Breath by Breath (Shambhala, 1998)
and Lama Surya Das in Awakening the Buddha Within (Broadway Books,
1997)--both rooted in a non-sectarian approach to Buddhism. Also very
accessible is Thich Nhat Hanh's wonderful The Miracle of Mindfulness
(Beacon Press, 1976).
For a powerful integration of mindfulness with the need for tikkun (healing
and transformation), see Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush's Compassion in Action:
Setting Out on the Path of Service. (Bell Tower, 1992).
Getting in Balance: Steps on the Spiritual Path
When we begin to experience the joy of being liberated from "getting and
spending" and the extraordinary personal gifts that come from a regular
spiritual practice, we sometimes begin to lose perspective and think that we
have found the one true answer that will work for everybody or the one
truth that obliterates all others.
Spirit Matters–but, as I've learned in my life, it is not the only thing
that matters. It changes many things, but not everything.
The Buddhist teacher Chugyam Rinpoche wrote of the dangers of "spiritual
materialism" when people reduce the spiritual life to yet another product to
Balance requires a certain maturity that cannot be fixed by formula.
Aristotle talked about it in terms of the need to find the mean between two
extremes, but when asked how one could know the mean, he talked about finding
and learning from a person who already exhibited "practical wisdom." But how
identify that person? Any formula can be misused. "It takes one to know
one"–you have to develop your own life experience and wisdom to know from whom
you can learn.
The reason we need accomplished spiritual therapists is that all the
spiritual truths must be applied in complex situations. In my own work as a
spiritual counselor, I've found that people sometimes may need to develop a
particular understanding at one point in their development, and need a move in
just the opposite direction at another point. No formula can replace practical
wisdom and openness to one's own experience.
One excellent place to read about achieving this kind of balance is
Elizabeth Lesser's The New American Spirituality: A Seeker's Guide
(Random House, 1999). Lesser's book combines practical lessons with a
stunningly comprehensive review of new spiritual thinking.
Letting go of Control
One of the great illusions of the ego is that it can control everything.
Fearful of its own dissolution, the ego seeks to convince itself of its own
solidity and power.
We've all suffered the consequences. In our own lives, we've tried to
control others, only to find that doing so ruined our relationships. Or we've
succeeded, and then found the person became less filled with life, less like a
real partner, because in succumbing to control they lost what we valued in
them, the ability to be themselves. Or we've belonged to groups only to see a
member or leader intent on controlling everything and everybody make the rest
of us feel so uncomfortable that we eventually dropped out. Or we've allowed
others to control us, only to find ourselves filled with anger and
resentment–and then we've eventually abandoned the situation.
Ironically, the best way to build a different kind of world is for each of
us to learn the practice of giving up control. This is not easy. But it's a
powerfully important experience: to allow things in our life and in
relationships to develop without us always needing to be in the driver's seat.
Even allowing ourselves to think about the world without putting ourselves and
our desire to control things at the center is an important first step. The
world is continually being recreated by each one of us, and we must never
minimize the amount of power we have. But neither should we forget that we are
just one part of a vast picture.
And we must recognize that we are on this planet with six billion other
human beings. The world was not created just for you or just for me but for
all of us.
Giving up control is actually giving up the arrogance of imagining that we
are in control when in fact we rarely are, and giving up the futile ego
drive for control over all things. Ironically, once we give up this fantasy,
we are better able to take control of things that ought to be under our
control (e.g. the ways we pollute the environment or the ways that
corporations shape the economic and political life of our planet). Giving up
our grandiosity is a first step toward increasing our actual power.
In the current historical moment, the spiritual task is to reverse our
energies so we are willing to share control in our loving relationships and
communities and take more control over our economy, political life,
media, and the other major institutions that shape our lives.
There is Enough--You Are Enough
The world is not running out of food, shelter or clothing.
If we share the world's riches, and plan sensibly, there is enough for
When we see that there is enough, we can get off the endless cycle of
producing and consuming more and more, while always feeling empty and
unsatisfied. So what if we didn't produce a new model of car or supercomputer
each year? What if we just slowed down? We'd still have enough.
We need to focus on seeing the world from the standpoint of gratitude for
what is already there, and learn how to share it in a loving and caring way.
One reason we have trouble slowing down is that we feel internally that we
ourselves are not enough, that if only we accomplished some great feat, won
some trophy, got our picture in the newspaper, had an attractive lover or
partner, had a bigger house, a more powerful position at work or a more
successful stock portfolio, then others would recognize that we are
okay and then we'd start to feel okay.
The deep truth the spiritual tradition has to teach is this: you are
ALREADYenough. You don't have to do anything You are
created in the image of God, an embodiment of sacred energy, a miracle that is
already happening, an heir of the greatest possible wealth, namely the
goodness and love of the universe. There is nothing more you have to do but
rejoice in who you are and all you have.
Once you realize that you are already enough, you can begin to feel
good about being promiscuous with kindness and concern for others. Just as
there is no shortage of goods, so there is no shortage of love. Love is like a
muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Or, as a pop song
puts it, the more you give away, the more you have. This simple wisdom is so
counter-intuitive to marketplace consciousness that we need to remind
ourselves of it every day.
Give to Give, Not to Get
Generosity to others means giving for the sake of giving without
expectation of a "return on the investment," without feeling hurt or angry if
we do not get back from them in equal measure.
Giving to give quickly becomes its own reward. The inner pleasure of giving
can be one of life's great joys.
Model the kind of love you want to receive and you will receive that kind
of love in return. Be the goodness that you wish for in the world.
If you give to get, you will likely distort the quality of your giving, and
the gift will feel more like a demand to those who receive it.
Even prayer can be like that: not a statement of awe and wonder and
celebration, but a demand on God to deliver something.
If you are calculating and controlling, if you make a move for some
personal advancement, people know it, the universe can feel it, and you end up
being disappointed by their response and by yourself.
So giving to give is the key: give without hope of reward and without
anticipation of gratitude. Imagine that people around you are in so much pain
that they are not going to be able to really appreciate your goodness, and so
distorted that no good deed will go unpunished. Nevertheless, in the midst of
that world, see your task as lighting a beacon of hope by being the one person
who is giving goodness without expectation of real appreciation, and knowing
that others who feel unable to be equally giving may even be somewhat
Start with this simple exercise: Every day, find some way to be giving or
loving or to do some act of kindness and generosity for someone you barely
know, someone who has not done something to "earn" this favor. Spontaneous
acts of giving for the sake of giving are good places to start your spiritual