#94 – World Work, Part 1
This past month I’ve been thinking about the many ways we can contribute to making our world a better place. On the one hand, we are all engaged in seeking to improve and benefit our personal lives, those of our loved ones, and hopefully the quality of life in our communities. But what are we doing to improve the lot of humanity and of our world generally, and how are we going about it?
There are a multitude of ways to answer these questions depending on your worldview, your circumstances, and your willingness to act. For instance, if I believe only in what I can perceive with my five senses and view the physical world as the only reality there is, then if I wish to serve the world, I will try to do so in material ways, working politically, economically, and socially for the changes I want to promote. If, on the other hand, I believe in a spiritual or non-physical reality, then I may focus my actions and contributions in those dimensions, perhaps through prayer or working to help people transform their consciousnesses and approaches to life. Often these two approaches, broadly considered, come into conflict as those on one side say that we must change our inner lives to produce real, lasting outer change while those on the other side scoff and say that change only comes through physical actions in the world. Of course, both are right as both approaches are needed.
I’ll come back to this next month, but first, I want to lay a foundation for my later remarks.
Nowadays, we take it for granted that diseases are mainly caused by microorganisms. Understanding this has permitted researchers and doctors to develop new techniques and advances in medicine that have saved millions of lives. We may not realize, though, that medical acceptance of the germ theory of disease is less than two hundred years old. The idea that small, invisible entities caused sickness was generally laughed at, so no provision was made to guard against them.
In the West, the germ theory was first seriously proposed in the sixteenth century, but it was not accepted because no one could see microorganisms and thus people doubted their existence. Fifty years had to pass before the microscope was invented. It was another sixty years later that microorganisms were directly observed and their existence verified.
Even then, few people thought that these invisible, tiny critters caused disease. It wasn’t for another two hundred years that various scientists and medical researchers were finally able to prove (against the collective opinion of the established medical community of the time, I might add) that microorganisms could infect a body and cause illness. One result of this was that doctors and surgeons began washing their hands before treating a patient, a simple act of hygiene that dramatically reduced the number of deaths in hospitals and homes from infections following surgery or other medical treatments.
The history of the germ theory of disease makes for fascinating reading, but I refer to it to make a point. There exists a whole living world—the world of microorganisms—that only very few people believed in or even suspected existed because they lacked the means to see it. These creatures are everywhere but they are microscopic in size and thus beyond the range of the human eye to detect. Yet these tiny, invisible beings exert a profound and powerful influence over our lives for both good and ill.
So my first point is that the fact we can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and can’t affect us.
A second point is that just because I can’t see something doesn’t mean I can’t affect it or use it in practical ways. A direct result of the acceptance of germ theory was the development of practices of hygiene. We know, for instance, that washing our hands is often one of the best ways of preventing the spread of disease. We can’t see the microorganisms living and riding on our skin, but we now take it for granted that soap and water will remove enough of them to keep ourselves and others healthy.
What I’m leading up to is to say that just as we inhabit an invisible world of bacteria and microbes which can affect us, so we also inhabit an invisible world of subtle, non-physical energies (much of which we produce through our thinking and feeling) that can also affect us. Realizing this and taking it into account when thinking about how we can serve the wellbeing of the world is, I believe, a critical and vital step that is as needed in our time as the germ theory of disease was two hundred years ago
A materialist can argue that this is not a valid comparison since even though they are too small to see with the unaided eye, microorganisms are still physical entities and thus part of our material world. Further, we can see them if we have a microscope.
I agree with this, but in fact many people do perceive the subtle energies and forces at work; they are like human microscopes. And while subtle energies are not physical in nature, neither are our thoughts and emotions. They are themselves part of this subtle domain and can be affected for good or ill by such non-physical energies. We are as much subtle beings as we are physical ones, and negative conditions in the subtle environment can have a deleterious impact upon a person. Hence the need for good energy hygiene.
Part of our challenge is that we view our inner life now almost entirely through the lens of psychology which subjectifies our mental and emotional experiences and views them as locked within our private brains. Psychology has much to offer, but in this instance, its lens can distort as fully as it can reveal. What is needed is a field theory of the mind that acknowledges an objective existence in the subtle realms of mental and emotional energies as much as we recognize a subjective correspondence of those energies within our interior life.
New theories of the subtle dimension and our participation in it are, I am firmly convinced, part of our future and will make a huge difference in how we understand ourselves, the world around us, and the relationship between the person and the environment. There are breakthroughs of understanding to be made here.
In the meantime, though, just as doctors don’t need to see bacteria in order to have healthy practices of bodily and environmental hygiene, we don’t have to see the subtle dimensions to practice healthy subtle energy hygiene. In fact, some of the new directions in psychology such as mindfulness practice, positive psychology, the psychology of happiness and of optimal states, and somatic therapies that re-integrate us with our bodies are already establishing a foundation for such non-physical hygiene. Likewise, I have written on this topic and teach a class—Working with Subtle Energies—on it. Many others are doing so as well, such as my friend and colleague William Bloom in England who has excellent books—and classes—about our energy nature.
For me, the crux of good energy hygiene is simple: loving oneself and loving what is around you. Heartfelt respect, honor, appreciation and love are qualities that when they are alive in us create a subtle environment that promotes a healthy flow of subtle forces within and around us.
To this end, I would like to leave you this month with an exercise I have found invaluable over the years as part of my own subtle energy hygiene. I call it the “Touch of Love”. The idea behind this is that we “touch” each other all the time. The way we think of each other, the feelings we project onto others, the looks we give, the tones of voice, the words we use: all these are touches. But to bring love into them, I find it useful to get the flow going within me through this simple exercise.
The Touch of Love
- Fill yourself with a felt sense of lovingness. You might imagine, for instance, your heart overflowing with love or your spine glowing with love. You might use one of the exercises given above for enhancing your transpersonal “circulation”.
- Feel this love flowing out from the core of your being, down your arms and into your hands. Feel this love pooling in your fingertips.
- Reach out and touch something. As you do so, feel the love in your fingertips overflowing. In this Touch of Love, you do not take anything into yourself. You do not really project it into anything, either. You simply let it pool in your fingertips and overflow, allowing that which you touch to absorb it in its own way.
- As love flows through your touch, it also stirs and flows and circulates through your own being, bringing love to all parts of yourself just as you are bringing it to the things you touch.
- Touch as many things as you wish. When you feel finished, just remove your fingers and allow the love to be absorbed into all parts of your body.
I’ll see you next month with Part 2 of this essay.
(c) 2015 David Spangler