Incarnational Spirituality in Daily Life
Interview by Susan Beal
David Nicol’s research into group subtle fields and their potential for healing and transformation on both the individual and collective level is an exciting example of the basic principles of Incarnational Spirituality in action. My introduction to Nicol’s work was through his book Subtle Activism: The Inner Dimension of Social and Planetary Activism. The book, based on Nicol’s PhD dissertation on subtle activism, was recommended by David Spangler, a member of Nicol’s dissertation committee. Intrigued by the book, I enrolled in Nicol’s 6-week online course, “Building Group Subtle Fields”. Since then, I have been sharing what I learned with my local subtle energy study group. We have found the process to be uplifting, powerful, and a perfect complement to our study of David Spangler’s book Working with Subtle Energies.
Last month I had the delightful opportunity to chat with David Nicol about his ongoing work, including his discoveries about the higher wisdom that is available to us when we engage in intentional, collaborative approaches to subtle energy activism.–Susan Beal
SUSAN: Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with me about your work and research with group subtle fields. The Lorian Blog recently focused on the topic of the shadow, so if we might, I’d like to focus on that topic relative to the work you’re doing with group subtle fields and subtle activism.
DAVID: That sounds great.
SUSAN: The work you’re doing with group subtle fields and their application to subtle activism is incredibly exciting. I’m enchanted by the blend of practicality and magic that characterize your work. Yet there’s a darker aspect to the power of groups that can play out in the pressure to conform, the dangers of groupthink and herd mentality and the tendency for some groups to become exclusionary or to ostracize people who don’t fit in. And there are a lot of different agendas people might have for joining a group, some of which may not be all that positive. Even within groups that are consciously working to be welcoming or open, it’s inevitable that conflicts will arise or individuals within the group will use it as an arena to act out their own shadow stuff, consciously or not. Have you found this to be a problem?
DAVID: My general sense and my experience is that the power of the coherence of the group field cancels out individual scattered energies and influences. They don’t have much of an effect on the group coherence or power. But someone actively seeking to influence things in a negative way, that’s another level. That’s why we build in a number of protective elements designed to create as clean, grounded and safe a field as possible— like connecting with the Earth, with the light, with our deepest Self, creating a membrane of light and filter inside the circumference of the group field, and having people help hold space. That said, I do think the more determined practitioner of the dark arts could find a way to influence the field.
SUSAN: I wondered about that, because in terms of the quality of coherence, some question if it is a neutral energy that can go either direction, or if it is intrinsically benevolent. Is there anything built into your approach that recognizes and has a way to respond to that?
DAVID: We are starting to discover a real power in this work to influence things. I’ve wondered how public to be about this potential, given that some people out there may want to learn the technology but have different intentions than using it for healing. On the other hand there’s a collective awakening in these times, and it’s not a time to keep esoteric knowledge locked away anymore. So I wrestle with the question of how to walk with responsibility knowing there’s real power in this process and it shouldn’t be used in the wrong way or get into the in the wrong hands.
But I think about how in Dion Fortune’s book Magical Battle of Britain, she mentions her perception that the Nazis were engaging with occult knowledge and it explains in part why they were so effective in the early stages of the war, working on the subtle planes to weaken the morale of the nations they were targeting. She said although they had a certain power by working with subtle energies that way they didn’t have access to the frequency of Love, so they weren’t operating on the full spectrum. The force her group opened to was ultimately greater because they were working with much higher frequencies and dimensions.
SUSAN: In your book and in the class “Developing Group Subtle Fields”, you said that the deeper in meditation an individual goes, the wider and higher the impact they can have on the collective.
DAVID: I think people like the Beatles, or J. R.R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis had such widespread appeal because they worked at a deep, universal layer of consciousness that everyone can resonate with. And the great teachers like Christ and Buddha hit these deep layers we all resonate with. Jung talked about the layers of the unconscious and how as you go deeper you go from the personal layer into more collective layers—family, tribal, national, then universal archetypes. The idea is that if you go that deep you are actually bringing in healing to that level so that everyone connected to that level will share in that healing in some way.
SUSAN: Because these are the levels of consciousness where we’re connected. But of course there are collective fields of fear, rage and alienation, too, and the undercurrents that Trump tapped into and that some political figures can use to manipulate people. But like you were saying before, those lower frequencies don’t have the power of Love, which is like white light that contains or encompasses all the others. Fear and anger aren’t bad in themselves, just problematic when they’re isolated and misused.
DAVID: Right. I think too that when you have a high enough perspective with the Trump phenomenon, you can see it as part of an evolution toward full unity of consciousness. The consciousness Trump is expressing has an aspect of truth in it. He’s saying something about the story of our culture that hasn’t really been able to be said, that needs to come forward. It’s happening in a primitive and unconscious, even damaging way, but you can see the logic of it needing to be integrated.
And there’s an energetic truth that Trump is speaking to in which we know the system needs to go through a fundamental change in order to heal. There’s a need for some sort of revolution. We didn’t think it would take this form, but there’s instinctual recognition that things need to shift radically, so there’s support in the system for that to happen—even though it’s playing out in a distorted way.
SUSAN: I think a number of people don’t want to hear that. A dear friend forwarded me an email about a grassroots campaign urging thousands of people to send hate mail to Trump. I was appalled. It’s the negative aspect of building group subtle fields—using a group to express hatred in a big way. But how do you honor collective fear and rage in a way that heals it rather than colludes with or gives in to it?
DAVID: It’s very tricky. This is where I’m encouraged by something we’re discovering in working with group subtle fields, which is the development of what seem to be emergent organisms that have intelligence and spiritual capacities greater than any one of us individually. It’s something I’m very interested in, because for any one of us as individuals it is very difficult to know how best to respond to evil, if you want to call it that, or just dark or fanatical forces. It can be confusing. Am I supposed to find some kind of profound compassion where I’m able to understand these forces on the deepest level, or am I supposed to summon some sort of fierce strength where I’m able to act as some kind of warrior for the truth? It’s not always clear how to respond.
But my intuition and my actual experience is that there’s a knowing within the group field about just the right combination of qualities called for to respond in an appropriate and healing way. It can be a mix of kindness, sensitivity, firmness, pity, strength and love, for example. It can contain these paradoxical and complementary truths, because it’s a complex organism.
SUSAN: So if I understand what you’re saying, there are these intelligences, or even beings, that result from these groups fields and have a greater wisdom and a higher perspective than we have as individuals, and we can invoke this collective intelligence for aide. In other words, we don’t have to know how to respond on our own because we can ask for help from these group fields that will have a capacity drawn from our collective wisdom and strength.
DAVID: Yes. That is my experience. It’s our collective wisdom and we participate in creating it—we’re part of these organisms. And yet there are qualities within these group fields that are more complex and of a higher order than any one of us as individuals. It’s like a bridge between the individual human and higher frequency beings like angels. These group field organisms are closer to us because they actually are us, in addition to being an opening to wisdom and intelligent forces from the Earth and the subtle realms. And so it’s a potent channel for this collective wisdom and intelligence from all sides to come together.
SUSAN: So there’s less lost in translation and less difficulty in accessing that assistance and information?
DAVID: That’s right. And there’s also an inter-subjective validation of the reality of the experience. It’s not like having to translate a personal visionary state into social reality, because you’re having it together. It creates a shared experience that transcends the individual ego.
SUSAN: Yes, it gets to the heart of what it means to be collaborative. It’s akin to what David Spangler refers to as the Gaian perspective, thinking like a planet, in terms of the whole rather than an individual. There’s a synergy generated from working intentionally with subtle energy as a group that you don’t achieve independently.
DAVID: Yes. And in particular, I’m fascinated by what we’re discovering together in our collective capacities for healing, awakening, and transformation. When spiritually sovereign individuals who already have a connection themselves to Source consciousness, link together in these states, they co-create these emergent, collective organisms—I think of them as subtle ecosystems—with exponentially increasing wisdom. Each time we connect, more and more comes in and we collectively have access to higher and higher levels of wisdom and increasing realizations about what’s possible.
The second part of this interview will be published next week. Click here to read recent blog posts on the shadow and an interview with David Spangler on subtle activism.
Interview By Annabel Chiarelli
ANNABEL: Can you elaborate on the difference between “spiritual bypassing” and true subtle activism?
DAVID: There is no question that people can use ideas like subtle activism, prayer, “sending Light and Love,” and so on as a way to bypass the reality of a situation or to avoid having to take any kind of physical action while still feeling good about themselves for having done something positive. The problem here is the same as with those who are materialists and only see physical actions as having any value. Neither one, the denier and the bypasser, is fully accepting, much less understanding, the reality of the subtle worlds or of subtle energies. And given the nature of our culture and what is considered normative, I can understand why.
If you walk into a room where there has been emotional or physical abuse and violence, you can feel the tension in the atmosphere even if there is no physical evidence of anything that’s taken place there. Something in you tightens up and constricts. Conversely, if you walk into a room that has been filled with love and grace and goodwill, you can feel that as well. You enjoy being in that room; something in you relaxes and opens up. These are common experiences, often overlooked because we don’t pay attention to them or just shrug them off. But the fact is, we all experience subtle environments and energies even if we don’t talk about them or understand them.
Here’s a little story. A friend of mine decided to try an experiment. She had a small office in a large office building that was headquarters to a corporation. Each morning when she came to work, she would take time to do a simple ritual in her office, blessing everything in it and asking that this room be a haven of peace and love throughout the day for anyone entering it. She did this faithfully each day. Soon she discovered, to her secret amusement, that people were coming into her office who had no reason to be there or to see her. They were even coming from different floors of the office building. When she asked them what she could do for them, they often couldn’t say why they had dropped in. One man said, “I’m not sure why, but I suddenly felt like I wanted to come in here. It feels so good in your office, it makes my day!” They were all responding to the subtle energies she was consistently invoking into this room, but none of her co-workers understood what was happening. They just knew they liked the “feel” of the place and that they felt better through the day afterward for having visited her.
I know others who have done similar things. Another friend, put in charge of the dairy section of a supermarket, also made a point of blessing everything in that part of the store for which he was responsible. He said he would discover customers just standing amidst the displays of milk and cheese, not buying anything, but just bemusedly enjoying the atmosphere they felt there.
In both of these cases, these individuals were doing a kind of subtle activism. They were deliberately shaping and informing the subtle environment where they worked so that it would be a blessing to anyone entering it. And they did this not by thinking to themselves, “Oh, I want this room to be filled with Light and love,” but by exercising a discipline of daily invocation, mindfulness, and a loving attention to the physical surroundings. In other words, they worked at it, and the effect built up over time.
Another important element that separates a true subtle activist from a spiritual bypasser is that he or she is not doing the work to help themselves feel better. One doesn’t enter into or walk away from an act of subtle outreach thinking, “Oh, how wonderful of me to send these blessings,” or “I feel good for having done something positive for the world.” There’s no ego involved in the process. It’s not about you, it’s about the other; the emphasis is on the service. It’s about holding in oneself, in a disciplined way that involves mind, emotions, and body, the qualities you want to pass on to a specific subtle environment or to the energy field of another person. And because a true subtle activist recognizes that the world is a whole–not a physical world and a subtle world, but one world with physical and subtle aspects—they are open to physical actions they can take as well, even if it’s only making a financial donation to help a cause connected to their subtle work.
Now, one of the characteristics of the subtle realms is how responsive they are to thought. So it’s entirely possible that a simple, selfless thought of goodwill and compassion for someone else can set into motion a cascade of subtle energies that indeed end up blessing and energizing that person. Subtle activism need not always be a “project” requiring focused time and attention. But there’s nothing facile about it, either. Generally speaking, I need to invest time, energy, disciplined and clear intention, and sometimes even physical actions to make it work. At its most basic, I have to be—in my mind, my emotions, and in the felt sense in my body—the qualities I wish to offer to a specific subtle environment or to a person. And that can take work. You can’t just “send” love. You have to be love in that moment. You can’t just “send” peace. You have to be peaceful in that moment. You are what you “send,” and to come to the proper or appropriate inner state can take work on your part.
I cannot stress enough, or repeat enough, that the world is woven out of both subtle and physical elements, and that we live in both and are ourselves made of both. We always act in the world as both physical and subtle beings, even though we may not be aware of it because our attention gets so focused on the material side of things. The best subtle activism understands this and acts in both realms; it really should be called “holistic activism” incorporating both physical and subtle actions as appropriate. And a skilled holistic activist knows what can and cannot be accomplished in both realms. Subtle work of thought, subtle energy, and spirit cannot move the rubble off a little girl buried when her house was hit by an artillery shell. Someone has to physically move the stones. But physical work can’t bring a burst of hope into the mind and heart of a Syrian doctor laboring under the most primitive conditions, without proper medicine or equipment; it cannot energize his spirit so that he can continue working without being burdened by a debilitating cloud of depression and negative energies. Each kind of activity, physical and subtle, has its proper place, and in a whole world, they operate best when blended together.
[David’s subtle colleague offers another contribution:]
SUBTLE COLLEAGUE: I’d like to add a word here to complement what you’ve said. What an incarnate person calls thought is to us on our level only partial thought. It is incomplete, especially when you define thought as something that goes on in your brain alone. Thought is much more than a mental activity. Imagine your mind, your emotions, and your body as three aspects of a unified field. Thought to us is what is produced by this whole field, not simply by the mental portion of it. A thought is an expression of your whole being; if it originates only from your head, from your mind, it is incomplete. You might say it is one-third of a thought from our perspective.
This is why simply thinking about love or healing is often insufficient to make any difference in the etheric or subtle environment. This is especially true if this thinking has its origins not in compassion but in self-concern and self-aggrandizement, a desire to feel good about oneself for thinking in loving ways. From our perspective it’s clear why this is so. The thought may be noble and worthy, but the emotional component moves in the opposite direction, away from the other who is in need and towards the neediness of the one doing the thinking. And the body may not be involved at all; that is, there is no felt sense or sensation of the qualities represented by the thought.
For effective engagement with the subtle environment, you need to remember that you are a whole person and that you wish your “thought” to come from your unified field. You wish mind, emotion and body to all participate, each in its own way. And the body’s participation may be through sensation, through a felt sense of quality, or through actual movement and action, as dictated by the circumstances. However you do so, the body must be seen as being involved along with the mind and the feelings.
But there is another element which often goes unremarked. There is a fourth part to you that may be called “environmental.” This is the relationship you have with the world outside yourself. This relationship—the field of energy you form between yourself and the world—is as much part of your incarnation as your body or your mind. So you might ask, how does the world think through me? How is my thought unfolded and shaped by my connection to the world around me?
So, if you are sending a thought of love and healing to a benighted part of the world, be aware of how that situation as a presence or as a force helping to draw that thought and its power out from you. To tap that force, you need to be connected as a field of energy with that situation, which means accepting it for the condition it’s in. You must see and accept the reality if you are to engage with it and if it is to “think through you,” so to speak, enhancing the thought-form from you that bears the qualities you wish to give.
To use a metaphor, if you had a friend who was injured and bears the scars of that injury, you cannot recoil from the scars if you are to embrace your friend with love. You cannot allow the sight of the scars to separate you from your friend. You have to accept him as he is now, scars and all, and then love can flow without obstruction. If you are going to use subtle energies to bring help to places that are filled with violence and darkness, you cannot deny or turn away from that darkness. It is part of what calls out the power and shape of your unified thought, do you see? If you can accept the tragedy inherent in a situation, then that situation can “think through you” or join your thought to manifest the healing that it needs.
So, for us, thought is a product of mind, emotion, body, and environment all acting as a symbiotic and unified field of presence.
I leave you with my blessings.
DAVID: There’s one other thing. Not all of us are in a position to take physical actions or to make a physical contribution in a particular situation. I’m not in Aleppo, so I can’t physically move rubble or tend to the injured. Does this mean I am helpless or can’t make any kind of positive contribution? No. If I understand the nature of subtle energies, which are not restricted by physical distance, then there are positive things I can do. Will they make a difference? Maybe. I can’t guarantee it as there are too many variables, but I know that any energy of love or grace I can bring to a place like Aleppo, even from a distance using thought and spirit as the focusing and transmitting mechanisms, will not be wasted. It’s better than not offering any kind of blessing or prayer. After all, lifting the rubble off a little girl is not going to guarantee she will live, but it’s certainly better than leaving her buried. People in places like Aleppo can be buried under negative subtle energies; subtle activism, properly performed, can help lift this subtle rubble and give their spirits some breathing room for healing and re-energizing. Will it help? It’s better than leaving them buried.
Subtle activism is not for the lazy or the spiritual bypassers, but it can be for people who have no other way of helping. Not everyone has the physical courage or the aptitude to wade into a dangerous situation, putting their lives at risk for the sake of others. We can’t all be “white hats” in Aleppo. But we can be “white hats” in the world we inhabit, which brings me to the final thing I want to say.
When we think of subtle activism, the word “activism” draws our minds to dangerous, challenging, or difficult situations in the world. But really, the greater challenge lies in the brokenness of our human way of doing things. The violence and suffering in a place like Aleppo exists because violence is endemic in the ways we approach our world; it permeates our thinking and ways of behavior. It doesn’t always have to take physical form. Emotional and mental abuse is everywhere. There is a tendency in modern society to treat people like things, and things can be discarded when they are of no further use or destroyed if they become an obstacle.
So opportunities for holistic activism—activism that draws on both our physical and subtle (i.e. our spiritual, mental, and emotional) aspects—are all around us. They are in our homes, in our jobs, in our places of shopping and entertainment. How much love, how much grace, how much blessing, how much compassion, how much goodwill and open-hearted listening and attentiveness do we bring to the others we meet, the others we work with, the others we live with? We are everyday through our physical and subtle actions shaping the subtle environments that affect us all. What world are we creating in our own backyards?
The true holistic activist knows that every day the world presents him or her with opportunities to heal, to mend, to bless, and to help, either physically or subtly, or best of all, in both ways. This is a discipline of daily awareness. It’s work, but it’s the only kind of work that will truly transform the world.
Interview By Annabel Chiarelli
ANNABEL: David, can you elaborate on the energetic quality of love that is distinct from how we experience it as an emotional and psychological state?
DAVID: Love as an energy is an affirmation of being and identity. At least, this is how I experience it. It affirms and reaffirms existence, like a part of God recognizing and greeting another part of God. Love is God saying, “You are Mine. You are part of me.” Yet, there is no sense of being absorbed into something larger. Rather, love enhances the sense of freedom, the freedom to be what you are and to explore and unfold your unique potentials.
When I feel love for my wife Julia, there is a sense of warmth, of security, of attraction, of appreciation, of bonding. All of these I experience as emotions within myself. Yet when I feel love from a being in the spiritual realms—from an Angel, say—there is none of this emotional response. Instead, I feel affirmed in my beingness and also affirmed as part of the whole community of divine life that permeates the cosmos. There is a sense of celebrating who I am. Of course, in my love for Julia, there is also this same celebration of her unique identity and beingness. In loving her, I want to affirm her identity and her freedom to be herself and to unfold her unique potentials.
On all levels, love is an act of blending. In our human sphere, this is often experienced as a sense of togetherness, a melding of mind and heart. In the spiritual realms, the energy of love becomes, as I said, a celebration of the other and through that celebration, a participation in the other’s beingness. In this sense, love is a portal into an experience of unity and wholeness.
Love as an energy gives me a foundation on which to stand by affirming my beingness and existence. From this place of standing, I am free to give and receive love as an emotion, to desire, to connect, to appreciate, to honor, to cherish…all those feelings we associate with loving.
Having said this, I hasten to add that this is one person’s perception. Love as a universal, cosmic force undoubtedly has qualities and manifestations far beyond my ability to perceive or comprehend. And I also want to add that in the energetic fields that correspond to human thought and feeling, the same fields in which “The Scream” can exist, love does manifest its energy as one of attraction, desire, and connection. It’s just that as our consciousness interacts with higher levels of being, we discover it’s much more than just that.
ANNABEL: Is it in part a holding of that indestructible potential for redemption?
DAVID: Yes, I think we could say that. After all, redemption is the affirmation and re-claiming of one’s true, sacred identity. It’s an affirmation of who we really are, and that affirmation is certainly an expression of love.
Everything that comes into existence possesses its own unique spiritual identity which then unfolds its potentials along whatever developmental track or tracks become appropriate for it or chosen by it. Love is the energy that recognizes and affirms that identity and empowers its sacred expression, by which I mean the expression of what is true for it as established by the circumstances of its emergence from the Generative Mystery. But along this developmental track, a being or identity may lose sight of who and what it is and become entangled in patterns not true to its nature. It becomes in some way broken, or broken away from its true nature. In a way, this is what evil is, the expression of a broken identity, an identity that has forgotten its basic nature. The redemptive power of love lies in its ability to recall a being to itself, to enable it to remember who it is and thus to become disentangled and whole from what has been limiting or distorting it. No being is ever so lost, so broken, so entangled that love cannot ultimately reach it, enable it to remember, and thus redeem it, though it may take a very long time for this to happen.
ANNABEL: How do we go about cultivating this energy of love within ourselves in our subtle activism work, particularly in the case of dealing with negative energies, people, and situations?
DAVID: Subtle energy work benefits from a clear perception of a situation. I would even say that it requires it. Indulging in wishful thinking or fantasy only makes matters more difficult as it can distort or weaken the subtle energies we wish to work with. So, if I see something that’s negative and that causes me to react, I need to be clear both about what I’m seeing and about my own reaction. I want to name what is happening as accurately as I can.
Let’s take a concrete example. There was a report on the news about the children being hurt and killed by the artillery and air attacks upon Aleppo in Syria. They showed a small girl, maybe three or four years old, being dug out of the rubble of her home and rushed to what passes for a hospital in that benighted city. All the rest of her family had been killed. My reaction was sorrow and grief for this child and for all the children and civilians being injured. I wanted to reach out with subtle energies to bless the little girl and also to bless and hold in love and vitality those “white hat” responders who day after day and night after night go to these piles of rubble that used to be homes and try to dig out survivors.
At the same time, there’s a war crime being committed; innocent civilians are the targets of air and artillery strikes for the purposes of generating terror. The people ordering and carrying out these strikes are directly to blame for the suffering they are inflicting, and I’m angry as hell with them. And I felt anger and grief as well that humanity allows such things to happen, fully acknowledging that I am part of this humanity and therefore share in our collective responsibility as a species.
Now, if I’m going to do an act of subtle outreach, I need to accept all these emotions I’m feeling: the grief, the sorrow, the anger. They are part of my energetic reality. And I have to accept the negative energies swirling around Aleppo. At the same time, I know that I don’t want any subtle energies I project to make matters worse. I want to elevate the vibrations in the subtle environment, not coarsen them. This means I need to respond with love.
Here, I think, is where people get hung up. How can one respond with love unless one denies or suppresses the other emotions that are present, the grief, the anger, and so on? And just what can subtle activism do in this situation anyway? Might it not just be a fantasy I do in my head in order to feel I’m contributing in a positive way?
The last question is easily answered by anyone who knows that we simultaneously inhabit both a physical world and an energetic one. Subtle actions cannot replace physical ones, but the converse is also true: physical actions are enhanced in a supportive subtle environment. Now, if a person is a materialist who denies that anything other than the physical world exists, then none of this will make sense anyway. But for those of us who are aware of the energy environment, we know that its quality impacts its physical counterpart.
Now, it would be the height of arrogance and grandiosity for me to feel that I could change the whole subtle “atmosphere” around Aleppo. That is more than any one person can do. But I can contribute to changing the subtle environment around a person or a group of persons, and I can provide positive energies for other beings, Angelic beings, to use in their work as they do attempt to heal and transform the negativity in that place. So in seeking to bless the little girl and those who are trying to save children like her, I am not wasting my time.
However, I cannot bless her or them, or anyone else, if my own energy field is defined by anger, even though that anger is justified. So my first step is to acknowledge my anger and grief and any other negative emotions I may have, like a sense of helplessness in the face of such tragedy. Then I thank these feelings for heightening my awareness of the situation in Aleppo and connecting me to it emotionally and mentally. In a way, they have been messengers alerting me to trouble. But now they’ve done their job. Now a different set of thoughts and feelings must form the response, and these must be based in love. The reason energetically is very simple: love-based energies cannot be hijacked and co-opted by any negative elements active in the subtle environment around Aleppo. Angry energies could be; fearful or hateful energies could be. But love cannot. It’s like a heavily armored convoy that cannot be attacked and can deliver the goods.
So my next step is to focus on my ability to love, while honoring and appreciating my anger and understanding perfectly why I have it. I need to go to that inner place from which love emerges. Each of us has such a place; we just need to find and acknowledge it and then practice drawing from it. I find the Touch of Love exercise I present in my book very good for doing this.
Once I am in touch with my loving energy, then I fill my being with it. Note that I’m not suppressing my anger or grief in so doing. I’m not denying them or pushing them away, and I’m most certainly not telling myself that I shouldn’t have anger, that somehow it’s not “spiritual.” That’s nonsense. A horrendous act has taken place, and I have every right to be angry about it. But I’m like a surgeon. To do my work, I need to step into a calm, focused place. As I said, the anger has done its job. Now it’s love’s turn.
So I fill myself with love and then I imagine (yes, imagination is very important as a focusing lens) myself in the presence of this little girl. Am I really mystically or psychically with her? Maybe. What is important, though, is that where my mind is focused, there my energy flows whether I’m aware of it or not. So I’m focused on being with her as a presence of love, of calm, of healing, and of compassion.
I hold this for as long as feels comfortable and right. It could be for several minutes, it might be just for a few seconds. Duration is not really important. But when I feel complete or full in my body, then I stop.
But what about those who are committing the war crimes, attacking civilians or ordering it done? I’d like to do some inner work with them, too. And here as well, the energies I work with must be love-based, otherwise they will be rejected or worse, will stimulate an energetic reaction that may make the individuals even more violent, more aggressive, more hurtful. So I have to discern how loving I can be. At what level can I honestly engage with these politicians and soldiers with loving intent? I want to be clear about this in myself. My objective is not to attack them, damage them, take revenge upon them, make them suffer for what they’re doing (however tempting all that might be!). My objective is really two-fold. One is to offer protection and healing to the souls of these individuals, for the actions of their personalities in causing needless pain and suffering to others attacks the vitality and “texture” (I don’t know what else to call it) of the soul. The soul is sickened, and I have compassion for that. So that’s one thing. The other is that I want to place into their energy environment a Light that can awaken in them a resistance to what they’re doing so that they will stop. If I just beam Light at them, it will probably be rejected. But I can gently surround them with a loving Light that a person could absorb and in so doing, become horrified at what they’re doing and make a decision to stop.
So again, remembering that the cardinal rule in subtle activism is not to impose but to respect the sovereignty and integrity of all involved, I again fill myself with love and in my imagination, place myself in the environment of those ordering and committing these acts. Then I ask that the love and the Light I offer become part of their environment in a way that will stimulate awakening and change. And I call upon spiritual allies to help with this, particularly in ways that will ensure the subtle energies I offer will stick around awhile in that environment and have a chance to do their work.
This sounds wimpy and un-warrior-like, but I do not have the power to make these people change, no matter how puffed up I make my self-image or how much I want to “fight evil.” However, I can contribute to altering both the energy environment in which these people are working and the probabilities of their success. Does this have any effect? Yes. I’ve seen this work in very difficult situations where on the surface things seemed hopeless, yet within a matter of hours and days amazing transformations took place.
And I’ve seen it not work, as well. Situations and people are complex, and many variables can be at work. But love is never wasted. Its effects can be delayed but never ultimately stopped or denied.
Interview By Annabel Chiarelli
ANNABEL: Can you elaborate on “wrongly made” thought forms? For instance, is there such a thought form around the idea of racial prejudices? Also, can you clarify the distinction between a thought form as a thing that can be destroyed as opposed to a being that can be redirected or redeemed? Whose decision is it to destroy a thought form? Is this something that we as embodied humans can help with or is this something better left to our subtle allies?
DAVID: Let me begin by defining a thought-form or energy construct. A thought-form is simply any pattern of energy brought into existence by thought; it is energy of some nature molded and shaped in a particular way by an act of thinking and feeling. It is an energetic artifact, no different from things we design and make here in the physical realm. It is not a living being, although–just like our own artifacts–it is composed of living energy.
We create them all the time. If I see an ad for something in a magazine and think, “Wow, I’d like to have that,” I’ve created a thought-form. But unless I put some emotional and mental “juice” into it, it won’t last. I’ll turn the page, see another ad for something else that I find more desirable, and a whole new thought-form is created around that object while the first thought-form now fades out of existence.
These kind of temporary thought-forms are being made and dissolved all the time. It’s when a particular pattern of thought and feeling becomes a habit, something held and repeated over and over, that it starts to become a construct in the subtle worlds such as my inner colleague was describing. In other words, there needs to be some persistence and consistency of thought and imagination and some intent for such a construct to take shape and develop a potentially autonomous existence.
This is a complex topic and I’ve seen whole books written on this one subject alone, so I can’t cover it all in this interview. However, for our purposes in discussing subtle outreach and subtle activism, let me describe two general kinds of energetic constructs.
The first arise from cultural habits and are collective in nature. You used the example of thought-forms that embody racial prejudices. As collective cultural constructs, such images can stimulate corresponding thoughts and feelings within individuals. A feedback loop is established between the thought-form and individual minds that attune to it.
In other words, if a collective thought form around African-Americans in the United States is one of fear, then if I am an individual influenced by this thought-form, I can have fearful thoughts and feelings when I see a black person on the street. The energy of this fear then feeds the thought-form itself, keeping it in existence.
Now, collective thought-forms such as this can be reduced in potency and in their ability to affect individual minds by subtle world intervention such as my colleague described, but they cannot be destroyed or mitigated entirely since they are also being generated and supported by incarnated humans. Energy hygiene is not enough here. There needs to be social change, institutional change, education, changes of mind and heart, and so on.
In other words, a collective thought-form being actively supported and energized by human beings cannot be erased by subtle means alone, speaking generally. I can’t get rid of a habit like smoking if I continue to indulge and support it by smoking! So human level interaction and change is absolutely needed–physical activism, if you wish. But if this is present, then subtle forces can intervene more effectively and destroy the constructs themselves, as my colleague* described.
I should add here that thought-forms can be good and helpful or negative and unhelpful. The image of Uncle Sam is a thought-form of the American character; the American flag is another, one that can inspire love of country and patriotic acts. Every country has its collective thought-forms from which it draws its identity and positive energies.
The second kind of thought-form is the one that is deliberately created to achieve a specific end. You might do this as part of a manifestation project, for instance, in which you project a strong and clear image of what you wish to manifest into the subtle worlds. You might form a positive self image of the kind of person you wish to be, and that becomes an inspirational thought-form in your life.
But some thought-forms are created and shaped by negative and pathological thoughts. For instance, ISIL is deliberately propagating thought-forms of violence through social media but also, seen from the inner worlds, through the collective thoughts and intents of those who are part of that movement projected out into the mental environments of humanity. An individual can be radicalized and become violent partly through the influence of images on social media but also through the energies–the thought-forms of hatred and revenge–that lie behind those images.
Or someone becomes a mass killer, something happening with greater frequency, unfortunately, here in the United States. When interviewed the person may say, “I don’t know what happened. I just felt I had to kill people.” They can rationalize this in many ways, but fundamentally they were acting out of an energetic impulse which more than likely came from a “mass killing thought-form.” The thought-form and its energy triggered or stimulated the decision to kill within the mind and emotions of an individual who was vulnerable and predisposed in some manner to such a prompting.
Such a thought-form could be deliberately created by someone filled with hate and violence, or it could be inadvertently created by thoughts of killing which vibrationally “clump together” through resonance in the subtle worlds and become an autonomous construct of energy seeking outlet in the human world through acts of killing. It’s these kinds of thought-forms specifically that my colleague* was thinking of when he spoke, as there are many of them floating about.
Remember that there are just as many—indeed, more—thought-forms that are positive, inspirational, healing, and helpful in nature, so it’s not like we’re surrounded by a cloud of energetic constructs all seeking to do us harm. Far from it. But harmful constructs do exist.
What makes a thought-form something that can be destroyed, as differentiated from a being who can be redirected or redeemed, is that it doesn’t possess life. It’s like a robot. It has been programmed to act in certain ways, and it cannot do otherwise. It can have the appearance of agency in that it will seek to fulfill its “programming” and it can have an appearance of life simply because it is composed of living energies that seek sustenance. Remember, what is being destroyed is the form or organizing principle and intent that is holding the thought-form together, not the living energies that comprise it.
As to who decides to destroy them, there are guardian beings, both angelic and human souls, who have this as a task; think of them as a subtle world police force or as subtle janitors. They don’t have carte blanche, for they cannot interfere with the workings of karma or human free will, but there’s a lot of psychic garbage in the band of energy I call “The Scream” which can be cleaned up. Also, since you asked, an embodied human being who knows what he or she is doing can certainly disperse and destroy a thought-form.
ANNABEL: Can you elaborate on this strong place of soul? Are there instances where the warrior image can be helpful or is it something that should be completely avoided?
DAVID: Let me say that I come from a military background, raised on an American air base in Morocco, so the term “warrior” is not a red flag for me. And it’s not particularly bothersome to my inner colleagues, though they wouldn’t necessarily use that term themselves. If seeing oneself as a warrior helps a person evoke courage and strength and a positive self-image, then it can be helpful.
However, when doing any kind of subtle work, militaristic images are rarely helpful. We need to be very aware of what our own energy is doing within us and around us; we need to be mindful of what we’re generating and projecting, or put another way, mindful of the “flavor” we impart to our inner work. And in this regard, militaristic images of any kind tend to give an adversarial “flavor” that can ultimately work against the very healing, harmony, or wholeness we seek to foster.
Yes, redemption and healing are keywords in subtle work. No one is ever abandoned, no matter, as you say, how complex or lengthy the process may be of restoring their wholeness and connectedness to the Sacred. And this should definitely inform our attitudes towards each other. For instance, I detest all that ISIL stands for and the violence and hatred they are promoting, but I hold the individual souls who are part of that pathological collective in love. That soul will deeply regret the harm it is causing and will seek redemption at some point. My prayer is that my love will ease that transformation when that soul is able to undergo it. At the least, I do not want to burden that soul with projections and thought-forms of hatred and fear from me.
But I would not hesitate to stop that soul’s personality from doing harm in the world if I had the opportunity to do so, nor would I hesitate to protect others, on any level, from the malevolent energies this group is collectively and individually projecting into the world. I would just not go about it from a militaristic attitude. There are better ways energetically speaking. As you say, neutrality and strength are important.
Maybe I should say something about what I mean by neutrality. I don’t mean being inert emotionally or not having feelings. I can be very passionate in my neutrality! What I’m talking about here is a condition of energy, what really should be seen as a kind of “subtle chemistry.” What I don’t want is to provide any resonance in my own energy field to which something like the ISIL thought-forms could attach.
Neutrality is not armor, it’s not a shield, it’s just non-interaction, non-reactivity. The classic phrase for this is to “Stand in the Light” which by its very nature disperses the darkness without actually “fighting” it. If there are shadows in my room, they disappear when I turn on the light or when the sun comes out. The Light is not “against” these shadows; it is neutral or non-reactive. But the nature of Light is that a shadow cannot exist in it. The Light doesn’t have to “hate the darkness” in order to remove it by the nature of what it is.
This comes back to what I said earlier about altering the environment so that a particular kind of organism or force cannot live in it. Hatred cannot live in an environment of love, energetically speaking. (And part of our challenge is that we translate these words into emotional and psychological terms, which turns them into something else, something quite different from their energetic quality. We need to learn how to think in terms of an energy world, as well as a psychological and a physical one.)
Anyway, neutrality doesn’t mean a lack or weakening of intent, and when speaking of strength in this context, I’m really speaking of clarity and firmness of intent. Think of Gandalf in the Mines of Moria saying to the Balrog, “You shall not pass!” Now that was a very clear and strong intent!
Interview By Annabel Chiarelli
ANNABEL: A popular stance in subtle activism work is that of the “spiritual warrior battling against dark forces.” You have cautioned against this, and I’d like to hear your thoughts about why it’s so important not to fall into that trap, as well as your thoughts on the nature of “dark” energies or forces and the band of negative energy you call “The Scream.” Do they have some kind of independent malevolent agency of their own or are they fueled by plain old human greed, hatred, aggression, and lust for power?
DAVID: Let me begin by saying that before I became a spiritual teacher when I was twenty, I was studying in college to become a molecular biologist. Thus, even today, fifty years later, I still tend to think in biological and ecological terms and metaphors. These are the metaphors I draw on to answer your questions.
The sources of evil in the human world are complex because humanity is complex. It’s not as if there’s a single entity who is the source of all malevolent and negative forces and actions, inspiring–if that’s the right word–human beings to acts of violence and hurtfulness. As you rightly suggest, much of what motivates us to act in ways harmful to others, to the world, and to ourselves are simply unresolved and negative patterns and habits in our own psyches. It’s our own greed, our own fear, our own lusts, and so forth. This is often quite enough to create the problems we see in our world.
What I call “the Scream” is a layer of negative energies in the subtle borderlands close to the physical plane that is the product of our own negative projections and actions. I think of it as a kind of psychic smog which in some cases is simply irritating but in others is truly toxic, just as pollution can be in the physical world. By itself, it doesn’t actively or willfully seek to expand or promote its conditions; it has no agency. But given the right conditions, it can spread just as physical pollution can spread unless steps are taken through energy hygiene to prevent it or to clean it up. For instance, if an angry, vengeful energy exists in an area, people can pick up on it, feel their own anger amplified or augmented, and then add to it through their own actions and projections. We are the agency through which this psychic pollution makes itself felt and can grow.
It’s important to understand that it’s not making us do this. But it does create psychic or subtle energetic conditions that can make it easier for us to choose to go along with those conditions because of elements and habits in our own psyche. We can resist, and we can transform such subtle conditions if we choose to do so and are willing to do the inner and outer work of emotional, mental, and even physical hygiene that may be involved. In other words, we can choose love over hate, courage over fear, respect over contempt, and so on. It can be work to do so and not always easy, but that’s the kind of work our souls call on us to do!
This is not a matter of fighting anything. I don’t “fight” pollution. I recognize it and then I clean it up. I can be deliberate and focused in this cleansing process–I hesitate to use the word “aggressive”–but I am not being a “warrior,” except in the sense that I am courageously standing in the midst of the pollution and not running from it.
But as a biologist, I know that any environment, including toxic ones, can become niches for opportunistic organisms which may in themselves be toxic. For instance, a local beach on a lake near our home was closed down this summer for a time because sewage had leaked into it and pathogenic bacteria had been detected. People who swam in the water got sick.
There are subtle forces that feed on negative energies such as fear, hate, and so on. The ecology of such forces and beings is complex. For instance, there are bacteria in sewage that will make you very sick and even kill you if you take them into your body, but they are necessary to help process the sewage; they are part of the natural cycle of decay and transformation. There are subtle beings and forces like this, and left alone to do their work, they have no malevolent intent towards human beings. But human beings sometimes don’t leave them alone and do invoke them, much as people use toxic bacteria to create bio-weapons. When this happens, such beings may be let loose into the energetic world of humanity and can become a hazard that has to be dealt with through appropriate steps of energy hygiene.
On the other hand, there are beings and forces that are simply malevolent in nature. Their origins are, as I say, complex, and many come into being as products of human thinking; they are potent thought-forms that have been created by someone specifically to do harm and then are released into the world. And some have origins deep in the primeval past of our planet.
What is common to all these “dark” beings and forces, though, is that, like any organism, they seek to create environments and conditions conducive to their nature. They seek safety and they seek food, and because they are subtle beings, both of these are energetic in nature. So in a worst case scenario, yes, forces and beings can arise that actively work to generate and maintain conditions of fear, hatred, anger, lust, and so on within the human world. These beings are truly parasitic as they require human complicity to create the environments they need, and once created, they will seek to trigger human emotions and thoughts along lines that will continue to generate the necessary negative conditions.
So, do I fight these beings? Again, I think here like a biologist. None of these negative forces can exist if the environment becomes inhospitable to them. But to change an environment can require a combination of energy hygiene or subtle activism and outreach and ordinary physical, psychological, and spiritual work with the humans involved so that they stop generating the energies that such negative inner forces use parasitically to maintain their existence.
This involves, to my way of thinking, an ability to create and hold the desired environmental conditions of love, Light, courage, respect, safety, and so on in myself first and then to expand those conditions outward through how I relate to the environment and the people in it. This is why I have trouble with militaristic metaphors. They may make us feel powerful and good about ourselves, but it’s all too easy for us to slip into an adversarial stance that actually ends up feeding more negativity into the environment.
Clearing up the more extreme areas of subtle toxicity is not a simple process, and there is truth to the idea that I want and need to stand in my sovereignty in a courageous and warrior-like way. Even something as relatively passive as the polluted psychic energies in the Scream can resist being changed. There can be some pushback, and I need to be prepared for this. If I’m dealing with a force or being whose current existence is dependent on a hateful, negative environment, then that pushback can be fierce. So I need to be clear, strong, stable, and above all loving in my ability to hold the qualities of the environment I wish to create. I’m not a warrior wielding a weapon of Light, but I am a “warrior” wielding a stout heart, courage, presence, and a fiery hope! (And as an aside, I shouldn’t attempt dealing with such negative organisms unless I do have the skill, the knowledge, and the connections to deal with the possible pushbacks and consequences. I don’t wade into the toxic water of a lake to clean it up unless I know what I’m doing, understand the nature of what I’m dealing with, and have the right equipment to help me.)
Are there malevolent dark forces seeking to take over the world? No, not in the sense of a centralized, vast planetary conspiracy. But are there “dark” subtle organisms that would like to expand the negative environment that protects and feeds them? Of course! It’s what organisms, whether physical or non-physical, do. We don’t need to “fight” them in a militaristic sense, at least not as a general rule–there can always be local exceptions–but we do need to be strong and clear about the kind of physical and subtle environment we wish to have and use our agency to make it so, drawing on whatever spiritual and subtle allies are near and dear to us. In so doing, our “stance” really does need to be one of love, for love is at the heart of the best environments!
[After David sent this response, one of his subtle colleagues offered a contribution to our discussion]
SUBTLE COLLEAGUE: Blessings! This is an interesting discussion which caught my attention. As I’m sure you realize, you are only scratching the surface here. But I thought I’d contribute the following from my perspective. I am aware of three kinds of responses to three kind of forces and beings that are sources of negativity in your world. One is healing and redemption, one is recycling and restoration, and one is destruction.
In the first case, we seek to heal and redeem those who to us are suffering diseases and pathologies of the soul, internal habits and ways of thinking that promote harm, whether to self or to others. This can be a simple process or it can be a complex and lengthy one depending on the soul involved and the nature of its consciousness.
The second deals with the forces you think of as energetic or psychic pollution. These are vectors of energy that currently are harmful but which can be realigned and reorganized to be harmless and restored to a pristine condition. Altering the environmental conditions as you have described is usually sufficient to accomplish this.
Finally, there are those constructions of thought, feeling and energy that are wrongly made from the outset. There is no being here, and the energies that make up such constructs are bound to its shape and purposes. Here is where we wield what metaphorically you would call the Sword or Spear of Light to break up and destroy the construct, thereby allowing its energy to be freed and redeemed. Some of these constructs are very ancient, formed in the distant past, and by now they have gorged themselves on human negativity and seek more, for they have become simply black holes of energetic hunger, never able to get enough. They are unstable at their core, but they can be very resistant to change. They cannot be changed simply by altering the environment but must be broken up by the surgical application of Light.
However, as you have perceived, this cannot be done in anger or even in a prideful way as one wielding spiritual power. It must be done from a neutral and strong place of soul. When confronted with such a construct, we do not interact with it but act to destroy it if possible (and sometimes it is not possible as incarnate humans are actively supporting and maintaining it for their own purposes). Thus, there is no compassion for the construct, only implacable will, but there is love for the energy trapped inside the structure. When the organizing impulse of this construct, that which holds it together, is destroyed, then we receive the liberated energies in compassion and love and set about their redemption.
This is all I have to offer. I thought you would be interested in hearing the perspective of one not in the body.
By Susan Beal
I started wearing glasses when I was in fourth grade. At first I was excited—they were something new, and it was fun to see so clearly! But after a while I started to resent how they split the world into things I could see well within a little oval frame, and things outside the oval that were blurry. I learned to feel anxious without glasses, dependent on them to make the outer world clear to me.
In my teens, I became interested in vegetarianism, herbology, and various alternative approaches to health and wondered why eyesight seemed like the only part of our well-being that we couldn’t heal. I took a number of natural vision improvement programs and read various books about it, but I wasn’t able to cure my myopia. In fact, my prescription grew stronger through the years. Even so, I kept thinking there must be a link between the eyes and our overall well-being, a link that might explain why such a big percentage of modern humanity needs corrective lenses.
Not long ago, I went to a weekend course on natural vision improvement, this one based not on nutrition and eye exercises, but on the idea that our eyesight is a direct result of how we think about ourselves and the world as well as what we believe about reality.
The instructor told us that the anatomy of the human eye tells an interesting story about perception and consciousness. Only about 5% of the photoreceptor cells on our retinas—the cones—are devoted to the acuity, color, and detail that characterize daylight vision. The other 95%—the rods—are devoted to night and peripheral vision, to shadows and movement, and they are nearly 1000 times more sensitive than our cones. Our rods, he said, are not only a major part of whole vision, but intimately tied to our subconscious brain activity and the parts of our psyche involved with dreaming, imagination, and non-ordinary reality. In other words, our eyes are superbly designed to see in the dark, both literally and metaphorically, yet we rarely use them that way.
The instructor said one of the most healing things we can do for our vision and our psyches is to spend at least half an hour every day using our eyes in the dark. It takes at least half an hour of darkness before our eyes are dark-adapted and the rods come fully online, so to speak. Meditating or lying in bed with eyes shut doesn’t count. By cultivating night vision we nourish our retinas, he said, and we also nourish the part of our mind that knows and perceives things beyond the conscious, well-lit, everyday world.
Which to me begs the question: what happens when we routinely rely on little more than 5% of our visual capacity? When we don’t take the time to see in the dark, might all kinds of wonders and mysteries we might otherwise perceive become nothing but vague shadows, things to be feared, ignored, or forgotten? For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population is urban. It’s significant for many reasons, not the least of which, to my mind, is that for the first time in the history of the world, most of humanity never experiences true darkness or a night sky black enough to see stars. Even for those of us who live in the country, it’s rare to spend 30 minutes or more awake in the darkness. Most of us keep the lights on until we lie down to go to sleep, and even then many folks have some kind of light in the room, intentionally or not. Given the link between night vision and the subconscious, is it any wonder that the world of dreams, of subtle perceptions, of imagination and realities beyond the physical realm, are dismissed as unreal? And is it any surprise that anxiety, the harbinger of information from the subconscious, is pandemic?
There’s a traditional Scottish poem that goes: “From Ghoulies and Ghosties and long leggedy Beasties and Things that go bump in the Night, May the Good Lord deliver us.” Before electricity, we spent half our lives in darkness. Whether the light and darkness was equally divided each day, as near the equator, or divided up by the season, as toward the poles, we spent many hours awake and seeing in the dark. Perhaps it explains why we also had more tacit acceptance of— as well as more overt fear of—the shadow realms. We couldn’t simply shut out the spectres or scatter our demons by turning on a light. We couldn’t medicate our fear, or dismiss as superstition anything that couldn’t be explained by scientific means.
Similar to the percentage of cones to rods, it’s often said that only about 5% of the activity of our brains is conscious, with the other 95% being unconscious. It’s also supposed that the percentage of ordinary matter in the universe is about 4%. The rest is dark matter and dark energy. To me, there is an interesting pattern here. The conscious mind likes things neat and tidy, black and white, rational and physical. But it turns out those things are only a tiny percentage of what’s out there to know and perceive.
In addition to the lining of rods and cones on the retina, there is an area called the fovea, where the optic nerve connects and there are no rods or cones. It leaves a blind spot in the very center of our vision. In daylight, it’s hardly noticeable. But at night, if you try to look directly at a star, it will disappear, thanks to the blind spot.
As with stars at night, many things are difficult if not impossible to see by looking directly at them. Instead we need to open your vision wide and pay attention to the edges and peripheries, the liminal zones. The vision instructor taught us to stop trying to see accurately or clearly, and instead to try to see panoramically, with a wide perspective instead of a narrow focus. This approach, he assured us, would allow us to see more of what was really out there. He also said to let the light and darkness come into our eyes as if we were letting the world in, rather than staring at the world like a movie screen that is either in focus or not. And good vision is not just about accuracy, color and clarity. There are ambiguities, fuzzy places, shadows and movements we can’t always clearly define.
There is a parallel between approaching this liminal, shadowy boundary of daytime and nighttime perception, and the classic boundary between the everyday, human world and the mutable, shadowy realms of faeries and spirits and the things we have forgotten how to see or might rather not know. It’s reminiscent of dream recall, that moment between dreaming and wakefulness when the memory of a dream can seem as intangible and fragile as a wisp of mist in bright, hot sunlight. Even the memory of inner journeys and meditations can be hard to bring back into normal, daily consciousness, unless written down or recited while one is still between states of mind. As physical beings, we are grounded in a world of duality, of matter and spirit, of shadow and light, of conscious and unconscious. We are the bridges between realms, and we can learn to see beyond that duality, toward the wholeness of the world within and outside us.
It begins by learning to see in the dark.
Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you would like to subscribe, please visit our website and click on Follow Our Blog Via Email. Or email the editor:firstname.lastname@example.org
By Dave Shaw, Guest Contributor
Editor’s Note: The Lorian Association, as spiritual community, is nonpartisan, but our writers and readers come from diverse social and political backgrounds. Periodically we publish blog posts from both liberal and conservative perspectives that offer insight into how real people in our nation are working through our socio-political challenges and bridging divisions, even and especially the ones within themselves. Always our goal is to promote an Incarnational viewpoint.
Unlike many in the Lorian community, in last year’s election I was not an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton and I did not, even for the briefest of moments, feel the Bern. In fact, my biggest hope was that a credible, thoughtful, moderate candidate from the center-right would win the Republican nomination. Then, I hoped, we would have a vigorous but very civilized debate between this candidate and the Democratic candidate on the appropriate role of government in general and the federal government in particular. This would have also led to debates on a wide range of specific policy issues.
Of course, this didn’t happen, and like many I have significant apprehensions regarding Donald Trump. In spite of this, I’m going to place my “Optimist” hat firmly in place and describe a political path forward that would align with my personal views, and might possibly work, at least in part, for many in the Lorian community.
My vision is based on the ideal of “compassionate conservatism.” (As some may recall, George W. Bush used this phrase when he first ran for president. I have no idea whether Bush genuinely believed in it, or whether it was instead just a campaign slogan for him; in terms of the value of the idea, it doesn’t really matter.)
One key aspect of compassionate conservatism is that the phrase is intended to describe a different type of conservatism than Ronald Reagan’s “government is the problem, let’s shrink it as much as we can” approach. (Those who have followed politics for a while are probably familiar with the film clip of Reagan’s famous quote “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.”) Compassionate conservatism acknowledges that government programs can do a lot of good, and that some Americans really need help from the government. That’s the “compassionate” aspect of the ideal.
The “conservative” aspect is based on the viewpoint that when a problem emerges, we should not initially or immediately look to large and intrusive government programs as the most likely solution. Instead, solving problems through such programs should be the exception, not the rule. One key reason for this is that most government services are delivered by an agency that faces no competition, and the absence of competition is often a real problem for those receiving the service. Another reason is that the compassionate conservative is reluctant to use government as a mechanism for redistributing wealth. (Note, however, the use of the word “reluctant,” as opposed to the word “unwilling.”)
Compassionate conservatism also emphasizes personal responsibility, but not without recognizing an important element of truth in the notion of “it takes a village to raise a child.” In fact, my personal interpretation of compassionate conservatism places strong emphasis on the fact that kids don’t get to choose their parents, and inevitably different kids are given vastly different opportunities. What I’d ideally like to see is government working passionately and effectively to give every kid a good shot at achieving his/her dreams, and then turning responsibility largely over to that “kid” when he/she moves into adulthood.
These ideas above are pretty theoretical and abstract, and it’s obvious that to make compassionate conservatism work, the devil would be in the details. But instead of delving into such details, I’d like to briefly connect compassionate conservatism to several spiritual themes. On a personal level, I’ve always felt a strong connection to the Buddhist tradition, and in this tradition, at least as I interpret it, there is a strong predisposition towards emphasizing personal responsibility. My understanding is that the historical Buddha claimed to be nothing more than a regular human being (i.e. not a god and not superhuman in any way) who achieved deep and great insights through intense, focused effort. It was this type of effort he prescribed for his followers. It should be added here that the emphasis on personal effort does not mean that the Buddhist tradition de-emphasizes the importance of compassion. And yet, I think there is also in this tradition a realization that the highest levels of compassion include discriminating wisdom, and that the solicitude needed by one person may not be the best thing for another person.
As these comments about the linkage I see between Buddhism and compassionate conservatism suggest, in my view the ideals embodied in the latter extend beyond politics. It is in this area where I currently do the most in my own efforts to “walk the talk” of compassionate conservatism. I am an instructor at a small regional public university, so I am employed by the government to provide a service that is partly funded by the government. This gives me a chance to try my hardest to implement the ideal described above: “… government working passionately and effectively to give every kid a good shot at achieving his/her dreams, and then turning responsibility largely over to that ‘kid’ when he/she moves into adulthood.”
In a nutshell, I try to do this by really challenging my students, while offering them help and support when they need it. I also challenge certain administrators at my school to move beyond an underlying viewpoint that, when stripped of its PR veneer, subtly encourages our school to settle for providing students a dumbed-down college education instead of the real thing. My efforts in the latter area have, I’m afraid to say, made me few friends and been met with little success. In spite of this, I continue with them. I was recently asked, “If your efforts aren’t succeeding, why do you continue? Why bother?” This prompted some reflection, and I realized the answer lies in a core value that I believe all spiritual traditions share: because I strongly believe what I’m saying is the truth, and, not to sound sanctimonious, I believe the truth is inherently a good thing.
Shifting back to the political domain, it would be reasonable for one who was skeptical of the notion of “compassionate conservatism” to ask for examples of this approach actually working. Without going into too much detail, I believe there are some. One is Orrin Hatch, the conservative Republican senator from Utah, working with Ted Kennedy to pass the legislation for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). It so happened that Hatch and Kennedy, while usually on opposite ends of political debates, were good personal friends, and Hatch supported the idea of giving more kids healthcare insurance. Going back in time even further, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen helped mobilize enough Republican support for the Civil Rights Act to pass in 1964. More generally, Republicans like Bob Dole and even Richard Nixon were often viewed as “moderate pragmatists,” at least on certain issues. (The EPA was created by the Nixon administration, and Nixon was once reportedly not too far from reaching an agreement with Ted Kennedy for universal healthcare in the U.S.)
In closing, I do not underestimate the enormous challenges in unifying the country to pursue the goal of compassionate conservatism. Progressives may well believe that the best way to achieve their political ideals is vigorous opposition of anything different, which likely will include compassionate conservatism on principle. Towards the other end of the political spectrum, the type of moderate Republican pragmatist I’ve described is often thought to be an endangered species in the party; it’s sometimes said that Bob Dole, who served as Senate Majority leader, would not even win a Republican primary today.
The best counter-argument I can offer in support of compassionate conservatism is that on a range of important issues, such as climate change, healthcare, Social Security, and Medicare, we do not have time to waste. Change is inevitable in areas like this, and some modest steps forward are far preferable to moving backwards, because doing nothing is moving backwards. Moreover, the changes that truly last are usually achieved through compromise legislation.
Compassionate conservatism offers a path forward that doesn’t give the far left or the far right what it most wants, but does offer the hope of sustained, lasting progress.
This blog post was written on December 23, 2016, before the inauguration of President Trump.
By Julie Spangler
As a parent, I recall the very special experience of watching my children learn about their world, often seeing myself in them, remembering how full of wonder the world really is. I saw a video the other day of a toddler seeing her shadow on the ground for the first time, and running screaming away from this dark thing that kept following her. I laughed to see it, of course, because it is funny from the perspective of people who know what this dark thing is. But from this child’s perspective, it was terrifying. This is the way it is with the unknown and is why we spend so much time and effort avoiding it.
The “shadow” has become a powerful meme in our modern culture. I think there are few, at least in the western world, who are not familiar with the idea of the shadow as a representation of the unconscious parts of our personality. Carl Jung is probably best known for his recognition of the shadow archetype as the representation of our ‘dark side’ — all that we refuse to look at in ourselves. But it is has been well represented in our culture through the arts — visual, theatrical and literary — throughout history.
The Star Wars story may be the best known modern exploration of the shadow, with the innocent hero, Luke Skywalker, confronting his darker nature (represented by his father, Darth Vader) in order to win freedom. By understanding and accepting his dark side, he also redeems that of his father, freeing Darth Vader from the grip of his own shadow self.
But my favorite shadow story is one by Ursula LeGuin, The Wizard of Earthsea. This Wizard starts the story as a young man, Ged, who is born with a talent for magic, which earns him a place in the prestigious school for wizards on the famous Isle of Roke. (This school predated Hogwarts by some decades, I must say.) Now, Ged is young and inexperienced in the world, coming from a small village in the mountains. He knows little of the world, and even less about himself. Thus, when the unconscious elements of his personality rise up, he has little defense. He encounters another student at the school who while being older and of a higher birth has less talent. Both boys find themselves at the mercy of the little shadows we call jealousy and pride… of course denying both. These attributes are shoved into the background of their consciousness because they are threatening!
One sorry night, Ged is challenged by his rival to a magical competition during which Ged, trying to prove how powerful he is, opens a door into the shadow realms, and unleashes a dark power into the world. Ged is haunted by this shadow, running from it, fearing it, is disempowered by it, and finally realizes that he cannot leave it loose in the world. He must hunt it down.
Once he turns to hunt it, this fearsome thing runs! Until then Ged has been running from it in terror, and it has gained power over him. Suddenly when he faces it, it runs! Ged knows he must name this shadow in order to command it back into its place. The story takes him through many adventures as he hunts for the name of this thing. But in the end, upon catching up to the shadow being, Ged finally knows its name and names it – “Ged”. The two step into each other and become one. Ged is whole and free.
I have used this story in classes, since it is a wonderful allegory for dealing with our own inner shadows. What we fear will have power over us, and we will spend much energy defending ourselves from it. What we deny will sneak up on us and take us by surprise. What we can become conscious of, what we can name, becomes part of our wholeness, part of our power.
A friend of mine told me of a dream she had a while ago which shows another way of approaching the shadow. She was being chased by a giant spider, running for her life. The spider was gaining on her and her terror drove her faster. Finally, recognizing that it was going to catch her, and she would die, she turned to face it. As she did, and started walking toward it, the spider grew smaller and smaller until she reached down and picked it up. Here was something that was actually a beautiful and fascinating creature. Another powerful image for handling these shadow parts of ourselves. Stop running, turn and truly look at it. What gift is there?
As adults, we carry much from our past that is held as shadow. We have learned to be wary, to self-censor, and to fear. These are not attributes which encourage our light to shine. To be willing to take risks and surrender to the recognition that we are not perfect, to allow ourselves to see the flawed parts and name them, is to be freed from the past and to become new.
It is that unencumbered newness which we so enjoy seeing in children. When my own son, Aidan, was a toddler, I had the pleasure of being present when he first saw his shadow. We were outside in the sun, and Aidan saw it on the garage door. He stopped in surprise, staring at this dark shape. He moved, it moved. He stopped, it stopped. He lifted his arms and the arms of the shadow rose too. He turned around and looked back, watching the shadow intently. He jumped and watched its feet lift off the ground. Then Aidan started to dance with it. I thought, “What a wonderful model for engaging with the shadow!”
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