David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2018 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
February, 2018 – LIFE EXPECTANCY
My friend and Lorian colleague, Rue Hass, an exceptional counselor and teacher, sent me an interesting email the other day in response to some writing that I’m doing. Here is what she said:
I’ve been hearing on the news that for the first time in a long time the life expectancy rate is going down in the US, especially for men, as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation.
When I hear this news, I am captured by the phrase “life expectancy.” Of course, in common usage it means how long people can expect to live, on average. But the poignant deeper sense cries out to me of our diminishing expectations of what a life can hold. I think we as humans are losing our vision of possibility for our lives, for life itself. A diminishing life expectancy.
I was struck by this because I’ve been having similar thoughts about how we think of ourselves in relationship to the future. In the early Seventies, one of the first professional futurists, Frederick Polak, wrote an important book called The Image of the Future. It was a historical study of various images of the future and of the cultures that held them. He demonstrated that when a society or a culture lost its image of the future, it went into decline and eventually collapsed. He warned that this was the situation in which our culture was finding itself. We were losing—or had lost—our image of the future.
What Polak meant by an “image of the future” was not simply expectations about what tomorrow might bring or anticipation of new technologies. He was careful to draw a distinction between a “true” image of the future and an image of progress. The latter, more often than not, was really an image of the past projected into the future; life would go on as we know it, but it would get better and better. An example would be the television show Star Trek. It certainly presented a picture of a future civilization—and an optimistic picture, at that—but everything in that show was simply a projection of what we already knew. Yes, the technology was advanced, but the people weren’t. The world of Star Trek was a familiar world (necessary, of course, if television audiences in the Sixties were going to relate to it).
Polak defined an “image of the future” not as a prophecy or expectation of any form the future might take but rather as an exuberant embrace of the future itself as a horizon of possibility calling out the creative, exploratory, confident spirit of the society. The form of the future didn’t have to be familiar; it didn’t have to be simply a continuation of what was already known or being done. The power of the image of the future was that it opened doors of potential; it confronted the society with the unknown but in a welcome and anticipatory way. The future would be better not necessarily because it would be filled with improvements over the present but because it was the product of the society’s creativity and spirit of discovery. Who knew what wonders might unfold? Who knew what people might create? How exciting to look forward to finding out!
Polak was confirming through his historical study what common sense would tell us: a society grows when people are filled with a spirit of possibility and potential, when they have, as my friend Rue pointed out, “life expectancy.”
We are plagued in our time by a sense of diminishing possibilities. Climate change, political dysfunction, economic disparities, dwindling resources, the sense that our children and grandchildren will not inherit a better world than the one we were born into: all these things drain away our image of the future, in Polak’s terms. They reduce our expectations of what life can bring and of what can be accomplished.
The key behind what Polak observed through his studies is that possibility does not lie in the realm of events alone but in ourselves. A powerful image of the future that inspires and excites is not about what we can expect in the world but about what we can expect of ourselves. Hope is not wishful thinking of what we would like to happen; it’s about opening the doors of imagination and creativity to bring new ideas and new behaviors into being. It’s recognizing that we can embrace the future because we can embody and bring forth possibilities.
Whatever our physical life expectancy, we can expand our expectancy of life and of ourselves and in the process transform our world with a new image of the future.
From March 1-28, join David Spangler for Subtle Energies I: Standing Whole. In this four-week class, David will guide participants as they explore the subtle sides of their natures. Understanding this aspect of yourself and learning to integrate its capacities in daily life is a key to being whole. Class will be held on our online educational website, Lorian Education, where materials can be accessed 24/7. Additionally, David will host five live webinars that participants can also download for their personal use. For more information and to register, click here.
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2018 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
January, 2018 – THE B’S
First, I wish you a most happy and joy-filled New Year. This year we will travel 4.5 billion miles through space as the solar system orbits around the center of our galaxy. I hope every one of those miles brings blessings to you!
When I was a child growing up on an American air base in Morocco, my paternal grandmother came from the States to live with us for several months. I remember her saying, when someone was excited about an idea, that he had a “bee in his bonnet.” I always thought that was a funny expression. When I first heard it I had no idea what a “bonnet” was, and later, when I learned it was a type of hat, the image of bees buzzing around in it made me laugh. I had to grow older to fully appreciate the aptness of the saying.
When thinking about 2018, I have some “B’s” in my bonnet. They are my reminders to myself on how to engage with the months ahead.
The first is Be Prepared. One thing about the future these days is how unpredictable it is. The world is changing in many ways right before our eyes. This can certainly be disconcerting, but it doesn’t have to be disempowering if I have prepared for change as best I can. For instance, friends of ours almost lost their house in the recent wildfires near Santa Barbara, California. The flames came within yards of their home before firefighters, aided by a sudden shift in the wind, fought them back. Yet my friends were not caught by surprise. Knowing fire could be a possibility, they had made preparations to ensure their safety and the preservation of the possessions they most cared about. Similarly, we live on a major earthquake fault. Recently, my wife and youngest son went through a six-week disaster preparedness class so that we know what to do and how to help should anything happen in our area.
Preparation, though, isn’t restricted to physical or financial readiness to deal with sudden change. There is psychological preparedness, too, much of which comes down to being able to trust oneself and those around one. What is the solid core of identity out of which you can function with skill and confidence? What are the solid relationships of connection, love, and friendship that can provide mutual assistance in any time of change or trouble? What inner preparation can you do in addition to any outer actions?
My second B is to Be Resilient. You can’t prepare for everything. Journeying into the future is always a journey into the unknown. Life has a way of introducing the unexpected into our lives, both good and bad. Being able to bounce back from the unexpected is an important skill; it allows us to dance with life even in the moment it seems to tread on our toes.
When I think of resilience, I think of a toy I had when I was a kid. It was an inflatable boxer that was weighted on the bottom. I could hit it and knock it down, but it would bounce back up. We can be like this, too, if we have the metaphysical weight of our values and principles to ground us. Knowing our own inner center of spiritual and psychological “gravity” gives us resiliency, providing the strength we need to rise above circumstances that otherwise would knock us down emotionally, mentally, or even physically.
A third B is Be Adaptable. This is similar to resilience but I don’t have to be knocked over to be adaptable. Indeed, my ability to change, to improvise, and to adapt to what is happening in the world allows me to partner with the world around me. This does not mean that I surrender my core principles and values just to “fit in.” That is not adaptability; that is conformity. Organisms adapt to changes in their environment or they perish, but the adaptation preserves their essential identity. A crow doesn’t adapt by becoming a sparrow; it adapts by learning new crow behavior.
Adaptability is all about learning, taking in new knowledge, being aware of what is happening in the world and how to connect with it. It’s about being attentive and willing to try new steps in the dance of life. It is a willingness to go beyond “business as usual” to learn new ways of being, something that I feel will become increasingly important for all of us in the days ahead. Old ways of treating nature, treating others, treating ourselves simply are not working the way they once did and are becoming sources of danger rather than of creativity or progress. A world of climate change, for instance, is not the world our parents and grandparents knew. A world of the Internet and cyberspace isn’t, either. What changes do we need to make to honor our individuality, our humanity, and the sanctity and wholeness of our world? How do we now need to adapt to ensure a positive future?
My fourth B is Be Optimistic. Why not? Pessimism, doubt, fear, despair, hopelessness are all emotions that make us less capable, less resilient, less adaptable, less creative. Facing the future, if I need to learn to dance with life in new ways, why would I want to tie hobbles to my legs? What I need is vision, hope, confidence in my ability, our ability, to rise to the occasion and do what is right and positive for the future of humanity and our world. Optimism and joy keep my juices flowing, my mind alert, my heart open. They are fuel for positive change, a fuel we most certainly need.
Finally, my fifth B is Be Kind. Whatever shape 2018—or 2019, or 2020, or any future year—may take, we will always need kindness. I could call it love, but that is a heavily weighted word. I may not feel I can always be loving in dealing with the world, but I can always be kind. Kindness lives and works in the little things we do; it doesn’t take much to be kind in the moment: a smile, a soft word, a willingness to listen, an offer of a cup of coffee, the presence of an open heart. What it does take is awareness, attentiveness, and willingness.
Preparedness, Resiliency, Adaptability, Optimism, Kindness: these are the “Be’s” that are buzzing in my bonnet. May their humming bring music and blessing to your life in the New Year ahead.
Everything that Incarnational Spirituality has to offer stems from this recognition of the light within each individual life. As the new year begins, consider exploring your inner light by joining us for Journey Into Fire: Awakening to the Light of Self. From January 18-February 21, Lorian Faculty Member Julia Spangler will gently guide you through practices and processes to understand and attune to the power of being yourself in this world.
March 1 – 28, 2018
Each of us has a physical and psychological presence in the world. What is less recognized is that we also have an energetic and spiritual presence in the world’s subtle half. The time is here to understand and manifest this subtle presence as surely and effectively as we do its physical counterpart.
The Earth is a whole ecology blending both physical and non-physical dimensions. We need to recognize this simple fact and learn how to uphold this innate planetary wholeness. This is especially important now as we are challenged in so many ways with forces of dis-integration and destruction. Working with subtle energies, partnering with subtle allies, doing subtle energy hygiene, manifestation, subtle activism: these are all tools and ways in which we can participate in a Gaian planetary system that needs our help on both physical and non-physical levels. To do so, we must learn how to stand as a strong and creative presence in the subtle dimension. This is the necessary foundation for all inner work. We contribute to the wholeness of the world by knowing how to Stand Whole in ourselves.
Interested? Join us for the Free Webinar on Working with Subtle Energies: Exploring Our Hidden Dimensions, February 15th, 2018 – 4 pm PT. with Freya Secrest and Rue Hass
Share in a reflection exercise and explore the nature of your subtle perception. Sign up here to attend or to access the free webinar recording.
Then join us for the class:
Standing Whole is about discovering the subtle, energetic side of your nature: your subtle body. Understanding this aspect of yourself and learning to integrate its capacities into your physical life is a key to being whole. It is also the key to engaging the subtle dimension of life safely and effectively. Each week there will be one or two exercises that will help you delve into your subtle nature and connect it to your everyday life. This personal practice will be expanded by our online discussion and five live and recorded webinar sessions. You will learn about
- The Two-Ecology nature of the world
- The nature of your subtle body, its strengths and vulnerabilities, and its role in the wholeness of your life
- The Stance as a means of integrating your subtle and physical selves
- Opening the Generative Presence of your “WholeSpace,” creating a foundation for future work with subtle energies and allies
This class is designed to offer an understanding of wholeness that embraces both the material and spiritual dimensions and give you an understanding and vision of yourself as one who is able to engage the world both physically and non-physically. It will introduce you to your subtle side and provide instruction on how to integrate with it and provide a practical foundation for future work with subtle energies and subtle allies.
Note: We strongly recommend taking Journey Into Fire or similar Lorian class prior to Subtle Energies I in order to get the most benefit from the class.
Standing Whole will be followed by a 6 week Practicum April 5 – May 16th led by Rue Hass and Freya Secrest. Find out more here
SUBTLE ENERGIES I: Standing Whole will be held on our online education site, Lorianeducation.com powered by Ruzuku where participants have access to the online discussion and materials 24/7 through their ongoing Learning Library. Course includes:
- Weekly practice with exercises
- Downloadable written presentation of exercises
- Opportunity for facilitated online discussion, questions and answers
- Five Live and Recorded webinar talks by David. March 2nd, 5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th at 9 am PT
- Ongoing archive of all recorded talks and class material
Visit our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for more information on our online classes, refunds and late registration policy.
Cost – $200
DAVID SPANGLER, MCS is a spiritual explorer, teacher, writer, game designer, husband, and father. Originally studying to become a molecular biologist, a childhood contact with subtle worlds blossomed while he was in college into a collaborative relationship with inner beings. He left college at the age of 20 and began his lifelong career as a freelance mystic, teacher, and explorer of subtle and spiritual realms. In the early 1970’s he became a co-director of the Findhorn Foundation community in Northern Scotland and, in 1974, a founder of the Lorian Association. His work with both his non-physical colleagues and his Lorian associates has led to the development of Incarnational Spirituality. He is the author of over twenty books.
Back in the early Seventies, two married friends of mine decided to be early adopters of the latest thing in bedroom furniture: the flotation mattress, or waterbed. I happened to visit them not long after the bed was delivered, and they delightedly invited me to lie on it. I gingerly made my way to the center of the bed, feeling like I was crawling over a wriggling mass of Jell-O. Once there, though, it felt wonderfully relaxing, like floating on a softly undulating pool of water—which, of course, is basically what I was doing.
A couple of weeks later, I saw my friends again and asked how they were enjoying their waterbed. The husband gave his wife a rueful look and said, “We had to get baffles.”
“Baffles?” I asked.
“Yeah. They’re slats that are inserted into the mattress to break up the waves that can form in the water.”
He then told me that one night his wife had jolted into wakefulness with a painful cramp in her leg. Her thrashing about had created a wave in the water of the mattress that rushed over to her husband’s side and flipped him out of the bed onto the floor, bruising his arm.
My friend was laughing as he related this to me, though he admitted he hadn’t been laughing at the time. It is a funny story. But it’s more than that. Over the years as I’ve observed the effects of subtle energies of thought and feeling in our environment, I’ve had numerous occasions to think about it. It’s an ideal metaphor in many ways for our relationship to the invisible currents of thought and feeling that surround us all the time.
It’s as if we are all lying on the same waterbed. Though we live our separate lives on the surface, we are resting on invisible networks of connectedness. These connections create a collective human field which, like my friends’ flotation mattress, can transmit waves of feeling from one part of humanity to another. If people cry out with fear and suffering in Puerto Rico or Syria, for example, the subtle energy of their emotions are not confined to their physical locality but ripple out, like the waves in a waterbed. And when those waves reach where we are lying, we, too, can be “flipped out.” Our own personal energy fields can respond in unanticipated ways. Our mood may suddenly change, leaving us feeling anxious or fearful, angry or hateful, for no rational reason that we can discern. But because we believe that our thoughts and feelings exist in a private subjectivity within our own heads, we can fail to recognize that, like a radio or television set, we are picking up on information “broadcast” from somewhere else.
If we identify strongly enough with these sudden and anomalous “flips” of emotion or thought, then we can add our personal energy to them. We propagate the wave onward through our collective “mattress,” increasing the chance that others will have their moods, their thoughts, their feelings flipped as well. And sometimes this “flipping out” can lead someone who is susceptible to take dangerous and hurtful actions in the physical world.
These subtle waves moving through our human collective field are undoubtedly given power and shape by media. The news is an almost continuous litany of anxiety-producing images and stories. We are bombarded on two fronts, consciously by negative information transmitted through news programs, radio shows, social media, and the Internet, and subconsciously by negative energies generated by the many ways in which human beings inflict emotional, mental, and physical suffering on each other.
The situation is not hopeless, but it does require our attention. We need to understand that our thoughts and feelings can have nonlocal effects and to take responsibility for what we project into the world.
One action we can take is exactly the same as my friends took with their waterbed. They got baffles to break up the waves. We can do the same, except in this instance, we are the baffles. Simply by refusing to give attention and energy to sudden “flips” or bursts of negative feeling and thought, whether stimulated by media or by some, hidden, unconscious, invisible subtle influence, we can stop a wave from developing and propagating further.
Recently I was sitting in a restaurant chatting with a friend when I felt a sudden, unreasonable anger, even a hatred, for government employees. There was no reason in the world for me to feel this; it certainly wasn’t anything I was thinking about, and I don’t cultivate anger or hatred in any event. Yet the feelings were intense. It would have been easy and natural to identify with them.
I’m familiar, though, with how feelings like this can travel through our collective waterbed. And knowing this, I knew it was time to be a baffle. I first acknowledged the feelings and didn’t try to push them away; in effect, I was holding the subtle energy in my own field so it wouldn’t travel on. Then I consciously invoked a feeling of love. I enfolded the anger in this love, and as I did so, the intensity of these strange feelings simply evaporated.
I didn’t have to know where these feelings came from. How could I know? These days, so many people are angry with government at all levels. My job as a baffle was not to pass them on, not to assign blame to anyone for generating them in the first place.
Being a baffle means deliberately standing in a calm, loving, solid place, and this means knowing yourself. It means cultivating the kind of emotions and thoughts in the moment that you would like to receive from others, that you would find supportive, encouraging, protective, and loving. We can’t help broadcasting into the subtle environment, into the network of connections that tie us all together, into the waterbed of humanity. But we can choose what we project, and when we run into its opposite, as we surely will, we can then transform it or at least not pass it on.
I’ve focused on the transmission of negative energy here because that is what creates problems for us; given human habits, it’s what we are likely to fixate on, as well. We are hardwired to be sensitive to threats. But it’s important to realize that our waterbed can transmit waves of good feeling, waves of courage, joy, love, and support as well. This is a whole area of spiritual service in itself, deliberately being a source of the kind of positive creative energies we’d like more of in the world.
With this in mind, when you suddenly feel happy for no reason or in spite of everything on the news, you feel that the world is an OK place and that good things will unfold, then you can “flip” for that wave. That’s the kind of thing we definitely want to pass on.
Are you seeking ways to develop your sense of self as an artist? Is there a book or painting sleeping inside of you and you’re looking for the courage to bring it into being? Or do you long to bring a creative spirit to your everyday tasks? If so, join Freya Secrest for Incarnational Artist-In-Residence. During this hour-long webinar, Freya will share creative practices from her new book Showing UP: Practices for a Spirited Life and help you create a sacred environment to support your creativity. Click here for more information and to sign up.
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2017 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
DAVID’S DESK #125 – INFRASTRUCTURE
This past month has been a challenging one, and for thousands of people it continues to be so. The hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, and the earthquakes in Mexico have resulted in loss of life, homes and livelihoods. In Puerto Rico especially, we are witnessing what happens when a modern society dependent on electricity is suddenly deprived of power and infrastructures break down. In today’s world, it could happen to any of us.
Aside from Seattle being a potential target for one of Kim Jung-Un’s nuclear ICBMs, our area is not threatened by hurricanes or floods, but, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, we do sit on a major earthquake fault where “the Big One” is expected to eventually hit. And Mt. Rainier, fifty miles or so to the south of us, is considered the most dangerous active volcano in the United States outside of Alaska and Hawaii. An eruption would cause widespread devastation and loss of life and property.
My wife and son are currently taking classes in disaster preparedness sponsored by the Federal Emergency Assistance Agency, FEMA. The idea is to create a resilient infrastructure of neighbors who can assist each other in the event of a disaster. As my wife put it, “We are being trained to be the band-aids to provide help before the professional first responders can get to the scene.” This involves obvious preparations as having food and water for each family member for a week, plus extra for sharing, as well as batteries, basic medical kits and other emergency supplies. But it also means knowing your neighbors: who has special needs; who has tools like chain saws; who is elderly and needs extra help; who has useful skills? The objective is to ensure your own household is prepared and to also ensure your neighborhood is prepared.
At the heart of this approach is a realization that the most basic, effective, and resilient infrastructure is based on cooperative human relationships: caring for and looking out for each other. There may be times in our future when governments and official institutions are stretched beyond their capacities to respond and help, at least for a critical few days or weeks. At such moments, what we have—what, really, we have always had—is the community we can build together.
This is why the strongest infrastructure is not technological but relational. It’s what we build in our hearts towards and with each other. It is founded on a sense of our own ability to rise to the occasion when needed and to help others even as we may receive their help. It is an infrastructure of goodwill and kindness. In the news recently, we have seen many inspiring instances of people in Texas, Florida, Mexico, and now in Puerto Rico falling back upon and contributing to this infrastructure. Further, this infrastructure extends beyond the immediate locale of the disaster but reaches into hearts and minds around the world who make what contributions they can of money, goods, services, and energy to help those in need.
There is another infrastructure that is important, though it is little recognized in modern society. This is an infrastructure of subtle energy, life, and consciousness operating in the non-physical dimensions of the earth. I have rarely spoken of this in these David’s Desk essays, but those who know me know that as a spiritual explorer and teacher the bulk of my work is with these invisible realms of life. They are as objective and real to me as the houses of my neighbors where I live, as real as the trees in our yards, as real as my neighbors themselves.
It’s my experience that learning to work with this subtle infrastructure is an important complement to working with the many forms of physical infrastructure that make up society. It can never be a substitute for the latter but it is part of the larger, whole picture of being a prepared and resilient citizen in today’s world.
Giving an in-depth picture of this subtle infrastructure and how to work with it is beyond the scope of this essay. If you are interested, I refer you to books I’ve written, such as Working with Subtle Energies, or to classes offered by the Lorian Association. All the necessary information is on our website.
However, I do want to offer one insight. I think of this subtle infrastructure as a linked network or community of beings whose lives are conduits for the flow of energies of life, vitality, healing, inspiration, and love. Though we are physical individuals, we can certainly participate in such networks, being able to both contribute and distribute the blessings these energies offer. We link into these networks through our own love and compassion and through the attunement of a calm mind and heart.
If you wonder if such an infrastructure does any good, consider the difference between an atmosphere of fear, panic, anger, and helplessness and one of confidence, calm, reassurance, courage, and love. The outer situation may be the same, but the psychic atmosphere can influence whether people find the inner stability to deal with the crisis or whether they give up in despair and despondency. The active channeling of positive, constructive, empowering, vital subtle energies into a crisis locale can assist the actions of those working on the ground to help and support their mental and emotional resiliency and creative decision-making.
When disaster strikes as it has in Puerto Rico, the subtle infrastructure is impacted by the storm of human distress, fear, and suffering, just as the outer infrastructure is damaged by the wind and water of the hurricane. You could say there is an inner hurricane as well. And just as there are human first responders who try to put the outer infrastructure back together, there are inner equivalents doing the same thing.
It is these beings I wish to help. I want to send them my positive energies in much the same way that I donate money to aid organizations that are supporting the physical first responders. In the latter case, I have to access my bank account and I need to find the connection that will send my money to the proper destination. The same is true when working to help the subtle infrastructure. In this case, though, the “bank account” is our reservoir of positive thought and feeling. If the subtle environment of Puerto Rico, for example, is being filled with fear, anger, despondency, and other negative emotions, I don’t want to duplicate those. I want to contribute energies that uplift and inspire, energies that will contribute to the mental and emotional—and physical—resiliency of the people there. I must first find and expand upon those positive energies, like courage, hope, and love. I need to create my “subtle aid package” appropriately.
Then I need to send it. I don’t have to have any special powers to do this, but I do need to find a resonance with the subtle infrastructure of Puerto Rico. I do this by taking time to learn enough about this country that I can feel a sense of it. Maybe I read about it on Wikipedia; maybe I find some YouTube videos of life in Puerto Rico. What is important is that I want to attune my thinking to positive images of the country and not see it only in terms of the destruction it is now experiencing. I want to develop a felt sense of “Puerto-Rico-ness” in my mind and heart, a felt sense of attunement to the land and people there. Then, using this felt sense as a point of connection, I ask the angels in charge of the subtle infrastructure there to receive my “aid package” of positive energies and distribute them as needed.
I could do this with the people around Houston, the people in Florida, the people in Mexico City, or anywhere else in the world. When it comes to subtle work, distance is not a barrier. What is important is the love and the felt sense of resonance that makes the connection.
We live in a world filled with many infrastructures upon which we depend. The physical ones can be destroyed, as we are finding all too often these days of climate change, terrorism, and war. But the infrastructures of the human heart and of the subtle worlds are far more resilient and powerful—and dependable. Learning to work with these infrastructures is, I feel, the greatest preparation we can make for whatever the future holds.
Would you like to learn more about working with subtle infastructures? Consider subscribing to David Spangler’s Views from the Borderland. Subscription includes 4 print journals and two online forums. The cost for a USA subscription is $110. International subscriptions cost $130. For more information or to subscribe, click here.
DAVID’S DESK #124
David’s Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however the material is ©2017 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
“You Shall Not Pass!”
There is a dramatic moment in the Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s acclaimed trilogy, Lord of the Rings, when the Fellowship is racing through the dark caverns of the mines of Moira pursued by a Balrog, a demon from the depths of hell. As they scurry across a bridge, the wizard Gandalf the Grey turns to confront the demon, drawing on all the power of his magic to make himself a barrier to protect his fleeing companions. Standing firm, he yells to the Balrog, “You shall not pass!”
Humanity is facing its own Balrog moment. Around the world, hatred is feeling emboldened to pursue and enforce an agenda of division and brokenness based on the false superiority of one group over another. This hate can take many forms and march under the banner of many causes. It has shown up as ISIS. It has appeared as extreme forms of nationalism. It showed up this past month in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hate will continue to appear in the future until there is no place for it in the world. For that to happen, it falls to each of us in our lives to stand up to this momentum of hatred and division and say, “You shall not pass! This shall not be your world!”
Spiritual teachers and leaders, as well as others, routinely exhort us to be loving towards each other and to not meet hatred with hatred. There are excellent reasons for this, for the spirit of hatred doesn’t care in whose heart and mind it lives, only that it is being given expression. But loving can be a challenge. There are few of us who do not have our own Balrogs lurking in the dark corners of our anxiety, ready to strike out at whatever causes us fear, ready to attack and destroy whatever we don’t like. But if we are truly to keep the forces of hatred from rampaging through our world, we can’t become Balrogs ourselves. Giving hate license to emerge, even if seemingly for a good cause, only exacerbates the problem. “You shall not pass!” applies to our own darker impulses as well.
There is a difference between establishing a boundary that says a firm “No!” to attitudes and actions that divide and cause suffering, and becoming hateful ourselves towards those who espouse such behavior. It requires self-knowledge and inner discipline to manifest the former and not the latter. It becomes easier when we make lovingness a habit. This can take many forms: kindness, compassion, honoring another, listening, learning. Love is a spirit of inclusion that accepts and honors the plurality and diversity of the world and is comfortable with complexity and difference. Love grows out of a healthy sense of sovereignty and respect for one’s own boundaries and care for the sovereignty and boundaries of others. It grows out of taking practical actions to demonstrate its presence and power. It grows out of consistent practice even when faced with circumstances that might otherwise appeal to and evoke our inner Balrogs.
We are complex people who nonetheless love simplicity. Simple things are easier to understand and control and therefore feel safer. This preference gives rise to monocultures, the attempt to reduce the complexity of the world into sameness, stripping away the hard edges of differences and rounding everything off into conformity of belief and action. Whether this monoculture is environmental, political, religious, racial, or cultural, it always flies in the face of nature’s diversity and the plurality of life. Ultimately, it can only be established through control and violence. Ultimately, it turns love into narcissism.
The arc of human evolution has been to engage with greater and greater complexity, both within the world and within ourselves. It is love that drives us forward along this arc, for it takes a truly loving heart and mind to be open to the diversity that is the nature of the world and the nature of who we are . Hatred pulls us back into an imagined world that bleeds all the colors out of the rainbow and leaves only a grey sameness and conformity, a world that collapses into itself. It denies who we are, what the world is.
It’s vital that when confronted with hatred, we take a stand to say in words and deeds, “This shall not pass!” Otherwise, when we let the Balrogs win, either in ourselves or in our societies, it is we who do not, cannot, pass into what is possible for all of us in partnership and collaboration.
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These days, at least twice daily, I stop whatever I’m doing and take a moment to stand in peace. It’s a simple thing to do. It’s certainly helpful to me, and given that we’re all part of an interconnected, interdependent world, I believe it’s helpful in the larger scheme of things. I would like to invite you to join me in your own way, but more on that in a moment. First, let me describe what “standing in peace” means to me and how I go about it.
As I indicated, I experience that we live in an interconnected world; we are part of a whole planetary system in which every part has an effect on every other part. Increasingly we are learning to appreciate how important understanding this interconnected wholeness is; indeed, our survival may depend on it.
I view peace not simply as an absence of conflict but as a heightening of connections which improves the health of the whole system. It allows for an increase in clear communication, cooperation, and coherency— three qualities important to the well-being of the world. Conflict, on the other hand, frays and severs connections. There are times when this may be necessary; it is possible to form unhealthy connections that need to be broken up, like removing a growing tumor from a body through surgery. But there’s only so much surgery one can perform before the body itself dies. Much better to strengthen the whole system by improving and strengthening the healthy connections that promote harmony and collaboration.
In my experience, this is what peace does.
My purpose here in this short essay is not to delve into the metaphysics of peace and conflict; one could write a book about that! I simply want to share a practice with you that I find helpful and that I believe, given a perspective of the interconnectedness of life, is also helpful on a wider scale. When I stand in peace, I am adding to a process that improves connectedness rather than diminishing it. Given what is going on in the world today, every little bit helps!
My practice can be broken down into five steps. These are Pause, Appreciate, Presence, Embrace, and Release. Together they form an acronym that makes them easy to remember: PAPER. Here is the PAPER process:
PAUSE – The first step is to pause whatever you are doing. Be sensible about this, of course. If you are in the middle of an activity that can’t be paused, like doing surgery, then wait until you’re finished. But all of us have moments during the day when we can stop what we’re doing and just pause, becoming inwardly still.
APPRECIATE – The second step is to look around, see where you are, whom you’re with, what you’ve been doing, and appreciate these things. I originally called this step Awareness, which is also an “A” word, but I realized that for me, it’s not just being aware of my surroundings but of how I am aware. This is where appreciation comes in. If my purpose is to stand in peace, I don’t want to be in conflict with my environment. I may not like where I am in the moment, but I can honor it and honor my being there. I can find something to appreciate, maybe even love, about where I am, and this spirit of appreciation translates into being at peace.
PRESENCE – My third step is to honor and appreciate myself, which gives me a sense of presence in the moment wherever I am. We are each a generative source of positive qualities and actions if we allow ourselves to be. We matter in the world. Who we are is important; for many of us, we are more than we give ourselves credit for being. By standing in Presence, I am affirming that I have something to offer to this environment and that I’m capable of offering it, even if I do so in silence with my spirit blessing to what’s around me. Another way of thinking about this is that through affirming my Presence and its value, I am not in conflict with myself. To stand in peace, I need to go beyond conflict with where I am (the Appreciate step) and conflict with who I am that may arise from negative self-imagery.
EMBRACE – Standing in Presence allows me to open my heart, blessing and embracing where I am, heightening my connections with my environment. Here, too, I originally used another word, Engage, for this step, but as with Awareness and Appreciation, I wanted to emphasize how I engage. Since peace for me is an active process that builds and widens connections, standing in peace means doing just that with my immediate surroundings. Embrace, for me, captures this felt sense of reaching out from my Presence with love to connect with where I am and who I’m with, thus generating peace.
RELEASE – The last step is to release the quality of peace—of heightened and harmonious connection—out into the world. I ask that those spiritual forces that hold humanity and the world in their love receive my peace and let it be wherever it is needed. I trust that what I generate in my small environment can be a seed that can grow to bless and affect much larger environments.
You will note that I don’t try to “send” peace anywhere. Projecting peace to troubled areas can become just a mental exercise; I’m “sending” an idea of peace rather than peace itself. Perhaps this may be helpful in its own way, inspiring others with that idea, but my approach is to create the experience—the felt sense—of peace and to offer the substance of this experience to the Powers That Be. To stand in peace, I want to be peace; I want to be a force for heightening connections and allowing harmony to unfold. For this to happen, I can’t just think about it. I need to do it. This is what the PAPER process is all about. It’s about generating peace into the world by doing peace and being peace in the concreteness of my surroundings.
Being and doing peace doesn’t have to mean resolving a conflict. There may be no conflict in my environment when I do the PAPER practice. But remember, peace in my definition is about fostering, heightening, and strengthening connections. This is what we do when we resolve a conflict; we create new connections that now promote harmony instead of disharmony. But I can heighten connections anytime, anywhere, around me and within me, through pausing, appreciating, being a presence, and embracing. By widening my definition of what peace does, I can see ways of doing peace in my world besides just being a “fire-fighter” putting out the flames of conflicts. I can build peace into my life and into my world that can prevent conflicts from arising in the first place. Where connections are strong, communication is clear, and collaboration can emerge, the whole is benefited and conflict is avoided.
I said that I wish to invite you to PAPER the world with me. Heaven knows we need it. This is not something we have to do at the same time every day. Each of us can PAPER in our own way, in our own time. You need to discover the best way you can do this practice, making it your own. But the more of us that do stand in peace by pausing, appreciating, becoming a presence, and embracing, releasing the results into the world, the more our world will grow the connections it needs to transform the broken conditions that fill the news with stories of suffering, conflict, and danger. Be your peace and let us PAPER the Earth together.
DAVIDS DESK #118 – FLYOVER STATES
Back in the days when I was regularly traveling to give lectures and workshops, I always tried to drive to wherever I needed to go. If time were an issue, then I would take a plane, but otherwise, I loved road trips. I loved seeing the various parts of the United States and getting to know my country from the ground up; after years of cross-country trips, there are only three States I’ve never had occasion to visit. The United States lives in me in my memory of all the different landscapes that I’ve seen. When I think of America, it’s all there for me, from Maine to California and from Washington to Florida.
As my family grew, my travel time diminished. I didn’t want to spend so much time on the road away from Julie and the kids. So, I began flying more. I enjoy flying, too (or I did when it was a more comfortable and less harried and crowded experience). There was a thrill to looking down and seeing countryside through which I had previously driven. Still, I missed the closeness with the land and with places and people that I experienced while driving. I had become a “flyover” person.
I don’t know when the term originated or started to become popular, but I became aware of it last year during the Presidential Election: “Flyover States.” These are the States in the middle of the country that air flights between the large urban centers of the East and West coasts regularly fly over. To be a Flyover State is at one level a simple description of a fact of life as more and more people live on the East and West coasts and take non-stop flights back and forth. But especially last year, the phrase took on additional meaning. Flyover States were the homes of the “forgotten Americans,” the ones whose opinions and activities were not as important when compared to what goes on in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the large metropolises on either side of America. To be a “Flyover State” carried connotations of being ignored, overlooked, not seen, or even disdained as being of lesser importance. Certainly, if a person’s only view of America is from 30,000 feet, he or she is not seeing and connecting with the country in the way a person does who is driving from one coast to another.
There are commentators who describe one of the divisions in this country, of which there currently appear to be many, as that between the heavily populated and generally more liberal metropolitan areas of the Coastal States and the less populated and often more conservative Flyover States. I’m sure there’s a truth to this, and the last election would seem to confirm this, showing again the intent of the Electoral College to give political power to States with smaller populations.
However, when I think of Flyover States, it conjures up an entirely different image for me. It seems to me that one of the many challenges facing us in this country, and for that matter in the world at large, is how easy it is to step into a “flyover state.” Such a state is not a place but an attitude that can arise when we encounter someone who is different from us. This difference could be political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, or something as trivial as a difference in hairstyles or clothing. Unless we are compelled for some reason to engage with this person, we can “flyover” them in our minds and hearts. We can fail to encounter the territory of their life; we can fail to make connection.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced this, both as the one doing the flyover and the one being “flown over” and overlooked. We all live at one time or another in our daily lives in a flyover state. The cumulative effect is that we come to know each other less and less, and spend more and more time clustered mentally and emotionally with those with whom we agree. “Flying over” pushes difference out of our lives or at least diminishes its impact. We see only what we want to see.
I believe that our hope lies in our ability to connect, and this requires that we walk into each other’s territory, at least enough to appreciate another even if we don’t agree with his or her positions and beliefs. Turning each other into flyover states will not help us going forward. The future depends on understanding. The major problems and challenges of the world are systemic and cannot be solved except through collaboration and cooperation. If we can’t go so far as to love each other, we must at least know and respect each other. This requires looking at our differences directly, up close and personal, and not dismissing or ignoring that with which we do not agree.
At this time, our country is embroiled in problems caused by our various differences. If we hope to solve them, we must work to connect and live in our hearts and minds in united states, not flyover ones.
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