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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DAVID’S DESK #113 – SHIPWRECKS AND LIFEBOATS
I’ve been reading an interesting book this week in preparation for an online Forum that James Tousignant and I are doing this first week of October about the current electoral tumult and how to be a center of clarity and calm in the midst of it. Called The Shipwrecked Mind by Mark Lilla, it’s about reactionaries, the counterparts to revolutionaries. Lilla says, “Reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first thing to be understood about them. They are, in their way, just as radical as revolutionaries and just as firmly in the grip of historical imaginings. Millennial expectations of a redemptive new social order and rejuvenated human beings inspire the revolutionary; apocalyptic fears of entering a new dark age haunt the reactionary.”
He then says later in the book, “The reactionary mind is a shipwrecked mind,” caught up in nostalgia for an imagined Golden Age in the past even as the river of time flows onward. “The revolutionary sees the radiant future invisible to others and it electrifies him. The reactionary…sees the past in all its splendor and he too is electrified.”
Lilla’s main thesis is that after a bit more than two hundred years of being in a revolutionary period, beginning with the American Revolution but given even greater momentum by the expectations of the French Revolution, we are now in a time when a reactionary sentiment is not only growing throughout the world but becoming dominant. The more technology changes and the faster societies change in response, the more that many people, feeling unmoored from the certainties of their lives, turn to the past. They see it through a lens of nostalgia and want to recreate what seems like a lost paradise.
From the Sixties through the Nineties, I was involved with the New Age movement, which began at least as a vision of a “radiant future,” even though later it devolved into a lifestyle choice more than a prophetic undertaking. During this time, I certainly met many revolutionaries in the sense that Lilla describes them, people who envisioned a transcendent transformation of human consciousness and society. I also met many reactionaries who felt we were losing—or had lost—something valuable and important in a rapidly disappearing past and wished to reclaim it. Sometimes the two merged in odd ways, as for example in people for whom the New Age meant a return to a mythic time when humans lived in perfect harmony with nature and the world around them.
In between the drive for a visionary future and the yearning to recreate a fabled past lies a middle ground, which is the present. This is where our hope lies. Both future and past are imaginary, the future because it doesn’t exist yet and the past because we remember what we want to remember and in the way we think it should have been. Only the present is real, pressing against us with the fierceness of immediacy, demanding that we pay attention.
This is personal for me for in some ways I was an odd duck in the New Age waters. Though viewed in some quarters as one of its founders, which is hardly true, or at least as one of its leaders and spokespersons, which is partly true, I never fully or comfortably fit into its more revolutionary aspects. I have no doubt we humans are changing, and I firmly believe that it is for the better in the long run, though we may have to learn some hard lessons along the way. But the place where all this is happening is here and now in the way we each engage with our world on a day-to-day basis. We shape the future every day, and we do so most effectively when we are mindful in the present of what we are doing. I was always the individual who said, “The New Age is right now!” If we see the potentials in the moment, we create our New Age every day in our lives.
Lilla says the reactionary is a “shipwrecked mind,” but in some ways, so is the revolutionary. Both have opted out of the river of time and are stranded on the sandbanks along the river’s edge. It’s just that the sandbanks are different. One is an infatuation with the future, the other with past, but being stranded on either makes one unable to be truly effective in the present. Note that I said “effective,” not “without influence or consequences.” Both reactionaries and revolutionaries make things happen. But much of what each creates becomes embroiled in conflict. In the smoke and fire erupting from their clash, they can miss the possibilities that are revealed to those who see them in the present and who honor what is now rather than what may be or what was.
The present is not imaginary, which makes it both reassuring and powerful but also scary and challenging. We don’t have the luxury, if we are to deal with it properly and realistically, of wishing it were sometime else, a future yet to be born or a past that has seen its day. If we seem caught in the shipwrecks of imaginary times, then paying attention to the present and engaging it with courage and mindfulness creates the lifeboat that restores our power to navigate the rivers of potential that are always around us.
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 ©2016 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
I just finished reading an excellent book, Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. On the surface, it’s an account of the author’s childhood and young adulthood growing up as part of the hillbilly culture in Appalachia and southwestern Ohio. More deeply, it’s a look at a part of the population of the United States—the white working class–that is struggling with seemingly intractable problems of economic decline and poverty leading to substance abuse, broken relationships, and a simmering anger born of a sense of betrayal by the “elites” of the country. These are the people who form the bulwark of support for Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, and I felt I wanted to understand them more fully. Vance’s book came highly recommended, and indeed, it’s a well-written, often very funny yet in the end sobering and poignant look at a problem that is not only an American issue but in many ways a planetary one.
The problem is the inability of societies and individuals to break out of generational patterns of behavior that are self-sabotaging, stagnating, and ultimately destructive. Large parts of humanity are unable to access their own creative potentials, not simply for change but for shaping and crafting their lives in positive and healthy ways. This damages humanity as a whole, for not only do we lose the possibilities that all these men, women, and children represent and the benefits they might have given to the world, but resources must be spent dealing with the damaging effects and consequences of these lost lives and broken cultures.
Vance identifies some of the forces at work, at least in the white working class culture from which he emerged, that contribute to a destructive milieu from which it is difficult to break free. The most important is a lack of a sense of agency. To experience one’s agency is to know that one can make a difference in their own life and that the choices one makes do shape their lives. Instead of agency, in the culture Vance describes, there is a sense of being at the mercy of outside forces which cultivates a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. This goes beyond not being willing to help or change oneself. It becomes a conviction that one is not able to help oneself even if the willingness is there.
Vance credits those government programs and agencies that try to make a difference but shows from his own experiences and those of his family and friends within the hillbilly culture that, without a sense of agency, individuals will fail to be helped by what these programs can offer. There is only so much any outside force, however well-meaning, well-intentioned, and benign can do; all too often, when faced with ingrained habits of helplessness, it is too little.
Vance’s observations about the importance of agency are just as meaningful when considering a wider view of our spiritual lives. We have long been taught to look to transpersonal forces outside of ourselves for spiritual help, particularly when we run into challenges and difficulties in life. We see God as an outside rescue squad rather than as a force within us that can make a difference. In so doing, we disregard our own creative and sacred agency.
This is not to say that blessings and advice from transpersonal sources cannot be helpful, especially if they awaken us to and empower our own sense of agency. It definitely can be an important source of assistance. But just as the government can only do so much to help people who do not believe in their own power to make a difference in their own lives, there is only so much any spiritual source can do for anyone who doesn’t acknowledge their own God-given creative potentials. The phrase that God helps those who help themselves has more than one grain of truth within it.
Life is challenging. Events do not always go the way we would like, and at times we find ourselves faced with events and situations that put us at a disadvantage. At such times, help is greatly appreciated and needed. But if we have a sense of our own agency, our own power to make choices and decisions that will shape our lives, then we know we are not at the mercy of such events. We are less likely to see ourselves as helpless victims, an attitude that can well block assistance from any other level of life and spirit. This is one reason the idea of “standing in one’s Sovereignty” is such an important part of the Incarnational Spirituality that I teach, for it is an affirmation of a person’s power of agency.
At the same time that he stresses the importance of agency in a person’s life, Vance is very clear that it needs to be complemented by community. He points out that he would most likely have succumbed to the negative influences in his life, such as emotional abuse, the lack of a stable home life, the presence of widespread substance abuse, had it not been for the presence and support of specific people such as his grandmother. She believed in him and did what she could to provide stability. There were others—his sister, an aunt, an uncle—who demonstrated that the broken life to which he was daily exposed wasn’t the only option and that change was possible. There were other, more positive ways of living. This was reinforced for him by a stint in the Marine Corps which helped him grow from a sense of helplessness to an experience of the power of his own agency, his own ability to shape his life.
Vance stresses that the lack of a community— that can provide not only help and support when needed but also positive examples of what is possible and of agency at work— makes change difficult for those caught in self-sabotaging and negative ways of thinking and being. It’s hard to accept or believe in your own agency if you never see anyone else accepting and expressing their own in positive ways. Transforming a culture of dependence and impoverished potentials requires exposing it in loving ways to communities of people who are exemplars of possibility and hope, people who know that they are agents whose choices shape their lives and thus are learning to make the wisest choices they can.
Reading Vance’s book, I could not help but think of the larger planetary challenges we are facing and how they might make any of us feel helpless or hopeless about the future. We are being asked to be resilient and adaptive in the face of change. We are being asked to bring a positive vision to the shaping of our collective future. But the very scale of the problems we face can challenge our sense of agency. Who are we as individuals to really make a difference in a world filled with change, fear, hatred, violence, and instability? No wonder we tend to look for a savior, a messiah, a strong person, or transpersonal help to tell us what to do and save us from our own sense of inadequacy.
The truth is, though—and my non-physical colleagues in the spiritual worlds emphasize this over and over again—we are not inadequate. We do not lack agency; we are neither helpless nor hopeless. It is a matter of recognizing as best and as fully as we can the sacredness that we possess, the presence of creative potential and the power to make a difference through our choices. And then it’s a matter of demonstrating and sharing this potential with each other so that the strength and power of transformative community can arise amongst us. For I may not know what I’m capable of until I see someone else discovering and manifesting their own capabilities. At the same time, when I stand in my own agency and act creatively to shape a positive future, however small those acts may seem, I may well be inspiring and encouraging others to believe in their agency and creative power as well. In short, we can all benefit from collaborating in a community of love and being hope-filled agents for one another. God may help those who help themselves, but God especially helps those who help each other.
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 ©2016 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org
How do we use the principles of Incarnational Spirituality to engage these turbulent social and political times?From October 2-8 join Lorian Facilitators David Spangler and James Tousignant for Standing in the Eye: Creating Calmness in a Season of Storms. This week-long forum will provide practical exercises and approaches for conscious engagement during this election season. For more information or to register click here.
By David Spangler
Holarchy is not necessarily the opposite of hierarchy. They are two different perspectives, each capturing a truth. Hierarchy often describes structural and functional relationships: how a system operates and how responsibility, power, and energy are distributed and dispersed throughout that system. For example, at Microsoft, Bill Gates was the head of the company and directed its operations; vision and decisions flowed from him through a traditional business hierarchy throughout the organization down to the lowliest janitor cleaning up the offices at night. Gates’s responsibility was for the whole company and its success while the janitor’s was just for the rooms he was cleaning.
Holarchy, on the other hand, describes how information and such qualities as love and caring are distributed within a system. In the early days of Microsoft, for instance, using intraorganizational email, a janitor could contact and dialogue with Bill Gates directly and offer suggestions and insights for the good of the company. Information flowed in non-hierarchical ways in that useful and important ideas could come from any level, and a janitor could have just as much love, creativity, and caring for the company as the CEO. Holarchy is the system—or the attitude—that allows information, love, caring, and creative energy to flow between levels of a system without regard for rank or position. The janitor and the CEO occupy different structural and functional positions within Microsoft, but each can be equally filled with and part of the spirit of the organization.
In a holarchy, there is no “higher” or “lower.” There is difference and the creative value that such difference can provide. In a hierarchy, the structure itself imposes clear rules on communication and evaluation; information flows in a regularized way up and down a chain of command. A hierarchy imposes order. In a holarchy, order and integration are co-created in the moment at the boundaries between people; rules are often made up in the moment based on the conditions and requirements of the unique relationships that are present at the time. It can appear chaotic, though in fact it is not. Negotiation and openness rather than position provide organizing factors.
Love – the Primary Organizing Principle
I would go further to say that in a fully functioning holarchy love is the primary organizing principle. This is not necessarily affection or even any form of emotional attachment or response but rather a respect and honoring for each individual as a source of sacredness. The basic premise is that each being has something to offer that is unique, that every being is potentially a teacher, and that I can learn from anyone or any situation. Certainly, as both a teacher and a parent, I experience this all the time. I may be the authority in a class and have knowledge the students do not, but this doesn’t mean that learning is a one-way street from me to them. Learning is much more than just the passing on of information; it is the co-creation together of a relationship in which new perspectives and insights emerge for everyone concerned.
In working with beings that are, by every standard I have, more evolved spiritually than I am, I have discovered again and again the grace and love with which they engage with me and their openness to what I have to contribute, small though it may be. I recognize that they honor the Sacred in me, which is beyond all rank and position, and do what they can to lift me up and acknowledge our equality before God. Indeed, when I encounter a being that does not do that and insists upon its allegedly “higher” position, its “adeptship” or exalted state of evolution, I can be pretty sure that it is not a reputable source. A sure way to discern that a particular entity is not very highly evolved is its reliance upon some claimed position in a hierarchy as a sign of its authority. Over the years, I have found that the more evolved the being, the more it proves the saying that the greatest of all shall be the servant of the least.
For several thousands of years, humanity has constructed its cultures and civilizations largely around hierarchical models, so much so that they seem to be part of the way things are, as natural a part of creation as gravity and sunlight. But the study of holism and ecology shows that this is not necessarily the case, that there are other, more holistic, models of organization and relationship. While hierarchy can be and often is a useful and efficient tool for getting things done, it can fail at the deeper need to establish a rich, co-creative field of mutuality and partnership. This is a critical failing in our time when there is a need for humanity to cease seeing the world in hierarchical terms, with itself at the evolutionary peak, and begin relating to the various visible and invisible kingdoms of nature as partners.
Likewise, a hierarchical view of the spiritual worlds, particularly one that elevates the Sacred to the top of an imagined pyramid of authority and power, can blind us to the sacredness that is within ourselves and within all things, disempowering us at a time when our loving and creative spirit is urgently needed.
The implementation of holarchy is not difficult. It is the loving application of the idea that each person, being, or object I encounter has something to offer and can be, however momentarily, a partner in mutual evolution. It is the idea that we are dependent on each other, whatever our status or rank, for our well being, and that we are all co-creators in the processes of cosmic emergence. It is an application of openness, a respect and honoring for the least as well as the greatest with an understanding that the one can well be the other depending on the situation. It is the realization that good ideas, love, spiritual energy, grace and goodness can come from anywhere and are not dependent on age, rank, position, status, evolution or form.
Mostly it is an understanding that when it comes to creating wholeness—to being part of a holistic universe—we are all partners together and we each have something important to contribute.
From the Archives” features essays and book excerpts by David Spangler that are out of print or not readily available. The first part of this essay (digitally published by Seven Pillars House of Wisdom in 2008) appeared last week. For more information, please email email@example.com.
By David Spangler
By the time my first child, John-Michael, was born in 1983, I had already been a spiritual teacher for nearly twenty years. A major perennial topic in my lectures and workshops was love, and I felt I reasonably understood what love was about. But the first time I held my son in my arms, I realized how incomplete my knowledge was. I knew immediately that this new person was going to teach me things about love that I had never known before. And he has, along with another son and two daughters who came to join him as my teachers over the years.
When we think of the relationship of parents and children, it’s common and natural to think of what parents do for their offspring. We are responsible for them. There would appear to be a natural hierarchical relationship here with knowledge, love, wisdom, power, and authority flowing down from the parent to the child. But as any parent knows, the relationship is not so clear-cut; love and knowledge flow back from the child and as he or she grows older, wisdom and authority do as well. Parents and children may not be equal, but they can be partners each enriching the other in ways that neither could do for themselves.
Holarchy and Holism
This relationship in which different and unequal participants nevertheless enhance each other and co-creatively make a larger wholeness possible is what I call holarchy. It honors each participant and looks not to their relative ranking as in a hierarchy, but to what they can contribute by virtue of their differences. Thus in a hierarchy, participants can be compared and evaluated on the basis of position, rank, relative power, seniority and the like. But in a holarchy each person’s value comes from his or her individuality and uniqueness and the capacity to engage and interact with others to make the fruits of that uniqueness available.
The idea of holarchy conceptually grows out of the larger idea of holism. The word itself was coined by the South African statesman, general, and scientist Jan Smuts in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution. After reading it, Albert Einstein said that the concept of holism was one of two paradigms that would govern human thinking in the 21st century (the second, he claimed, was his own theory of relativity). As in many things, Einstein has proven prescient. While no one would claim that politics, commerce, and social development as yet follow holistic models, the need to develop and implement such models is becoming increasingly apparent.
Smuts defined holism as “the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.” This idea found fertile soil in the science of ecology, which studies the patterns of interrelationship and wholeness that make up an environment. Consequently, the word has come to mean a condition of interdependency and interconnectedness such as characterizes the web of life on earth. In human society, it represents an attitude and lifestyle that perceives and fosters that condition in all areas of our personal and collective life.
Inner Worlds or Supersensible Realities
For me, the idea of holarchy comes from my experiences with the non-physical dimensions of life, what Rudolf Steiner called the “supersensible realities,” or simply the “Inner Worlds.” I have had a form of clairvoyant access to these worlds since early childhood. As a young man in my late teens and early twenties, I became familiar with theosophically related cosmologies that described these non-physical worlds in terms of layers, planes, and hierarchies, rather like a wedding cake with the physical realm at or near the bottom. Beings of greater spiritual presence and power occupied the upper realms and passed their wisdom and creative energies down the levels to us, rather like parents passing their knowledge and care down to their children. But when on occasion I would find myself in the presence of such a higher being, I did not feel any sense of hierarchy or ranking any more than I felt my own children to be “below” me. Instead, what I felt was a sense of embrace and love, of honoring and attentiveness from this being to me. I recognized that while it might be more powerful energetically than I and possessed of greater insight, this being and I both shared a universal life. We were different in capacity—in what we could do—but we were equal in value and in a shared sacredness.
Over the years, I have experienced the inner worlds more like a vast ecology whose various levels function less like ranks in a hierarchy and more like biomes, each with its own unique characteristics and dominant forms of life, energy and consciousness. Rather than flowing in one direction from the top to the bottom, creative energy, inspiration, and spirit flows between these regions in patterns of mutual co-creation and support. The Sacred—the Generative Mystery—is everywhere present, the force of life and presence within the entire ecology, rather than being centered in one part of it.
The Physical World as a Radiant Presence
In particular, I find the physical world itself to be a radiant presence, a “star” of life. It imposes unique characteristics upon consciousness due to the nature of matter, but it is hardly the “densest” or lowest of places. Rather than simply receiving inspiration and guidance from above, it is a source of spiritual energy in its own right, and makes its own important contribution to the co-creative process of the evolutionary whole of which all the dimensions are a part. While one world or level may indeed emanate from another, once it comes into being it begins to radiate and unfold in its own unique way, becoming a member of the larger planetary and cosmic spiritual and energetic ecology. It becomes a partner, not a dependent.
“From the Archives” features essays and book excerpts by David Spangler that are out of print or not readily available. The last part of this essay (digitally published by Seven Pillars House of Wisdom in 2008) will appear next week. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a teacher, one of my primary objectives in all of my classes over the years has been to create a safe environment. I have wanted the people who honor me with their time, money, and trust to feel safe when they put themselves into my educational hands. Not all spiritual teachers share this objective, and over the years, I’ve sometimes been criticized by colleagues for making safety a priority.
Not that these other teachers wanted to terrorize their students or taught by fear, but they had a more confrontative style and felt that a student who was on edge and uncertain what might be coming was more likely to make a breakthrough. My philosophy, though, was that if a person felt safe, he or she was more likely to relax and be open, and it was through this openness that change could come.
It’s like the fable of the contest between the sun and the north wind as to who could make a traveler walking down a road remove his heavy coat. The wind felt he could win through the force of this wintry blast that would blow the coat off, but the more he blew and the colder the wind, the more tightly the man clutched his coat around him. But when the sun took his turn and simply shone, the man felt warmed by the sun’s rays and gladly took the coat off.
These days it seems like a very cold north wind is blowing through the world. Increasingly, people do not feel safe, and when a person doesn’t feel safe, he pulls the “coat” of his boundaries closer and tighter about himself. He clings more tightly to what is known, what is familiar, what is in his control—however little that may be—and hunkers down with those who are like himself. He wants to build walls.
Heaven knows, there’s a lot to feel unsafe about in the world. African-Americans feel unsafe around police; police feel unsafe around African-Americans. Everyone feels unsafe from terrorists and crazy people with guns and grievances. Jobs feel threatened, familiar ways of life seem to be disappearing, cultural values seem to be melting away, leaving many feeling vulnerable and angry in their vulnerability. There are too many places in the world that truly are unsafe: battlegrounds, cities shattered by civil wars, slums, ghettos, the no-man lands of societal neglect. But even in places were there are no conflicts, no overt threats, no obvious reasons for insecurity, there can be a sense that one’s safety is on shaky ground.
This is obviously a problem. There’s no question our world is facing huge problems both human and environmental. When people feel unsafe and vulnerable, though, a mental and emotional constriction can take place, making creative thinking and problem-solving harder, making trust and cooperation seem more risky, and thus reducing rather than expanding our capacities to meet the challenges of our time. So how do we deal with this? How do we find a safety that is not dependent on walls and guns?
Recently, I had to go into the hospital to deal with a situation that arose out of unexpected and unwanted complications of medical treatment. I’ve been in hospitals frequently over the past decade, and while I’ve always received good care, I developed a fear of the place. I would have nightmares about being in the hospital, and seeing a hospital show on television (something I usually avoid) might trigger a fearful memory of pain I’d suffered in hospitals in the past. Hospitals were for me very unsafe places! So voluntarily going to the Emergency room knowing that it would most likely lead to a new stay in our local hospital was something I kept putting off until sheer physical distress drove me to their door.
I was in the hospital for five days, and the first two days were emotionally like my nightmares come true. Fear prowled the corridors of my mind, and I felt every bit as vulnerable, powerless, and unsafe as I’d imagined I would feel. At one point a hospital worker doing a survey came in and asked me if I felt any anxiety. Incredulous at the question, I looked at her and said wryly, “I would say so! I’m in a hospital!”
Then something shifted. The routine was to wake me up at 4am every morning to take blood samples. On the third morning, as I lay there in the semi-dark of my room after the phlebotomist had left, I realized that I no longer felt fear. I felt relaxed. In fact, I felt safe. I looked around the room and said to myself, “Omigosh! I feel safe!”
As I analyzed this change, I realized that it had come about entirely due to the compassion, the caring, I would even say the love that all my nurses, both male and female, had been showing me. While they were entirely professional in carrying out their duties, they conveyed their very human concern for me as a person, and it was obvious, even when I’d been most fearful, that they were each holding me in their caring and their empathy.
This brought home to me a reminder of what I already knew but had not been in a position to experience so directly and dramatically. We are each other’s safety. Even in the direst circumstances, if we can be open to each other and reach out with caring and compassion to be present and, where possible, helpful to each other, we create an aura of safety. When the north wind is blowing, we can be each other’s sun, bathing each other in the empathetic rays of mutual support.
There’s nothing new in this realization. People in disaster areas prove it time and again as they reach out to help and comfort each other. The truth is that as much as we can create unsafe conditions, we can also create safety. Realizing this gives us power to make a difference, but it means having courage to be open and to build bridges rather than to constrict, hoard, and hide behind walls.
But there was something else I realized as I lay there in the hospital bed in the dark feeling the welcome release and comfort of knowing I was safe. Even more than the positive effect the caring love of the nurses had upon me, I realized that I was trusting myself. I felt safe with myself.
I’m not sure I can fully explain this, but I realized that much of the fear I’d been feeling and hence the feeling of being unsafe came from feeling out of touch with my own sovereignty, my own strength, my own sense of being capable of meeting whatever life brought to me. Some of this was due to the state of my body, which had become dangerously weak; but some of it was due simply to defining myself in a vulnerable way and fearful way.
I’ve thought a lot about this since coming home and feeling my strength and vitality return. I realized that as a result of many years of surgeries and medical treatments, part of me didn’t trust the rest of me to keep it safe from pain and suffering. I didn’t feel wholly safe in myself. But at some point in this recent hospital stay, this was released. That morning as I lay there, I knew that I felt safe in the hospital because I felt truly safe in myself.
The future can be a scary country, particularly these days, and it’s one we’re all entering all the time. We can’t avoid it. Knowing that we’re doing so together can be a source of safety if we can be open-hearted and willing to share support with each other. But perhaps most of all, we need to know our own resilience in the face of potential change. We need to know our own inner strength, our own capacities. The bedrock of our safety isn’t “out there” but within us. That is where the true sun lies whose rays warm us and enable us to relax and take off our coats of defensiveness. We must be open to ourselves and to the life within us.
When we are, we discover a truth, that we embody change. Life is always a dynamic of change. It is a balance of the fixed and the fluid, of that which gives stability and that which introduces new possibilities and unexplored potentials. Our safety doesn’t lie in things never changing. An unchanging future is a dead future; it offers not safety but stagnation.
When we know we have the ability to meet life in its dynamic nature, because that is essentially our nature as well, then we truly discover the safety that lies within us. That is when we can feel safe with ourselves, trusting in ourselves, and that is when we can truly co-create trust and safety with each other.
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