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.
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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.
This month the Views from the Borderland Subscription Program enters its 7th year. The program includes 4 print journals sharing David Spangler’s perceptions of the subtle worlds and two online forums where David Spangler and subscribers freely discuss material from the quarterly journals. The cost for a USA subscription is $110. International subscriptions cost $130. If you’re not already a member, consider joining us. For more information or to subscribe, click here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.