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David’s Desk

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DAVIDS DESK #118 – FLYOVER STATES

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.


Join Julie Spangler and Susan Sherman, with guest David Spangler, for  Journey Into Fire. During this six week online class behind held on our Educational website, participants will explore their unique, human journeys and practical ways to experience the sacredness within.  For more information or to sign-up, click here.

 

DAVID’S DESK #117- ALTERNATIVE FACTS

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.

ALTERNATIVE FACTS

Some years ago, a friend of mine wrote me to tell me that I was in the Encyclopedia Britannica under the topic of the New Age. Not having a copy of the Encyclopedia, I couldn’t check it out, but the next time I visited my library, I remembered and decided to look me up. Indeed, there I was! But as I read what had been written about me, I became more and more dismayed as there were statements about events in my life or things I had said that I knew had never happened or that I had never said. I was reading about an alternative David Spangler!

I’ve had more than one experience in my life of reading things about me that are not true but which fit the writer’s preconceptions or are what the writer would like to believe. However, I didn’t expect to find this in such an august document as the Encyclopedia Britannica. I knew the scholar who had written the entry by reputation; he was well known for his alleged expertise about alternative religious and spiritual movements in the United States. What bothered me was not that he had made the errors he had but that as a scholar, he had not tried to verify his information. It wasn’t as if I were inaccessible. At the time I had an active public career and was easy to get hold of. He could have simply written or phoned me and said, “This is what I’ve been told about you. Is it accurate?”  I mean, why not go directly to the source to ascertain the correctness of your “facts,” especially if that source is readily available?

Because of my training as a scientist and because I’ve been on the receiving end of misinformation and “alternative facts,” I’m sensitive to the need for good information and for sticking as closely as we can to the truth. But increasingly, we are living in a time when misinformation is more and more prevalent. The Greek poet and dramatist Aeschylus, living some five hundred years before Christ, said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Now, though, we don’t have to be at war for truth to suffer. We simply need to have an Internet in which anything can be said by anyone (usually anonymously) about anything and someone is going to take it as fact because it fits their belief system or their desire that it be true.

Back in 1959, a psychic said to me, “David, the time is coming when the astral plane will be materialized, and no one will know what to believe anymore.” The astral plane, for those not up on esoteric jargon, is a non-physical realm of thought and emotion in which reality is whatever we think or want it to be. Its other name is the “Plane of Illusion” because a person caught there loses the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood. With the advent of the Internet, social media, twitter, and the like, I would say that that psychic had been wonderfully prescient, for there is indeed an illusory, “astral” feel about the digital world in which so many of us increasingly live and function. At the very least, as many others have pointed out, it allows each of us to access information that is tailored just to what we believe and are likely to accept. We can each live in our own private digitally supported thought-world, which is precisely what the astral place is like in esoteric lore and why it is regarded as a dangerous place if one is not discerning.

I believe firmly that our hope for the future rests on our ability to communicate and collaborate with each other, giving birth to both creativity and a wider, deeper vision that is enriched by our differences. We know ecologically that monocultures—the planting of only one kind of plant in a field, such as all corn or all soy, and doing so year after year—are not resilient or sustainable when confronted with environmental change. It doesn’t take much awareness to look around and see that nature depends on diversity. So does human creativity, especially in the form of collective decision making that some are calling “crowdocracy.”

But reaching across boundaries of thought and feeling, transcending differences, and being able to talk to and cooperate with each other requires trust. When truth is compromised, when everyone has their own set of alternative facts, when there’s no information one can truly count on—or the information isolates us through how we cherry-pick what we want to know and believe—then trust suffers. Trust is broken, at which point a creative and healing collaboration becomes difficult, if not impossible.

When our leaders in all fields play fast and loose with truth and make claims that reality is what they say it is, so that disinformation is the name of the game, we are playing with fire. People have always told lies and governments especially have always been deceptive, but in a time when the Internet diffuses information in ways that create a fog of “alternative facts,” not being scrupulous with truth is like lighting a match in a room filled with gasoline vapor. The result can be an explosion of distrust that makes any kind of fruitful working together hard to come by.  Given the planetary challenges that face us, we cannot afford not working together.

In esoteric lore, the astral plane lies between the physical world and the realms of spirit, the realms of love, wisdom, and wholeness. Symbolically, it’s as if one has to push through the illusions created by one’s own thinking and feeling in order to come to a place of truth. It’s a call for discernment.

We are certainly called to be discerning. But we can also bypass the “astral” and the realms of illusion and misinformation by simple acts of reaching out, connecting, listening to each other, making an effort to see truth beyond the illusions, widening our sources of information, and most of all, by learning to love each other. Love is the alternative to “alternative facts.” It allows us to build the trust we need to survive the storms of misinformation and distrust that seem to be upon us.


Join David Spangler, along with Julie Spangler and Jeremy Berg, for Recognizing the Note of Your Call– a free teleclass on Saturday, February 11, at 8am PT. Click here for more information or to register.

DAVIDS DESK #116 – CHOICES

 

First and most importantly, let me wish you a very happy, prosperous, blessed, and healthy New Year as we welcome 2017 into our midst. New Year’s is always a special time filled with the promise of new possibilities. Of course, every day presents us with this same promise, but it’s more heartfelt at this time when the coming of midnight marks the passage from one year to another.There’s something about hanging up a new calendar on January 1st that adds to the drama of endings and new beginnings.

There are many traditions that mark this time of year and the celebrations of the Holidays. One that is renewed on television every year is the broadcast of the 1946 Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed. This is not one of my favorite Christmas movies—it’s just a tad too preachy for me—but I have to admit that I can easily get drawn into watching it, partly because I’m a huge Jimmy Stewart fan and partly because of the power of the story. And I’m always uplifted at the end. I just hate all that I (and the hero, George Bailey) have to go through to get to it!

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of a man—George Bailey—who has great dreams and ambitions but at every turn sacrifices them in order to help someone else fulfill their dreams. Further, he runs a savings and loan that enables people to own their own small houses rather than having to rent homes from the movie’s villain, Henry Potter, a banker who wants to control the housing market and who is mean-spirited, greedy, selfish, and cynical about human nature. He is so bad he out-Scrooges Scrooge!

A crisis with his savings and loan drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide, feeling that his life has been worthless. But his guardian angel, Clarence, appears to show him what the world would have been like had he not lived. People whose lives had been saved by things he’d done would have died, his wife would never have married, and Bedford Falls, the town he lived in, would have become Pottersville, a dark, dreary, slum of a place. In the Bedford Falls that George Bailey helped to bring about, neighborliness, trust, cooperation, and goodwill dominated but in Pottersville, anger, distrust, selfishness, and competition were the byword.  

The main point the movie makes, and none too subtly, is the difference each of us makes in shaping the world in which we live. This is an important…no, I would say, a vital idea. But there’s another theme to the movie that is inspiring my thoughts right now as I write this month’s essay. That is the power of choice.

Within each of us is the potential to be a George Bailey but also to be a Henry Potter, just as within us is the potential to create a world based on goodwill and trust or a Pottersville world. Which of these potentials comes to pass is a matter of the choices we make. George Bailey makes choices to uphold neighborliness and helpfulness, giving hope to others; Henry Potter makes choices to create hopelessness and to diminish the sovereignty and power of others so that he can be on top. George Bailey wants community. Henry Potter wants wealth.

Of course, the movie dramatizes this in stark ways. The “Bailey/Potter” choices each of us faces daily are usually far less obvious or dramatic. Do I put someone else down with a disparaging comment so that I will feel better or superior in the moment or am I encouraging and supportive in my dealing with them? Do I create a “Bedford Falls moment” or a “Pottersville” moment? Whichever I choose, the choices ripple out in people’s lives, and in the process, the archetypal Good Community is either strengthened between us or weakened, and likewise the archetypal Pottersville, which is unfortunately a lurking presence in human affairs. We build our world through our choices each moment in each encounter no matter how unimportant or undramatic the moment may seem. Which is really what Clarence the angel is trying to show George Bailey: there are no unimportant moments when it comes to crafting a life, a society, or a world.

I think this year we will be presented with many opportunities to choose between creating a “Bedford Falls” or a “Pottersville.”  We always are, anyway, but it seems the world is moving in ways that highlight these two possible destinations for humankind.  This makes the power of choice that we each have even more important and critical. We are shaping our future. May we shape it wonderfully.


detail-of-american-flag-11279635008nzan1Join David Spangler for To Protect and Defend, an Inauguration Forum from January 14-21. Like the Election Forums we held in the summer and fall of 2016, this week-long online gathering will be an opportunity to go deeply with David into an understanding of subtle activism and to blend our hearts, minds, and spirits in both individual and shared acts of blessing and Light for the out-going President Obama, for the in-coming President Trump— and most of all, for a divided citizenry. Click here for more information or to register.
   

DAVIDS DESK #115 – TIS THE SEASON

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.

DAVIDS DESK #115 – TIS THE SEASON

The night after Thanksgiving, I walked into our dark bedroom and was struck by a vision I had forgotten about. Our bedroom is on the second floor of our house and looks out over the neighborhood, a view more open at the moment as our maple trees have shed their leaves. Two blocks away in a cul-de-sac, a house was glowing with tiny white Christmas lights and on its lawn, a tree had been trimmed in multi-colored lights.

Every year, these neighbors are among the first to put out their Christmas lights, always on Black Friday, which seems rather appropriate and symbolic. They are always the first house we can see from our windows that is decorated. Walking into our bedroom and seeing the house lit up, as if hundreds of little stars had descended from heaven to outline it in light, has for years now been a signal for me that Christmas time, Solstice time, Holiday time is upon us.  

In dealing with the aftermath of the Presidential election, in addition to hosting the Thanksgiving holiday for beloved family members whom we had not seen for some years, I had forgotten all about this ritual. So when I saw the house lit up in its otherwise dark corner of the neighborhood, it struck me like a welcome visitation from Heaven. I could feel tensions in my body that I hadn’t even consciously recognized I had suddenly relax. It was more than just greeting an old friend. It was as if order had been restored to my universe.

Seeing my neighbor’s house lit up reminded me that there is more to the world than mulling over the pros and cons of the new Administration. This is the time of hope celebrated for thousands of years in the Northern Hemisphere as the moment when light (and Light) returns to the earth. This is the season of the Solstice. Winter begins to give way to spring and to new life as the days grow longer and the nights shorter.

This is a time when we acknowledge that we all journey through dark places in our lives but if we reach out to each other in loving fellowship, we can bring the Light back. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, if you can be, or if not, then at least open to the potential of new life and new possibilities. If nothing else, this time of year can remind us there are things to look forward to and much to be grateful for.  

I get up early most mornings to write. It’s a time when the world is calm and peaceful, and my thoughts flow more easily. Given that it’s December, it’s also very dark as I move quietly through the house so as not to wake up anyone else. Glancing out the window, I see that my neighbor’s house is dark, too. The lights are on a timer and switch off sometime in the wee hours. But the tree on their lawn is shining as brightly as ever. It’s such an old symbol, almost a cliché: the Light shining in the darkness. It’s wonderfully reassuring, nonetheless. It touches something primal in me, something below the level of rational thought. The world may seem dark, but the Light is still there.

This Holiday season, half the country is rejoicing and half the country is in mourning. It will take time and effort for the divisions created over the past year to heal; it will only happen if we are able to truly listen to each other and hold each other in loving respect in spite of or even because of our differences. Even more, many of our fellow citizens are filled with fear over what lies ahead. How can we comfort them? Comfort each other?

The times are challenging, and not simply because of the Election. The world is going through difficult and dangerous times. Fear is everywhere, a darkening force. Now more than ever, we need to find ways we each can “light a tree” in ourselves and bring back the Light for each other, a Light of hope, of love, of confidence, of collaboration, of neighborliness. It may seem difficult right now, but it is the Season for it.

On Thursday, December 1, please join David Spangler for a Virtual Event— Healing our Divided World— hosted by David Nicol, director and co-founder of the Gaifield Project, on the Global Shift Network. Click here for more information.


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DAVID’S DESK #114 – ELECTION

 
For those of my readers who live in the United States, this month we will be electing a new President. A few days from when I write this, half the population will be relieved, hopeful and happy and the other half will be depressed, angry, and fearful. It’s been that kind of political campaign, more rancorous and accusative than any in recent memory, revealing many of the fault lines that run through this country and divide it. It is a highly contested election.

Election is an interesting word. We associate it with political campaigns, ballots, and voting, but the word itself simply means the act of choosing. We don’t just elect candidates. We elect many things. We elect to do this or that; we elect to buy this or that; we elect how we will deal with this person or that person.  

Admittedly, this is a play on words. But in a month that is focused upon an election and its aftermath, I think it useful to call attention to all our “elections” and their aftermaths. For though campaigns like to proclaim that by electing their candidate, we are shaping the future, in fact it is through all our “elections”—all our choices—that we actually doing so. The future emerges from what all of us choose, not just on Election Day but every day. We are the “electors” of our future.

We know this but we may not always think through just what this means and how it works. We can readily see how the big choices in our lives—where we elect to live, who we elect to marry, the job we elect to do—can shape our future. What is not so apparent is that this is true as well of all the myriad small elections that take place all the time. For instance, choosing to greet you kindly—or at least courteously and with respect—when I meet you, rather than in a surly or impolite manner is an “election.” I’m choosing an interaction, and what I choose will have its aftermath, its consequences, not all of which may be apparent. How often have you had your day brightened just because someone said something kind to you or gave you a smile when you least expected it?

We put thought and mindfulness into our big “elections,” or at least we should. Who we elect for a political office will have ramifications that last for years. We should be thoughtful about this. A choice of a career or whom we shall marry will also have long-term consequences; we should be thoughtful about these “elections,” as well. All the big choices in our lives, the ones that obviously shape our future, should have the benefit of our deliberation and mindfulness.

But this is true for our small “elections” as well. Obviously some choices we make are more consequential that others—it may not matter much under ordinary circumstances what socks I elect to wear. But many seemingly small choices can have inordinate effects, especially where relationships are concerned. Who can measure the impact or the value of a timely smile, a kind word, a compassionate act in the hustle and bustle of everyday life? These are often the “elections”—the acts of choosing—that truly make a difference in a person’s life down in the trenches in which that life is lived. 

Presidents, Senators, Representatives, Governors, and all the other Federal and State officials whom we vote into office this month have their jobs to do, and how well and thoughtfully they do them will have an effect on society. But they’re not right here in my neighborhood, in my office, in my school, in my home. I’ve never met a President, but every day I meet neighbors, grocery store clerks, people in stores, waiters and waitresses in restaurants, and many others. I touch their lives, however briefly, and they touch mine. How I choose to engage them, the emotions I project towards them, the actions I take, the attitude I bear directly affect them. In the busy moments that fill and shape our day, these are the elections that count. We have the power through our choices to make someone happy, to make their work easier and more pleasant, to brighten their day. What President has that same power, living removed from the average person inside the official bubble of the White House?

It’s from these little elections that hope springs. If we want our world to change and be a better, safer, happier, healthier place, much of the power to accomplish this lies with us and our choices. Every day, every moment, we are electing who we will be, how we will act, and what we will bring to the world to make it a better place. This is the election that counts.  

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.


world-flag-map1Would you like an opportunity to deepen your capacity to meet daily moments of choice with an attitude of wholeness, love and blessing? Would you welcome the chance to develop your practice of subtle activism with others of like heart and mind? From December 4-10, join us for Sphere of Blessing, a six-day Incarnational Practice. Click here for more information or to register.

DAVIDS DESK #113 – SHIPWRECKS AND LIFEBOATS

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.

DAVIDS DESK #112 – AGENCY

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

2016election(1)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. 
   

DAVIDS DESK #111: SAFETY

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.

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.

 
hands around the worldResponding to the Call, Free Teleclass – August 30, 5:30 PT
 
The practice of Incarnational Spirituality can be deeply nourishing and energizing, especially in these tumultuous times. During this free teleclass we will engage with the call to stand as creative and active forces of change in our world. We will also share in an exploratory exercise to support us as we seek to bring the qualities of joy, freedom and love to the fore of our daily lives. Click here for more information or to register.
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