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 #123 – A BLAST FROM THE PAST
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.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Perhaps it’s the presence of August and the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer,” but I’ve not been able to think of a suitable topic for this month’s David’s Desk. I think my mind has gone on vacation! Consequently, I’m turning to a previous essay I wrote about five years ago which is just as pertinent now as it was then. I hope you find this blast from the past interesting and useful, a tidbit of thought to carry into your own summertime.
My wife loves the science of geology, a topic I’ve learned to appreciate through her eyes. When we’ve driven through mountainous areas of Arizona and New Mexico she loves to point out the various colored layers or strata of rock indicating the different geological ages of the earth. Such strata are easy to see in such places. Unlike the Pacific Northwest where all the mountains are covered with lush forests, everything is stripped bare beneath the sun in the American Southwest. The mountain’s history is there for all to see.
We have strata within us as well. On the one hand, there is the deep history of the soul laid down over millennia and carrying ancient memories, and on the other, there is the history of current experience, laid down and changing moment by moment. In between these two is a range that is unique for each of us.
Our experience of the world is influenced by which of these strata we identify with. The deeper the strata, the more my vision is one of long time-spans and depth of experience; there is a calmness there, a sense of perspective that no matter how bad or urgent things seem in the moment, they will pass. Nothing is bad forever; nothing is good forever. It is the perspective of age.
On the other hand, the more the strata are close to the surface of my life, the more my vision can be captured by the flickering importance of the moment. The long view is not as evident; I lose perspective. Specific events, taken out of a context of history, seem more urgent, more demanding; I am less calm in their presence.
A number of factors have led to my thinking about these strata. I have always been a news junkie, taking after my father who listened to the news several times a day. So I start my day with one of the morning news programs on television. I can’t help but notice, though, that the intent is less to inform me than to quicken my pulse and engage my emotions with a sense of drama and urgency. From the way the headlines are written to the presentation of the anchors, everything is slightly breathless, the recitation of one crisis after another. Channel surfing, I find this is true of all the morning shows (and evening ones as well); the not-so-hidden subtext is to gain ratings over the competition not by informing alone but by entertaining.
In these presentations, there is no sense of past or future, only of the drama of the moment, the urgency of what’s happening. It is aimed not toward a stratum of thoughtfulness and calm reflection but towards one of immediate emotional reaction and thoughtless opinion. If I were to live at that level of awareness, then my day would be filled with one disconnected event after another as one layer of experience is immediately replaced by another. Like a layer of loose shale that can give beneath my feet when climbing over stone, this stratum has no staying power. It gives way, potentially sliding me into one feeling of crisis or another. Economic collapse! War! Terror! Climate change! Celebrity divorces! If this surface stratum is as deep as I go, I condemn myself to lurching from event to event, never finding stable footing and feeling an ongoing anxiety about life and the world if not outright panic.
I think of this as the “stress stratum.” It offers little to calm me or give me a sense of safety and composure in the face of the challenges of modern life. It’s not without its attraction, though. For those who like drama in their lives, it keeps the adrenaline going. I remember years ago when I was a co-director of the Findhorn Foundation community in northern Scotland being asked occasionally by visitors, “How can you stand living in a community where people get along with each other? Isn’t it boring?” For many people, a good argument, a good crisis, a good fight, a bit of urgency provides desired spice to their lives.
There’s some rationale for this. Medical science has long known that some stress is good for us, keeping our minds alert and our boosting our bodies’ performance. The challenge comes when there’s too much stress or stress continues over too long a time. Then mental and physical capacities degrade making us less able to make good decisions or having the healthy energy to sustain effective follow-through to the decisions we do make. So the stress stratum is good to visit now and then, but living there all the time can have serious consequences for ourselves and for society as a whole.
We are all living in a world now that is filled with challenges; the possibilities for danger, for threat, and for stress are all around us. This is particularly true if our information about the world comes mainly through popular media where drama often trumps information and thoughtful reflection. In calmer times when events did not seem so pressing and potentially calamitous, living mentally and emotionally in the surface or stress stratum of our lives might not have been so problematic. But now we run the risk of being jerked back and forth by events, media, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of political forces. Caught in the loose and unstable shale of our thoughts and emotions, we are less able to find the depth of thought and perception that can provide a stable place to find our footing to make choices that will best benefit all of us.
In spiritual practice, it is traditional to urge the seeker to find a place of calm and serenity in his or her thinking and feeling to meet the world from a more effective, compassionate and thoughtful place. There are different ways of doing this, meditation and yoga among them. The idea is to find those deeper strata of life and consciousness within us and make them the foundation for our behavior.
In a materialistic world, we are prone to think of spiritual practices like meditation or the calming of the mind, heart and body, as optional lifestyle choices, a kind of accessory to getting on with being successful in life. But this is changing. The capacity to access a place of calm within ourselves in moments of crisis is becoming a survival skill. We can’t just pay lip service to the deep strata of our being as we drive by en route to a better job, a better house, a better car, a larger television, and more status than our neighbor. Ask the thousands who are being displaced by the wild fires in the American West or the floods in the American South and Midwest, not to mention the refugees from the terror in Syria, or the potential chaos lurking just below the political, social, and economic surface of many other countries around the world. Without a capacity to find a calm center, they are at the mercy not only of the storms of events but the inner storms of their own fears and sense of helplessness. The deep strata of our being don’t automatically work miracles to keep us free from crisis but they do give us a solid foundation of resilience and hope that the stress stratum does not. Events may cascade around me forcing unwelcome change in my life, but if I can access the calm place within me, I can respond with strength. Otherwise, fear may rule, sweeping away my capacities to cope and transcend.
How might we find these deeper strata? Each of us must find our way of doing so; after all, it is our unique inner place of calm, not someone else’s. Yet there are avenues open to us: prayer, meditation, body work like yoga, compassion, a reverence for life, giving service to others. For myself, I anchor my awareness in my body, finding my center of gravity, and then connecting to the earth beneath me and, with love, to the things around me. In fact, turning my attention away from myself and towards others or to the things in the world around me with love works because the deep strata of our being are soul strata where love is the dominant mode of expression.
In the mountains of the Southwest, the lower strata of stone that my wife and I can see as we drive by represent the ancient history of the earth. They are a testament of what has been. But in our lives, our deep strata of soul life and calmness are not our history but our present, if we choose them; more importantly, as crises come to us in the future, whatever they may be or however many there are, these strata are the foundation on which a promising future may be built, one that can bless all of us.
(Originally published at David’s Desk #62 – Strata)