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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 © 2016 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters please let us know at info@Lorian.org. Previous issues of “David’s Desk” are available here. You can also buy a volume of twelve of David’s Desk essays, entitled The Flame of Incarnation.
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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.
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