By David Spangler
These are heart-heavy days. Nearly every day, the media bring us news of more suffering, more deaths, more anguish in the world. One day it may be images of unprecedented and devastating floods or wildfires, destroying property and displacing thousands of lives. Another day it may be the horror of terrorism as airports are bombed and innocent revelers are killed by the dozens by a deranged truck driver.
Last January, one of my non-physical colleagues said, “A spirit of conflict is being loosed in the world this year. Prepare yourself for a wild ride.” His comment has proven unfortunately prophetic, particularly as unresolved currents of fear and distrust, hatred and anger have been erupting in tragedies along the racial fault lines in our country. The killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile; the ambush and slaying of police officers in Dallas; the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge…all of these wound the heart and make one wonder how many more may die in senseless ways before our nation finds healing. And in spite of what my inner colleague said, how does one prepare one’s heart for convulsions of violence arising from centuries of division and conflict between members of the human family, between blacks and whites, Christians and Moslems, the haves and the have nots?
If a spirit of conflict is indeed loosed among us, it is truly an unwelcome spirit but one which arises from our own history of actions and inactions, attitudes and perceptions. We are being confronted by a brokenness that is of our own making. But in recognizing this, we must also recognize that it comes not for condemnation but to be healed and made whole, perhaps for the first time.
For this healing to take place, we must know when we meet this spirit of brokenness in the specificity of our own lives, for it is not an abstraction or something happening in the “out there” presented on our television and computer screens. We may meet it as a sudden anxiety when we encounter someone of a different race or religion from our own; out of the unconscious and out of the thought-forms so prevalent in our society, fears with no grounding in reality may arise, and in that moment, our heart may close. We become wary. Like ground mist on a damp day, suspicions begin to swirl in our minds. Am I safe? Is this other person a threat? Brokenness invades the connection I may wish to feel with this person, siphoning away the love that is my soul’s natural response to the world.
It’s at that moment that I must be attentive and bold, acknowledging the fears but giving them no place in me to root. It’s at that moment I must be deliberate in opening or keeping open my heart so that trust and even love have a portal through which to flow. It’s at that moment I must see myself as an agent of connection rather than of disconnection, allowing myself to clearly see the other whom I’m meeting as a fellow sacred being rather than as an image shaped by the angry and fearful rhetoric so present in the world.
Over the past decade and a half I have dealt with bladder cancer, going through numerous operations which finally proved successful as I have been cancer-free for some years now. However, the toll on my bladder was significant, and it no longer functions as well as it should, which creates other problems I’m now dealing with. A part of my body is broken. However, my body as a whole is healthy and not at all broken. This gives me a choice. I can focus my attention upon the part of my body that no longer functions as it should, letting that dysfunction define my life, or I can embrace my bladder in the larger health and energy of my body as a whole. I still have to deal with it, but how I envision who I am in dealing with it makes a huge difference in whether I can bring a spirit of healing to myself.
A spirit of conflict and brokenness may be loosed on the land, but it doesn’t define the world around us, nor should it define us. This, to me, is the first step in being able to meet and heal this spirit however it arises or we encounter it. It invades our world with suffering, but its true insidiousness is how it invades our minds and hearts, convincing us to fear, to mistrust, to accept brokenness as who we are and as the nature of the world.
In Incarnational Spirituality, each individual is seen as a unique, valuable and sacred person as a physical entity, and the world around us is equally sacred in its physicality. We are not perfect by any means, nor is the world perfect, but within us and around us lie vast resources of connectedness, love, and blessing accessible through an open heart willing to acknowledge those resources are there. In short, for all the brokenness in the world—or in ourselves—there is health as well. There is an innate impulse towards coherency and wholeness, towards synergy, towards effective and optimal functioning. We can tap that impulse through our intent to embody it, to honor the connections, to choose love over hate and courage over fear. We tap that impulse through our capacity to embrace differences rather than to push them away or deny them.
Incarnational Spirituality is about honoring our individual sovereignty as well as the sovereignty of everyone and everything else, and from that foundation, creating a field, an “aura,” of thought, feeling, and energy around ourselves that honors and embraces life, connection, collaboration, and, yes, love. Standing in and holding that field, one that connects to what is healthy and unbroken in life, we become points of stability and calm, strength and wholeness in the midst of turbulence.
Many years ago, two friends of mine bought one of the first water beds on the market. One night, the husband was seized by a cramp in his leg, and as he thrashed about in pain on the bed, he created a wave that lifted his wife up and tossed her onto the floor. The next day they went back to the store and bought baffles, essentially long boards, which were inserted in the bed to prevent any waves from propagating themselves again.
As waves of fear, mistrust, anger sweep through our country—for whatever reason—and seek to propagate the brokenness of our history or our present, if we can stand in our field of loving and open attunement to our own sovereignty and sacredness, to the sacredness of each other, and to the sacredness of our world, we can be baffles that break up those waves. We will feel them. Our hearts may be wounded. But we need not pass them on. We really do have the power to make a difference by choosing not to participate in the spirit of conflict but to manifest instead our choices to hold an open heart and a loving mind. We can connect to the ancient stability and life-giving presence of the world around us, the nature that enfolds us, and draw on the strength and health these can offer. We can draw on the comfort and presence of each other, each of us seeking peace and happiness in our lives, each of us seeking freedom from fear.
In short, we have the power to loose another spirit upon the world, a spirit of love and a spirit of healing.
Join teachers David Spangler and James Tousignant for Standing in the Eye: Creating Calmness in a Season of Storms. This week long forum from October 2-8 will focus on the upcoming US Presidental Election against the backdrop of racial tension and social upheaval, terrorism and widespread violence, confusion and political distrust. How can Incarnational Spirituality help us engage these difficult, turbulent times? Please join us as we explore both subtle and practical ways to bring healing, intentional activism, wholeness and the forces of peace, hope and love to this raging storm. Click here for more information or to register.