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Sacred Service - Tiffany Foo

Posted 1/31/2011 12:00:00 AM By Tiffany
Sacred Service By Tiffany Foo

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and his feelings as something separated from the rest- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole [of] nature in its beauty.”

                                                                                      - Albert Einstein, 1954

How do we go about resolving Einstein’s dilemma and widen our compassionate embrace?  Why is a focus on expanding consciousness important for effective social change?  How can we integrate the new understandings we discover in order to create a healthier and more sustainable society?  The luminous poet-activist, Audre Lorde says, “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”   I am intrigued by the way a practice, activism, is not only informed, refined and changed by but also informs, refines and changes the very world upon which it acts.   Such inquiries provide the context for this paper’s exploration of the relationship between the processes of personal empowerment, collective/social transformation and systemic change.    

Crisis Demands Redress

Currently we are poised at the new edge of an emerging dimensional paradigm of reflective consciousness.  A global threat of climate change, environmental degradation and a lack of resources, poverty and oppression upset the stability of our world and create an internal threat that challenges the very assumptions of our assumed identities.  We are living in a time of whole system transition on a personal and planetary scale that affects every aspect of life as we know it.  Although human societies have confronted major hurdles throughout history, the challenges of our era are unique.  Never before has humanity been capable of such planetary- scale mass destruction.  Moreover, never before has humanity been so perfectly situated to cultivate planetary- scale mass connection and communication.  History supports the idea that we seem to grow only through the push of dire necessity.  The formidable challenges that lie before us seem almost designed to provide us with the crisis required to propel us out of our lethargic complacency.

Social action practices, historically, have not reflected the entire multi-faceted process of change.  A paper prepared by the Think Sangha for Sulak Sivaraksa as part of the Lambeth, UK meeting with the World Bank and religious leaders (Hochachka, 1998), explains how the essential difficulty in the development process is that structural reform has come before the development of human capacity to deal with it.  In other words, while human technical capacities span the globe- the majority of the human population has not yet developed the conscious awareness sufficient to understand the dimensions and ramifications of such global processes, nor the capacities to act accordingly. 

According to Paul Hawken (2007), over two million organizations are working toward ecological sustainability and social justice.  Pointing out the complexity of this web of individual movements, Hawken notes that the unifying factor of this meta- movement is ideas rather than ideologies that “compromise design as much as action, imagination as much as organization (2007, p. 14).”  This great intertwining stands as poignant example to the fact that salvation will not be found in the doctrines of a single system.  Rather, the movement is arising from the bottom up, the local is working towards the global and cells of social activists are each contributing to the emerging global paradigm. 

Albert Einstein also sagely noted, “The world we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level at which we have created them… We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humankind is to survive.”   Patterns of possibility are emerging that have never before been available to all the earth’s people and to the whole planet.  The entirety of the global problem must be addressed as an interrelated whole.   From such a system’s view, the activist, herself is located within a larger nexxus of multiple systems and multiple perspectives and transformative power lies in the recognition of how they are constantly informing, engaging and co-creating with each other.  Attending this broader spectrum of needs requires a new approach to activism and a new breed of activist to facilitate the shift towards a new global paradigm.

The Supremacy of Love

            John Mack (1999, p. 27) contends that a planetary cosmology of compassion probably cannot be achieved by measuring our reactions to or talking about the problem for “only experiences that profoundly alter our view of nature and reconnect us with the divinity within ourselves and in the environment can empower people to commit themselves to the prodigious task before them.”   Thus, the therapeutic methods and transformative practices must be powerful enough to shift the ground of our being so that we experience as deeply as possible what social and environmental activist, Gail Hochachka (2002, p.28) terms both “a cognitive revolution and a spiritual awakening.” 

Underlying the diversity or our experiences and situations is the notion of the universal recurrence of philosophical insight independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity and consciousness referred to as the perennial wisdom.  Accordingly, this fundamental telos of the cosmos aligns the immanent with the transcendent, asserting that self/ particulars and divinity/ absolute are, in essence, one.   Though each form is separate from other forms, in reality they are all forms of the same unity of life. 

Meher Baba states that, love pervades the universe.  “It is for love that the whole universe sprang into existence and it is for the sake of love that it is kept going (Baba, 163).”   Taking our cue from the universe, unconditional, divine love is for the One in the many.  Moving beyond the domain of duality to become one with God, the work of activists operating from love- out of love, in service to love- is inherently sustainable.  

            Jiddu Krishnamurti further elucidates, “When there is space between you and the object you are observing you will know there is no love, and without love, however hard you try to reform the world or bring about a new social order or however much you talk about improvements, you will only create agony. So it is up to you.”  How does divinity work in the world?  Divinity works through us.  We are, then, in a sense, agents of divine love. 

In his book, Awakening Earth, Duane Elgin (1993, p. 151) suggests that it is through the awakening to our consciousness that the personal becomes the expression of the transcendent.  Within this prescription, pluralistic pragmatism directs the action and the evolutionary motion of our personal, species and planetary development.   Thus, external demands for action create internal demands for a mental construct with the capacity to address those external challenges. 

Elgin (1993, p.272) asserts, “Fundamental to building a sustainable future is finding a common ground of human experience and a shared vision of evolutionary potential that transcends the differences that now divide humanity.”  This reconciliation is a call to the species maturity that is being evoked by this time of initiation, as we move from an individual journey to a journey in communion with the rest of life.  Life exists within life and everything, including humanity, is a reflection of a single, creative expression- a uni-verse.  From this perspective, a personal existential crisis of meaning and belonging parallels the crisis of a world on the verge of cataclysmic catastrophe thus suggesting that a failure to resolve one crisis is both self and world shattering. 

Shifting from an anthropocentric to a cosmocentric approach to evolution, transforms the journey of awakening from a strictly human endeavor to a project that concerns all life throughout the entire cosmos.  Evolution, according to Elgin (1993), is a truly universal enterprise of which the individual, the human species and even the planet Earth are but single nested participants.   Thus, from a holarchical perspective, humanity serves as the vehicle through which the earth is becoming conscious of itself.  In our awakening, the earth awakens as well.  

(to be continued in part 2)

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