The Warrior’s Journey Home
In part 1, I talked about the reality that the U.S. and the rest of the world is out of balance with the laws of nature and we are headed for a crash. I also described the vision I was given thirty years ago in a sweat-lodge ceremony led by a Native American elder, where I saw the sinking of the ship of civilization and the people who got off the ship into lifeboats. I introduced you to the work of my colleague Margaret Wheatley and quoted from her new book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity. Here I want to delve more deeply into Meg’s work that she has developed since the 1970s. She is certainly one of the experts in the field and a woman I trust and respect.
One of the books I’ve written is called Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places. One of the themes of Meg Wheatley’s work might be called “Looking for hope in all the wrong places.” Wheatley says,
“The need to be hopeful rises in direct proportion to our growing despair as we recognize the destruction of planet, peoples, species and the future. This relationship between hope and despair is guaranteed–they’re two sides of the same coin. Buddhist wisdom has warned us for millennia that hope and fear are one emotional state: when what was hoped for fails to materialize, we flip into fear or despair. Motivated by hope, we end up in despair; the greater the hope, the greater the despair. Those who seek hope as their motivation for activism are doomed to suffer this disabling dynamic.”
Many people, me included, have been afraid to lose hope, fearing that without hope, all is lost. At age 80, I’ve come to peace with my own mortality. I know I will die someday and clearly I have more years behind me than ahead of me. But, my wife, Carlin, and I have six grown children, seventeen grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. I’ve been clinging to hope that somehow, someway, humans would get our acts together and learn to clean up the mess we’ve created before it’s too late. I want my children and grandchildren to live in a world of clean air and water, where there are wild animals and wild places that have not been destroyed by human greed, and one where conflicts can be solved without the constant battles between us and them. Humans have created these problems. Surely humans can figure out how to fix them.
Healing Our Addiction to Hopium and Mourning What’s Been Lost
Wheatley says we are addicted to hopium (irrational or unwarranted optimism). Although individual humans have contributed to our present problems, individual humans cannot turn back the clock and fix things. We have contributed to systemic changes such as environmental damage that now has a life of its own. We have passed a tipping point and there is no turning back.
“Many tipping points have ‘tipped’ in Earth’s systems because of human-induced climate change,”
“a terrifying list of changes that are irreversible and unstoppable. Even if all human activity ceased right now, systems have shifted into new regimes and consequences of tipping will continue for decades, centuries, millennia.”
Wheatley offers this stark, yet honest, truth, that we must accept if we are going to move ahead.
“If we think we can reverse the trajectory of the changes now cascading through the Anthropocene, we’re assuming that human willpower takes precedence, and is far more powerful, than the natural laws and dynamics responsible for Earth’s current state… Our strong will and our increased consciousness will not suddenly shift eight billion people from fear to trust, from threat to possibility, from self-protection to service… There is zero possibility that our awareness can change the threat response that has now taken hold.”
Wheatley says those who she calls, Warriors for the Human Spirit, must join with others to create “Islands of Sanity.” She says,
“The global context is that we live in a life-destroying culture that cannot be changed.”
This is a hard one for us change-makers to accept, that on a global scale, we cannot change the destructive patterns that have been set in motion. They need to play themselves out and we must accept our own limitations. It won’t be enough to change individuals, we must create communities of sanity in an insane world.
“Our task,” says Wheatley, “is to create the conditions, both internally and within our sphere of influence, where sanity prevails, where people can recall and practice the best human qualities of generosity, caring, creativity, and community… We know we are an island surrounded by seas of increasing turbulence, tsunamis that suddenly wipe out years of good work and destroy possibility. We know that we have no control over these forces, and so we gather together and build an island. The strongest protection is in our shared identity and our commitment to norms and practices that nourish the human spirit.”
It would be great if there were actual islands we could go to get off the sinking ship of civilization, but there is no place to hide. This is what billionaires are trying to do when they buy parts of the planet and hope to separate themselves from the rest of us. Rather than building islands of sanity, they simply bring their own insanity with them.
“To build an island, the work is twofold. We must stay alert to encroaching destructive forces, such things as policies that divert our attention or negatively impact how we work together, crises badly handled in the greater community, or overbearing bureaucratic demands. And we must attend to strengthening our community, noticing when internal frictions develop or decisions create unintentional negative consequences.”
She concludes saying,
“Creating and leading an Island of Sanity is extremely hard work, and I do not minimize its difficulty. I’ve watched leaders make it work and also observed their exhaustion. But they, like me, don’t feel there’s any other alternative. We must do what we can, where we are, with what we have. We must commit to doing all that we can, using all that we know, for as long as we can. Though these are terrible times, we can do our best to create work that invokes the human spirit, work that is inherently meaningful, no matter what.”
The Journey Home: Becoming a Warrior For the Human Spirit
In 1994, my book The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet was published. I drew on the work of meditation master Chögyam Trungpa and his book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. He said,
“Warriorship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word ‘warrior’ is taken from the Tibetan pawo, which literally mans ‘one who is brave.’ Warriorship in this context is the tradition of human bravery, or the tradition of fearlessness. The North American Indians had such a tradition, and it also existed in South American Indian societies. The key to warriorship and the first principle of Shambhala vision is not being afraid of who you are.”
“Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s great problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time. Shambhala vision is the opposite of selfishness. When we are afraid of ourselves and afraid of the seeming threat the world presents, then we become extremely selfish. We want to build our own little nests, our own cocoons, so that we can live by ourselves in a secure way.”
[That’s what many billionaires today and many others with fewer resources are doing in the face of the world’s problems].
Trungpa goes on to say,
“But we can be much braver than that. We must try to think beyond our homes, beyond the fire burning in the fireplace, beyond sending our children to school or getting to work in the morning. We must try to think how we can help this world. If we don’t help, nobody will. It is our turn to help the world. At the same time, helping others does not mean abandoning our individual lives…In fact, you can start with yourself. The important point is to realize that you are never off duty. You can never just relax, because the whole world needs your help.”
In the last chapter of The Warrior’s Journey Home, “Warriors Without War,” I quoted my colleague psychologist and philosopher, Sam Keen, who offered a clear statement of the challenge humanity was facing.
“The radical vision of the future rests on the belief that the logic that determines either our survival or our destruction is simple:
- The new human vocation is to heal the earth.
- We can only heal what we love.
- We can only love what we know.
- We can only know what we touch.”
We may have had a chance to turn things around thirty years ago. But climate scientists tell us we have passed critical tipping points. Clearly, humanity is even more out of touch with ourselves, each other, and the Earth we all share. We have turned our backs on the facts and personal beliefs trump knowledge in our decision-making. We have difficulty loving ourselves and find it impossible to build bridges with those whose beliefs differ from our own, and we continue to destroy our life support system rather than healing it.
In exploring human history, Meg Wheatley recognizes that at times of trouble, groups of enlightened souls arise.
“Warriors appear at certain historic moments when something valuable is being threatened and needs protection,”
We are living in such times. Humans don’t have the power to change what has been set in motion. As I said in part 1, all complex civilizations collapse, usually within ten generations. We can’t stop the coming collapse. What those who feel called can do is become Warriors of the Human Spirit (or create your own name for what you feel called to do.)
“We live in a natural world with its own laws and dynamics,”
“What we set in motion by our self-serving beliefs and behaviors cannot be stopped by new levels of awareness or collective mediators. Nature doesn’t lie. She observes her own laws, and we failed to believe her.”
For me, Meg Wheatley offers us guidance and direction that fits with the vision I had in the sweat lodge ceremony so many years ago.
“As Warriors for the Human Spirit, our only weapons are compassion and insight. We choose to stand apart from the current destructive dynamics and create good human societies wherever we can, Islands of Sanity. We know we are only a small minority, the few people who answer the call and prepare themselves to preserve and protect what is most valuable, what must not be lost.”
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