The Spiritual Society

by: Heather on 12/18/2007
Posted in: Community

Sharif Abdullah is the author of The Power of One and the founder and director of Commonway Institute. The following entry is reprinted with permission from his blog. Thanks Sharif!

The Spiritual Society

[This was written a few Christmas seasons ago:]

It is so easy to fall back into the rut -- naming the old society. Protesting the old society. Lamenting the old society. Struggling to reform the old society. Thinking that if we could only get rid of the old society, we would then have a the society of our dreams, our ideals.

This past December, I was sitting at one of my coffeehouses ( not my favorite, but one that makes great eggnog lattes). I was reading a good book, and was in the middle of the buying frenzy on 23rd Avenue. Suddenly, I realized that I was depressed.

I tried to analyze my feelings. I wasn't a part of the buying frenzy around me; I don't really participate in the "Xmas Thing", so I don't have any seasonal guilt, angst, etc. I thought for a moment that I was "homesick" for Sri Lanka -- after all, I do spend half of my year there. But a quick internal check said that I didn't want to be in Sri Lanka. I didn't want to be ANYWHERE.

That was a sobering thought. There was no society, no country, no city I preferred to inhabit. I didn't want to be in the land of shallow materialism, where success is measured by how much litter we leave. I didn't want to be in Sri Lanka, wondering whether the guy at the train station smiling at me is distracting me from a pickpocket doing balance-of-trade, or making a sexual overture for a different type of balance of trade, or was just being friendly. I didn't want to be in Prague, or Kampala, or Hong Kong, or anywhere else. I had no home.

I'm not being overly melodramatic. I have enjoyed my time back in the States, experiencing cold, actually enjoying chipping ice off my car in the frozen mornings. My feeling is that all of us have a core to retreat to in the face of all of the madness coming at us from all sides. We go home, pull in the walls around us, hopefully with someone who feels the same as we do, and retreat from the yawning emptiness all around us.

We move from nest to nest. We go from our home nest to our work nest to a movie nest to a coffeehouse or restaurant nest... moving about in our auto nest. We communicate with the same handful of people, even when we travel to other countries. (I always find it amazing when Americans attempt to glom on to me when I'm in another country. If I wanted to interact with Americans, I wouldn't have left Portland.)

We lie to ourselves. Our big lie is that these little nests constitute the entire world, that we are actually interacting with the world when we are in fact interacting with only a tiny sliver of it. We think we are interacting with the world because we think we are looking through a window (television) and think we are interacting with other people. Lie upon lie upon lie.

It is this season where the lies wear thin, where we are brought face to face with the magnitude of our emptiness. I thought back to my challenge to the IONS members meeting a few years ago at Disney World in Florida: look around and see if you can find anyone who looks truly happy. Is there anyone here who is happy because of this season, not despite it?

A few years ago, I got invited to a middle-class feeding frenzy that they called "Christmas with the family". The extended family met together at 10:00 in the morning to open presents. The children sat on the starting line, engines revving. At the signal, they tore into the pile of wrapped goodies that literally engulfed the christmas tree. Their method: grab a present, tear back enough of the wrappings to see what it is, squeal, throw the present over your shoulder and tear into the next one. After about 15 miinutes of this, all the gifts were open and the adults were sitting in a kind of shock, while the kids were walking around the livingroom like medics walking a battlefield, looking for signs of life and not finding any. After all of the squealing and getting, not one of those kids looked happy. After the orgy of getting, not one of them appeared satisfied.

For some reason, the Divine has provided me with a number of life experiences. I've been at the top of Breaker society, having cocktails in Prague Castle with Presidents and Prime Ministers and Nobel Laureates. I've had tea with peasants so poor that they had to use that day's firewood to heat the water for their "honored guest". I've had experiences from the simple to the absurd to the sublime.

What I have seen from these experiences is this:

We have painted ourselves into a very tight corner. We may not survive; we have to accept the possiblity, in the words of Gar Alperovitz, that "Rome dies". And this "Rome" will take most of the world's human populations with it.

Before the collapse of Rome, or the Greek city-states, or the European monarchies, most of those at the top did not have a glimmer that there was anything wrong, that they had painted themselves into a corner. Marie Antionette's now infamous "Let them eat cake!" was not a statement of crudity or callousness -- she simply had no experience with a world that did not have an abundance of bread, or cake, or pastry. She would fit right in with most middle-class Americans.

None of the "fixes" we advocate will create the society that we can live in. In some paradoxical way, each "fix" seems to hasten our doom. Many of us (myself included) fought for an end to Apartheid in South Africa. It was only in the last years of the Apartheid regime that I began to ask: what is the nature of the society that all Africans will live in? We visualized a "post-Apartheid" world, but we did not envision the "pre-???" world. And now, the post-apartheid world is a nightmare for most South Africans. For the majority of both blacks and whites, things did not get better, they got infinitely worse.

Let me rush to say that I am not wishing for the "good ole days" of apartheid, or communism, or any other Breaker system. They are gone and good riddance. But, their absence did not make the world a better place to live. We need to think about this as some of us continue to put energy into "post-corporate" or "post-patriarchal" or "post-anything-else". Its time for us to visualize the "pre-" society.

All of this, the pain, the suffering, the greed, the shallow materialism, the emptiness... all of this points us in a direction. Like saplings bending before a fierce wind, we are all pointing away from the blast point. But, what are we pointing toward? We know what we DON'T want... what do we WANT?

If we are to survive, we must create the Society of the Spirit. A Spirit freed from the bonds of religious dogma, perhaps free from all religion. A society that has one basis of success: how much wealth did you give? A spirituality that has only two tenets: that you love, respect and honor the Divine, and that you treat all other beings the way you yourself wish to be treated. (You are free to add anything else that makes you happy: however, a Society of the Spirit must be based on only these two tenets.)

What do I mean by "society"? I mean a state of consciousness AND a state of behavior that all of the people of the world can join in if they wish. Together, right now, we have an opportunity that has never before existed on this planet: to create together the first true global human society, a society of inclusivity.

A society is the junction between our values and our actions. We can see our values through our actions. We know we don't believe in "give us your tired and your poor". We don't ACT like we want the tired and poor in this country.

How do we get to the Society of the Spirit?

We have to make a commitment to live our values, out loud, every day. We have to recognize those times when we are unable to live our values; when that happens, we have to visualize what a society based on those values looks like. (For example, while pumping gasoline into my fossil-fuel burning, internal combustion engine motivated, single occupant vehicle, I can visualize creating the hydrogen I use to power my fuel-efficient, shared vehicle.)

We have to live our beliefs. I just got in the mail today a notice of a conference to address the needs of the poor. The conference will be held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC (for those of you who have never been to this hotel, trust me: the poor are not allowed inside, unless they are waiting tables).

We have to see that our spiritual practice is how we are with each other, every minute, every day.

We have to teach others how to live. Not how to ape each other in this empty, terminal society, but how to truly LIVE at the top of their being, their most spiritual, creative, connected Self.


Anyone who has spent time in any truly indigenous society knows this to be true: Breakers don't have a clue. Most of us raised in the belly of the Beast don't have the eyes to see how indigenous people live. How can people be truly happy without _________ (fill in the blank: electricity, cars, Internet, running water, prescription medicines...). We then see that it is our God-given responsibility to bring _______ (again, fill in the blank...) to those "heathens". Including our way of thinking.

How can people exist with courts, police, lawyers? How can people be happy without mass entertainment? How can people know God unless they read THIS book THIS way?

Keepers are happy, because they never left the Sacred Hoop (oneness with the Divine, oneness with all other beings). We will become happy when we figure out how to create that society for ourselves. And, it will be people who live close to the land, the Keepers, who point the way for us.


blog comments powered by Disqus