Authored by Jared Michaels for Psyched in San Francisco Magazine. Jared is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Berkeley and a Zen teacher in the San Francisco Zen Center lineage.
We may not recognize it, and there may be quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, but I am convinced that we are in the early stages of a global spiritual revolution. And I want everyone to join it or enter into it even more profoundly than you already have.
There are many examples of this revolution. Last year's U.N. Paris Agreement is a political one. 195 countries (nearly the entire world) approved an agreement that charts a course to world peace, justice, and sustainability. Here's an example from the grassroots perspective, offered by the social justice and environmental movement researcher Paul Hawken. "I now believe that there are over one -- and maybe even two -- million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice. This is the largest social movement in all of human history. No one knows its scope, and how it functions is more mysterious than what meets the eye. What does meet the eye is compelling: coherent, organic, self organized congregations involving tens of millions of people dedicated to change." (Blessed Unrest)
In other words, we are doing more good than ever from the top down and from the bottom up. Why? Because we are moving beyond a phase of human history that has been characterized by self-centeredness, we are realizing that we are interconnected, and we are increasingly acting from a place of love.
I think this revolution is happening now for myriad reasons but especially because of climate change. Due to our fossil fuel-based society, and ultimately due to our self-centeredness, we are not only facing the threat of the disintegration of the whole web-of-life on Earth but the very real possibility of human extinction, and we care about ourselves and each other too much to allow that to happen.
Yet our habits are deeply ingrained -- psychologically and structurally -- and we don't have much time to transform. James Hansen, the former head of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies and an extraordinarily well respected climate scientist, recently published a paper in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics saying that we need to cut carbon emissions by 6 percent a year to stabilize the environment. Consider that for a moment. With the exception of what is still thought of as alternative energy, fossil fuels are the foundation of our society. They power almost everything. So achieving this goal will require a massive movement, a series of new laws, great creativity, ingenuity, and vision.
Notice that you might not feel inspired by this article, at least not yet. It might just seem like more doom and gloom. Here is an incisive quote that could explain why. "I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that." (Gus Speth) To put it simply, the science alone won't get us there. Only a spiritual revolution will.
Today I'd like to help us fuel this revolution.
Let me offer some personal background. In my twenties, I lived in a Zen monastery for six years. While I was there, I did an enormous amount of meditation and I also developed a wonderful student-teacher relationship with a true Zen teacher. Since then I have been working with another true spiritual teacher who is also a psychotherapist, and we have been on this path together for about eight years. Throughout this time I have learned something critical again and again -- that my internal power depends entirely on who I think am.
Like most of us, I tend to believe that I am just the little "me" inside of my body that I almost constantly try to protect, defend, enhance, or heal. Sometimes, however, I am able to wake up to the fact that I am bigger than my story of myself. I am, believe it or not, the whole universe. In the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber's words, "I am Thou." Eihei Dogen, the founder of my school of Buddhism (Soto Zen) pointed to the same thing when he called the universe "one bright pearl." John Muir put it this way. He said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Countless awakened teachers, some of whom belong to a particular religion and some of whom are completely secular, have expressed the same message. Here is one more voice that I am especially fond of. "A human being is a part of the whole called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling 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)
From this place of awareness of who we really are, we are able to be our true selves. We are able to let our love, power, and genius flow. And from this place we discover in us the capacity to witness, process, and appropriately respond to even the seemingly overwhelming challenges of today. That's why spirituality is all-important. It allows us to fully meet what's happening in this day and age. It allows us to rise to this extraordinary occasion.
So how do we actually do this? How do we wake up to who we really are? There is no one way. I have found meditation invaluable as well as having many open and honest conversations with spiritual teachers. I have also found psychotherapy absolutely necessary, but it's important to acknowledge that not everyone else does. The last bunch of things that come to mind are spending time in nature, getting regular exercise, eating healthy food, having plenty of time away from technology, dancing, playing, laughing, resting, and doing good work.
If we look, we can find tons of examples of how this spiritual revolution is already happening. Notice the influence of Black Lives Matter, the tenacity of the equal pay movement, the passage of marriage equality, the fact that the topic of transgendered people has taken center stage, the pushback by so many people against closing our borders against refugees, the increasing popularity of vegetarianism, and the success of environmental groups like 350.org and the Sierra Club. There is a river of goodness on Earth these days, and we can enter into it more and more deeply.
Spirituality is at the very heart of this revolution. It is the reason we care, the reason we try, and the reason we grow. And if we take on spiritual practice intentionally, it will empower us like nothing else. Then we may just be able to leave behind a livable world for humanity and countless other species.
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