…Changing the Dream (part 2 of 2)

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–MLK Jr.


When I was in graduate school, we used a visualization activity called “The Perfect Future Day Fantasy”, in which we were to imagine ourselves waking up on a “perfect” weekday 10 years into our future. I specifically remember processing this activity with a group of fellow students, when one friend said that, in his perfect day, he was presiding over negotiations to reunify Germany. We all laughed at him, saying “As if…that will never happen.” That was 1987. By the end of 1990, German reunification was a reality.

In the “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” symposium, the module which discusses “What is possible for the future”, asks us to shift our perspective from what is probable to what is possible. We live in a cynical world (did I really just quote Jerry McGuire?!). A world in which many of us look at the enormous issues confronting us and decide they are so over-arching, so all-encompassing, that we can do nothing…and we therefore continue in our comfortable dream world.

And yet. Apartheid ended. Change is sweeping through the Middle East. Millions of people the world over are participating in organizations and movements to make justice, sustainability, spiritual fulfillment real in the world in new and creative ways. Just a few who have inspired me: Emmanuel Jal, Curt Ellis and Food Corps, Annie Leonard, and so many others. Each of these individuals has taken their unique talents and skills and employed them in service to justice and creating a different dream for the world. And I am heartened to know there are millions of others, whose names and faces I may never know, but whose voices are represented by an activist in the symposium video module who says, “We didn’t believe we could change anything, but we did it anyway.”

Inspiration is important. It needs to translate into action in order for me to be part of co-creating a new dream for our world (a universal Perfect Future Day Fantasy!). But what can I do? I’ve thought about this long and hard in the week since attending the symposium. First, I can talk – that’s something I’m good at! – and write about what is in my heart. Second, I can start with the environments I am already a part of. For example, on Thursday, the symposium attendees from my university met for lunch to discuss an action plan to bring the symposium, and active outgrowths from it, to our campus community. I can evaluate the corporations with which I do business, and make a conscious effort to support those who use a “triple bottom line – people, planet, profit”. Because food and hunger are issues which are already important to me, I can recommit myself to work on these with my time, talents, and treasure.

It would be overwhelming if we looked at all that needs to be done and thought that we, personally, needed to do it all. Heck, even thinking that we need to do something big, make one grand gesture, is an overwhelming idea. What I am discovering, though, is that each of us has within us the ability to make a difference. If we stop thinking it needs to be a difference that the whole world will see and recognize, and instead think of it as a difference that changes our hearts and touches at least one other, it becomes much less daunting. Do I really think that will change where the earth is headed? You bet I do. And I am far from alone in that:

“It is a moral universe despite all appearances to the contrary.”

–Desmond Tutu

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit.”

–Wilma Rudolph

Politics of Spirit

Saturday night I was at a party at The Chrome Horse Saloon.  I arrived looking forward to spending the evening with friends, then did something a little out of character for me. I introduced myself to a stranger who seemed interesting.  What followed was a lengthy conversation which ranged through some pretty cerebral territory: political ideologies, epistemology, scientific inquiry, and changing the world.  Granted, this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was both fascinated and energized by the discussion.

In fact, I was energized enough that the following morning I found the excerpt, below, from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, which was tickling at the back of my brain during part of our discussion at The Chrome Horse.

“We capitalists have a long and crippling history of believing in the power of external realities much more deeply than we believe in the power of the inner life. How many times have you heard or said, “Those are inspiring notions, but the hard reality is…”?  How many times have you worked in systems based on the belief that the only changes that matter are the ones you can measure or count?  How many times have you watched people kill off creativity by treating traditional policies and practices as absolute constraints on what we can do?

…But the great insight of our spiritual traditions is that we — especially those of us who enjoy political freedom and relative affluence — are not victims of that society: we are its co-creators. We live in and through a complex interaction of spirit and matter, of the powers inside of us and the stuff “out there” in the world. External reality does not impinge upon us as an ultimate constraint:  if we who are privileged find ourselves confined, it is only because we have conspired in our own imprisonment…

If our institutions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change; if they set us in mindless competition with each other, it is because we value victory over all else; if they are heedless of human well-being, it is because something in us is heartless as well…

Consciousness precedes being: consciousness, yours and mine, can form, deform, or reform our world.  Our complicity in world making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility — and a source of profound hope for change.”

“We the privileged have conspired in our own imprisonment.” Pretty powerful stuff.  I know this is true for me, on the level of my daily choices and interactions, especially when I choose out of fear.  But I have also experienced change/transformation at the personal level, and this has been a spiritual process brought to fruition by action.  If, as the women’s movement attested, the personal is political, what we can do in our own sphere can also be achieved on a larger scale.

Therefore, I can’t help but imagine the possibilities open to us at the societal level if we were to bring the transformative power of spirit and consciousness to our political and economic constructs!  What world might we co-create then?  In a week in which we are witnessing the politics of divisiveness and hate at the national level (the shootings in Tucson, the Westboro Baptist Church) and locally (the movement to impeach the remaining members of the Iowa State Supreme Court ) it seems important to remember that we can step outside our comfort zones to create something new in the world.

What that new world might look like would make for a another great conversation at The Chrome Horse Saloon.