This post is from David Spangler's blog May 7, 2010. He is a former director of Findhorn. Along with several friends and colleagues from Findhorn, he returned to the United States in 1973, and with them to create the Lorian Association, a non-profit spiritual educational foundation. In 1984, the Lorian Association moved to Issaquah, Washington where it is today.
We have a large maple tree in our backyard. Its branches overhang our back porch so that in the summer, it can seem as if we are living in a treehouse. In fact, when our children were small, we actually built a treehouse amongst its branches where the kids would go to lie and read or just dream; we even on occasion would have family picnics there. As you can tell, this tree has been an important part of our family.
As the years went by, I began to notice that some of the higher branches of the tree were dying. We can get strong winds blowing through our valley out of the Cascade Mountains, and I worried that some of these large branches, or even the top of the tree itself, might snap off and come crashing through our roof. So I had a tree expert come out and look the situation over. He gave me various options, and the one we chose was to build a webbing that would enable the branches to support each other. "If you ever see that webbing go tight," he told me, "call me right away because it will mean something has snapped and the top of the tree will have to be cut down." So far all is well.
I thought about this webbing as the events of the past month have unfolded. There's been the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano which shut down air travel throughout Europe for five days causing economic havoc around the globe. There were unusual storms in the Southeast of America that created unprecedented flooding in the State of Tennessee. There is the debt crisis in Greece which threatens the stability of the Euro and could tip other countries such as Spain and Ireland into bankruptcy, damaging the tentative economic recovery occurring in the United States after the crash of two years ago. And there is the oil spill taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to destroy the fragile ecosystems of the wetlands and marshes of coastal Louisiana and bidding to become the worst ecological disaster in America¹s history with enormous economic repercussions of its own.
Winds of change are blowing through our world system, and like the branches of my maple tree, there are lots of places it could break.
We need to build some webbing. We need to build our support system so that in times of crisis and disaster, we have something to hold us up and keep us from crashing through the roof.
Here's the good news. Such webbing isn't another layer of bureaucracy in an already overly complex governmental system; it's not a new organization we need to join. It's not an insurance plan we need to buy into. It's something much simpler than that. It's an attitude of love, compassion, generosity, and mutual caring. With it we can create safety for each other. Without it, we are left to stand alone and at a disadvantage in the face of possible disasters.
Imagine that you and your family have flown to Europe for a vacation. You've had a good time, and now you're headed home. Good thing, too, as you've about run out of cash and your credit card is near its limit. But as you wait to board your aircraft, an announcement tells you that your flight is delayed. Well, that's no fun, but you can wait. However, as an hour or so passes, you are next informed that your flight is cancelled. Indeed, all flights are cancelled as a volcanic ash cloud is grounding all jet planes.
Hmm, you think, this is more serious, but how long can a volcanic ash cloud last? Surely you'll be up in the air and on your way in a few hours. Except that it's not a few hours. It's a few days, and in the process you exhaust all your remaining money. But your family needs food and water and a place to rest. Surely the airline will provide help. No, it won't. You're told it's not the airline's responsibility; you're on your own. The airport management isn't helping either. Well, perhaps you can squeeze a few more dollars out of your credit card. But wait, restaurants and hotels have just doubled and tripled all their prices for the duration of the crisis. Even that recourse is suddenly beyond your means. And now you have a nightmare vision of you and your family starving to death in the middle of a modern, European airport because no one cares to help and compassion has vanished.
For you, a branch has crashed.
This is exactly the nightmare that many foreign travelers, particularly poorer ones from Africa, were facing only a few days ago as the ash cloud from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano blanketed Europe and shut down all air travel. I learned about this through a number of radio reports. In interview after interview, passengers described running out of money and expressed their anger at the callousness of airline companies and airport personnel who denied any responsibility for providing aid. In some cases, even water was unavailable except for purchase. Restaurants and hotels were raising their prices in exorbitant ways to take advantage of those who had the money to buy food or lodging, and heaven help those who didn't.
Where this took place, it was a stunning demonstration of a lack of compassion and of placing commercial opportunities over human need. By contrast, the Schiphol international airport in Amsterdam put up webbing. The airport administration hired musicians and clowns and brought in movies to entertain the stranded passengers. They installed portable showers and provided food and water, all at its own expense. They created such a festive, supportive atmosphere that passengers who had musical instruments brought them out and added to the entertainment. An international community came spontaneously into being. When some officials arrived from one of the embassys to offer passengers from their nation hotel accommodations, the passengers told them they'd rather stay at the airport. They were having too good a time!
The goodwill this simple act of compassion and generosity generated for the Schiphol airport and for the people of Amsterdam was enormous. Here no branches crashed. Should I ever be trapped in Europe by a disaster, I hope I'm in the Netherlands.
In the final analysis, if our civilization collapses, it won't be because of disasters and catastrophes; it will be because we failed in our compassion for each other. We failed in creating inner webs of support that can translate into outer acts of caring.
There are those who feel the disasters we've seen this past month, whether natural or human-caused, are just the start of what might become an Age of Disasters. This is certainly possible. I have no question, as I said, that winds of change and challenge are blowing through our world. There's also no question that human choices and activities, especially when motivated by fear and greed or by a sense of parochialism, can magnify the problems and turn challenges into catastrophes. We saw this graphically demonstrated when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The inept and at times self-serving responses of the Federal and State governments to the crisis added to the suffering and the death toll from that disaster. (To read some riveting accounts of how survivors of disasters come together to create compassionate communities to support each other -- and how governmental officials more often than not end up hindering this process and even making matters worse -- I recommend Rebecca Solnit's recent book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, from Penguin Books.)
The value of being compassionate with each other and caring for each other's welfare sufficiently to be able to help each other -- to help strangers -- in times of emergency is important and probably one of those things most people would agree with. It's certainly not a new idea. But there's another wrinkle to this I'd like to suggest.
As regular readers know, I view the world as having a physical and a non-physical side. (If you want to know in more detail my thoughts in this area, I suggest my book, Subtle Worlds: An Explorer's Field Notes as a place to start.) Working with what I call the "subtle environment" offers additional possibilities for building a supportive web. In my experience, these intermeshing fields of consciousness and spirit, energy and probability surround and influence our world as much as does the planet's magnetic field. While nothing is a substitute for direct physical action and help to deal with physical emergencies, there are few events that do not have a non-physical component that could use help as well or that could be made a supportive environment for physical action.
For example, think of what the emotional and mental atmosphere might have been like in those European airports where people were stranded and had run out of money, food and water. I've been in airports where a flight was simply delayed for an hour or two and have felt the inner environment roiled with feelings of irritation, anger, anxiety and so on. I can only imagine what it might have been like if sheer survival had become an issue.
The nature of the subtle environment is that it affects everyone, though in different degrees and in different ways. It's a sea we all swim in, and when it becomes tainted with hurtful energies, we all have to deal with that contamination just as fish in the Gulf are now having to deal with oil and chemical dispersants in the water in which they live. Generally speaking, there's nothing like a powerful and intentional presence of love and calm radiating in such a subtle environment to transform that kind of psychic pollution and create a better and cleaner flow of subtle energies. The nice thing is that that kind of presence doesn't have to come only from a person on the scene, though it will be very powerful if it does; it can be projected by anyone from anywhere. That's the essence of subtle activism.
So one form of support when you hear of a disaster somewhere is to center yourself in a state of calmness and peace, fill your heart with love, and imagine yourself invisibly present where that disaster is going on, being a presence that contributes that peace and love to the subtle environment. In effect, you're providing another option for the subtle energies in that place or condition, an alternative to condensing around fear and anger or confusion, for instance and an opportunity to configure to the calm that you're providing. This calmness can provide a psychic space for those on the scene to avoid being caught up in emotional and mental turmoil and instead to have an opportunity to think and feel with clarity. This alone can lead to better and wiser decisions being made and compassionate actions being taken.
For example, those who are working to contain the oil spill in the Gulf are doing so under great pressure and are exposed to the anger being directed towards BP and those responsible for the oil spill. Holding those engineers and others in a calm, compassionate, loving presence can do much to support their ability to take wise and appropriate actions. Blaming them or focusing anxiety in their direction accomplishes nothing but to roil the subtle energies around them which can make their task harder.
But there's another form of webbing that subtle activism can provide; after all, subtle activism isn't just for disasters and emergencies. Here is where the analogy of my tree can help. The webbing we put up isn't fixing a specific problem but is a way in which weak branches can mutually support each other and be better supported by the main trunk.
This form of subtle activism is very simple. It consists of creating a line of supportive energy between yourself and another person and the sacredness that is the Ground of Being. Center yourself in sacredness, in the Sacred, whatever that means to you as a universal presence of compassion and love. Center yourself in your own capacity for compassion and love, and link these two together, connecting your branch with the trunk from which all branches come. Then imagine a line of Light extending from you to a neighbor in your community. This line of Light has as its sole intent communicating that that person is not alone but is connected to a source of support, which ultimately is the "trunk", the Sacred. Do this with another neighbor, then another. Build a web of inner support throughout your neighborhood. Remember, this web is not anchored in you but in the Sacred, but you are the one spinning it out into your world.
Once you get the sense of this, you can simply spin these webs of Light out into your world; it need not be limited to your neighborhood, nor to people you know. Do this with the intent that the subtle connections of energy that naturally exist between all of us be filled with Light and "tied to the trunk", so to speak, that is, attuned to the compassion and love within the Sacred. The idea is to support the arising of compassion organically and naturally within people's hearts. You can't make anyone be compassionate, and you wouldn't want to (that would be an act of coercion, not compassion), but you can intentionally add your energy and thought to strengthening the lines of loving support that can weave between us and that bring compassion into the subtle environments in which we live and act.
In time you may find yourself naturally and automatically radiating these supportive lines of Light throughout your environment, to animals, plants, and objects as well as people. It primes the subtle environment to be responsive to compassionate and loving actions should an emergency arise.
I'm in the process of creating a free Subtle Activism Starter Kit, which consists of a small PDF booklet with some ideas and instructions on one way to do subtle activism, plus two audio files. One is an example of a specific subtle activism meditation I did with a group recently on behalf of the Gulf oil spill and the other is an example of a more generic subtle activism meditation. You will find the link below as well as posted on our website. If you go there and find it empty, come back in a day or so. As I say, I'm still working on completing it.