Voices for Mother Earth: Interviews with Environmental Activists and Earth Lawyers
In 2016 I interviewed leading thinkers in the field of environmental justice for Marjorie Silver's book Transforming Justice, Lawyers and the Practice of Law.
Interviewing these lawyers, academics and activists was truly a joyful enterprise. While all of them came from a place of concern with regard to the state of our planet and in no way “sugar-coated” the reality of widespread environmental destruction and climate change, what dominated our conversations was a feeling of hope supported by an intelligent vision for change. These thinkers put their bright minds in the service of their love for our beautiful planet and work steadfast to put their vision into practice.
In my chapter, Voices for Mother Earth.pdf, I talk to Eradicating Ecocide advocate Polly Higgins; former International Executive Director of Greenpeace and now Secretary-General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo; Wild Law expert Cormac Cullinan, law professor Burns Weston and journalist David Bollier, engaged academic Peter Burdon and environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey.
It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or a woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
- Robert F. Kennedy, 1966
Interview with author and theologian Matthew Fox
'What does God do all day long? God lays in a maternity bed, giving birth'
- Matthew Fox on the radical medieval mystic Meister Eckhart and his encouraging message for us today.
Why did you decide to write this book, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior
for Our Times?
It’s my third book on Meister Eckhart, but my first one in over 30 years, and in those 30 years, I have learned from teaching Meister Eckhart to thousands of adults how transformative he is, how profoundly he touches people’s hearts and minds. I wanted to explore more deeply why that is so, why he is so relevant to today. And as I put out in the book, I think part of it is that he is so interfaith, that is to say that Buddhists call him a Buddhist and Hindus call him a Hindu, and Sufis call him a Sufi. But in fact he was a Christian but he went so deeply into his experience, his own soul, his own lineage that he went to that place of commonality, of universality, between traditions, and I think we are recognizing that today. With our global village and our rubbing of elbows with Buddhists and Hindus and Christians and Jews and Muslims and more, we have to start thinking more universally and less in sectarian terms. I don’t know anyone that has that kind of voice like Eckhart, living or dead, it’s just uncanny how he is able to speak to people of many traditions over the years.
Yet many people in the mainstream Christian world are not familiar with his teachings, are they?
No they aren’t, because he was condemned a week after he died by the Pope. He died in 1329. And so his work kind of went underground and mainstream Christianity has not taken note of it. He speaks from the depth of experience which is, of course, what mysticism is about, it’s about tasting and experiencing, and he is unique in that regard, in that he is so articulate about the spiritual experience. But you’re right, he has not been hailed by the mainstream. But he has influenced so many people on the edges, who have been powerful, for example Carl Jung. Carl Jung quotes Eckhart over 30 times and says Eckhart gave him the key to the unconscious. Dag Hammerskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations in the 1950s, who was a great mystic and was Scandanavian, drew heavily from Meister Eckhart. And Larry Dossey, the medical doctor, told me personally that in his library at home he has a whole section on Eckhart and that Eckhart is so important to him. Karl Marx was even influenced by Eckhart according to great Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. And in my book I have two chapters on Eckhart and women: Eckhart and the divine feminine. Eckhart was very close to the Beguines, the medieval women’s movement of his time. He is both broad and deep, and that makes him very special and very needed today.
Can you summarize the essence of his teachings for us?
He says that we are all other Christs. And we are also other Marys, he says. We all have to give birth to the Christ in our times and in our person and in our work. Now you can translate this if you are from the East as the Buddha nature. He’s about the Cosmic Christ, not about the Jesus of the individual soul, but about the Christ that holds all things together in the Heavens and the Earth as the scriptures put it. I was in Korea a month or two ago and a Buddhist monk came up to me and said ‘I am delighted to hear about the Cosmic Christ. I am going to talk about the Cosmic Buddha now’. So the idea that the Buddha or Christ nature is in all of us, is primary to Eckhart’s thought.
Some people think that the Cosmic Christ is a stunning new vision of Christianity. Well it seems new to us, but the truth is that Eckhart did not pull it out of the sky in the 14ht century. He actually got it from Paul and the first generation of Christian writers who were excited about the Cosmic Christ, not the psychological Christ if you will. And so he gives us a vision that is really needed today and I think one reason that religion is as dull as it often is, is that we lost this energy that is part of the excitement of the Buddha nature or the Cosmic Christ in all things.
How could he, in his time and age, being surrounded by the doctrines of those days, have such an original mind? What circumstances gave birth to such a visionary thinker who had the courage to go back to the sources?
Well one thing is that he was 13 years old when Rumi died. He was 17 years old when Tomas Aquinas died and 60 when Hafiz was born. Tomas Aquinas was a Dominican like Eckhart was (and like I was until Pope Radzinger expelled me after 43 years in the clergy) and so he stood on the shoulders of giants in many aspects. He is kind of the poet of the Aquinas revolution. And Aquinas was about a revolution, because he was about bringing science into theology and in that day, as in today, there was a lot of resistance from the fundamentalists. And so Eckhart derived a lot of courage, I think, from Thomas Aquinas, but as I said, there was something in the air that gave birth to Rumi, and Hafiz, and Aquinas, that also gave birth to Eckart at about the same time. I think that’s also happening today: there is a lot of mystical awakening happening today in East and West, North and South, and a lot of it is simply the need of the human species to move forward and not settle for old structures, whether they be religious or other kinds of structures that do not serve anyone.
Yes, because you say that ‘to dwell on mysticism is to dwell on empowerment’.
Exactly, and I end the book with two chapers on what I call the ‘Four ‘E’s’, four principles from Eckharts teachings that are absolutely essential for our survival today, including an Economics that works for everyone, for humans and all the other species. We need Education that awakens the soul and all the chakra’s, the right hemisphere of the brain as well as the left hemisphere. In other words, the intuitive, mystical and creative brain has to be nurtured as well as the left brain. We need Ecology, of course; all of us have to be working on what’s causing global warming and climate change, and how we can change our ways of living on the planet so that future generations can enjoy the beauty and the health of this amazing planet. And finally, Ecunamism, the whole dimension of world religions coming together to share their wisdom instead of making war and making converts. That’s needed, too, religion has to clean its act up, and again Eckhart is a leader in all of these areas. He is challenging us to go deeper and live more fully as human beings in relationship with the rest of nature and with ourselves.
Sometimes it’s not so easy to live a conscious life and not be put down by all the negative news outpouring from the mainstream media nor to be discouraged by the politics of division and fear that still dominate our globe. What encouragement does Eckhart give us to create from our heart and to create from our connection with the cosmic Christ in our contemporary world?
The word you use is key: to ‘create’. To give birth. He says ‘what does God do all day long? God lays in a maternity bed, giving birth’. He’s putting creativity forward, and of course the Divine Feminine, bringing the Divine Feminine back, is very important. Because it is about finding the balance in all of us, in men and women and in our institutions, between the masculine and the feminine, between wisdom and knowlegde. We need wisdom schools, not just knowledge factories. Knowledge by itself is very masculine, it’s about power. Wisdom incorporates a sense of the whole, it also incorporates celebration, love of life and a passion for living. So Eckhart is a wisdom teacher, not just a knowledge provider. He would emphasize what you just used, that creativity is our particular empowerment as a species. For example, consider global warming. Now, in India they have invented a car that runs on compressed air. Well that’s a pretty smart thing to do since it doesn’t deliver carbon dioxide and other elements that warm the planet. So our imaginations are amazing and we have to put them to work. Eckhart also teaches about letting go, how important letting go is. In fact, that’s why Carl Jung says that Eckhart gave him the key to the unconscious. So part of creating is also about willing to let go of previous forms, it’s what Jesus talked about: the old wine skins that are leaking. Eckhart is very strong on how we need to learn to let go and of course that’s a very Buddhist notion as well.
How does facing your shadow relate to unleashing this creativity?
Yes, that’s a very important thing and that’s where Jung and Eckhart would be on the same page. The shadow cannot be ignored and Eckhart was living in a time somewhat like ours because of the academic revolution that began in the West in the early 13th century, late 12th century, with the invention of the University. Needless to say this was an exciting and very political invention, because it moved the center of education from the monastery and the country to universities in towns that quickly grew into cities. But by the 13th century, when Eckhart was alive, Academia was running down. It had become quite self-serving and narcissistic. And he was very critical of it. He said ‘the only real university is the university of life’. He quit teaching at the university of Paris and he spent the rest of his years working with the Beguine movement. They were for the most part lower class women who chose not to be married and not to be nuns, and they lived in small communities and served the poor and the young and the sick, and they worked with their hands, as weavers and artisans. He worked with them and I think that’s where he picked up a lot of his feminist language. He really supported them even though the pope condemned them 17 times and threatened to expel priests who worked with the Beguines. But Eckhart had the courage to hold his ground and to not only speak, but walk his talk. This is why he got condemned; he stepped on too many toes of some very powerful people in Cologne where he lived and preached. So he stirred up waters because he lived what he was preaching. That’s why I call him a mystic warrior: he had this strength to him, this courage, this power of warriorhood, as well as the prophetic energy.
Do you consider yourself a mystic warrior?
(laughs) Well I think we should all strive to be.
You write about 4 via‘s in your book, that are part of your ‘Creation Spirituality’: the via positiva, negativa, creativa and transformativa.
Yes, in the catholic tradition you have the names via positiva and via negativa. But I have added to them, through the influence of Eckhart, the via creativa and via transformativa, which is about justice. Eckhart says ‘The person who understands what I say about justice understands everything I have to say’. That’s a very powerful statement from the greatest mystic the West has ever seen. So justice is at the heart of his spirituality, and so is compassion, which he says is justice, and is also celebration and interconnectivity.
But yes, the four via’s, I think, are a very healthy way of naming our journeys. We all go through the via positiva of joy and wonder and delight, the via negative of darkness and silence, but also of suffering and grief. The via creativa around creativity and the via transformativa: the struggle for healing and for celebration and for justice. I think that names quite richly what the spiritual journey is all about.
Do you think contemporary spirituality honours all these four pathways or does it focus too much on the via positiva and shy away from the more dark and messy place of the via negativa?
That’s right, and that’s why the shadow or the dark night of the soul is so important and has to be explored. When 9/11 happened 13 years ago, president Bush’s first words were ‘go shopping’. Well, that’s not the real meaning of 9/11 or any other tragedy. It is about looking at the darkness and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to it. And when you do that, you become a wiser person.
And I think today, as a species, we are in a collective dark night: the dark night of our species. Because none of us knows if we are going to survive. This path we are on, with the destruction of the forests, the oceans, and so forth, is not sustainable, and we need, as a species, to wake up and look into this darkness, and not go off on shopping sprees or any other spree, whether it be drugs, alcohol or work or anything else, that is really a veiled attempt to look at the truth.
Have you heard of the initiative to make Ecocide, the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, a crime against Peace under the Statute of Rome (the treaty of the International Criminal Court)?
Wow, that’s really interesting, because I talked about Ecocide in my book on the Cosmic Christ about 27 years ago. Ecocide is a reality and being able to name something like that is a way of dealing with the darkness and taking a look at it. So I think anything that gets us to look at the folly we are in, in destroying the habitat of not only our future generations but also of future generations of all the other amazing species, is a plus.
In your book you call the destruction of the Earth the crucifixion of the Cosmic Christ.
Yes, Eckhart says: ‘Every creature is a word of God and a book about God’. In other words, every creature is another Christ, because ‘word’ or ‘logos’ is another name for the Christ. So yes, when we destroy the forest and the rest of nature, we are crucifying the Christ all over again. And understanding, like Eckhart does, the broad meaning of the Christ and the Cosmic Christ, gives us a language and a world view for understanding the depths of the destruction we are involved in. But also to meditate on the beauty. When he says ‘every creature is a book about God’, he means each creature is a Bible. The Bible is not just a 4000 year-old book, it’s every creature. He says ‘when I spend enough time with a caterpillar I never have to prepare a sermon, because a caterpillar is so full of God’. We want to meditate on the beauty of caterpillars, and trees, and lions and rivers because it is through being in love with them that we awaken in us the energy – and it does take energy! – to be a warrior. To defend Gaia and her creatures. It does take strength and courage, like you said, and the strength comes from being in love. We have to fall in love again with creation and all its beauty. I think science helps so much: not only the picture we got from space 45 years ago of the Earth as a glowing mandala and gem, but also the recent picture we received from Voyager One, looking from space onto our galaxy and showing all these pinpricks of light, and one of those pinpricks is Earth. If we were to meditate on that, if that becomes an icon, it would put everything into perspective for all of us on this planet. The wars we have are so ridiculous compared to the unique beauty of our planet and our home, and this is what has to unite us.
So then is falling in love with life and Earth the resurrection we need?
When did last you fall in love?
(laughs) Well I think that’s a daily thing. We should fall in love at least three times a day; not just with a human being but with wild flowers, and trees, and forests and fishes, oceans, animal, birds, poems and music. We are here to fall in love and falling in love three times a day is a minimal requirement for being alive.
Amen to that.
I have a chapter on shamanism in Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior and in it I talk about Eckhart and Jesus as shamans. In fact, some contemporary biblical scholars like Bruce Chilton have gone out of their way to point out that Jesus was a shaman, and how much of his spirituality derived from his relationship with nature. In Mark’s gospel, which is the oldest gospel, it says that after his baptism he went into the desert and wrestled with the wild animals and the spirits and the angels. That’s very shamanistic. So a lot of his teachings and healings were very shamanistic and this has been neglected by many theologians and historians who didn’t understand the real nature-based mysticism of Jesus. Although now scholars agree that it comes from the wisdom tradition of Israel and that tradition is Creation Spirituality, it’s nature based: finding God in nature. These scholars say that Jesus was considered illegitimate in his village, he was not allowed in the synagogue on Sabbath. So when people were praying on the Sabbath, Jesus was out in nature, praying. And you see this in his teachings: his parables are filled with nature images. And as he grew into an adolescent and man, he studied in the wilderness with John the Baptist. And all that is very present in the soul of Jesus: he is very Earth-based, like shamans are.
Why did you choose an ‘interview-format’ in which you have Meister Eckhart talk to contemporary spiritual leaders, big thinkers and activists to communicate his message to your readers?
Actually I used this format in a book I wrote two years ago on Hildegard von Bingen, a great 12th century mystic and prophet who shook up popes and archbishops and abbots alike. I put her in the room with Einstein and Clarissa Pinkola Estes and with other 20th century mystics and prophets. And I felt that as a way to bring these medieval geniuses into the 21st century this really worked. It makes it interesting to put Eckhart in a room as it were with Rabbi Heschel, with Carl Jung, with Thich Nhat Than or Hindu scholar Kumar Swami. Kumar Swami says that reading Eckhart is like reading the Upanishads and that’s the biggest praise any Hindu could give anybody. By bringing Eckhart into the 21st century through these conversations it becomes clear that he has to offer us something crucial.
How would the Church’s teachings look like if the Church would honour and incorporate Meister Eckhart’s teachings?
It would look very different. First of all, seminaries, where ministers and priests are trained, would include meditation to calm the reptilian brain, so that the compassionate brain, the mammal brain, can assert itself. Our training centers would be more around the experience of the divine than around dogma or doctrine or polity in cannon law.
And in a broader context, the education of laypeople, of professionals and students would become infused with soulfulness, with wisdom needed to balance the emphasis on the rational mind and the gathering of knowledge. Education would involve all the chakras, not be so heady, and be more fun. Fun is very important here: we have to enjoy life while fighting for life. And intergenerational wisdom is key as well. The young should not have to carry the burdens of the ecological, economical and spiritual crises alone. They should find allies among the elders too. I did a book a year ago called Occupy Spirituality. It’s about young adults and spirituality. One of the questions we asked was about elders in their lives. And 98% said they want elders but they can’t find them. And when they do find one or two, they talk too much. I think too many elders are out there, playing the golf course or the stock markets, or doing some adolescent things, instead of trying to support the younger generation in this very important but also fun vocation to safe Mother Earth.
Talking about saving Mother Earth, what do you think is the primary collective male wound that needs to be healed and the primary female wound that needs to be healed?
I think there are a lot of young men today who are depressed and confused because the models they have for manhood are mostly reptilian brain models of ‘I win, you lose’. But there are other models, and that’s why I put forth ten models or archetypes for manhood in my book The Hidden Spirituality of Men, like the green man who defends Mother Earth, or the blue man who is all about creativity, or Father Sky, or the spiritual warrior, or the hunter-gatherer. These are masculine archetypes that are healthy. We need to detox our image of what it means to be male. And this is not just a man’s issue. Women have men in their lives – brothers, fathers, lovers, sons – but also, according to Jungian psychology, half of the woman’s soul is masculine, and half the man’s soul is feminine. So the return of the Divine Feminine is a good thing for men, too, but the toxic masculine is very bad for women and men alike. So both women and men have to be engaged in this process of reawaking the sacred masculine.
The primary feminine wound in need of healing is I think the loss of one’s voice. And that’s metaphorical, too, for the lack of empowerment and internalized oppression where one feels inferior because you’ve been told you that are. I criticize very much the ideology of original sin. My book of many years ago was called Original Blessing, because we were born as original blessings, not as sinners. Any group that has been put down, whether they are women, gay people or people of color, unconsciously think that their original sin is that they are female, or gay, or colored. And we have to throw off that internalized oppression in order to stand up and be true to ourselves and bring what we can really bring to the whole enterprise of building community and joy and justice with the rest of creation.
So what’s the best way to free yourself of this internalized suppression?
Well, of course the throat chakra is the birth canal for our wisdom; it’s located between the heart chakra and the mind chakra. I think we have to work on our hearts, to build them up, and also work on our minds. We have to undo the teaching that is one-sided, that is overly masculine, patriarchal and rational, and bring in the right brain as well. Because that’s how you develop your mind: by making a sacred marriage between the left and right brain hemispheres, and not settling for anything less. What happens to women sometimes is when they settle into the system – when they become a lawyer or a priest, they can often be sort of taken over, without continuing the critique and questioning as they move along. We have to continually be alert, because that is what a warrior is. A warrior is alert and questioning. So the way you find your voice is by strengthening the heart, strengthening the mind, and bringing them together in the throat by speaking out.
Originally published on the ABC Blog
Interview with Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson
A personal note from Femke: I was 20 when I first read the lines 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us'. These lines, written by Marianne in her first book A Return to Love, became words of support that I would repeat in times of insecurity and self-doubt while I was searching for my place in the world. I bought A Return to Love book and loved it. I visited Marianne's lecture in Amsterdam when I was 30 and for a few years studied the Course in Miracles. In 2013, thanks to my work at the American Book Center, I got my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview Marianne on her book The Law of Divine Compensation: on Work, Money and Miracles. Back then, Marianne had started to show an interest in politics with her Sister Giant initiative. This year (2019) she announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the US President. It is an excellent reason to revisit our interview and share her words with you.
You’ve written a book on the Law of Divine Compensation. What is this law and how does it work?
It is a phrase that I use that describes a particular way the universe operates. It has to do with the fact that nature takes care of itself and promotes life. The embryo turns into a baby, the bud turns into a blossom, the acorn turns into an oaktree. Once the baby is born, the lungs continue to breath and the heart continues to beat. Obviously, there is an invisible hand in nature, by whatever name we call it, that makes all life prosper. And this self-organizing aspect of the universe not only organizes itself in the direction of the sustenance and furtherance of life, but it is also self-correcting. So that for instance not only do your lungs breath and your heart beat and aspects of your physical body work, but also, should there be injury or disease in your body, nature is set up to heal it and correct it.
This book deals with the fact that this self-organizing and self-correcting aspect of the universe is true and available in every aspect of our reality. Just as nature is set up to make the embryo turn into the baby, that same kind of divine programming exists to make your life self-actualized. So just as the acorn is programmed to become an oaktree, you and I are internally programmed to become the best that we are capable of being, and having the life that is the highest creative manifestation of possibility for us. The difference between you and me and the acorn is that you and I can say ‘no’. My book explains that the universe is as invested in you having the life you are capable of having, as it is in the acorn becoming the oaktree. And with every thought of love, we allow that divine programming to move through us. And with every thought that is not of love, we block the miracle, we deflect what otherwise would have occurred.
The Law of Divine Compensation means that anytime there is lack or any diminishment in the material world, within the infinity of spiritual substance there is a capacity to compensate for that diminishment. The universe knows how to compensate, how to give what is necessary and how to give in areas where there has been lack.
I think many of us see a lot of proof for lack and scarcity when we look at the economy and when we look at the state of our world. How do we tap into the abundance of the universe in the face of so much suffering ?
Sometimes people will say ‘Are you saying a starving child in Africa is starving because they don’t love enough?' But I’m not saying that they are starving because they don’t love enough, I am saying that they are starving because we don’t love enough. If the Western industrialized nations simply decided that the moral thing to do was to eradicate deep poverty on the planet, we could do so probably within ten years. I know enough about the economic and political situation in the USA to say that if love and justice were the bottom line, rather than short term economic gain for relatively few members of our society, then in my country we would not be seeing all the images of lack and scarcity that we are seeing now.
Anytime there is a problem on the mortal plane, it goes back to a causal issue that has to do with lovelessness on someone’s part, whether it is ours or someone else’s. The western industrialized nations have their problems, but we still represent a relatively small percentage of the world population, and we have lives that compared to the misery and unnecessary suffering of so many give us the moral responsibility to think about these issues, about the haves and the have nots.
How can we use the Law of Divine Compensation to correct our thinking when we experience lack in our own lives?
Usually, when you think of having money problems, you don’t think of asking yourself ‘whom have I not forgiven?’ ‘where am I withholding love?’. But in fact that is the point. Miracles occur naturally because they are expressions of love. The universe rights itself in any way necessary when love is present. But any time we have lovelessness in our hearts, we are blocking the miracle that would otherwise occur.
When it comes to money, most of us have had our ups and downs. Many times we find in our mind two files. One is: ‘It was my own fault and I don’t know how to forgive myself’. The other file is anger at someone else. ‘I don’t know how I will forgive them’. Both are understandable. When it comes to money, sometimes we look back and think ‘If only I had done this or if I hadn’t done that’. Or somebody else might have treated us unfairly or caused injustice for whole groups of people. But when we meet a limited circumstance with loveless thought – anger, bitterness, attack – we are actually meeting the limited circumstance with limited thought and that’s when things spiral down. That's the case when I am lacking money and I say ‘Isn’t it awful. I am a victim. This is so terrible, it won’t be getting better for a long time. It is the government’s fault. They are not hiring anyway. Or even if they are hiring, they won’t hire someone with my resume.’
The spiritual transformation is a transformation in our thinking. It is meeting a limited circumstance and saying ‘I am a child of God; I am not just a mortal being. I represent something much bigger than my body; I represent a spirit.’ In that realm, opportunity is unlimited. In that realm, miracles happen. In that realm, the universe – because it is self-organizing and self-correcting – has already recalibrated the trajectory of my life. Just like a GPS in a car: if you take a wrong turn, it automatically recalibrates.
So enlightened thinking is shifting our sense of self-identification from who we are as material beings to who we are as spiritual beings. And depending on the way in which you identify your own self, you are programming the universe to give you evidence of that belief. If I think that I am a mortal being in limited circumstances, and there are only so many pieces of the pie, and I have to struggle to get ahead, that will be my experience. But if I shift my sense to knowing that the universe is an endless opportunity machine, and that when I give Spirit dominion in my heart and in my personal circumstances, my energy is different, my thoughts and attitudes are different, and my relationships with people are therefore different. I’m living in the present, rather than in the past or the future. People see me as someone they want to hire, invest in and partner with. An entirely expanded set of possibilities open up for me that otherwise would not have been there.
So this is what you call a miracle – a shift from fear to love.
In your book you also talk about the difference between a job and a calling. What is the difference between the two?
Usually we say things like ‘I need to get a job’. As though a job is out there somewhere. Once again, that is a though form which arises from a very material based view of life. The spiritual based view of life is not that my job is something that I have to go out and get, but rather that my job is something that I was given the moment I was born. It is my calling of my soul, of my heart. It is something that arises organically from the essence of who I am. It is a calling of the artist, creator or scientist in your soul. We all have creative genius. We are not taught that by the world, but we are all children of the same divine source. That spirit of unlimited possibility lives in all of us, whether we have actualized it yet or not. And if we have not actualized it, it’s about knowing it is there and dedicating ourselves. It’s about saying to the universe, “use me”. That’s why I am here: use my hands, use my feet, use my talents and resources. Use this interview, that it may bring comfort to someone. Use this business venture, that it might help uplift the world. That is something we do with our minds, and if we have that kind of devotional perspective, it uplifts us and it uplifts people around us and what occurs because of that is an entirely different story than what would have otherwise occurred.
How would our economy look like if our dominant orientation would be ‘how can I serve’ instead of ‘how does this serve me’?
Right now we order our civilization according to economic values rather than humanitarian values. That has created what is ultimately an unsustainable reality, not just for Western civilizations but for the entire human civilization. That is the historical calling of this moment: it cannot continue the way it is. We are now so globally interdependent that if things truly get out of hand, due to the reckless behavior on the part of so many people of the planet, there will be no protection by national boundaries. Once nuclear bombs go off, the radiation does not respect national boundaries. Once weather catastrophes occur, those catastrophic results do not respect national boundaries. What I think is necessary is an entirely new consciousness. It is struggling to appear, but it is making itself know in many areas and in many ways.
But there is a race for time. There are those – and those forces tend to be backed the most by the geopolitical and economic realities of our current system – that would seek to hold on to a more protectionist view of things in which the short term economic gain for a relative few is the bottom line rather than a larger sense of justice and possibility for the human race. And then there are those who do want a larger sense of justice and possibility for the human race: the geniuses who are envisioning and manifesting new ways to be on the planet, still rewarding individual effort, individual genius and work. But also putting in all of our doings into operation the primacy and importance of feeding our children. We have 17.000 children on this planet who die of starvation every day. That is a moral obscenity.
There are many humanitarian workers all over the world who do an extraordinary job, and many things are better than they have been, but we have still not formed a consensus among the advanced nations of the world that addressing the unnecessary suffering of billions of people should be our first order of business. In our individual lives we find that we have to get right with the moral universe, with God. That same kind of atonement on part of the Western nations, I believe, would metaphysically right things for all of us. I know that these tensions exist in many nations, but I also think there is a new spirit rising up, and a new generation rising up, which has much more of a sense of global interconnectedness and global relationships than many of us did before there was the internet.
I think hope is a moral imperative, but at the same time, we must not tarry.
You say that ‘the problem is not that those of us who hate speak so loud, the problem is that those of us who love speak so softly’. Why is this so?
There is in all of us a tendency to perceive without love. In the Course in Miracles this is called ‘the ego’, in Buddhism they speak of spiritual ignorance, in traditional Christianity there is even the concept of the devil: that which is not love. It works in its hot way and in its cold way. When it is in its hot embodiment, it leads us to cause suffering to other sentient beings. In its cold embodiment it does not lead us to proactively cause or wish suffering to someone else, but it does tempt us to ignore the suffering of other human beings. But at this point, neutral ground is not adequate to the challenges of our time.
We have lived in the Western civilization with this myth of neutrality. We were not devoting our lives to love, service, or making things easier for people, but it was OK because we did not really wish anyone any harm. But we have learned that just not wishing anyone any harm is not enough. This means that those of us who love are called to move beyond our comfort zones. We are called to love beyond the places in which to love is easy. It is easy enough to love people who agree with us, who are nice to us, who are like us. But the love that will save the world is when we love not just our own children, but the children at the other side of town, or at the other side of the world. The love not only of people that we like, but also of people that we do not necessarily like.
So the historical challenge of this time for our species, as it is for us on our individual journey, is that every situation is an invitation to step it up. Be strong this time, even though you might have been weak when it happened last time. Stand on higher ground. Be more compassionate and generous and less selfish. Be more energetic in response to the demands of the moment than you might have been before.
Far more people on this planet love than hate. But those who hate, hate with a perverse kind of courage and are willing to act on their hate. People who hate seem more willing to act on their hate than those who love seem to be willing to act on their love. And just like certain germs and viruses enter the body, which is inevitable - but we have an immune system to flush them out - in our societies boosting our social immune system is now absolutely imperative. I don’t think any baby is born to be a terrorist. I don’t think any baby is born to hate or to be a criminal. But we do not address the needs of children in their earliest years of life enough to really cut off the greater possibility that the child will be lured in very dysfunctional or even criminal behavior as an adult.
What has helped you to move beyond your comfort zone and start loving those who were hard to love?
My father was born and grew up in poverty. He was the son of Russian immigrants and the bitterness of poverty remained within him. He never forgot it and never lost the profound compassion for those who were experiencing the hardships that he and his family experienced when he was young, and he never let his children forget it. Even though my father did well and became a successful immigration attorney, his sense of social justice was very strong and he constantly reminded his children of everyone’s moral responsibility to appreciate not only our own good fortune, but to never forget those who had not yet had theirs.
I think that parents leave a kind of imprint on the souls of their children. It’s deeper than just an influence if we were fortunate enough to have parents who gave us great gifts such as my father gave me. It is in your psychic bloodstream. And as a student of the Course in Miracles I think that there is no serious spiritual path that does not address the suffering of other sentient beings.
A powerful principle of the Course in Miracles is ‘Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Therein lies the peace of God’. How does this wisdom translate into our daily life when we are faced with suffering? You just explained that it does not mean we should look away, but what does it tell us about the reality behind the lack we see in this world?
Your question is very important because I think there are a lot of people who read books like the Course in Miracles very selectively and do not embrace what the Course is actually saying. When the Course in Miracles says that only love is real, it is not saying that we should deny that we live in a three dimensional world in which absolutely suffering exists. It simply says that this three dimensional world is not our ultimate reality, and that anytime any of us behave in ways that are loveless, it means they lost contact with their essence which is love. We can understand this best by thinking of an example from our own lives: if I am rude to you, I didn’t wake up in the morning saying ‘I think I’ll be a total jerk today’. What happened is that in particular moment, probably due to childhood wounding of some kind, I didn’t know how to behave with love and still get my needs met, and so I went into an unconscious place.
Just like there is never a grey sky – there are only sometimes grey clouds that cloud the sky - the same is the case with ourselves. When I behave without love, the essence of me is still love, but I lost conscious contact with that love at that moment – I was not connected consciously to the truth of my being. But the truth of my being is love, because that is who we were created to be and always shall be.
So when the Course in Miracles says only love is real, this is what it means. Let’s say you and I have an argument. You say mean, loveless things to me, and I say mean, loveless things to you. The Course in Miracles says that our healing arises from one or both of us realizing that neither of us at the deepest level of our being meant that. Who we are is love, and I should see anything that is not love as a call for love. If I just hit back at lovelessness than that will not ultimately be as effective as putting love where there wasn’t love.
Now that does not mean appeasing evil. It does not mean that you acquiesce to that which is deeply wrong and I think the Europeans and Americans have learned that the hard way. But this is a time for us to realize that if we look at all the unnecessary suffering in the world today, the desperate conditions of billions of people, our mission as conscious people is to address all that unnecessary suffering. Then that will obliterate the conditions of evil and the desperate behavior that often emerges from desperate people. That will do far more to eradicate those conditions than waiting for those conditions to fester and then to get rid of them on the level of their effect.
In your book you mention Henri Matisse as a good example of the Law of Divine Compensation. Why is that?
When Henri Matisse became an older man, he had arthritis in his fingers so badly that he could not hold a paintbrush anymore. This was tragic, it was like Beethoven losing his hearing. But Matisse discovered that he could hold and navigate the scissors that his grandchildren used. One day his grandchildren were playing with colored paper, he took the scissors and discovered that he could still navigate those little scissors and he ended up creating what we now see as one of the greatest phases of his art: the Matisse paper cut outs.
This is a demonstration of the Law of Divine Compensation because even though there was lack on the material plane, his talent was not lessened, his genius was not diminished. And so from that invisible realm of genius and talent emerged a form to express it in a different way, just like I was talking about the recalibration of the GPS. This is, to me, a marvelous example of the Law of Divine Compensation in terms of what can be lost and what cannot be lost.
How can we keep the faith and discipline alive to not rely on what our senses tell us and act from a place of love?
That is the purpose of a serious spiritual path: prayer, meditation, inspirational reading. A serious spiritual path is like exercising your spiritual, mental and emotional muscles. It really works no differently than doing physical exercises to hone your physical muscles. The thinking of the world is dominated by fear and if we just wake up in the morning and give ourselves over to the fear, anger and mean-spiritedness of the world in which we live in, our minds tend to work against us. But if we surrender our minds to be used for higher purposes of love, and we devote ourselves to that, than our minds can be used in completely different ways. But this takes emotional discipline. And the problem many of us have is that our minds are very undisciplined and we end up doing things, saying things, even thinking and feeling things that do not benefit us, because we did not truly ground ourselves in love.
You’ve written the famous lines ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.’ These lines have been incredibly meaningful in my own life and I want to thank you for that. How can we liberate ourselves from this fear and emerge at the other side?
I don’t know how this paragraph got singled out the way it did or how the urban mythology came into existence that Nelson Mandela would have quoted those words, which I would be honored if he had, but he simply didn’t. The popularity of this paragraph has been interesting to me. A Return to Love is a reflection on the principles of the Course in Miracles. And the idea that we are more afraid of our light than of our darkness is simply a concept from the Course, as is every paragraph in my book. I always say, ‘if you like the paragraph you will love the book’ [The Course in Miracles, FW].
About the idea that it is our light rather than our darkness that most frightens: our darkness is the ego mind and it tells us that we are small and limited, that we are practically powerless and have a very short time on this Earth. That we are bound by our mistakes, and we have to compete and struggle to get anything good at all. But if we shift our perception we realize that through the power within us, we are not limited by our mistakes when we atone and take responsibility for them, that in every moment there is an unlimited opportunity to begin again, and that love is infinite abundance in the universe.
Albert Einstein said ‘The most important decision you will ever make is whether you live in a friendly or in a hostile universe’. If you embrace the light, which means realizing that you live in an unlimited and friendly universe and that you are loved, this is the death of the ego. The ego mind is terrified of that. The reason the ego does not want you to go there is because the ego wants to preserve itself.
All of us have this perverse comfort zone, which is the belief in our own limitations and smallness. If you do embrace something bigger this is not arrogant but humble, because you are not taking personal credit for the fact that you are an unlimited being. You are an unlimited being because of the unlimited divine spirit that lives within you. It is humble, not arrogant, to embrace that.
But it also calls us to rise to the occasion. You don’t have an excuse to be weak. You don’t have an excuse why you are not serving or showing up for other people and the planet. If we are honest with ourselves we see how often we resist our own magnificence. Because then you have to get out of bed and be a more impressive person that day. Yet we can also see where it leaves us both personally and collectively if we choose to remain small.
Scottish lawyer Polly Higgins is someone who is certainly rising to the occasion with her tireless efforts to make Ecocide an international crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
That sounds very conscious. Millions of us in the United States would be very happy to see some of these extractive corporations held accountable, not only for their destruction of the environment but also for causing so much economic injustice. Like I said, hope is a moral imperative and any time any nation in any part of the world does anything, it affects, at the very least, the thinking in another part of the world. Her work and vision gives a lot of motivation and inspiration to the environmental movement here in the United States that is struggling to make these kind of changes and of course it would be great for the planet as well. I think it sounds wonderful and I bow before the bravery and the high minded perspective that is represented by her.
Talking about inspiration, who is your own greatest source of inspiration?
I would have to say Jesus. His message and imprint on our psyche that God is love and that our job is to love each other.
I do think that all the great religions point to our need to love each other and have compassion, but Jesus' imprint on my own psyche has made all the difference in the world to me. The reminder that love is real, and that everything else is ultimately a meaningless conversation, has certainly transformed my life and gives each day its meaning.
This is the transcript of the recording of my interview with Marianne that was orginally published on the ABC Blog