It’s the “11th hour” and as I write this 200 species go extinct daily on our planet. That is 10,000 times more than the natural extinction rate. If we do not acknowledge this and act now we lose any future hope of co-inhabiting this planet.Last week I had the privilege to see Marianne Williamson speak at an event at UC Berkeley. It was a symposium about changing the world through introspection and social action. I admit, I went into the event skeptical. I had been very frustrated with the field of “spirituality” for quite some time now. I’ve seen spirituality influence people to see the light of love without pushing them to go deeply into the darkness of, what Marianne calls, our “shadow side.” Going deeply into the shadow side does not mean that we focus on self-pity and guilt, but, rather that we acknowledge how things really are, have compassion for the world and for ourselves, and do something about it.
It is this compassion that we need to hone in on and develop if we are going be truly “spiritual.” Dealing with our “shadow side” means taking responsibility. Developing compassion may not come easy. It may have us on our knees in profound sadness when we actually see the shape of the world as it is. True spirituality has us, facing, not ignoring the desperation of a homeless person begging, the dangerous geo-engineering of our atmosphere, or the inherent brutality of our industrial way of life. True spirituality has us feel all of this deeply, even if hurts.Ken Wilber states that “the more awakened we become the more we realize both the perfection of Saṃsāra, [the infinite and unalterable aspect of divinity within us and all things,] and the pain of our relative world.” To me, this is the essence of an evolved spirituality, for we do not lose ourselves completely in the recognition of ultimate reality, but, we maintain a sensitivity to everything and we seek to undue the injustice and suffering of our world. It would mean that to see someone starving brings you compassionate pain, yet, all the while maintaining that this person whom is suffering is as divine and eternal as you are. It is a type of awakening that acknowledges the suffering of others as your own suffering.
Over 10 years ago there was a study done in East Africa assessing depression in chimpanzees. To sum it up, they found that on average, 10% of the chimpanzees in the wild showed signs of depression. These “depressed” chimps stationed themselves on the perimeter of their troop and seemed very socially disengaged, hyper-vigilant, and didn’t sleep well. The study had anthropologists remove the depressed chimps. And what happened after was staggering. A year later after the removal the entire troop had died. It was hypothesized that the depressed chimps were an “early warning system” for the troop. The “depressed” chimps where the ones who sounded alarms for the troop to warn them of situations of peril and decay. So without a warning system, without the most sensitive ones among them, the troop had succumbed to the dangers of their environment.
Humans are very similar to chimpanzees in this regard, yet, we deal with those most sensitive among us by ignoring them, prescribing them drugs that suppress their emotions, and by viewing them as “diseased,” “irrational,” or “weak.” Depression is endemic to modern culture and has been drastically rising. Eight times more young adults meet the criteria for major depression and anxiety disorders than they did only 50 years ago. The depressed are the most sensitive among us. If we fail to see depression as a warning sign that our way of life is not working, then we are repressing our own emotions and giving self-destruction a chance to prevail.
All too often we distract ourselves from feeling the darkness because we feel helpless to be able to do anything. Yet, I have faith in all of us that we are not damned to a destructive future because I sense a growing concern. Yet we must acknowledge that our way of life must be drastically changed. We must acknowledge the slavery of people both psychologically and economically. We must become alive to the fact that we are the creators of this life. We must take responsibility for our lives and realize that the act of love is power.
I feel we must all make a deep promise from the bottom of our souls to heed this call. We cannot turn away from this. Spirituality is becoming aware of the darkness around us and within us, then taking responsibility to turn that darkness into the light of love, so that we may live up to our highest calling.
Are we afraid to be who we are? Are we afraid to break free from this way of life and to create something different… to create a world that exists of light, love, compassion, and unity?
The reality is that we are all in some way co-dependent on each other, and therefore, our existence intrinsically depends on cooperation. Ignoring this fact maintains our fear and greed motivated existence, yet fully acknowledging this truth will have us compassionately feeling the pain of the world and of others. In this feeling we will be forced to stand up to the darkness within us, as well as within our society. If we do not heed this call we will not be capable of fulfilling our great destiny.
It is the 11th hour. It is now or never… Let us be brave, let us be vocal, let us wake up, and let us end the corruption and greed within us and the world for the sake of justice, peace, and love.
I have faith that we can overcome the greatest challenges that face humanity today, because, I feel an arising compassion in all of your hearts. We must move into an era where repression is no longer possible. This is the era of acknowledging the great responsibility inherent to our spiritual awakening.