Transform and “Oneness”

The July 15 Transform: Spirituality and Social Change class focused on “oneness.” Conducted by Liza Rankow, it was another stimulating and rewarding event. A diverse group of sixteen individuals participated. As with the Faith and Feet training last weekend, three-fourths of the participants were women.

As I discussed in “Faith and Feet Reflections,” I failed to hear much self-criticism at that training. Last night, however, I heard more acknowledgement of personal weakness. In the full group, one participant referred to his falling short in his efforts to truly love others. One revealed a serious health issue. In my small breakout group which discussed “What does this worldview demand of you in your daily life,” participants spoke of their struggles with empathizing too strongly with the pain of others, reacting with too much anger at the actions of others, and becoming too self-centered. These and other instances of honest self-revelation were heartening, for I find the common reluctance to be open unfortunate.

One participant spoke honestly about his not understanding the key concept of oneness. “I get interconnectedness,” he said. “But I still feel separate. It’s still me acting.” I tried to help clarify the paradox by discussing my understanding of the difference between a distinction and a dichotomy (which separates). We can be full, distinct selves and still be at one with the universe. Afterwards, it struck me that I could have discussed my sense of being infused with that which I call “the Mystery that energizes and structures the universe,” or what others have called “the life force.” We can feel in harmony with that force and committed to honor its purpose: to evolve. Then, just now, I consulted the dictionary and found two helpful definitions for oneness: “the fact or state of being unified or whole, though comprised of two or more parts,” and “the state of being completely united with or a part of someone or something.” Regardless, the issue raised by that participant is crucial. It seems that we need to work on how to communicate more clearly our sense of oneness in a way to nurtures a “both-and” perspective rather than “either-or.”

For me, it does not work to say, as one participant did, “Ultimately we’re creating this oasis within ourselves.” That statement reminds me of Rumi’s, “There is no need to go outside.” That perspective is common among mystics. But those statements strike me as too individualistic. When I go inside I go outside automatically. And I feel that I am co-creating a communal oasis with the Great Spirit and my fellow humans in community.

At the moment, that co-creation is largely informal. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples does provide me with some sustenance. But as I discussed in “A Meditation on Deep Community,” I would prefer a more intentional structure that provides a safe haven that nurtures deep spiritual growth, including a commitment to changing root causes of suffering, including national policy.

In my forthcoming book, My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, I discuss that issue extensively and suggest twelve concrete, practical steps for how we can move in that direction. But the dehumanizing forces of modernization are so powerful, I do not expect that kind of holistic organizing to flourish. Reporting on one’s honest self-examination to others, even if with trusted allies, can be a difficult barrier that most people decline to cross. As James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.

But who knows? Maybe even within my lifetime I will be surprised. I did note some glimmers of hope in last night’s class.

In the meantime, I’ll try to be open, available, and responsive, and will continue to explore what others are doing, such as Generation Waking Up. I learned about that project from Joshua Gorman at last week’s Transform class and plan to participate in their intergenerational WakeUp Experience with artists, changemakers, and passion-filled community members of all ages Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Humanist Hall 390 27th Street in Oakland.

Their impressive website, which affirms changing “the system,” declares:

Across cultures and generations, we are forming a planet-wide ‘Movement of movements’ including every issue, approach, and sector of society that is remaking our world…. Our generation’s calling is clear: to create a thriving, just, sustainable world that works for all, we must take bold and systemic action to transform our whole society.

Their post on a workshop “Collective Liberation in Boston” reports:

Through both critical theory and experiential processes, they inquired deeply into what it will take to shift from chaos and disconnection to diverse, thriving community, and how to inspire political, cultural, and social transformations to make the vision of anti­-oppression and community a reality. Barbara drew the experiential content from Joanna Macy’s powerful body of work, the Work that Reconnects. The Work that Reconnects draws from deep ecology, systems theory, and spiritual traditions to build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture.

Though I find this project encouraging, I did note one item that concerns me. The site also quotes Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

The use of the word “never” is the first red flag. Absolute terms are usually a sign of sloppy thinking.

But more fundamentally, Gandhi and King would never have made that statement. I prefer the Gandhi-King approach. Nevertheless, I’ll go to the July 24 WakeUp Experience with abundant curiosity.

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