The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
Chapter 36: Initiation
A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.
―Jorge Luis Borges
But will we make it? If, as in so many other questions, evidence and reason alone are insufficient to determine a belief, then how will we answer that question—especially when the answer implicates everything else, even our basic stories of self and world. I offered an answer earlier: to choose the story you will stand in.
How to choose? What will you believe, given how easily reason, logic, and evidence are conscripted to the service of a story? Here is an alternative: Choose the story that best embodies who you really are, who you wish to be, and who you are in fact becoming.
Behind the fog of helplessness of the question “Will we make it?” is a gateway to our power to choose and to create. Because written on its threshold is another question, the real question: “Who am I?”
The despair is only as valid as the story beneath it that generates what we believe possible. The story beneath it is the Story of Self. So who are you? Are you a discrete and separate individual in a world of other? Or are you the totality of all relationships, converging at a particular locus of attention? Get over the fantasy that you can answer this question by finding proof. Reading one more book on psi phenomena or past-life regression won’t satisfy your inner skeptic. No amount of evidence will be enough. You are just going to have to choose, without proof. Who are you?
The mystics have been offering us an answer for thousands of years—two answers. On the one hand, strip away everything that connects you to the world, your money, your relationships, your arms and legs, your language, and still something that is “you” is left. I am not this. I am not that. Something minus everything is nothing; hence the first answer: you are nothing. But when we go there, we find that nothing is not nothing, it is everything: all things spring from the void, and a speck of quantum vacuum has the energy of a billion suns.
And so the second answer: you are everything. Take away even the tiniest relationship and you are diminished as well; add one and you are increased; change any being in this cosmos, and you are altered as well. You are, therefore, everything: a web of relationship, each containing all.
That is the self of interbeing. Divested of “situation,” your attention is my attention is everyone’s attention. We are the same being looking out at the world through different eyes. And these “eyes,” these vantage points, are each unique. As the comedian Swami Beyondananda puts it, “You are a totally unique being—just like everybody else!”
I won’t say more about the nature of being. The more I say the less true it becomes. Besides, who am I to know what “you” are? So let’s just say that the separate self we have lived with, in various guises, for the last few centuries is one of many possible stories of self.
Who are you? It is not an objective question, which story and which self is the real you. It isn’t only that no accumulation of evidence will answer it; it is that there is no objective fact of the matter. There is, however, what is true. Can you sense that the truth of who you are is changing? Do you know that less and less are you the self of Separation?
The separate self that is afraid to give, afraid to serve, a victim of impersonal forces, and helpless to affect the hostile world out there very much is the same self that wants proof that it is not that self. I cannot prove it to you, I cannot prove that the Story of Interbeing is true, just as neither side can prove to the other that they are right in politics or often even in science. Reliance on certain proof is part of the old story, part of which is the story we call Objectivity. You are going to have to choose, and you can no longer take refuge from that choice in proof. This goes for every question you face. Which belief is true? All the more this is so for the question “Who am I?”
Do I still hear the cynic, the betrayed one, saying, “What happens if I choose to be the self of interbeing and therefore to live in a world-story in which healing is possible, but I am just deluding myself?” That question, you might recognize, carries the same energy as “Will we make it?” It is the plaintive cry of the separate self. “What if I am alone? What if I give and serve, but no one in this hostile world gives back to me and takes care of me?” The conclusion: “I’d better play it safe. I’d better look out for my own interests and maximize my own security.” Add up billions of people all thinking the same thing and acting from it, and you can see that it is from our collective immersion in that story that we have created its image and its confirmation in the world around us. We have created the evidence that we then insert into the foundation of our story as its justification.
Choose to live in a new story and you’ll experience a similar self-confirming positive feedback loop. You will have migrated into a different world, with different laws. I get letters all the time saying things like “I gave away all my money, and I can hardly believe the magic that has unfolded in my life.” Sometimes New Age teachers, being aware of such stories or having experienced themselves the results of liberation from scarcity programming, advocate that people change their beliefs around money. Easier said than done, when those beliefs are part of a much larger mosaic, an integral pattern at whose center lies “Who I am.” Only when that is changing can associated beliefs change with it, resolving into a new and more beautiful pattern. But if “who I am” hasn’t changed, it will drag other beliefs back into alignment with itself, with separation, no matter how hard you try to avoid “negativity.” Negativity is built in to our most basic mythology of self and world.
Ultimately, unless one has stepped at least partway into the Story of Interbeing, it will not only be impossible to change isolated derivative beliefs, it will also be impossible to create anything but the image of Separation in the world. Nothing you do will really be of service. Even if you fight against self-interest in order to “be a good person,” you are still serving the end of appearing (to oneself and others) as a good person, and not actually serving other people and the world. So stop trying to be a good person. Instead just choose who you are. What you create from that will be of far greater service than anything you achieve out of covert vanity. Besides, our semiconscious concept of “being good” is hopelessly entangled with mechanisms of social conformity and bourgeois morality that serve to perpetuate the status quo. It restrains us from taking the bold actions that disrupt the old story. In this regard, we might even have something to learn from the psychopaths.
Another reason why we could say that all the effective action toward a more beautiful world comes from “Who am I?” is that that question implies another: “Who are you?” In other words, we see others through the same lens as we see ourselves. Seeing others as interbeings who desire deeply to give and be of service, we will engage them accordingly, holding the space for them to see themselves that way too. If on the other hand we see them as selfish and separate, we will engage them accordingly, applying the tactics of force, and pushing them toward a story in which they are alone in a hostile universe.
Earlier I described how activist tactics that are based on leveraging an opponent’s fear of public opinion and desire for profit in effect say to that opponent, “I know you. You are selfish and corrupt. You don’t want to do the right thing, so we are going to have to force you.” To believe that about someone we must believe it about ourselves too, even if we tell ourselves that unlike them, we have overcome that in ourselves. Moreover, by believing that about someone we hold that story open for them, inviting them to fulfill that role. When they do, we feel vindicated in our tactics and our way of seeing them. But when we stand in the new story the same dynamic brings the opposite results. We look at everyone around us, including those we would have seen as opponents and all the people we judged, and we now telegraph to them, “I know you. You are a magnificent divine being who thirsts to express that divinity in service. You, like I, want to apply your gifts toward the creation of a more beautiful world.”
Most of us cannot stand alone in the new story—to do so would contradict the basic principle of interbeing. If you are part of me, then if you are in separation, so also is a part of me. Lord knows there are a lot of social and economic forces holding us in the old story. A miracle or a breakdown can catapult us temporarily out of the world of separation, but to stay there, most of us need help. This is something we can all offer each other. That is why I say enlightenment is a group effort.
The road to Reunion has many twists and turns. Sometimes a hairpin turn makes it look like each step takes us farther away from the destination. These turnarounds, even the dead ends and backtracks, are all part of the path through the new territory of interbeing. It is unfamiliar to us, that territory. There are few maps, and we have not yet learned to see the trail. We are following an invisible path, learning from each other how to follow it. As we do that, and as we learn to see its subtle markings, the path becomes visible. Absent a map, and in the very early stages of a new story, we can only follow our intuition at each choice point, guided by our heart-compass, not knowing how our turnings will add up to the destination. Frequently our habits of separation lead us to stray onto the old, worn paths that we can see. We have to develop new vision, to see the faint traces of ancient footsteps that lead out of the maze. We have to see the terrain itself, the truth behind the stories.
As we walk, the destination bobs in and out of view. Ascending a hill—there it is! Somehow my wanderings have taken me closer. Descending into a vale, feeling lost, searching for the right direction, I come to doubt that the destination I saw really exists. At those moments I meet another traveler. “Yes,” he says, “I have seen it too.” We share what we have learned about how to walk the invisible path. As more of us enter this territory, these meetings happen more frequently, and together we find our way toward the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
One common pattern on this path is that a first venture into new territory can be smooth for a while, but soon life provides an experience that says, “Are you sure? Are you sure this is where you want to live and who you want to be?” For example, you leave a job that provided financial security, trusting that you’ll be okay following your heart. But no miracle job opens, your savings dwindles, and the lurking fears that were hiding behind that assurance “it will work out somehow” come to the fore. Who are you, really? If everything had gone smoothly, you would not have to face that question full in the face. Sometimes a choice has to be stark to clarify who we really are. The “what if” fears come to pass, or look convincingly as if they will. A woman said to me, “I’m afraid that if I start standing up for what I want, then my husband will leave me.” Eventually she did just that—and her husband did leave her. Stop living the way you have lived, and maybe the worst will come to pass. At least it will threaten to. Then you will understand whether you are willing to make a real choice, or the conditional choice predicated on the hope it will all work out, and ready to be reversed as soon as it looks like it won’t.
When one goes through a series of initiations like this into the new story, he or she becomes strong in it. Being strong in it, one can hold that story open for other people. Even if someone cannot, in a moment of crisis or when facing their own initiation, believe in the Story of Interbeing, a strong, initiated person can believe it for them, holding that possibility open until they are ready to step into it. With each initiation we become stronger carriers, and our words and actions become part of that story’s telling.
I hope this book has served to strengthen you as a teller, a carrier, and a servant of the new Story of the People. I will end with a story of my own.
Once upon a time a great tribe of people lived in a world far away from ours. Whether far away in space, or in time, or even outside of time, we do not know. They lived in a state of enchantment and joy that few of us today dare to believe could exist, except in those exceptional peak experiences when we glimpse the true potential of life and mind.
One day the elders of the tribe called a meeting. They gathered around, and one of them spoke very solemnly. “My friends,” she said, “there is a world that needs our help. It is called Earth, and its fate hangs in the balance. Its humans have reached a critical point in their collective birthing, the same point our own planet was at one million years ago, and they will be stillborn without our help. Who would like to volunteer for a mission to this time and place, and render service to humanity?”
“Tell us more about this mission,” they asked.
“It is no small thing. Our shaman will put you into a deep, deep trance, so complete that you will forget who you are. You will live a human life, and in the beginning you will completely forget your origins. You will forget even our language and your own true name. You will be separated from the wonder and beauty of our world, and from the love that bathes us all. You will miss it deeply, yet you will be unable to name what you are missing. You will remember the love and beauty that we know to be normal only as a longing in your heart. Your memory will take the form of an intuitive knowledge, as you plunge into the painfully marred Earth, that a more beautiful world is possible.
“As you grow up in that world, your knowledge will be under constant assault. You will be told in a million ways that a world of destruction, violence, drudgery, anxiety, and degradation is normal. You may go through a time when you are completely alone, with no allies to affirm your knowledge of a more beautiful world. You may plunge into a depth of despair that we, in our world of light, cannot imagine. But no matter what, a spark of knowledge will never leave you. A memory of your true origin will be encoded in your DNA. That spark will lie within you, inextinguishable, until one day it is awakened.
“You see, even though you will feel, for a time, utterly alone, you will not be alone. We will send you assistance, help that you will experience as miraculous, experiences that you will describe as transcendent. These will fan that spark into a flame. For a few moments or hours or days, you will reawaken to the beauty and the joy that is meant to be. You will see it on Earth, for even though the planet and its people are deeply wounded, there is beauty there still, projected from past and future onto the present as a promise of what is possible and a reminder of what is real.
“After that glimpse, the flame may die down into an ember again as the routines of normal life there swallow you up. But after each awakening, they will seem less normal, and the story of that world will seem less real. The ember will glow brighter. When enough embers do that, they will all burst into flame together and sustain each other.
“Because remember, you will not be there alone. As you begin to awaken to your mission you will meet others of our tribe. You will recognize them by your common purpose, values, and intuitions, and by the similarity of the paths you have walked. As the condition of the planet Earth reaches crisis proportions, your paths will cross more and more. The time of loneliness, the time of thinking you might be crazy, will be over.
“You will find the people of your tribe all over the Earth, and become aware of them through the long-distance communication technologies used on that planet. But the real shift, the real quickening, will happen in face-to-face gatherings in special places. When many of you gather together you will launch a new stage on your journey, a journey that, I assure you, will end where it begins right now. Then, the mission that lay unconscious within you will flower into consciousness. Your intuitive rebellion against the world presented to you as normal will become an explicit quest to create a more beautiful one.”
A woman said, “Tell us more about the time of loneliness, that we might prepare for it.”
The elder said, “In the time of loneliness, you will always be seeking to reassure yourself that you are not crazy. You will do that by telling people all about what is wrong with the world, and you will feel a sense of betrayal when they don’t listen to you. You might hunger for stories of wrongness, atrocity, and ecological destruction, all of which confirm the validity of your intuition that a more beautiful world exists. But after you have fully received the help we will send you, and the quickening of your gatherings, you will no longer need to do that. Because you will know. Your energy will thereafter turn toward actively creating that more beautiful world.”
A tribeswoman asked, “How do you know this will work? Are you sure our shaman’s powers are great enough to send us on such a journey?”
The elder replied, “I know it will work because he has done it many times before. Many have already been sent to Earth, to live human lives, and to lay the groundwork for the mission you will undertake now. He’s been practicing! The only difference now is that many of you will venture there at once. What is new in the time you will live in, is that you will gather in critical mass, and each awaken the other to your mission. The heat you will generate will kindle the same spark that lies in every human being, for in truth, each one is from a tribe like ours. The whole galaxy and beyond is converging on Earth, for never before has a planet journeyed so far into Separation and made it back again. Those of you who go will be part of a new step in cosmic evolution.”
A tribesman asked, “Is there a danger we will become lost in that world, and never wake up from the shamanic trance? Is there a danger that the despair, the cynicism, the pain of separation will be so great that it will extinguish the spark of hope, the spark of our true selves and origin, and that we will be separated from our beloved ones forever?”
The elder replied, “That is impossible. The more deeply you get lost, the more powerful the help we will send you. You might experience it at the time as a collapse of your personal world, the loss of everything important to you. Later you will recognize the gift within it. We will never abandon you.”
Another man asked, “Is it possible that our mission will fail, and that this planet, Earth, will perish?”
The elder replied, “I will answer your question with a paradox. It is impossible that your mission will fail. Yet, its success hangs on your own actions. The fate of the world is in your hands. The key to this paradox lies within you, in the feeling you carry that each of your actions, even your personal, secret struggles, has cosmic significance. You will know then, as you know now, that everything you do matters.”
There were no more questions. The volunteers gathered in a circle, and the shaman went to each one. The last thing each was aware of was the shaman blowing smoke in his or her face. They entered a deep trance and dreamed themselves into the world where we find ourselves today.