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A Pattern in My Life (Part I)

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In response to my essay "The Wholeness of Nature," posted here last week, a reader on my own website posted a comment objecting to such a "distraction." We ought not, he said, spend our time under the current circumstances pondering "the wonders of nature."

You are looking in the wrong place for dimensions of Wholeness needed at the present time in history, Andy [this reader wrote]. Take your eyes off the forest, which will or will not grow without you, and the interconnections among natural systems.

"[T]o save our threatened traditional climate, to prevent a thermonuclear war, and to reduce class inequality, both in the US and between the countries of the world." He argued that we should leave such things as nature to itself and focus our concern for Wholeness instead on the study of earthpeople.

I'm all for that study of earthpeople, and indeed have devoted some forty years to it. But whatever would be some welcome and appropriate additions to our SEEING THINGS WHOLE anthology, there's another point that should be made here: That reader's argument reflects, I think, a failure to discern the true nature, the true workings, the true power of Wholeness.


Here, to illustrate what I'm talking about, is an account of one experience I had in which seeing the Larger Whole empowered me to take on the very battle on which Morley thinks we should maintain our sole focus.

In a second installment, to be posted soon, I will present a second instance in which I experienced much the same thing: contact with the Whole prepared me for the struggle against the forces of destruction.

These two instances, together, form what I've come to believe is a rather significant --in the sense of its "signifying" something important-- "Pattern in My Life."


[from the piece, "One Big Things I Once Saw," which can be found in its entirety at <a href="click here

It was in 1970 that I first happened upon my calling. And it happened in two stages, both of them launched by a visionary experience that moved me deeply and that, to this day, I struggle to integrate into my usual, more rational-Enlightenment way of thinking and seeing.

And I believe this story has something of value to offer to us now struggling with the darkness of our times. So there's a reason why I'm telling this story here and now, and why I'm inviting you to come along with me on it.

The second stage was the envisioning of that deeply clarifying picture of the meaning of human history that is now found in the book THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES. (The first chapter, and main statement, of this work was published here under the title "The Most Important Thing I've Ever Written," at click here I always identify my receiving that vision as the hinge around which my entire life rotated onto a new course. That stage began on an August afternoon in San Francisco, while I was sitting on a bench just outside the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, and then walking from there into the Arbortum to a place right next to a fountain.

And before I left that fountain, I knew that my life would never be the same. How could it? I had just made a solemn promise to Something out there that I would do my very best to develop and articulate what I had just seen. Fourteen years later, the University of California Press published that vision as THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES: THE PROBLEM OF POWER IN SOCIAL EVOLUTION.

And you cannot imagine how many stories there are in between, many of them having to do with the privilege of seeing something that shakes my bones and gives my life meaning, and many of them having to do with struggling to get anywhere whatever in a world that is not organized to reward visions like that-- visions that challenge so many of the lies we tell ourselves about the nature of the systems in which we live, and about what we should be doing to heal this diseased civilization of ours and make it what it should be.

But that second, life-changing vision actually followed a first-- which I have always suspected somehow provided the foundation that made the second possible. It was a kind of vision of the sacred that lit my fire, and that made my soul hungry and deep enough to see what I later saw. [emphasis added for the present purpose.]

That first vision happened in a little shop in San Francisco that sells those Russian "hamburgers" called pirogi. I was there with maybe three people --I believe my brother and my girlfriend of that time were two of them-- and suddenly I had a vision of the earth as this Great Living Whole, a single body of which we are part.

And that vision of this Whole then moved into a sense of how we are part of that body of the earth. At that time, I'd been reading a book by a fellow named Fritz Kahn called THE HUMAN BODY IN STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION, and from it I had developed a sense of a sacred and beautiful, intricate and life-serving wholeness to the human body. What a beautiful miracle that something so whole and synergistic and adaptive and exquisitely crafted as the human body --as indeed Life in all its forms-- could just emerge into existence in this mysterious cosmos.

So for me, at that time, the image of the body was one that had a kind of divine aura about it. And so when I saw the Earth as this wonderful Whole --and this was, I believe, some years before Lovelock came out with that Gaia hypothesis (or at least before I got wind of it)-- I was already getting into a kind of numinous space.

And then the spiritual excitement crested as I envisioned people like me as certain kinds of cells in that body. By "people like me" I mean those who were suffering because of the sorry state we saw the world to be in-- the war in Vietnam grinding on so terribly and, worse, futilely; the sight of the country I love being governed by such a lying, devious man as Richard Nixon; the fears about the dangers of war in a nuclear age and about the steady degradation of the biosphere by greed-driven and fundamentally unthinking human activity.

But my focus in this vision was not really on US who were suffering, but rather on the suffering itself. That suffering, I saw in this luminous moment, was a part of the wholeness of the Body itself, part of the way that the Body reacts to such dilemmas as the crisis of our civization in its urgent need to heal itself. Just as a human body has special cells that fight infection by mobilizing for combat against invading cells, so did we human cells --upon beholding the infection of a sick civilization on our planet-- experience suffering so that we will be moved to cure the sickness.

For it is our suffering that activates us --to end the war, to make our civilization more harmonious with the biosphere of which it is part, to try to empower truly GOOD leadership and not what is visible before us. Suffering activates us, and it is through that activation that the work gets done that serves the sacred Wholeness of life, of goodness, of beauty-- the work that must get done if we are to make the transition from the sickness now evident in our civilization to the health of which the human system is conceivably capable.

And what this means is that our suffering has meaning. And our realizing this meaning makes it easier to bear, indeed transforms it. One can embrace the suffering if one can see it as an intrinsic part of Doing God's Work, so to speak.


For us who struggle now in dark times in America, the implication is that we should be sustained and comforted in our suffering by the knowledge that the pain and distress we feel are the fuel that drives us to do the work that the struggling Earth and the struggling soul of humanity need for us to undertake: To end the wars, to make our civilization more harmonious with the biosphere of which it is part, to try to empower truly GOOD leadership and not what is visible before us.

If we can hold that suffering of ours in faith --seeing it not as an unwelcome negative but as part of the Good-- we will be the better sustained for the struggle. That's how faith moves mountains.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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