Sacred America, Sacred World

Installment #2

Introduction: Part Two

Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, with my parents Bill and Connie and my brother Mike, I felt comfortably distant from American politics. Duluth is far from Washington, DC literally and psychologically, as well as one of the chilliest places in the lower forty-eight states, averaging just eight degrees above zero for all of January.

Nonetheless, it has a warm and welcoming community, well stocked with Scandinavians and other hardy peoples of the north. Neighbors were always eager to help, whether with chicken soup if you were sick or a snowplow if you were snowed in. We were blessed by endless acres of forests and the vast, shimmering beauty of Lake Superior, which made us all feel prosperous in natural wealth. We enjoyed a life of middleclass than we could visit, and plentiful programs for swimming, baseball, soccer, and more. People had aspirations and ambitions, but it was mostly for a settled and comfortable middle-class life.

My parents were actively involved in the community through their jobs — my father as Duluth’s city attorney and my mom as a counselor for high school students and displaced homemakers — and through our Episcopal church, which reached out to the poor and marginalized. There were certainly many people in Duluth who were stuck in abusive marriages, alcoholic, or living in abject poverty. But the numbers of such people seemed small in comparison to the large and relatively content middle class. On the whole, Duluth was a modestly prosperous and healthy community — a positive example of American culture.

Local politics would periodically intrude when my father worried over his job. As the city attorney, he was a pawn in the chess match between the city council and the mayor. And because he was appointed by the mayor, he could be fired at any time. My father managed to survive decades at his post — a testament to his balanced temperament — but the crossfire exacted a toll, leaving a vague feeling in our family that politics was a life-negating force. That was the extent of my involvement with politics while growing up, aside from reading about national politics, which felt very far away.

I carried this arms-length relationship with politics into my undergraduate years at Stanford University, where I was more interested in neurobiology and psychology than politics. I read enough to be informed, though, and gradually questioned more seriously the integrity with which our country was run. But I did not truly engage the process of political change. Real change, in my view at that time, came from growth in human consciousness.

And so I devoted myself to the latest frontiers of psychology, philosophy, science, and healing. I devoured the work of pioneers of human psychology like Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, and A. H. Almaas and integral philosophers like Sri Aurobindo, Michael Murphy, and Ken Wilber. I opened to a mystical understanding of Christianity and Sufism. I studied Hinduism and kabbalah, bodywork and aikido, meditation and shamanism — anything that promised to deliver greater wisdom. I did many ten-day silent meditation retreats and entered into a training for Holotropic Breathwork, which opened new vistas beyond the everyday mind.

During this time, Washington, DC, felt like gazing backward; it lacked the dynamism and power of the worlds I was discovering. So I largely stayed disengaged. My real political awakening happened in 2003, when I finally allowed myself to feel heartrending dismay with the state of our country, which had grown militaristic, reactive, and fearful. The events of 9/11 could have opened the floodgates of America’s heart; instead we gave in to the tyranny of revenge and war. After years of being disengaged, I finally woke up to my duty to get involved. I began to understand on a visceral level that our leaders were my representatives and my emissaries to the rest of the world.

Recognizing that my cool distance had been a form of silent support, I saw that I had to take more personal responsibility for America’s policies and call forth something better from our people. Indeed, I began to see that my passion for positive change in psychology, health, spirituality, business, and other realms could not find its full and final expression until our political system passed laws and policies that supported a peaceful, sustainable, healthy, and prosperous world.

After beginning to write articles, volunteer for political campaigns, and speak truth about our political system, I kept returning to the evolutionary ideals and liberating spiritual practices I had ardently cultivated during the previous decade. I intuitively knew that they held a vital key for our political process to reflect our highest aspirations.

Mahatma Gandhi had built his Indian liberation movement on disciplined spiritual practices that became satyagraha, a Hindu term Gandhi coined that literally means “truth force.” With a foundation of equanimity and inner strength, satyagrahis were able to apply nonviolence in powerful ways that eventually called both the British and Indians to higher ground. Martin Luther King Jr. carried the same torch of nonviolent, spiritually based engagement that lifts people on both sides of a divide, producing profound evolution while addressing injustice.

As I sought a marriage, within my own being, of spiritual understanding and political passion, something profound began to emerge for the first time: a patriotic love for our country that felt intimately connected to our collective higher purpose. It took the form of a faint but growing recognition that the greatness of America’s soul has yet to find its full expression, either politically or spiritually. While many celebrate our past accomplishments as the mark of America’s “exceptionalism,” our true greatness lies in a deeper kind of service to the world that lies in our future. I began to see that our higher mission is about America demonstrating real leadership in helping to create a world that works for all.

As I came to these realizations, my certainty grew that our “soul’s code” as a country is built on timeless ideals and a spirit of service that can eventually lead us to fulfill its promise. The America I truly love is one in which the greed, self-interest, and corruption have been washed away to reveal a radiant gift for the world: a society designed as an enlightened template to empower the best in humanity. Our founders embedded universal ideals into the vision for our country, ideals that, while they have never been perfectly enacted, did put us on the path to throw off the shackles of old social orders and eventually create liberty and justice for all, which is still a mighty and worthy goal.

To be continued in the next issue of Catalyst...

Click on the following to read:   Installment #1

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This article appears in: 2021 Catalyst, Issue 10 - Transform Your Health Summit