Friday, January 27, 2006

Radicals and Republicans

An essential dimension of activating a sacred vision for America is going beyond political polarities, not by erasing the differences but by understanding the importance of both poles in a larger context. Seen deeply, the truths carried by radical liberals and rock-ribbed conservatives are both required for America to step into greater maturity as a country.

Our political process tends to drive people towards frozen identities. Candidates gradually morph into more perfect expressions of their party values as they respond to the pressures of voters and their party. The end result: blind, habitual behavior. Once we are frozen in any identity, our continued growth is slowed or even arrrested. We stop seeing the benefit of other perspectives and privilege certain values over others. True leadership demands fluidity to meet the specific requirements of any situation.

At this critical crossroads in history, we need wise and effective political leadership and that requires some cross-training.

One way to think about the spectrum from long-haired radicals to buttoned-down conservatives is that they represent different kinds of training in relationship to our life force – the vital energy that powers our lives. This life force can express on many levels, from our physical activity to our sexuality to how we wear our hair and how we manage money. It also applies to how we manage life force in the form of companies, organizations, and governments.

The more radical camp is driven by a desire to let this life force express in new ways. Burning Man might be seen as the ultimate expression of this perspective – a yearly 30,000 person experiment in communal living in the Nevada desert, complete with massive art installments, themed camps, all-night parties, and a money-free economy. The creativity unleashed in this process is truly spectacular. And by the end of the week, it all disappears without a trace.

The conservative camp is busy cultivating the opposite: fierce mastery over our life force. Military training might be the pinnacle of this perspective, with its intense physical discipline, loyalty to rules, buzzed hair, personal sacrifice for country, uniforms, and a clear chain of command. It is about protecting what we cherish, including family and personal property, as well as disciplining our life force to move according to our will and the will of our superiors.

This polarity shows up in many ways. Liberals may experiment with communal living, blending personal boundaries with shared spaces. Republicans are members of the NRA to protect their personal property. Radicals question tradition. Republicans revere it. Radicals like the freedom-laden term “spirituality.” Republicans tend towards religion, which literally comes from the root ligare which means “to bind.” Even insults are illustrative: “flaming liberals” is a way of describing someone with an unfettered flow of life force. “tight-assed conservative” is a way of describing someone who is tightening their body to discipline the flow of energy.

I am, of course, talking mainly about stereotypes rather than individuals right now. I focus on stereotypes because they can lead to an important recognition: namely that the radically experimental view of life can be seen as a way to free up life force from old pathways – it allows creativity, fluidity, and an expanded sense of identity. It encourages the emergence of the new. The conservative paradigm is a training in disciplining life force, mastering it with our will and channeling it along specific lines, which often leads to greater profitability as well as enduring, effective organizations.

These trainings initiate something different in us. If we don’t embrace both, our highest potentials tend not be activated. In men, for example, someone who remains attached to the free flow of life force often fails to embrace some of the traditional virtues of manhood. In our circles in California we call them “flow boys.”They crave freedom and fear commitment. They tend not to marry for a long time and they often don’t build much that endures, financially or organizationally.

When younger, with wide-open intellectual and spiritual horizons, the more radical perspective is typically at the foreground. Rebellion against what we’ve inherited is essential. However, as we take on increasing responsibilities and commitments, from marriage to family to organizations and governments, we often need to embrace the disciplining of our life force into channels. We typically need to restrict our sexuality to create a deep marriage, dress a certain way to influence, focus on building a single career, and make our relationship with money more rigorous, thinking like an investor. That’s when the conservative training can be essential.

If squashed, the radical orientation fails to free us up sufficiently from what is outdated, lopsided, and close-minded in what we’ve inherited. Over-indulged, it keeps us from maturing into someone who can lead families, churches, and organizations.

So, perhaps the most useful program we could advance would be an alliance program to bring together radicals and Republicans. The radicals could help free up the evolutionary life force of the Republicans. And the Republicans could bestow the manifesting power s that come from committed disciplines.

Out of such an exchange, great political leadership could again emerge.

Originally published by

Sacred America Series #3

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Patriotism and Progress

Sacred America series, #2

The love of many Americans for their country is no small thing. They are willing to fight and die to protect the land of their birth. They glorify it in songs. And they wear it with pride on their bumpers and T-shirts.

Love of that magnitude is a potent force. Political campaigns from Republican to Democratic to third parties attempt to harness that love and ride the swell of emotion to victory. It has become a badge of honor for political candidates to wear their patriotism with pride.

The only problem is that the love that drives much patriotism has become dangerously partial. Useful critiques of our country and its policies are seen as anti-patriotic rather than an expression of a higher kind of love. The straight truth is often banished from the table or viewed with disdain. When unquestioned loyalty is confused with true patriotism, we begin to undermine the possibility of the country progressing still further.

Love is a force that calls us to greater wholes – a bigger vision of ourselves, a more committed relationship with another, a more selfless mission, a deepened sense of compassion for those who are not quite like us. True love embraces the moment but also propels us forward. Love is not static but dynamic, spiraling us towards ever-greater levels of intimacy, creativity, and adventure.

Think for a moment about a teacher who had a big impact on your life. I would wager that it was not the teacher who let you do whatever you wanted. Those teachers tend to be popular but not influential. The high impact teacher more often cares deeply enough to call students to live into greater, nobler, and more selfless visions of themselves. They help their students stretch into greater maturity. They expand the student’s vision and goad them into excellence.

These influential teachers don’t usually make their love contingent upon our achievements. They embrace us for who we are, right now, with all our shortcomings and fears. But they also hold a bold picture of who we can become. That’s what differentiates a great teacher from a mediocre one – an engaged love that calls us into our greatest vision of our self.

Patriotism that consists of flag waving and protecting the status quo is a bit like the “popular” teacher – easy on us in the moment but undermining of our potential. What America needs now is a deeper kind of progressive patriotism based upon a profound appreciation of the noble parts of America’s history that nonetheless does not shy away from facing current levels of corruption, deception, and misdeeds. In facing America’s shadowy truths, though, progressive patriots need to look more deeply than the surface problems and see the noble striving at the core of our country.

Such a patriotism begins to access a level that I imagine as the country’s soul – its core calling, dharma, or destiny. Patriotism that shies away from rigorous truthtelling remains on the surface, relating to our country as a stranger rather than intimate family. A more full-spectrum kind of patriotism is like a key that turns the lock of our country’s innermost secrets. Without it, intelligent, rational critiques of policies, structures, and programs often fail.

To change America, we must first love it. But once we’ve established that loving relationship, we must then champion an even greater, more mature version of our country. Even if one believes that we are the greatest country on earth, we are not nearly so great today as we could be tomorrow. That recognition is at the root of progress.

Conservatives have often erred on the side of patriotic pride that reinforces the status quo and blinds us to the next higher possibility. They can become rigid and close-minded. Liberals have often dwelt in the critiques to such an extent that they no longer feel authentic love for their country. Their voices can become strident and bitter. Both approaches hold us back from a deeper kind of relationship with our country that is based in a love that transcends dichotomies to embrace the truth of where we are -- including all our failures, inadequacies, and problems -- while still passionately calling us to our highest potential.

Our country is still young – a late adolescent among civilizations. In relationship to this young adult of a country, we need to take the stance resembling influential teachers, loving our country where it is while also calling it to still greater roles of leadership, service, honor, and creativity. That is when patriotism and progress can go hand in hand.

Stephen Dinan

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sacred America

For many who are committed to healing this world, America has developed something of a mixed reputation: innovative and bold on the one hand, but wasteful, arrogant, and self-interested on the other. Add the term “sacred” in front of “America” and many envision a kind of fundamentalism that blinds us to our shadows, inflates our sense of self-worth, and goads us into righteous battles.

In the course of 2006, I intend to write weekly about how we can reclaim a sacred vision for America, a vision in which America is truly leading the next stage of planetary evolution, not out of arrogance but out of a profoundly selfless sense of compassion, honor, and destiny. I see this as the essence of our political DNA, which was activated in such extraordinary ways 230 years ago. There is a deeper history of America that, when recognized, points to an even more glorious future, one in which we actualize our ideals and lead beyond today’s global challenges into a peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous future.

We are in an era of intensified global problems. As the sole remaining superpower, America will be required to play an important role in successfully addressing those problems. We can either become a great champion of positive change. Or we can resist, protect our “interests” and become rightfully seen as a selfish empire-builder.

If we choose rightly, we can, quite literally, become the midwife of a new planetary culture unparalleled in history. To do so, though, many shifts will be needed in how we see ourselves and our role in the world. We’ll need new approaches to public problem solving and reformed structures of government. Expanded systems of leadership training and deeper forms of community. Innovative approaches to diplomacy and integral models of healing. Sustainable businesses and lower-impact lifestyles. Fierce truthtelling and skilled bridgebuilding. The list of shifts is vast, but I believe they can be simplified by imagining a Master Plan for America – a grand vision of what we can still become, followed by specific strategies and tactics to put such a plan into action.

In my weekly writings this year, I plan to focus on how the big-picture shifts required by such a Master Plan for America will involve deep shifts in not only our social and political systems, but also in the consciousness of our citizens. Without a more enlightened, creative, and healthy citizenry, the best political and economic reforms will dissipate. The evolution of America thus cannot be separated from the evolution of consciousness of her citizens.

So, I want to begin this yearlong journey with a vision for Sacred America. Vision is the homing device we plant in our future. That homing device draws us magnetically forward, especially as we begin to trust that the universe, Spirit, God, Tao or whatever name we choose for the Great Mystery supports our success. When we imagine a potential future with vivid detail and creative commitment, we can begin to activate that vision in others and attract the resources and forces necessary to bring it into being. The suffragettes saw a future in which women were the political equals of men. Those who abolished slavery knew that a brighter future for African-Americans was possible. Those future visions helped them weather the setbacks of their day and draw our country inexorably forward.

Standing in today’s America and looking forward in a visionary mode, I vividly see a world that has evolved beyond war. At some point in the not-so-distant future, war between nation states will become unthinkable. Children will read in their history books of millions dying in vast worldwide holocausts and they will open their eyes wide, asking their parents, “Those stories can’t be true, can they? Did people REALLY use to do that to each other?”

I envision America gradually transforming itself from the greatest military power in the world into the greatest peace-making power. I see America training the peace troops of tomorrow – the healers, facilitators, social engineers, artists, psychologists, and teachers who will be on the front lines, defusing conflicts before they develop into wars and healing social wounds before they fester. I see an America in which a Department of Peace surpasses the Department of Defense in money, influence, and power. Our military infrastructure will have evolved to train powerfully disciplined torchbearers of a new culture. The wars of the past will give way to an era of global peace, sustainability and prosperity.

America can lead this transformation. Indeed, I believe it is our sacred destiny to reclaim the greatness in the American soul, shoulder the burdens that greatness requires, and offer ourselves as co-creators in the Master Plan. I invite others to join me in this yearlong exploration, either as readers, activists, leaders, change agents, or fellow writers. Together, we can begin to activate a new vision of America’s highest spiritual potential and create new pathways to its manifestation.

Stephen Dinan
January 14, 2006

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