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Words of Power #10: Spiritual Challenges of the 21st Century Security Crisis, Part I
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies
hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."
"We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart."
(Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963)
An unprecedented security crisis is emerging. Its scope is planetary. Its consequences are dire. A strange confluence of powerful phenomenon (e.g., global warming, bird flu, terrorism, etc.) is already warping our common reality and impacting our lives in new and disruptive ways. The ingredients of this potent brew of risk are interacting to produce volatile and unpredictable reactions.
A decade or so down the timeline, the world we live in will look very different and much of the change will be for the worse.
This unprecedented security crisis poises some spiritual challenges for each of us and for humanity as a whole. Life styles will be threatened, economic conditions will deteriorate in many places used to at least a middle class level of affluence, resources that are taken for granted will become scarce, personal safety will become an immediate concern for many who feel relatively insulated today. If a significant percentage of the human race (significant percentages can be small) summons the vision and the courage to see clearly, speak directly and engage altruistically, the losses can be mitigated and the poisons can be transmuted.
These two themes, the 21st Century security crisis, unique in human history, and the profound spiritual challenges it confronts us with, are central in my work. Together with two other overarching principles -- i.e., that the issues of security, sustainability and spirit are interdependent, and that individuals must be empowered and enlightened on how to come to grips with these issues in both their personal lives and in their workplace -- they form four pillars and a foundation.
In “Words of Power #9: The Goblet of Fire, The Deep Magic & The Giant Sequoias,” I wrote about two of our allies in this great spiritual struggle: the transformative, ennobling power Myth and the miraculous, oracular power of Mother Nature. There are others, e.g., meditation, yoga, Chinese medicine, and future postings will go into each of these in context, but for now I want to further explore Myth and storytelling.
There are healthy myths and unhealthy myths.
Unhealthy myths split humanity off from nature, and seek to transcend nature instead of entering into a deeper communion with it.
Unhealthy myths divide the struggle into stark, simplistic dualities, light and dark, good and evil, heaven and earth.
Unhealthy myths do not tolerate other myths, leave room for other manifestations of divinity, or acknowledge other sources of magic.
And, of course, there is a great difference between any myth in the hands of a Torquemada and any myth in the hands of a Da Vinci.
Here is an example threaded together from recent headlines that illustrates both the spiritual challenges of the 21st Century security crisis and the perverse power of unhealthy myths.
I am not an admirer of Ariel Sharon. I remember Sabra and Shatilla , and I believe he bears responsibility for inciting the Second Intitfada. But in the last interview he gave before two strokes and a “medically induced coma,” he expressed the view that the confrontation with Iran could be dealt with through sanctions rather than war: "I was in the cabinet in 1981 and played an important role in the operation decision. The conditions were different then. I believe that we are still in the negotiations period and we can stop Iran with sanctions."
('Iran Could be Stopped with Sanctions,' Anadolu News Agency, 1-7-06)
Now consider how two leaders, engorged on unhealthy myth, reacted to Sharon's physical collapse:
“The television evangelist Pat Robertson and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may not agree on much, but both suggested that the severe illness of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was deserved. Speaking on his Christian Broadcasting Network's ‘700 Club,’ which says it has 1 million viewers, Robertson said God was punishing Sharon for dividing the land of Israel…Ahmadinejad, elected in June, previously made headlines by calling the Holocaust a myth. ‘Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Chatilla has joined his ancestors is final,’ he was quoted by the Iranian press as saying…” (Washington Post, 1-6-06)
And no, it doesn’t matter in the least that Robertson has since apologized and retracted his remarks. He has not apologized or retracted his remarks about comedian Ellen Degeneres and Hurricane Katrina: "Pat Robertson on Sunday said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of expressing its anger at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its selection of Ellen Degeneres to host this year’s Emmy Awards. ‘By choosing an avowed lesbian for this national event, these Hollywood elites have clearly invited God’s wrath,” Robertson said on ‘The 700 Club’ on Sunday. ‘Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres’ hometown?’” (Dateline: Hollywood, 9-5-05)
Robertson is not an obscure wacko. He is a political power broker and a media mogul within the U.S. religious right.
The notions of a paradise that awaits suicide bombers and of an avenging God that smites whole cities because of the sexual orientation of individuals, like the Nazi notion of racial superiority, are predicated on unhealthy myths that foster a split between humanity and nature and will not tolerate other world-views.
Perhaps Sharon will recover, perhaps not. Either way, remarkably, before he was struck down, he spoke out for reason and order at a crucial moment in the struggle over Iran's nuclear program. (Of course, the US mainstream news media has ignored Sharon’s remarks.)
Within the same few days, Salman Rushdie offered a noble response to the spiritual challenge posed by one of several odious sub-plots in the main text of the 21st Century security crisis: “BEYOND any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English language last year was ‘extraordinary rendition’. To those of us who love words, this phrase's brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its intent to deceive…Language, too, has laws, and those laws tell us this new American usage is improper - a crime against the word. Every so often the habitual newspeak of politics throws up a term whose calculated blandness makes us shiver with fear - yes, and loathing…People use such phrases to avoid using others whose meaning would be problematically over-apparent. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ and ‘final solution’ were ways of avoiding the word "genocide", and to say "extraordinary rendition" is to reveal one's squeamishness about saying ‘the export of torture’…Lawsuits are under way. Lawyers for the plaintiffs suggest their clients were only a few of the victims, that in Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and perhaps elsewhere the larger pattern of the extraordinary-rendition project is yet to be uncovered. Inquiries are under way in Canada, Germany, Italy and Switzerland…In the beginning is the word. Where one begins by corrupting language, worse corruptions swiftly follow. Sitting as the Supreme Court to rule on torture last month, Britain's law lords spoke to the world in words that were simple and clear. ‘The torturer is abhorred not because the information he produces may be unreliable,’ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry said, ‘but because of the barbaric means he uses to extract it.’ ‘Torture is an unqualified evil,’ Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood added. ‘It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished.’ The dreadful probability is that the US outsourcing of torture will allow it to escape punishment. It will not allow it to escape moral obloquy.” (Salman Rushdie, Sydney Morning Herald, 1-9-06)
There is a poignant, ironic power in the juxtaposition of Sharon’s last interview and Rushdie’s op-ed piece with the foul-mouthed utterances of Robertson and Ahmadinejad. Rushdie lived in hiding for years, as a result of a fatwa ordering his death, issued by Iranian mullahs outraged because he dared to explore the legend of the Prophet Mohammed in the free space of his literary imagination. If anyone could be expected to condone “any means necessary” in the struggle against religious extremists and terrorists it would be someone who had been hunted by them. And, indeed, if anyone could be expected to argue for a pre-emptive nuclear strike to thwart Iran in its pursuit of WMD, it would be the old war horse some call the “Butcher of Sabra and Shatilla.” But both Sharon, in perhaps his final interview, and Rushdie, in his latest principled stand, chose life over death, reason over madness. order over chaos, clarity of mind over hallucinatory fever. Robertson and Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, enthralled with unhealthy myths, do not understand the world that is heating up around them and so they lash out.
Healthy Myths: The Secret Ingredient
Myths that lead to transformation and individuation transcend dualistic thinking.
Consider the great Taoist symbol of the Yin/Yang. Inside of the swirling wave of Yang, there is a drop of black Yin. Inside the swirling wave of Yin, there is a splash of white Yang. Healthy myths reflect this profound truth.
Consider the character of Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings.
Bilbo Baggins loved the Shire for all that was good. He loved it for its child-like innocence. He loved it for its pipe weed. He loved it for its ale. He loved it for its fertile soil. He loved it for the way in which it clung to the teat of the Green Goddess. But Bilbo was much more complex than his fellow hobbits.
Bilbo craved adventure. He journeyed far beyond the small world of the Shire. He took to the high road and journeyed into the wild. He invited danger into his life.
Bilbo sought out treasure, magic and legend…and they found him…
Bilbo brought the “Ring of Power” back to the Shire, and carried its evil and immense power on his person for more than 50 years, and yet he was able (with the help of a great wizard) to let it drop to the floor and walk away from it.
He simply stuffed a few candles and some writing materials into a light back pack, picked up his walking stick and took to the high road to “see the mountains again” and “find somewhere quiet” to finish his book.
Yes, it took it toll on him. Yes, the evil of the “One Ring” had begun to work on him. Yes, its poison had entered his being. But Bilbo was free. Why? How?
Three thousand years earlier, Isildur, the great warrior prince of Gondor, succeeded in vanquishing Sauron by severing his hand with a swipe of a broken sword. But Isildur, who had battled evil all his life, could not withstand the temptation for even a few hours. He fell under its spell. He refused the wise council of Lord Elrond, and would not cast it into the fires of Mt. Doom. He took up the “Ring of Power.” He deceived himself into thinking he could wield it for good rather than evil. It betrayed him, of course, and prolonged the struggle for Middle Earth another three thousand years.
Even Frodo succumbed to the ring’s power. In the end, like Isildur before him, he could not destroy it. It was actually Gollum, in his madness, who fulfilled the quest to save Middle Earth -- by accident. He bit the ring off Frodo’s hand, and then slipped and fell as he danced in ecstasy at the edge of the abyss. Gollum hurtled into the inferno to melt into nothingness, clutching the ring that had consumed his spirit and transformed him into a monster…
So how did Bilbo survive? Why was Bilbo able to lay down the ring? Even with Gandalf’s help, it should have been too difficult…But Bilbo let it drop to the floor as he left the Shire that night. He “lived happily,” as he told Gandalf he would, “until the end of his days.” How and why?
Well, Bilbo understood that the darkness was in the light and that the light comprehendeth it not…Bilbo had explored the shadow, Bilbo had integrated shadow and light. Bilbo was both a benefactor and a thief, Bilbo was both a Shireling and a nomad…Bilbo was free and whole…
There is much more to say on this subject and related ones, many more myths and other allies to summon, many more risks and threats to analyze.
To Be Continued…
Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and www.wordsofpower.net. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc.
You can reach Richard Power via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, go to www.wordsofpower.net.