Preface to New Edition
When I was seventeen I was traveling alone in the Far East and fell seriously ill. I remember being taken in and cared for by a group of young people, who had been strangers but soon became friends. We were connected by the simple belief that love and music could change the world, that war could become peace, and humanity awaken to a new way of being. I can still remember George Harrison's song, "My Sweet Lord," playing endlessly like a mantra on the radio in my sickroom, a symbol of the hope and unity of the time.
Of course we were idealistic. The Vietnam War was to drag on for four more years. Genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda would follow, Syria would be destroyed by a civil war killing hundreds of thousands. But for a moment there were these seeds of a future that is still waiting—a future born of love and unity, and a spiritual awakening that belongs to all. Maybe this awakening of the world will remain as a dream, just a song heard for an instant and then lost, drowned by the clamor of our materialistic culture as it continues its ecocide, destroying the fragile web of life with its endless greed and desires. Or maybe it can come alive, spring returning after a bleak winter of forgetfulness, the music of the sacred heard again, the oneness that belongs to all of creation felt as the simple joy of life.
When I came back to Europe I entered a world very different to the grey streets of my childhood. I discovered spiritual practice and spiritual friends. This was when spiritual paths from Tibet, India, and the Middle East arrived in the West, when orange-robed sannyasi could be seen dancing down Oxford Street in London, and aspiring dervishes whirled and chanted newly learned dhikrs. Spirituality was alive in all of its colors and sounds, the smell of incense everywhere. But sadly, or inevitably, the simple joy of this awakening became diluted as spirituality was brought into the marketplace, and rather than a celebration of oneness—the Divine as the ground of our being—spiritual practices became focused on self-transformation. Self-development became more popular than selfless service. And so a central ingredient became distorted or lost—the basic spiritual truth that "it is not about me." The renunciation of self, or in Rumi's enigmatic words, "there is no dervish, or if there is that dervish is not there," would find little place in the marketplace of spirituality. As one friend said to me years later, "How can Sufism become popular in America, when it is all about becoming nothing?"
Many spiritual practices—meditation, mindfulness, living in the moment—are of great benefit for our individual journey of self-transformation. They can bring harmony, peace, stillness, lessen the stress in our hectic lives. But, without this central note they cannot realize their true potential, the real experience of the oneness of divine love. And there is a sadder aspect to this story which is not so well known in the West. Real spiritual practice is never for ourself alone, but always for the whole, always for the sake of the Beloved. And if we limit our practice within the horizon of our own separate self, we deny life a primal nourishment, an essential quality of love and light. We starve the Soul of the World of a spiritual energy it needs for its regeneration and evolution. This was always understood by shamans and Indigenous wisdom keepers, such as the Kogi Mamas whose work with Aluna,(1) the force behind nature, is to keep the world in balance.
In the summer of love and the few years that followed, we were given a dream, brothers and sisters of all races coming together, oneness alive. Like all dreams it faded "into the light of common day," but now, as the Earth is dying, species depleted, oceans full of plastic, as our cultures seem caught in divisiveness, there is a calling to return to the spark that gave birth to that dream. To awaken to the global song of unity, which I first felt when cared for in a strange land by friends who were strangers. And we need to include the Earth Herself in this prayer of love. She who gave us birth, who has nourished us with Her endless generosity, whom we have raped and desecrated, is unbalanced, sick, and needs our care and attention.
In the decade and a half since I wrote the first version of this book about a global dimension to spiritual practice, titled Awakening the World, there has been an emerging movement that links together spiritual practice, unity consciousness, and care for the Earth. Spiritual Activism and Subtle Activism are different expressions of this movement. Subtle Activism is about using consciousness-based practices for collective transformation, while a spiritual activist means "working to create a loving, just, sacred, and sustainable world through means that are also loving, just, sacred, and sustainable."(2) With different voices they speak the same truth: we can no longer afford to limit our loving to the personal, our spiritual practice to individual development.
Love and care are what calls us. If I have learned anything in half a century of spiritual practice, it is the power of love. We need to reawaken to the power of love in the world. It is our love for the Earth that will heal what we have desecrated, that will guide us through this wasteland, helping our dying Earth to regenerate, and help us to bring light back into our darkening world. Love links us all together in the most mysterious ways, and love can guide our hearts and hands. The central note of love is oneness. Love speaks the language of oneness, of unity rather than separation.
Love and care—care for each other, care for the Earth—are the simplest and most valuable human qualities. And love belongs to oneness. We know this in our human relationships, how love draws us closer, and in its most intimate moments we can experience physical union with another. It can also awaken us to the awareness that we are one human family, even as our rulers become more authoritarian, our politics more divisive. And on the deepest level, love can reconnect us with our essential unity with all of life, with the Earth Herself.
This book tells a story of love and prayer, how spiritual practice is not just for ourselves, our own journey, but for life itself. It reminds us how to live this love, how the inner and outer worlds(3) work together, how the individual is a microcosm of the whole, how the Soul of the World sings. It steps back to reclaim the ancient spiritual teachings of our ancestors, and then relates this wisdom to the need of our present time. It suggests ways in which this energy and transformative potential of our spiritual nature can be applied today, when humanity is at a tipping point and the Earth Herself is crying for our help. How can we take real responsibility for a world in crisis, and help Her to awaken? We are the place where love can be born, where the prayer for the Earth can be heard.
(1) Aluna is the Kogi name for the intelligence within nature, the thought process that shapes and maintains reality, the source of life. The Kogi are an Indigenous people living in the Sierra Nevada in Colombia, whose civilization has continued since the pre-Columbian era. Their priests, or Mamas, work together with Aluna, the spiritual intelligence within nature, to help to keep the world in balance. Since the 1990s they have given warnings to the "younger brothers" of the dangers of ecological imbalance, the potentially catastrophic future facing the planet if we don't change our ways.
(2) The Network of Spiritual Progressives (https://spiritualprogressives.org/philosophy/spiritual-activism/). Subtle Activism, pioneered by Dr. David Nicols, refers to "the use of consciousness-based practices for collective transformation," and he has also formed a community called the Subtle Activism Network. Unity Earth is another community that links these ideas together, focusing on the simple truth "that we are one."
(3) The phrase "inner world" refers to subtle states of consciousness that transcend the known physical universe. This concept may be found in religious, metaphysical, and esoteric teachings, which propound the idea of a whole series of subtle planes or worlds or dimensions which, from a center, interpenetrate themselves and the physical planet in which we live, the solar systems, and all the physical structures of the universe. This interpenetration of planes creates a multi-dimensional universe with many different levels of consciousness.