Beyond the many disturbing, obvious comparisons between the United States today and Germany of the 1930s is one contrast that I have not heard mentioned yet. True, I was not there when the first torture camp was installed into an urban neighborhood called Ilvers Gehoffen in the liberal city of Erfurt in early 1933. I can’t really tell you what the people in the hundreds of apartments that surrounded the camp were thinking as they buried their heads in pillows those hot summer nights to mute the sound of screams. But a few years ago I stood in the vacant lot where the thing once was, looked up at those windows, and wondered. And from those same windows, so many decades later, many people looked down on me with worried faces.
The torture camp, by the way, was located next to a movie theatre. So, right there in the neighborhood, people would be going out and having a good time on Saturday night, while everybody knew what was happening in the old warehouse and yard right next door, since after all they could see and hear it from their windows.
In that time and place we look at through the wrong end of binoculars, people got the idea that the ‘affairs of the state’ were distracting them from what you might call an inner life. A kind of internal vacuum sucked them out of reality. The way Wilhelm Reich tells it, the government and its doings, people begin to feel, were best left to the experts. One was, after all, primarily responsible for oneself. Qualified people were paid to take care of society. I guess it’s always a comfort to let mommy and daddy handle the complicated problems.
America comes at life from another perspective: we gratify ourselves first, and deal with everyone else second. I once worked aboard a ship, as the cook. “The captain eats first and best,” the third mate explained to me, in my basic orientation. That’s America, only we don’t say the words. We just assume it’s the way of things, and expect everyone else to get it.
This self-centered frame of reference extends from the supermarkets to the yoga studios. On the supermarket side of the spectrum, we have the people who can respond to a crisis only when something hits home. My favorite moments in Fahrenheit-911 were the interviews with the people in that little town who thought Arab terrorists might blow up their local tire joint or Super K-Mart. “You can’t really trust anyone,” the tire-fixer guy said. Remember?
On the other end is a massive (for lack of a better word) constituency who has made being self-conscious an ongoing avocation over many decades. This constituency makes a nice spectrum starting with the Beatniks and the Hippies, who were followed by the Back To the Earth people of the 1970s to the Human Potential Movement’s students and teachers to the New Age, and onward to the many offshoots and crossovers that today exist. There are communities for everything from tantric sex to co-processing to therapy training. Ammachi, an Indian saint/guru, has a huge following in the States. And so on.
I lump all of this in together because it’s all based on the idea of finding oneself, or rather, of oneself.
These movements or groups or ideas have a presence in every town I’ve ever lived in (admittedly, mostly on America’s East or West coasts). Among these groups are a vast number of individuals who strive for, and often succeed at attaining, some kind of actual spiritual awareness, self-awareness, inner awareness, self-actualization, or whatever you want to call it. Many work diligently. It is difficult to focus on your personal growth over a period of years or decades and not get some tangible results. And a lot of people have been at it a long time.
So now, with deeply immoral conduct, war crimes and torture being reported in the news every night, one would think we might be hearing more from the vast numbers of people who are so self-aware. One would think that the self-awareness would have some kind of ethics barometer attached to it, and that the barometer would be sending up a warning.
I’m noticing that those opposing torture and war crimes fall into two basic categories, which must overlap quite a bit, but let’s see if the analysis works. There is the traditional political moderate-to-left — people who were formerly known as liberals, but whose positions now oddly enough sound rather conservative (oppose oceans of government red ink, oppose foreign intervention, favor small government, support individual rights, believe in strict reading of Constitution, etc.). And then there are a lot of people whose motivations are supported by their conscience. Not, in other words, by a political theory or viewpoint. Among the ‘conscience people’ are some people who have come through spiritual movements, where the main object of the game really is a level of self-understanding; that is, to change the world by changing yourself. But still, given the amount of time and resources that have gone into self-development, the numbers and voices seem somewhat thin.
When I look at the mainstream left, I notice that something is missing. There is, basically, next to no inclusion of what I can only call the ‘spiritual piece’ of the discussion. I notice this on my favorite news pages; from some of my favorite commentators. In the tradition of the Enlightenment, religion is purged from the whole discussion of government and politics, as it should be. With that discussion is purged out the entire cosmic viewpoint, and the idea that opposing war really is about changing something within ourselves. It’s as if to say anything about the bigger picture, or taking inner responsibility, negates all the rational grounds for wanting an orderly, peaceful society.
Then when I look at most spiritual movements, I see for the most part both individuals and groups who are not in their political power. To the contrary, I see a lot of willful looking away. I see and hear from a lot of people who are so repulsed they cannot stand five minutes of political discourse. I meet many people who mean well but have absolutely no historical bearings. I hear arguments such as we must not focus on politics, lest we run the risk of ‘increasing’ it. I hear that ‘it’s all an illusion’. (A Course in Miracles teaches specifically this; any student will recognize, ‘God did not create that war [or stolen election], so it is not real’.)
So, one side of the discussion sees everything requiring change as being out there; the other sees everything meaningful as being internal.
I think there are valid arguments for not immersing one’s life entirely in politics — and usually, when the time comes, those arguments go out the window and one just gets busy. But there are not such good arguments for refusing to be aware, or for refusing to consider that any of this has something to do with you. And right now, awareness, being informed and taking personal responsibility are the most urgently needed forms of activism.
Gradually, I do see progress; the supposedly political and the supposedly spiritual are beginning to merge in some places. More people understand that war is a result of projecting unprocessed shadow material onto the world. There are some churches and spiritual organizations that are encouraging people to take personal responsibility, and that as communities are openly renouncing murder. I heard a while back that some congregations in Atlanta were going from church services to the streets every Sunday. There is the utterly amazing work of Starhawk, a Pagan leader who, along with her affinity group, is openly willing to defy authority — she is truly passionate.
But I have to say, from where I sit, reading the Internet all day, talking to who I can, and even living in the capital of an anti-war country, for the most part this voice seems rather subdued — and also like it would really have a place in the world. I get the feeling people are choosing not to speak up, or act up, in order to keep their hands clean; to remain theoretically pure. In reality, if you ask me, it’s more about laziness and the desire not to burden one’s mind. People ignore the problem because they can. And they ignore the problem because to not do so means stirring the pot. Taking a position or even becoming informed can be rather disturbing within a group of friends which have on some level defined themselves by having a good time and tuning out the worries of the planet.
It is still okay to take yoga class. That is self-improvement. It is still okay to be spiritual. That’s in line with non-threatening activity. Yet I would suggest that, having become content with looking into ourselves and letting our lives be about ourselves for so long, we need to look back out at the world, and do something about what we see that is based on who we are.
Now that we’ve searched for our spirits and our true beliefs for so long, we need to find our bodies, deal with our feelings, address our problems, and realize that we exist outside the neat pecking order of our social groups. More to the point, we need to find our passion, our spark, our sense of raging spirit. I know: it can feel strange to make that switch, and under so many layers, it’s a lot easier said than done. There is the necessity to endure some inner conflict, and some outer conflict. Vitality often threatens people who don’t embrace it. But it’s not so hard to muster, actually. You just need to stay awake. Doing what is right is not about doing the right thing, it’s about doing what is real, and you can only do what is real when you come from your center and be real.
Otherwise, how different are we than the people of Ilvers Gehoffen, going to the movies on Saturday night?
I leave you with a few words from Granny D., from her most recent public appearance.
“Let our neighbors, who have voted another way or not at all, see what we are made of and what we are willing to do for love, for life, for justice. Only a few more of them need step forward to our side for love and life and justice to win. They will not step forward if we are not full of courage and grace and beauty and most of all love. We will inspire them with awe. For, from this time forward, our courage must rise to end the war and the coming wars, to end the destruction of our land and its people, and of our planet and its life. With love in our hearts, with a vision before us of a better America made visible in our own lives, we will do what history demands of us now. And so say us all.”
Planet Waves Weekly for Feb. 4, 2005
By ERIC FRANCIS
With weekly horoscope #544
Happy Birthday, Aquarius!
A subtle balance has tipped in your life. You may not be feeling it yet, but I suspect that on some level it’s registered in your awareness. It’s not like everything has suddenly got better all at once. But things — that is, you — are changing. Before the changes you’re going through now disappear into the past, I suggest you notice what they are. Notice, for instance, what your life was like a month ago, and what has changed today. You will likely see 100 subtle and not-so-subtle developments. What, perchance, is the source of all this change?
I could say a lot about the astrology associated with this, but the symbols of astrology are merely representatives of real forces within your psyche. These forces have suddenly become more creative than in many years. But what has really happened is that you are, in an odd way, no longer able to deny their existence. And that is a pretty big change.
Once awareness changes, the door to anything and everything changing is open. In this respect, while your life, and the astrology parallel to it, are putting on a good show, you haven’t seen anything yet. The layers that were wrapping who you were in veils of fog and mystery are about to start peeling off even faster. While this may have an unsettling effect at first, you’re pretty good at running high voltages of energy and making decisions quickly, or as needed. The interesting part will be seeing just how much energy those decisions can move.
What you will also very likely tap into is how each choice you make stems from some deep issue, concern or area of growth within you. Stated another way, the alignment of your inner world and your outer world is growing ever closer. Your thoughts, actions and outcomes are beginning to exist in a closer loop, with faster results.
This being said, one of the most important things you can do is keep your doors of communication with people in your life open. There may not be any overt pressure to change relationships now, but soon they, too, will become a focal point of growth, and the more clearly you are able to relate to the people closest to you, the easier and more productive the changes will be. You have to admit, certain developments are long overdue. And you will soon see that their time has arrived.
Aries (March 20-April 19)
Social priorities may be the first item on your agenda, though if you listen between the notes of music you’ll hear the truth of a higher calling whispered in your ears. In a short while, you may find yourself obsessed with the one thing you need to do for the world; it would be really good if you were aware of what it is. The information is available, and every time you think, There must be more to life than this, your soul is speaking to you. If you answer, who knows — it could become a lasting conversation.
Taurus (April 19-May 20)
It’s unlike you to be so obsessed with professional matters, but the time is definitely right for some significant and unusual breakthroughs. You’ve always known that your ideal career is one that you invent. Contrary to most people’s perceptions, most inventions take years, and they generally develop in small pieces. This month is a time to work through a few of the larger ones. I suggest you take your ambitions seriously, and respond to job offers or learning opportunities in a professional and businesslike way.
Gemini (May 20-June 21)
It may seem like so much of the world is happening outside you, or far away. It may seem like your talents are all laying in a state of potential, like tulip bulbs stored in the cellar. It’s up to you to envision the flowers that your inner gifts may become. You simply must do the work, embrace the lessons, and commit yourself to integrity. You will get results, no matter what has been your experience in the past. The habits you develop now will stay with you for years; please make them productive ones.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
It may seem like you have to negotiate with every single person in your life, but there’s really only one to whom you have an obligation. And that would be you. No matter what people say to you, you must insist that this is your life, and that you are free to make your choices. But I don’t suggest you say this more than once or twice, for your power will come from actions rather than words. A little part of you may urge you to be more compassionate, but you’ve done quite enough of that as far as some people are concerned.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
Who are all these people in your life, anyway, and where did they come from? I promise that you’ll be entirely confused until you take a little leadership. They seem awfully kind and friendly, yet it’s one thing to be well-meaning and another thing to be organized and have a mission. Fortunately for everyone else, you qualify with the highest score on all three counts. And fortunately for you, because when you set about an important task, it generally gets done. Whatever the appearances, this is the order of the day.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
You know that your health comes in cycles, and that once you get on one of those cycles, it’s difficult to change it. Work is the same way; once you get on a certain track, it seems impossible to get off the train. Make sure that what you’re doing these days is what you truly want to be doing and actually need to be doing, because you’re likely to be at it for a while. And if you’re feeling anything less than perfectly healthy, consider setting this right a high priority. You have the strength to do it; you need only the willingness.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
Freedom is what freedom does. Being a liberated person is more than something you work with as a theory, though often it starts with some clear ideas and honestly-stated needs. Yet at a certain point you must act. What anyone sensitive and intelligent notices at this point is that their actions specifically impact others. This, pretty much, is the one constraint within which free will and freedom of choice must exist. Still, it is possible to find your way to where you want to be — because in the end, people support your choices and cooperate with you.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
The words ‘full house’ come to mind. So full, in fact, that you seem to have lost all control over what you feel and how you’re responding. While this is never a situation that you could abide for long, I suggest that you make the most of it while it lasts. The heart of the matter is simply, what does it take for you to feel safe? No matter how much you attempt to shore up your insecurities with reassurances, you will still feel uncertain of yourself. True confidence comes from within, and you will find it there if you look.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Ideas, revelations, solutions and numerous projects are flying circles around your head like airliners around Los Angeles Airport. I suggest you let them land one at a time. No matter what you feel, you can’t actually do more than one thing at once. But you can do one thing at a time extremely effectively, and you can do it with a level of mastery quite beyond your years or experience. In fact, the current moment is an opportunity to do some of the best work of your life. So keep burning the midnight oil.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
What does it mean to be wealthy? The more I travel, the more it becomes obvious that those who have less are happier than those who have more; and that the real treasure in this life is friends. Right now there are some very good friends in your life, and they are about to become more important than you ever realized. No matter how financially successful you become, or influential in the affairs of the world, remember this always: you have nothing without the people who love you. And right now you have everything.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
From amongst the many notions you have about who you are and who you want to be, one is about to rise to the surface, and it will be unmistakable. My sense is that you will be shocked, in the most pleasant way, by this ‘missing idea’ about your purpose in this life. Beware that you don’t interpret this as a boat that you missed or something so good it can never be true. Indeed, the boat is pulling into the harbor, and what you envision is in fact what you have the power to become. All you’ve lacked is focus, and in a short time that will be your most abundant resource.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
Many factors are influencing you to make the choices you’re making. And in a strange way, you seem to have lost contact with what they are. Big mistakes are certainly possible at this time in your life, as are the best decisions you’ve ever made. What you need to do above all else is to keep in contact with your motives, and let them inform every decision and every word you speak. You’ve long ago passed the time when your friends can be out of step with your values. Look for your real tribe, and you will find it.