by Troy Chapman
(published December 05)
As Christmas and a new year approach I look out the window of my cell at the snow and the bundled up prisoners shoveling. I'm thinking about our world and our human family.
I've always seen our potential the way some people say they can see auras. For me it's a real thing that hovers around us, constantly calling us to step just a little this way or that and so align ourselves with our "could-be selves."
Humans are such amazing creatures with enormous capacity for consciousness, kindness, humor, creativity and wisdom. I can't stop seeing it. Yet, right beside it is the truth of who we are now. Our cruelty, our mistreatment of animals and the earth, our greed and fear, our violence, and self-degradation. You can turn on the nightly news to get a catalog of the specifics so I don't need to list them here.
When I see what we are and what we could be, what we are wholly capable of becoming now, I can't stop asking: How do we get from here to there? I am convinced this is the "question of our lives," the only question worth our consciousness. I think we should drop everything at this moment and turn our full attention, and all the force of our creativity and consciousness upon it. If I were king of the earth I would send out an edict establishing a Deportment of Human Realization. I would create think tanks, community centers, and elder's councils; I would call the children together, and the men and the women in millions of small groups across the earth and I would tell them to bring me an answer to this question.
I'm not a king so I can't issue such an edict. Instead, I put out a simple call to you, one human soul to another, to put this question to your own spirit. How can we get from here to there?
I ask because I know when we answer this question we will find in it the solution and the remedy to war, violence, poverty, injustice, and all self-inflicted human suffering. This may sound incredible but I'm convinced that most of what we accept as "unavoidable suffering" is, in fact, caused directly by our avoidance and neglect of this question.
Every one of us, in our own soul, is aware on some level of our capacity to be whole. We are also aware of our brokenness and our failure to fulfill our spiritual destiny on earth. We may push this knowledge to the back of our consciousness but it's still very much within us and it creates a spiritual tension and longing that is responsible for much of our inner suffering and all of our outer insanity in the world. It's akin to Mozart trying to work in a factory or Picasso trying to be a mechanic. Playing piano was Mozart's destiny as painting was Picasso’s.
It's who they were meant to be and if they had done anything else with their lives it would have caused enormous personal suffering and likely toxic behavior in the world.
Yet, I'm not talking only about the destiny of our personal lives here but about our spiritual destiny as a species. How much more suffering must the frustration of this cause? When we don’t pursue our spiritual destiny we're like the person the poet Rumi describes in "The Real Work":
“There is one thing in this world that you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there's nothing to worry about; but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing with your life.
“It's as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come into this world to do a particular work… If you don't do it, it's as though a priceless Indian sword were used to slice rotten meat. It's a golden bowl being used to cook turnips, when one filing from the bowl could buy a hundred suitable pots. It's a knife of the finest tempering nailed into a wall to hang things on.
“You say, "But look, I'm using the dagger. It's not lying idle." Do you hear how ludicrous that sounds? For a penny, an iron nail could be bought to serve the purpose. You say, “But I spend my energy on lofty enterprises. I study jurisprudence and philosophy and logic and astronomy and medicine and all the rest." But consider why you do those things. They are all branches of yourself.
“Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord. Give your life to the one who already owns your breath and your moments. If you don't, you will be exactly like the man who takes a precious dagger and hammers it into his kitchen wall for a peg to hold his dipper gourd. You'll be wasting valuable keenness and foolishly ignoring your dignity and your purpose.”
The result of forgetting to do this thing we've been sent here to do is enormous personal suffering and immeasurable destructiveness in the world. I am in a prison full of men who were derailed from the pursuit of their spiritual destiny. All over the earth at this very minute we are violating ourselves, others, and the earth in ways that are sometimes too terrible to think about. And I know with certainty that this disease of the spirit is caused by the image of God rotting unrealized within us. I know with equal certainty that the moment we return to "the real work" and turn away from the "hundred other services" with which we busy ourselves, we will send the disease into remission.
So, again, I have to ask myself: How do we get from here to there? How do we practically begin to advance our own realization as individuals and as a species? My first answer, because this is a collective matter, is dialog. We need to start a conversation, preferably a global conversation, about who we are and how we can begin to live up to that.
So I'm starting a series of e-mails on this topic. I ask you to invite others into the conversation by passing these e-mails on and to participate by commenting on them if you feel so moved as we go along. I also want to wish you all a meaningful Christmas season and apologize for my long absence.
Until next time I leave you with this quote from George Elliot:
“It seems we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we believe to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.”