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Awakening to a Peaceful World

16 February 2002

Once again, America's military has tasted fresh blood and the cravings have set in. Before unfastening the leash, might we benefit from first reexamining American ideology?

It's a new year, winter is on the wane, and the United States is engaged in another round of nation-building. We've bankrolled the military and labeled the targets. We're cleaning house, American-style routing out evil wherever it lurks, and nobody's going to stop us. Jesus instructed us to "Be in the world but not of the world," but we'd rather just be in the world's face. He staunchly affirmed "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you," but the only kingdom we care about is situated amid 65% of the world's oil supply. No one can say we're fickle. We've got a plan. Now following up on the wildly-popular but questionably-effective military campaign in Afghanistan, it's becoming clear that America is adopting a unilateral posture in the execution of its expanding military operations. In an interconnected and interdependent world, that must appear more than a little overbearing. In fact, it could cost us hard-earned respect among a number of friendly nations and inflame existing distrust and contempt in others. This can't possibly be considered productive.

Even our allies now abandon us as we widen our crusade against "evil," whatever that purports to encompass. This sort of over-extended imperialism fueled by patriotic self-righteousness, and accompanied by crumbling political alliances, is exactly what led to Rome's demise. Indeed, the parallels between us and late-empire Rome are striking - culturally, politically and economically.

There always exist alternatives to how we deal with adversity, but we invariably choose safeguarding our economic interests ahead of exercising our nobler virtues, thereby thoughtlessly eroding their potential to endure. This is an unequivocal sign that we have conditioned ourselves to secure inner peace and contentment through material sources. That's not surprising, considering that the materialistic focus of the Renaissance produced a technological revolution still underway. However, several serious problems arise from this method of reasoning:

1. By equating inner peace with outer reward, our sense of identity becomes objectified. This reinforces a materialistic value system, causing us to lose touch with our innate perception of self.

2. By basing happiness on material measure, we become dependent on favorable conditions in external environments, over which we have no control. We thereby relinquish significant control of our lives to chance, subjecting our emotional stability to unnecessary disruption.

When unfavorable events transpire, as they will do with indiscriminate frequency, we find we have no control over the emotional suffering that results. That leads to frustration and anger, which manifests as rash behavior, usually self-defeating. From road rage to soccer riots, the pattern is always the same.

Following the September 11 terrorist strikes, America's hasty cry for vengeance and President Bush's aggressive policy decisions are prime examples of such reactions. That doesn't invalidate the pain, of course. Beyond the obvious victims and others directly affected, many more of us clearly sustained indirect injury - just as apparent, but a little more complicated. Likewise, the proper course of treatment is not as clear as what has thus far been prescribed.

Explore any one of the world's spiritual traditions and a single theme emerges. Explore others and the theme repeats. As it turns out, most do not prescribe submissive penitence to a hierarchy of supernatural authority - like their hierarchical infrastructures would have us so interpret. In fact, they are philosophical doctrines on the human state of mind. They prescribe the cure to human suffering. The collective doctrine exhorts a single answer in sublime harmony: we can escape this vicious circle only by adopting a holistic perception of ourselves. Only then can we truly be at peace.

We need to define ourselves by who we are, not what we are. We are counseled to seek within for our notions of self - to turn away from outward influence. If we want to avoid needless suffering, we must be "at cause" rather than "at affect." We do that by dissociating our sense of identity from objectification, thus reclaiming control of our lives.

Such change requires a fundamental shift in consciousness: a spiritual awakening. It's about learning to live in the moment rather than contemplating concerns over the future or the past. It's about understanding--knowing--that we all share the same inner experience of self; realizing at that level of existence, our most fundamental level of existence, all are one. It's discovering that time and space are just the illusions of a greater reality: the truth perceived through that simple recognition of our own existence. It's seeing the material world as something less: a secondary byproduct against which that existence is contrasted to provide a medium for spiritual development - a tool, but not the source of the skill.

Our world is in desperate need of this transformation. Without it, our survival increasingly grows imperiled. In developed nations, our technological aptitude is evolving faster than the self-discipline necessary for its proper application. In developing nations, overpopulation, poverty and malnutrition are raising the likelihood of societal catastrophe on a monumental scale. The nature of contemporary social turmoil confirms the reality of our acute spiritual impoverishment.

This affliction is not a secret. Among the world's many and diverse cultures, a movement is stirring. Lone voices, once mere whispers from the wilderness, are multiplying into mellifluous choirs resonating the unmistakable symphony of rebirth among widespread populations. The increasing hunger for this change indicates progress is being made; hearts and minds reunite daily, and priorities are beginning to shift within societies. Hope remains.

Still, a fully-global self-awakening remains essential to the evolution of our species. It merits our most sincere attention and must begin with the individual. Our duty has long been recognized, and not just by the occasional messiah. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." The Oracle at Delphi's temple bore the famous inscription, "Know thyself." All cultures have had their thematic variations. We can't say we've lacked for good counsel.

If we seek to extirpate the root of suffering, we must look within. Critical self-analysis is the surest prescription for a healthy state of mind. It cultivates the wisdom and confidence vital to challenging reckless ideology. The case is clear: We cannot change the world until we first change ourselves.

John Campbell
Published by Common Dreams © John Campbell

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