Signs, signals and portents: Change is afoot

BlogHer Original Post

In the 70's, Phillip Slater wrote an astonishing book called "The Pursuit of Loneliness" , in which he stated that beneath that tier of well-known primary needs (hunger, thirst, shelter, sex) we have a tier of "secondary needs" that include the desire for meaningful engagement, the desire for community, and the need for dependence. However, he also stated that we were in the process of creating a world in which those secondary needs were becoming so frustrated that they would start to become primary. In looking at the world these days, I suspect that he was dead-on. Everywhere I look I seem to see that longing for engagement, for community, for dependence starting to push forward like Dylan Thomas's "force that through the green fuse drives the flower". In some cases it is inspiring, and in others -- downright frightening.

On the one hand we have the rapid rise of radical right-wing fundamentalism in almost all global religious traditions -- a fundamentalism that offers a sense of deep belonging, dependence and engagement that too often is based on the often punitive and occasionally violent exclusion or subjugation of others.

On the other hand we have phenomena like the United-Nations-honored guru in India named Amma who is estimated to have hugged 30 MILLION people in 30 years. She is a philanthropist, using any money given her to build hospitals, schools, soup kitchens and orphanages around the world. While she has traveled globally, she has also walked into the villages of lepers in India to hug and hold them. People stand in line for hours to have a moment with her at a gathering called a Darshan. She hugs them. Then they leave. But they leave feeling connected and transformed, occasionally healed by that hug. For this Amma asks nothing in return. Imagine 30 million people people traveling miles, waiting for an embrace. This is a quote from Amma:

The Universal Remedy

All of us are burdened
by the sorrow and pain of past experiences.
All of us have numerous festering wounds.
The cure for these wounds
is love and compassion for others.
Love is the universal remedy.
--Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi Devi)

The increasing development of gangs in depressed and disenfranchised inner cities can be seen as a desire for engagement, for community, for dependence -- a desire seen inside-out and upside-down, but a desire nonetheless.

Even commercial venues are starting to show us this need. Witness the latest Kleenex commercials. (A tip of the mouse to Maria Niles for calling this to my attention, as she blogs for Kleenex as has been a source of great info about them). In these commercials, a blue sofa is set up and people, real people, (not actors!) sit down and start opening up about their feelings, with the ad tag-line "let it out". Sure, Kleenex is about selling tissues, but they have tapped into a spiritual phenomenon to do it. The blogosphere is alive with commentary about these ads from church related blogs to individual blogs. People are wondering about this out loud, whether they like or dislike the ads is not relevant -- they have been touched and provoked by them. These ads do not just slide along the slipstream of vague 30 second breaks. How great is the spiritual need that someone will open their heart to a strange man sitting on a park bench with a box of Kleenex?

Fran Peavey, by the way, experienced a similar thing in the 1980's when she traveled the world and sought out park benches where she sat with a sign around her neck that said "American. Willing to Listen." In some cities, people lined up for a block, just to be heard.

Look at what happened when we all started to get computers -- almost the first thing we did was figure out ways to talk to each other -- to connect -- across states, across countries, across class, across religions. Look at a zillion bulletin boards online, or sites like beliefnet.com. Look at BlogHer. Watch us all organize ourselves into meaningful groups. Community, engagement, dependence.

Something is afoot with the human spirit -- and has been for a while now. The world we have built has isolated us to the point that the isolation has become a wound. And our hearts and souls want that wound to heal.

I suspect that these are times both of great hope and great peril. Starving people do unpredictable things. They line up for a hug - just to feel unconditional love for a fraction of a moment -- or they pick up a gun and scream out their pain in a hail of bullets. They find ways to be heard and acknowledged.

It's time to be graceful with each other - more loving - more generous. It is time we turned isolation inside out and upside down. We need to hear this need, and let it inform our lives and our decisions.

Do you see this need surfacing as well? Where? How? And how can we all help?

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