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March 30, 2009

Refueling Detroit.

For six years, I was the spiritual leader of a big church in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I lived in Detroit for a total of ten years; I feel I got to know the place.

Of the thousands of people who attended the church, and others I got to know while living in Detroit, most worked in some capacity, directly or indirectly, for the automobile companies. It's basically a one-industry town, as everyone knows.

My main impression of Detroit was of trapped light. Just beneath the surface - and it was a hard surface, no mistake about it - was the spirit of ingenuity and creativity that characterizes the best of America everywhere. But a corporate aristocracy runs that place, not only financially but socially. Their attachment to an old-paradigm capitalist bottom line of short-term economic gain for corporate shareholders no matter what, has kept the rank and file workers under an iron thumb for years But that doesn't mean the rank and file has been happy.

People in Detroit are as hip as people anywhere else. The rot of unsustainable thought and behavior didn't permeate the car companies; it only permeated their leadership. Beneath the level of corporate offices at the Ren Center -- at technology, engineering, scientific and manufacturing labs throughout the area - people have been chomping at the bit to transition to a more sustainable, green model of development….if only someone would give them that mandate.

 Detroit is a microcosm of the country; it has all it takes to go in a different direction, once leadership lays down that gauntlet. President Obama has talked about how moving the economy is like turning around a big ship, not a small speedboat. But when you add the element of released creativity through the intention to do the right thing for a change, energies are released that fall somewhere in between the ship and the speedboat.

 Top leadership of an organization does more than call the shots; it invokes invisible forces. It determines in ways both large and small whether people who work for the organization want to get up and go to work in the morning, or whether they wish they could crawl back under the covers and sleep the day away. For all America's talk about whether people have jobs or not, there is a conversation every bit as relevant to our recovery from this economic crisis: whether or not people have jobs that touch their spirits and make them want to work.

 With the shift that Obama's task force is demanding of the car companies now, there is an opportunity to remove the iron hand that has sat on top of Detroiters for so many decades, and release them to their creative best. What I hope he will not do is import a bunch of greens from the West Coast, arriving to show Detroiters how to do what they know how to do and would have done decades ago if someone had simply let them.

 What people want more than anything -- whether they live in South Africa or Kansas, Cairo or Detroit -- is to feel that their lives are part of a meaningful endeavor. Changing the civilization of this planet -- from an institutional nexus that disregards the needs of the earth and its inhabitants in favor of the inflated needs of an economic system now proven bankrupt both morally and financially -- is a meaningful adventure that both awakens the soul and answers to the deepest craving of the human heart.

 What's happening to the car companies is what's happening to the world: not doing the right thing simply won't work anymore. Just moving our attention to that-- in this case, to developing energy and transportation based on sustainable, clean and renewable sources -- will so ignite the creativity and enthusiasm of people in Detroit and around the world, that the transition will in some ways be easier than people think. Institutions move slowly, yes, but the kind of shift we're talking about here is more than institutional or operational: it's spiritual. It gives the genuine thrill that only something aligned with the highest aspirations of the human race can provide, offering people the opportunity to participate in something truly important to the ages. In that intention -- to create new possibilities not only for the car companies, but for the very way we live our lives, treat the earth and treat each other -- lies the potential for a quantum explosion of new opportunities. Detroit can be turned into world headquarters for the development of clean energy and sustainable transportation, releasing light that has been trapped for a very long time. When and if that happens, it will more than shift Detroit; it will help to shift the world.

Posted by mwblog at 2:26 PM

March 26, 2009


Doing my lesson from A COURSE IN MIRACLES today, I came across my favorite paragraph in all the material:

"Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God."

--- from Lesson 189, "I feel the Love of God within me now."

Here the Course calls us, as does Zen Buddhism, to radically empty the mind of all it thinks it knows, in order to learn the only things worth knowing. According to ACIM, enlightenment is not a learning, but an unlearning. We have to unlearn the thinking of the world (ego), in order to learn the ways of love (Spirit).


Posted by mwblog at 8:44 AM

March 22, 2009

Death as Mystery: On Natasha Richardson

Many years ago, at a party in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of speaking for a while to Natasha Richardson.

What I remember is how kind and gentle she was. I realized her pedigree -- that she was Vanessa Redgrave's daughter -- and throughout our conversation, I silently marveled at her humility and authenticity.

Her death was a reminder of something so deep, I'm not sure any of us has quite put it into words yet. Her mother, her husband, her beauty, her career, her children - put it all together, and she was one of the magical people who had it all.

And then she was gone.

Just like that. Like a shooting star. She was here, so very powerfully here, and then she was gone.

Richardson had everything we think of as that which saves us from oblivion, yet those very things dissolved into oblivion in one moment on a bunny hill. Reality transformed into no-longer-reality in the blinking of an eye, forcing us to question both the nature of that which is and the nature of that which is not. She who was so alive having been pronounced dead, and she who was dead still seeming so alive, we gazed at her as though she stood at the door. Which she did. Which she does. Which is the point.

I have no doubt that wherever she is now, Natasha's soul is at peace and in a happy place. Yet just as surely, we know that the human agony of those she left behind is beyond description.

Even within their pain, however, I'm sure that those who loved her most can feel the mystery that lay inherent in her passing. I assume there are moments when her husband, her mother, her children, and all those who loved her can feel her arms around them even now. She came from creative people, and to creative types the membrane that separates this world from the world beyond the veil is thinner. Even gossamer. For the artist is a natural mystic, as the sacred is their ultimate calling. A magnificent woman has shed her physical body, bringing to those she left behind a most terrible sadness. But her soul still lives, beyond the veil, and in that realization those who are now most sad may find in time the greatest joy.

When Jesus said "death will be the last enemy," what he meant was that one day we will see that it isn't one. For in spiritual terms, the dead do not die. Whom God hath brought together, nothing and no one, not even death itself, can put asunder. It is not the reality of death, but only our belief about its reality, that ultimately causes us sorrow and pain.

From a spiritual perspective, those who die still live; they simply no longer materialize physically. It's like they're only broadcasting on cable now, and our human sets still only pick up network. But they continue to broadcast, for in God there is no end of run.

As we, the members of the human race, embrace more and more the vision of a life that does not end, our physical senses will expand to match our broadened perception. As it turns out, Natasha Richardson - with all the sweetness and humility that marked her earthly self - had one more credit to her resume, one none of us would have known before. With her sudden and early departure, her life turns out to have been a mysterious teaching. It calls us now to look beyond appearances, and to appreciate the eternity of life. Surely, her greatest line is this: "I am here. I did not die."

May that thought - a Truth that casts out all darkness, even death itself - be a comfort now to those who grieve Natasha Richardson, and to all of us who grieve at all. The veil is there, but it is permeable. And within it, there is a door.

--- Marianne Williamson

Posted by mwblog at 2:30 PM