If we look at the political and social conditions on this planet, all indicators point out that the days ahead will be difficult ones. We are experiencing what Isaac Asimov called “the angry planet.” However, I believe it is not only an angry planet, but a sick and suffering planet.
Since the beginning of the Renaissance period, Western civilization has idolized individual ego; since that time the social fibers connecting us with one another have become increasingly short. What was available to us earlier in history, through the tribe, the clan, and the extended family, is no longer available to us. Social mobility has created distances between us so that the easy transmission of culture from generation to generation has been interrupted.
When we look at the means by which we have to steer through the shoals and the rapids of the coming time, many of us are without a compass to show us how to make our way through the difficult times. In an earlier time, grandparents to grandchildren were most effective in the transmission of family and cultural values. Since tribal cultures no longer provide us with archetypes, hopes, and dreams for our own enclaves, we have become impoverished of those things that are nonverbal and yet essential to support us.
We need to create practical and engaged ways in which we can actually offer help to each other. We need to have something that we can practice during the week and with our families. Some of us use particular spiritual practices. However, these practices are often solo endeavors and do not help us with the amelioration of our social situations.
For years I have advocated socialized meditation as a way of taking our inner experiences and sharing them between people, reaching for the possibility of spiritual intimacy. In spiritual intimacy, two or three can achieve a field for mutual support that is much more than a single individual can achieve alone. These times require that all of us do a lot of inner work, and follow Thich Nhat Hanh and other teachers who say that peace is achieved by being peace. The practice of kindness and gentleness in which we see ourselves as nurses for the wounded in our social settings—this is what is called for at this time.
We can also begin to pay greater attention to the more gentle and positive features that our traditions offer us. The first of these is a greater honoring of the Sabbath, the day off for just being. It is also important to have celebrative times. In celebration we do not lose sight of the fact that we are souls embedded in bodies who are meant to live heavenly days right here on this Earth. By singing, by sharing food in the sacramental way of breaking bread with one another, by inviting people to our home who come from much more diverse places, the social fibers will be lengthened.
One important social evolution in the Jewish tradition has been the reactivation of the Havurah movement in which small groups of friends meet to share where they are in their soul life. As they discuss how to work on their commitments and to collaborate with one another, they create spiritual intimacy.
There are similar practices in Christianity and other traditions. I have, for example, been greatly impressed by the work of the Saddleback Church in Anaheim, California. By arranging for weekday evening meetings, lunch meetings and study sessions, people there have also been able to help one another.
Also, it is necessary to do these things not only in the narrow way, with the people in one’s own group. It is now necessary do this in an ecumenical outreach way, outside of one’s own committed and covenanted community. We must learn a much deeper way of sharing. In doing so we will be a lot more integral to the life of the planet and reweave the torn web of life to which we belong.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, better known as “Reb Zalman,” was one of the Garrison Institute’s cherished spiritual advisors before he died in 2014. He one of the foremost authorities on Hasidism, the father of the Jewish Renewal and Spiritual Eldering movements, and a participant in ecumenical dialogues throughout the world, including the widely influential dialogue with the Dalai Lama, documented in The Jew in the Lotus.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Yiu on Flickr