Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2007
NSP Update: Notes from the Network of Spiritual Progressives
By Nichola Torbett
THE NSP HAS SET OUT TO TRANSFORM ALL OUR INSTITUTIONS, POLICIES, and social practices so that they encourage rather than undermine our ability to treat every human being as an embodiment of the sacred (as having "inherent worth and dignity," in secular terms) and our ability to respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement.
We figure that will take us until at least next Tuesday.
But seriously, where does one start on a task that large?
According to a group of local NSP leaders, including Kim Carlyle, Pat Allen, Joanna Garritano, and Shannon Thomas, the way to effect that sort of massive change is to work on three levels simultaneously: the political, the cultural, and the personal. This framework provides a clear way for me to explain some of what we're up to as a movement.
Political Transformation: An Ethical Way to End the Occupation of Iraq
ONE OF OUR PRIMARY FOCUSES THIS YEAR IS ON RAISING consciousness in such a way that we end the occupation of Iraq and prevent war in Iran, Pakistan, and elsewhere. We offer a unique strategy for doing that, one that is desperately needed in the antiwar and peace movements.
On a recent strategy call with antiwar leaders, Representatives Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Jim Moran (D-VA) made it clear that Congress is unlikely to defund the occupation at this point; they simply don't have the votes to defeat the appropriations bills.
In order to get those votes, the American people need to step outside their private spheres and let Congress know that we will not condone needless suffering in our names.
The first task in getting people to take that step is to make it clear that an American presence in the region is fueling suffering for the Iraqi people as well as our soldiers. Bolstered by the Petraeus report, many Americans still believe we are doing more good than harm in Iraq. What we need to make clear is that our unilateral presence in the region not only fuels violence against anyone who appears to be aligned with us as an occupying force, but also prohibits the creation of a multilateral, international intervention that might actually be able to bring about a resolution to the conflict. That's painful news. Americans don't want to believe that their country could be in the wrong. Accepting the reality of what has been done in our names in Iraq requires humility, maturity, and repentance. When one realizes one has done something wrong, the mature response is to apologize and do everything one can to make the situation right.
On an individual level, that repentance means applying unrelenting pressure to Congress to demonstrate repentance on our behalf. National repentance involves relinquishing rights to ongoing military bases in Iraq and exclusive rights to oil and contracts. It also means paying reparations and helping to fund reconstruction. These are the prerequisites for involvement of an international, multilaterial peace force in Iraq.
Americans resist giving up exclusive rights in Iraq and funding reparations and rebuilding because they are operating out of a paradigm of scarcity, fear, and a need to control. That's why the NSP believes that the antiwar and peace movements need to articulate a whole new framework for national security. Congresspeople, activists, and all compassionate Americans must work together to change the deep assumption that the way to make America safe, and ensure that we have enough, is to dominate and control the rest of the world.
A major emphasis of the antiwar movement in the coming months must be an alternative framework for security, one in which the United States acts in solidarity with other nations and turns our attention from the unbridled pursuit of narrowly conceived national self-interest to acting on our concern for the well-being of all people in the world. The Network of Spiritual Progressives is calling for a Strategy of Generosity in Homeland Security to counter our current Strategy of Domination.
Here's what you can do to help. (See the "Get Involved" section of our website, www.spiritualprogressives.org, for details and materials.)
* Give a presentation to the peace and antiwar groups in your area and urge them to start talking in these terms.
* Working with these groups or on your own, organize a teach-in, town hall meeting, or other forum around these ideas. We can supply materials and talking points.
* Have a house party using our videos on the Strategy of Generosity and the Global Marshall Plan.
* Get your city council to endorse the Strategy of Generosity and the Global Marshall Plan.
* Become a delegate to the national convention of the political party of your choice, and join us there in bringing this message to those in attendance. In our next issue, we'll include more details on how to use the electoral process to advance these ideas.
Cultural Transformation: Replacing a Culture of Materialism and Greed with a Culture of Love and Generosity
THE PARADIGM OF SCARCITY, FEAR, AND NARROWLY DEFINED SELF-INTEREST IS reinforced by many aspects of our culture.
For example, we learn that in order to succeed in the world of work, you must focus on maximizing profit and making yourself look as good as possible. To the degree that you relate to others, you do so in the hopes of finding ways for those people to help you advance your interests--by becoming a customer or vendor, by connecting you to someone who will contribute financially, by putting in a good word for you, and so on.
The media intensifies this, presenting us with sitcoms and movies in which the "given" is that everyone only cares about themselves, and with news reporting and commentaries that take for granted that our highest goals should be unlimited economic growth for the country and personal prosperity for individuals.
Details and resources for the following cultural transformation projects can be found in the Get Involved section of our website.
* Start a New Bottom Line group in your workplace or among local professionals in your field. In this group, envision what your workplace or profession would look like if the bottom line were enhancing everyone's ability to be loving, kind, compassionate, generous, ecologically sensitive, and filled with awe and wonder at the universe. Don't censor yourselves in the early meetings. Dream big, and then determine one or two small actions you can take as a group to move toward that vision.
* Create your own media projects that reflect a new bottom line and a different set of assumptions about the world and our purpose here. The NSP now has a channel on YouTube, and we'd love to link to videos that articulate ideas from our core vision. Send links to email@example.com. We're working on a social networking site where you can have your own blog.
* Raise consciousness about less materialistic ways to celebrate the winter holidays.
* Host consciousness-raising conversations about how the old bottom line affects our relationships, our mental and emotional health, and our ability to find meaning and purpose in our lives.
Personal Transformation: Making It Real In Your Own Life
MUCH IN OUR INSTITUTIONS, POLICIES, AND SOCIAL PRACTICES INHIBITS OUR DESIRE to act on our best impulses, and the NSP provides a format for working together to change those forces.
At the same time, we recognize that we'll be more effective, less likely to burn out, and more deeply engaged if we commit personally to "being the change we want to see in the world," as Gandhi put it.
You can probably remember times when you've encountered someone who truly does see other people as embodiments of the sacred, or who does really feel awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. Deeply felt love and amazement is contagious.
What can you do to cultivate these attributes in your own life?
* Develop a spiritual practice that quiets your mind and allows you to connect with something beyond your small self, whether that is God, the unity of all being, your higher Self, or something else. Engage in this practice daily.
* Cultivate mindfulness. With great compassion, watch your own desire to over-consume, to push to the front of the line, to put your needs ahead of the needs of others. What is behind these impulses?
* Cultivate awareness of interconnection. Notice how your actions affect the actions and reactions of all those around you.
* Learn and practice good communication skills such as Nonviolent Communication and Compassionate Listening.
* Start a Spirit Matters group (see our website) in which you join with others in supporting each other's spiritual practice and efforts to live your values.
As you experiment with any of these levels of transformation, please be in touch with us. We want to hear how it is going and share your experiences with others in the network. We welcome new and creative ideas! Thank you for all you are doing to heal and transform our world!Nichola Torbett, Director of National Programs for the NSP, moved cross-country to work for this organization because it is the only one that squarely addresses her lifelong obsession with the intersection of love, politics, and meaning.
Torbett, Nichola. 2007. NSP Update. Tikkun 22(6): 32.