There is a principle in A Course in Miracles stating that it is not up to us what we learn, but only whether we learn through joy or through pain. In a universe that is, quite literally, the ongoing evolutionary impulse to love -- the spiritual process through which Love extends itself throughout space and time -- the individual's only true assignment is to learn to actualize the love within.
Wherever in our thinking we are bound by fear, the universe is invested in teaching us the transformative and freeing power of love. Where we are judgmental, the universe is invested in teaching us the ways of forgiveness. Where we are harsh, the universe is invested in teaching us how to be gentle. Where we are competitive, the universe is invested in teaching us the value of co-operation. Where we are ambitious, the universe is invested in teaching us the ways of inspiration. Where we are irresponsible toward our material resources, the universe is invested in teaching us the art of stewardship. Where we are defensive, the universe is invested in teaching us the power of defenselessness. Where we would attack, the universe is invested in teaching us that we are one with all, and therefore can only attack ourselves.
Where we have lessons to learn, the universe conspires to teach us. At first, the lessons are easy enough, even pleasant to learn. We're given the opportunity to learn, with joy, how to live our lives with more integrity and love.
Yet whatever lesson we refuse to learn, comes round again until we do -- each time appearing in a more sobering form, with more serious implications should we refuse to learn it. We do have free will, but we do not have the freedom to slow down the universe. Our learning fuels the momentum of the universe, which will not be allowed to stop. One way or the other, we will learn what we need to learn ... even if we have to learn it through suffering.
I think that is where Western Civilization - particularly American civilization -- is today. There are lessons we keep refusing to learn, and we are bordering on having to learn them through pain. A nation is simply a collection of individuals, and must follow the same growth imperatives as do any of its members. Just as individuals are forced to grow, and to change where necessary, so is a country. There is ultimately no survival where there is no adaptation to change.
In fact, America is going to change. The only question is whether we will choose to change by embracing wisdom -- repudiating the lies of a dysfunctional, increasingly dangerous worldview of an economic system predicated on the goal of short-term economic gain for the privileged few -- or we will be forced by circumstances to make a quantum leap into our next stage of growth, embracing humanitarian concern as the new organizing principle of human civilization. The only real question at this point is how much suffering will have to occur before we wake up to the lesson before us. We can change now, making the transition fairly peacefully (not that violence does not already rage); or we can refuse to change, thereby inviting a greater intensity of disaster with every day we wait.
In A Course in Miracles, it is written that some people would rather die than change their mind.
Our situation today is similar to that of President DeKlerk of South Africa in 1990. A tipping point had been reached in global awareness; the end of apartheid was an idea whose time had come. DeKlerk could see saw the writing on the wall, reporting to his fellow Afrikaners that the jig was up: South Africa would have to change. The only question before them was whether the transition to the end of apartheid would come with inestimable bloodshed, or with relative peace. White Afrikaners could cling longer to an inequitable system through the sheer force of self-will, or release Nelson Mandela from jail and partner with him to create a new South Africa. DeKlerk was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Mandela for that reason: his courage in saying what had to be said -- that South Africa must move toward a post-apartheid society -- was as important as Mandela's leadership once it got there. What South Africa needed to learn, the universe made sure it was going to learn; the country's only choice was how much pain was going to accompany the learning.
This moment, today, marks the end of a huge chapter in human history, carrying with it -- as does the end of every stage of growth -- the invitation to begin an even greater one. The myriad end-of-the-world scenarios filling the air today emerge from a fear-based ego's inevitable argument that if we do not go its way, then there is no way to go. But in fact, there is. There is another way to live, to be, to think, to behave -- and yes, to organize human civilization; the fact that the mind that manufactured the world we live in now cannot imagine what that would be, is certainly no sign that another way does not exist. The change from who we are right now to who we can and shall be once we have embraced this opportunity for change, represents a quantum leap forward in our spiritual as well as our political, economic, and social development.
There is a sense of interconnectedness -- among peoples and among nations -- that is sweeping the world today. It represents the next great wave of human consciousness, and the United States should be at the forefront of this wave; it should not be bringing up the rear. This wave emerges not from a particular intellectual or geographic region, but from a place in our awareness; an understanding in the brain and a state of wonder in the heart. It posits love not only as the greatest good but as the greatest power as well. If we had seen the amelioration of unnecessary human suffering as our "most vital national interest" over the last fifty years, the world today would be in a radically different and far less dangerous place.
America should not be known by the world simply for its material strength. It should be known for its goodness; for the greatness of its ideals. From Jefferson's genius imbued in the Declaration of Independence to Lincoln's emancipation of the slaves, from Kennedy's establishment of the Peace Corps to Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon, we have throughout our history -- not always to be sure, but often enough that we should not forget it -- pursued ideals that pointed humanity toward its betterment. Should American greatness become frozen in the past, no longer pursued? Should the dreaming of a more perfect state of being be trivialized? Should the effort to establish what our founders called "a new order of the ages" be turned into mere cliché by the cynicism of our new ruling elite?
This country should apologize: to our ancestors, many of whom gave their lives for an ideal of America which we have compromised at best and repudiated at worst; to other nations who have been affected by wrong choices we have made when our hearts and minds were weakened; to God, to each other and in a way to our own grandchildren. Seeing how we have failed the past, perhaps we will rededicate ourselves to the future.
Today, no less than in Lincoln's time, our country can have a "new birth of freedom," deciding anew that "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth." Yet Lincoln knew well the connection between freedom and economics. He warned, "I see in the future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed." More than a decade later, President Rutherford B. Hayes would lament that we had become a government "...of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations." At least he said it. Today, most politicians don't warn us of this situation so much as they promote it and protect it.
We have allowed a new aristocracy to steal a presidential election, fight an imperialistic war, turn back years of effort at nuclear non-proliferation, nearly destroy America's moral authority in the world, pillage our natural resources -- and thus fall tragically behind the wave of humanity's uprising of consciousness at the dawn of the 21st Century.
Yet still we have everything we need -- probably for the first time in human history -- to create a planet that could work for everyone. There is a new conversation in the world -- of sustainability, of deep humanitarianism, of genuine social progress- though you wouldn't know it, listening to most of our government officials today. There is new hope, though you wouldn't know it if you rely only on mainstream media for your news. And there is another way, though you would only know it if you look with your heart. Today, there is nothing short of a new possibility for life on earth. And America -- having in so many ways set the stage for the emergence of this possibility -- should now be its most passionate proponent. We should focus the extraordinary genius of this country on something far, far greater than the small-minded ambitions of greedy men. We should harness the extraordinary power of this country in the service of ways to wage peace, not war. And we should rededicate the future of this country not only to our own prosperity but to uplifting the human condition.
Nothing is more American than the audacity to dream big. Having historically dreamed some of humanity's most beautiful dreams, we are called upon now to dream its biggest dream yet. As our founders strove to form "a more perfect union," we can strive to form a more perfect world. That is the lesson inherent in all the challenges that face us now: that the world will change, when we do. When we consciously dedicate ourselves to creating a more loving planet, then that which is not love will fall of its own dead weight.
America will learn this. We will learn it through joy or we will learn through pain. But we will learn.