Sam: I get the creeps from the very idea of legitimizing people who engage in brutal suppressive behavior by asserting that they operate based on a supposedly "high" spiritual state. Isn't that the road to Charlie Manson? But even if, for a moment, we set objections to that dangerous line of thought aside, we still can't get away from the enormous difference between a nonviolent leader like Gandhi and one like Khomeini who endorsed so much killing. Aren't those crucial differences key to any meaningful role for spirituality in worldly human affairs?
Terry: Yes, yes, and yes. But. Both spirituality and cross-cultural dialog require a highly nuanced and multidimensional frame of reference, or discussions quickly become superficial and meaningless. Soon you're lost in arguments about what defines "true" spirituality, and lots of key distinctions get lost in the shuffle.
So you have an impulse to idealize Gandhi and demonize Khomeini. Fine. What about Gandhi's passivity (and even support for) Germany and Hitler during WWII? You need a bigger frame to capture this complex reality. You'll never understand the phenomena you're examining if you insist on making simplistic binary distinctions anytime they relate to something you want to validate as "good" or reject as "evil."
Spirituality is partially defined by the life conditions in which it arises. If it arises in a culture in which men must be fierce warriors to thrive, it will engage and embody strong red energies. If it arises in an information economy, it will tend to be more abstract and elevated. In an integrated world culture, every band of every spectrum of qualities is necessary and valuable.
It's my conviction that when anyone contemplates the highest implications of their highest awareness (in both senses) they become aligned to goodness. Individual errors compound cultural errors to create violence, repression, imperialism, and terrorism. Individual virtue aligns with cultural virtue to generate wisdom and compassion. The enlightenment that guides my heart must be informed by both higher orders of consciousness and higher stages of spiritual enlightenment.
Instead of turning me into a harsh critic of everything that falls short, however, this inspires me to be an avid appreciator of anything that makes a legitimate offering. It makes me a discriminating bridge-builder, a supporter and friend to all. So my respect for the Imam is sincere and serious, even in the face of, and notwithstanding (or acquiescing to) all his rigidities and excesses. He was a great man, despite the brutality he authorized and the way his legacy restricts certain opportunities for flexibility and enlightened evolution in the nation he founded.
Terry: Possibly, but only over time and through a profound process. I’ll very briefly try to point out some of its essential elements. But please understand, we’re talking about a whole conversation between radically different cultural perspectives. I can offer some very broad, hopefully useful, orienting generalizations.
Maybe what we can realistically hope for is that by beginning with humility and respect for lessons we need to learn from Iran, we can evoke a reciprocal gesture. Maybe, by going further, we can, together, establish the bare beginnings of a trustable conversation, grounded in mutual practice, evoking each of our devotion and responsibility to our highest, most sacred values. Doing that, we are each operating at our best. And that means kinder, gentler, serious, and responsible behavior.
Maybe the West can make an offering to holders of the Islamic tradition by learning to ground ourselves, humbly, in our humanity, our bodies, and planet, and learning to attune ourselves and our ways of relating to the people of other nations, with the rhythms of human relationship and survival. Maybe they can even help us learn to do that. And maybe they'll engage that discipline too.
Maybe, in return, Islamic leaders can begin to see themselves as a valuable part of the larger human family, but not special and unique, to be promoted and preserved in competition with and at the expense of all others. Maybe they can learn to hold their own religious and cultural heritage while appreciating the immense importance and dignity of modernity, standing free of any need to prove themselves or obtain acknowledgment. And maybe we can even help them learn how to do that, and maybe in the process we'll exemplify it too.
And maybe countless additional shifts—both more and less fundamental—can take place also.
But we need to start where we are, by investing in mutual listening, which can deepen until it eventually disarms righteous fanaticism and treachery. Maybe we can deepen our listening into enough respect for one another to allow a sincere, authentic exchange. Such an exchange between two people can only occur when authentic and sincere hearts and whole human beings participate. It requires giving, receiving, and being given to, and receiving from the other. Such an exchange doesn't appear from nothing; it has to build naturally from somewhere. It seems to me that we can start with the mature religious practitioners in Iran. I think we might be pleasantly surprised if we proceed by assuming that Iranians, even including some conservative clerics, are open to this possibility.
Sam: But we have no guarantees, You're essentially suggesting an untested hypothesis, a pilot program, aren't you? Isn't the implication a new kind of civilian diplomacy initiative based essentially on your hifalutin' Integral theories?
Terry: Depends on your standards of proof. This is grounded in ancient wisdom and informed by the most advanced synthesis of ancient, modern, and post-modern knowledge I know of. True, what I am writing here is theoretical, by its vary nature—it's a piece of writing.
However, the theories I'm citing have a lot of evidence to support them. They even have provisional confirmation from many sources. I even received more provisional confirmation in Iran. I think this approach seems promising—at least worth a sincere attempt. After all, it's not like we're considering this in the midst of a world awash in cooperation, or even rich with workable options for regenerating it!
Someday I hope that such a conversation can be conducted by legitimate official representatives, acting on behalf of large numbers of people. Our current "realpolitik" (or diplomatic warfare) does not profit us, or the planet, as we struggle with issues that require global cooperation to forestall terrible consequences for us all. The real work relates to distrust, which can be slowly and carefully disclosed and deconstructed, even if it never disappears completely. Learning can take place in all participants simultaneously. Healthy changes are available to be enacted by everyone.
I'm interested in a new kind of civilian diplomacy with Iranians, one that begins by bringing together people of authentic spiritual development for sincere dialog. This begins with meditating and/or praying together, and thereby entering into at least intuitions of higher stages of enlightenment. I believe this can set the stage for the kinds of conversation that have a hope of successfully negotiating what I believe we need—an elegant soft landing for our overheated world.
I hope most for a soft landing—for the American empire (particularly as that affects American people, including me) and also for the Iranian people. For the West, for the Islamic world, and for the whole world. Any possibility of a soft landing is worth investigating thoroughly.
Our opportunities to keep
evolving are going to be served when people of illumination and good
faith (from both sides of our most serious divisions) willingly move,
together, towards mutual trust. It guarantees nothing, but it is a step
towards a healthy soft landing for planet Earth (and all people,
sentient beings, and living systems
Sam: Okay, there's at least theoretical value in what you propose. But I'll come back to struggle with you over this. You're thinking big, and idealistically. Such idealism must be challenged, even simply to refine it. Inevitably it will be tested by reality, which is always more creative and cussed than idealists expect. Which is why skepticism is idealism's best friend!
Terry: So true. Which is why I'm grateful to struggle to account for your objections. Thank you!