The State of the American Soul An Interview with David Spangler
INTERVIEW BY RALPH WHITE
March 5, 2005
The State of the American Soul
An Interview with David Spangler,
Ralph White: How do you feel about the state of the soul of America, given our present overall political and economic predicament?
David Spangler: In a sound bite, the soul of America is doing all right, but the personality of the country is going through a crisis. At the moment, it’s a split personality! When I attune to a deep level, however, there is a sense of a unity that isn’t being broken, that in fact our tussling is serving a deeper purpose and generating creativity between us, and resolving old issues. In my everyday consciousness, there are things about the country and its direction that I find personally distressing. But if I shift into a state of consciousness in which I feel I’m in touch with the soul of America, much of that distress falls away. I get a different perspective.
Interestingly enough, I was very surprised after the election to find that my sense of the energy of the country wasn’t roiled in the way that I’d been experiencing it up to the election. It felt peaceful, as if the soul of America were saying, “OK, a choice has been made and now we can move ahead. This unblocking of energy so we can move ahead with the consequences was important.
To me the soul of America is a planetary being. The destiny of America is to be a planetary nation, a nation that serves humanity as a whole. In many ways historically, the United States has become a place where all the different races, religions, and ethnicities of the world come together and are working out the challenges of how to work with differences co-creatively. We’re working in miniature on issues we’re going to have to solve on a planetary level as well.
A few years ago, prior to Reagan’s first term, I’d had insights that America was on the cusp of a transformative event. Then, nothing happened. After a couple of years, I put out a query to my inner colleagues: “What happened?” The answer I got was interesting. It said, “America wasn’t ready.” The image I received was one of pouring very hot water into a glass, and the glass shattered because it wasn’t tough enough. It wasn’t the right tempered-glass, not Pyrex.
So there were things that had to happen within the American psyche. Old fracture lines dealing with ideologies, race, economics, world views, and so forth had to be brought up to the surface, looked at, recognized, and dealt with. That had to happen first.
Part of that strengthening was also a necessity to hold the soul and personality of America, the beingness of the United States, in love. This meant saying -- and meaning -- within oneself, “I love this country. I love being an American. I can appreciate and hold the identity and energy of being an American. It’s not the kind of partisan love we mean when we say, “America, love it or leave it.” It’s an ability to align oneself to the spirit of this country, why it was founded, what it is trying to do, and say, “I wouldn’t have been born here, I wouldn’t have been naturalized, I wouldn’t be attracted to this land except that my soul is woven into America’s task and I have love for that. I love the promise and spirit of this country and what it can be.” What spirit was saying was that that depth of love just wasn’t there. That was another reason the glass was weak.
I believe that the attacks of 9/11 stimulated a world outflow of love for America. Not just love for us as a nation, but as a dream, the essence of which was proclaimed in the Declaration: life, liberty, equality, and pursuit of happiness. There was a moment of strengthening of our energy as a country. There was an opening of wider possibilities.
I know it looks as if we haven’t taken advantage of that and as if in fact we have moved backwards, but to me that opening is still there. When I look at this administration, it’s a very mixed bag. Like our own souls with us, the soul of America has to work with what it’s got. And what it has in our government from the President on down are largely people trying to accomplish something good as defined by their own vision and world view, which others may not agree with. And you also have people whose vision and sensibilities are constrictively selfish and even destructive in a way that seems in tune with the spirit of America but in fact is corrosive and distorting to that spirit.
Is America in jeopardy? I would say yes, but not simply because of President Bush and his administration. I see them as a culmination, a surfacing or outworking of forces set into motion a long time ago within this country, and within the world, for that matter. If we are in jeopardy, then in some ways, we are the ones who have placed our country in that position. If we see greed and jingoism and unbridled power being expressed in the current administration, then it is an expression of those same qualities in ourselves. No wonder we can become so angry seeing our own shadow reflected back to us!
I know this seems strange to say, but my inner observations, as I said, put some of the blame of this jeopardy onto our failure to appreciate and love this country and ourselves as Americans. This creates a vacuum here. So we should not be surprised that it becomes filled with a kind of love and pride that is nationalistic, setting itself against other cultures and other countries. If we cannot be loved (or love ourselves properly), then at least we will be the strongest and in control.
This is a direction that goes against the grain of the soul of America which, as I say, is a planetary being and one that sees the country under its wing as giving service to all humanity.
Something I feel is very important is to be careful not to identify the soul path, the spiritual path, with the liberal Democratic path or with the Left. There’s a tendency in the spiritual path to do that. I don’t want to identify it with the far right and the conservative side either. It’s actually much larger than that. Both sides have their own attunement to this deeper process, and both sides are screwing it up. The liberal left tends to get into a place of blame and anger, like someone who is disillusioned: you have such high hopes, such a high vision, of what America can be and when it isn’t, you just want to smash the whole thing and start over. On the right, on the other hand, you’ve got people who are going to love America whatever it does, and the more powerful it is, the better. Neither extreme serves us. What would serve is an ability to agree on loving being an American and then from there work out the operational differences of how America can and will make her contribution in the world.
If I look out at the world, I would say that we live in a haunted world. It’s haunted by the ghosts of old civilizations, and patterns, and habits: potentialities that were not realized and fulfilled. I’ll give you a specific example, which I feel is pertinent to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It took me a while to see this because it’s part of a complex layering of energies and consequences. One of the layers is definitely a replaying of the Crusades, The West vs. Islam, and that’s a very heavy energy. Another layer points to the destruction of the Caliphate by the Mongols. When that happened, the Islamic civilization was at its height. It was the premier civilization in the West, and Europe had nothing to match it really. Along come the Mongols, who decimate it. They become Muslim and they spread Islam back into Asia, but in the process, they destroyed Arab culture. Then the Turks took over and the Arabs were subservient.
So we end up with what I call the Ghost of the Islamic civilization. It doesn’t know it’s dead. We think of a person who is earth-bound, and here’s a cultural impulse, a civilizational impulse, that is earth-bound as well because it had been violently cut off and never came to a natural ending. So it’s a force, an energy, a presence, which has the effect of binding a great many souls to its desire to continue its life as it was when it was killed.
When you look at the Arab countries and their governments, they’re energetically stagnant in many ways. They don’t have to develop the way the West did, but they’re not even developing the way they were when the Islamic empire was alive and well. So, there’s this impulse that says, “I want to restore what I had, I want to be reborn.” When I think of the terrorists, they are like out the out-runners of the ghosts of the Islamic civilization. Not so much of Islam, per se, but of this old civilization. In some way, this civilizational ghosts has to be shattered and its energy liberated. It doesn’t have to be shattered by war. It just needs to be shifted and opened up so energy allowed to move through it in new ways.
This civilizational ghost (and there are more than one in the world) is a piece of planetary karma that needs to be healed and transformed. The loving, creative, human energies of the millions of people in the Arab world need to be freed and allowed to unfold in their own unique ways. Otherwise all humanity is lessened.
With this as a background, you’ve got a couple of things happening with America. On one level, from my point of view, you have people in America seeking to recreate an empire. As I said, if you can’t be loved, be strong and in control. This desire for empire has been a shadow part of our culture for a long time. Besides, it’s a natural part of humanity’s karmic challenge at the moment. In the past, when power and energy have accumulated and centralized, the result has been control and domination. It is a habit: where there is power, let me control it and extend it. America is the most powerful nation on earth, most likely the most powerful there has ever been, so it should not be surprising that the habit of imperialistic longing would raise its head. This doesn’t mean we should succumb to it. On the contrary, I believe it’s part of this country’s karma to transform the image and expression of empire into something else. But in order to do this, we need to engage with it and confront it. It seems to me this is part of what is happening now.
America would not create a military empire in the old sense, like the Roman Empire with its legions conquering everything in sight. For us, it would largely be an economic and cultural empire with military assistance. But whatever the form, you have America at this time becoming a vessel for an imperialist urge. Other countries are going to resist, at times violently if no other options present themselves. Some of that resistance is genuinely inspired from the soul level of other nations because an imperialistic energy really can’t be allowed to take over the world. We’ve been there, done that, and there are other possibilities for humanity that an empire of any form cannot imagine or express.
That’s one level. At another level, the soul of America has said, apparently, “I’m going to draw to myself some of the planetary karma that needs to be broken up and shaken up, so that energy and creativity are allowed to flow once more. The country I overlight is exercising an imperialistic energy and directing it towards the Middle East; since it is there, I will see if I can use it to produce good outcomes all the way around.”
This would be like me determining to follow a course of action that my soul knows is wrong, that’s going to bring me grief, but since I’m going to do it, my soul will try to take that energy and turn it in a way that I will at least learn good lessons from it and hopefully do some good.
At the moment, the United States is divided. We say we have Red states and Blue states, which back in the fifties would have meant that half the country was communist and the other have was depressed! I see the Red/Blue division in three ways. In some ways, it’s media inspired because it makes good copy. Secondly, some of the division is based on genuine differences, and in the best sense, those differences create an edge around which new vision could emerge if we can dialogue together. Thirdly, if we are not careful, the differences can inspire not creativity but collapse and conflict.
RW: You’ve spoken about how the Blue/Red division in many ways may be more a media manifestation than reality, and that perhaps our most effective strategy is to remember what it really is we love about this country - its can-do capabilities, its generosity of spirit, its multicultural embrace of the people around the world. There is a noble identity, a noble soul around which we can all unite. But there are some disturbing elements, disturbing to me and certainly to most New Yorkers, in contemporary society. How do you view the rise of the religious right and its political influence?
DS: I view it with trepidation. Whether anything will come of it, I don’t know -- I certainly hope not. A theocratic America would most likely not be a country that could help the world to a better space! But in its intolerance, its desire for control, and its willingness to destroy whatever is different, it represents a way of being that is the reverse of all that America came into being to represent. That it is so embraced by our political leaders and by millions of Americans is scary, for it suggests to me there is a lot of anger, fear, and violence in our hearts still to be dealt with.
I know we identify this worldview and movement as the religious right. To me, it’s more of a political movement than a religious movement. It is imperialism masquerading in religious form. As such, it is part of the same karmic challenge I spoke of earlier. On the other hand, I think again we have to be careful in our preconceptions because I do feel the media doesn’t give us a clear perspective on this. It presents us with the extremes, who are the ones making the noise and pushing the agendas on both sides, rather than revealing the thoughts and feelings of the vast majority of Americans who are not -- or who have not been up till now -- part of those extremes. The effect of media, though, can be to cut out the middle because there is no drama there and end up persuading all of us that we belong to one extreme or another. That is a recipe for conflict.
Frankly, the religious right has been extremely successful at organizing itself and promoting its agenda. Any kind of religious tyranny concerns me. I don’t really feel that America would succumb to it. But I’d be a lot happier if we didn’t put it to the test because I think the test itself would be very difficult.
But one thing the New Age folks and those who pursue alternative spiritual visions need to be aware of is how easily we can become -- and at times in my experience are -- like the Religious Right. Our methods would hopefully be different, but we, too, can become overly convinced that our way is Right and True and become oppressive to others.
The issue as I see it is not between Christian Right and Pluralistic Left but between True Believers who feel that they will only be safe if their ideology is unchallenged and in control and the rest of us. It is between forces of constriction and forces of expansion and inclusion. And these forces of constriction can operate just as well in the universities of the Left as in the churches of the Right.
There’s nothing wrong with the Christian religious foundations of this country, but America seeks to become a planetary nation, an inclusive nation, where, as in the Bill of Rights, we have freedom of religion. If we insist on having Christian scriptural elements in public and government places, then why shouldn’t we have Koranic or Talmudic or Buddhist, or Taoist scriptures, or Holistic writings, in governmental places? Of course, the argument is that these other faiths weren’t there at the founding of the country, though one can make an argument that the New Age or Holistic perspective was also there in the presence of so many Freemasons among the Founding Fathers. But they were there in spirit, for inclusiveness of humanity with all its traditions IS the tradition of America.
RW: What is your sense of how the whole holistic world view is progressing in becoming the prevailing world view in society? There was a time in the late 60s, early 70s when we saw it coming perhaps a little faster than it has. It’s come up against various obstacles, like elements of conservatism, whether religious or political, or cultural. What’s your sense of its movement and the whole future of it?
DS: I also feel it ran up against obstacles inherent in itself. I think there was a, dare I say so, smug confidence in the 60s and 70s. I certainly remember feeling very confident, saying, “of course this new way is going to succeed. Who can argue against wholeness and sustainability?” Then we discovered quite a lot of people can argue against it and some of the arguments were good arguments.
But to answer your question, I feel that the holistic worldview is alive and well, in part because it’s the only one that can address the problems we have. You can struggle against it, but the world itself is forcing us to it. I think that folks who believe in it, who support the holistic worldview should not be arrogant, but I feel they should definitely stand proud. They need to say this is just the way the world works, in holistic, interconnected ways, and our politics and economics and spirituality need to take this into account.
At its heart, it’s a loving approach. If my intent is to try to create wholeness between us, love, most often in the form of respect for the other, is one of the ways we have to start. What I don’t feel is that it’s going to inevitably sweep the field just because we say it’s such a good vision. It’s going to take folks taking on a whole new level of awareness, engagement, and practice: just doing practical things that help demonstrate issues of connectivity and sustainability and wholeness to those looking for a new vision.
RW: You really bring a unique perspective on this when we look at the evolution of consciousness, when we look at the efforts of the holistic thinkers to bring their perspectives into practical reality. Can you just give me your overall thoughts on the whole question of how the higher spiritual world works with us to support our strivings?
DS: There are different ways. The rule of thumb I have is that they will work with us as partners, but they won’t do the work for us. We’re the ones who are at this level. It’s largely our challenges, because many of our challenges are created by human consciousness. So we can’t look to the higher world with any expectation that they’re going to do the work for us. We have to grapple with it.
But given that, in my experience the higher forces do everything they can to make our processes as unobstructed as possible, so they will in fact remove whatever they can remove of a negative and destructive nature. They will help, if we ask, to adjust probabilities in co-creation with us so that instead of going down track A, the future will go down track B. They will do that. They won’t push us down B if we don’t choose it and we don’t make some effort to go that way ourselves. They are not going to save us in that sense.
Any place there is a deliberate effort to serve the world, to serve others, to bring a new pattern into being, the higher worlds will come forward with as much assistance as they can. In some cases, that might be a lot, in some cases, not so much. That depends on the human actors involved, how much space they are creating for that kind of interaction, and also, how willing they are to undertake the work. I actually think it’s paradoxical in this way. The more willing I am to shoulder more of the burden, the freer the inner forces are to take more of that burden off me. But if I’m saying, “Take this off me, it’s too big for me,” then they’re very restricted, I find, in how much of that burden they can lift. Because my response then could be, “Great, I don’t have to deal with this, thanks a lot, you handle it.” I don’t actually experience any deeper growth on my part as a human being.
For me the higher world gives a sense of spaciousness. Just knowing that they’re there and can be cooperative, I’m already part of a larger cosmos than I was before I opened to that vision, and my mind and heart can expand into that larger spaciousness which helps energy flow more freely as well. A helpful attitude is to approach the inner world not as experts or those who take my burden or save me, but as partners who have profound willingness to cooperate and a lot of love. But I have to be a partner too. They can enhance my capacity to be a partner but, generally speaking, they will not do my work for me.
David Spangler has been writing, lecturing, and teaching since the early seventies, when he was codirector of the spiritual community of Findhorn in Northern Scotland. He is the author of Revelation: The Birth of a New Age; Emergence: The Rebirth of the Sacred; Everyday Miracles; A Pilgrim in Aquarius; The Call; and most recently Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent.