THE SPIRIT'S TERRAIN and other writings



[The following passages are excerpted from _The Spirit's Terrain_ (Beacon Press, Boston; 1998); below them is the pre-publication text of the article, "The Activism of Grace," published in the April, 2002 edition of the Canadian magazine, _Shared Vision_.]

from the Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

"Christopher Childs originally called this book 'Working Toward the World Garden.' The phrase struck me as especially apt and useful because it implies that our relationship with the earth -- and our social relationships -- are full of transformative possibility. Many people feel overwhelmed by the global scale of our environmental problems. They feel concern but do not know how they can individually contribute to saving the earth. On the other hand, there is nothing daunting about taking care of a garden.

"I am confident that this book will inspire readers with the possibility of personal and social transformation. It is my hope and prayer that by understanding the interdependence of all living things people will adapt their behavior in ways that will allow our world to flourish as a garden once more, in order that all sentient beings may happily live out their lives."

from the chapter, "The Message from Dharamsala"

"The occasion was the annual March 10 remembrance of the 1959 uprising against the Chinese forces occupying Tibet.... I arrived at the Chinese consulate well past sunset. A score or so of hand-held candles flickered at the edge of its tiny, darkened lawn and lit the faces of the modest gathering of Tibetans and their supporters. Several Buddhist monks, in their robes, stood among the group....

"I think it may be a little difficult for most Westerners to imagine what it is like to stand among Tibetan exiles before an outpost of the Chinese government. One might begin by imagining what it would have been like to stand before a German consulate during the days of the Third Reich with twenty or thirty people of the Jewish faith. With the Tibetans, however, there is the added element of the conscious Tibetan Buddhist commitment to nonviolence....

"I did not talk very long. But I doubt that any remarks of mine have ever come more from the heart. I tried to express the debt owed... to the Tibetan people. What they have chosen, under the gentle, powerful influence of the Dalai Lama, is to embody a higher way of living. They are drawing us all forward."

from the author's Preface

"This book... is an attempt to explore a framework of concepts which might promote the development of new forms of activism -- or reinvigorate some of the older ones. It is an extension of a personal investigation into ways to bring body and soul together on both an individual and a global, collective level. And it is designed to suggest to its readers that we are _all_ meant to be activists in some sphere. While... I have touched on specific issues, ranging from the pollution of the Great Lakes basin to justice for Native Americans to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, this book is not primarily about issues, but about orientation. Its investigation of such concepts as the power of visualization and the still deeper power of vision, the real meaning of intuition, and the freedom gained by acknowledging that life need not always proceed in visibly straight lines, is meant to promote an attitude of the soul more than a formula for the mind.

"The book's theme is the nearly unspeakable yearning within all of us to _create_, and the implications of fully yielding -- or not -- to that essential hunger in our souls."

[Photo above: prayer flags and view from the pass at Lalung La, Tibet; all website photos and original text 2001 C. Childs]



Copyright 2001 by Christopher Childs

Late in the fall of 2000, I visited Dharamsala, in India -- home to the Tibetan government-in-exile -- as part of a personal odyssey extending from Tibet and ancient, ethnically Tibetan border areas of Nepal, where I had been invited to trek with a compassionate aid outfit called SEEDS. Stressed from travel -- and from profound learning experience -- I spent my first night in Dharamsala in a blessedly simple guest cottage, not far from the governmental compound and the residence of the Dalai Lama. I was the only guest that evening; I was served a very good dinner in the small dining room, which doubles as a sitting-area and contains books likely to be of interest to visitors.

As I finished my splendidly solitary dinner my eye fell on a book called _Whispered Prayers_. It contained powerful, black-and-white photos of Tibetan expatriates -- many survivors of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Chinese authorities -- taken by an American psychiatrist, Stephen R. Harrison. I began to read his accompanying commentary.

One of his observations has lingered in my thoughts. In interviews with his subjects, some of whom had been through experiences at least as grueling as those of American prisoners-of-war in Vietnam, Harrison found no indications of post-traumatic stress disorder. He could only speculate that the Tibetan' faith was of such a nature and intensity that, in some way, it protected them against the psychological havoc experienced by most torture victims.

One of the reasons this observation has stayed with me is that I have two Tibetan friends who have spent time in a Tibetan prison and were severely tortured. (Their "crime" was to mount "Free Tibet" posters in their home village.) One previously served for years as a monk, and had extensive monastic training and discipline. Both have scars, physical and psychological, that linger, but neither has ever struck me as suffering the deeper wounding that is post-traumatic stress disorder. And in their faces I have at moments seen a transcendent calmness and beauty which I think of as betokening the "presence of the Buddha."

I am a Christian, not a Buddhist. But this "presence of the Buddha" -- my own phrase for the phenomenon -- has shaken me a bit. Together with Stephen Harrison's observations, it makes me wonder deeply about the power of genuine reverence to give rise to activism carried out at great risk, and to guard the activist against damage to the spirit and possibly even to the soul. For me this is a part of a larger question about the role of spirituality and faith in activism. But when I say "spirituality and faith" I am by no means necessarily talking about formulaic religious practice. I am keenly mindful, for it directly touched those close to me, that the West has recently experienced an act of terror which was a byproduct of religious fanaticism; the (ab)use of scripture to justify violence has nothing to do with real spirituality. Terrorism, in any case, does not deserve the name of activism; it has no true ethic. And a true ethic is the guideline by which genuine spirituality enters the world.

The relationship between spirituality -- the genuine article -- and genuine activism is closely tied to the nature of Grace. (This last I tend to capitalize because for me it comes close to the heart of the Divine.) I hardly think one needs a traditional spiritual practice either to enter the lists of activism, or to invite the working of Grace in one's life; I certainly didn't have one myself when, in 1981, I joined an outdoor club and signed on almost accidentally (as it then seemed) to a recently-formed task force on clean air. Looking back, I no longer consider it in the least accidental that I was led to that list. I see it as very much a product of Grace in action: that higher energy or force which knows better than we may ourselves what is wanted for our fulfillment, and kindly leads us across the threshold of our destinies. That seems clearly what the former slave-ship captain John Newton had in mind when he wrote "Amazing Grace," and he seems to me as good an authority on the subject as any theologian.

What I did have in 1981 was half a dozen years' experience impersonating Henry David Thoreau onstage. I was a former teacher who had become an actor, and a recreation of the life of Thoreau had become the centerpiece of my acting career. But if you say great words over and over long enough, they will get into your bloodstream: Thoreau set me up for activism.* Partly out of this personal evolutionary experience, I lean to the theory that activism arises from some positive stimulation of the spirit over time, even if one is not particularly conscious of the stimulation.

The _conscious_ cultivation of growth, however, lends a new dimension to one's activism. There came a quantum leap in my commitment, made within a contemporary spiritual form, when a close friend became an instructor of an intense course in mastery of the creative process. I signed up for the class and went on to teach it for two years. The work brought me into confrontation with the gap between my deepest hopes, and my actual life; I emerged with an awareness that I had some role to play beyond wearing the masks of various _dramatis personae_. I needed, in short -- at the age of thirty-four -- to become myself.

The upshot was that I committed myself to becoming a full-time activist: a friend and fellow student of creating gently challenged me one evening to articulate an ultimate aim, and I found myself saying, "I think I want to be a spokesperson for a major environmental group." It was quite terrifying; I think whenever one happens upon a clear sense of one's destiny, it is likely to be terrifying. But a few days later, I got over the terror sufficiently to go inward and ask for some sort of guidance as to whom I should work for. A clear and quiet voice said, "Greenpeace." And that is where, after some intervening adventures, I wound up spending nearly a decade.

I have told the story of my improbable path to Greenpeace spokespersonship elsewhere. Its key elements include becoming a telephone fundraiser for the organization (hardly the position I coveted); interviewing unsuccessfully for direct-action campaign work; and finally, responding to a posting for a job as the group's touring National Speaker. It was exactly the situation I'd said I wanted when my friend challenged me to articulate a primary goal. I now understood that Providence had kept me out of the other jobs.

It turned out that this unique position had come into miraculous existence thanks to someone I'd once had contact with, someone outside of Greenpeace. He was a lecture agent with whom I'd once exchanged calls and notes about booking tours of my Thoreau show. Never knowing that I had gone to Greenpeace, he had convinced the group's leadership -- against heavy odds -- to reestablish a national campus lecture program and to hire a full-time Speaker. He had quite literally created the job I wanted without ever knowing I was in a position to fill it. What makes this the more startling is that I had once written him a letter voicing an ambition to speak publicly about the environment. I'd forgotten about the letter, and so had he: we rediscovered it one day, a year or so later, when I was visiting his office. (The agent's name, by the way, was David Rich, but he was generally known by his nickname: "Magic.")

Deepak Chopra has written often and eloquently about synchronicity, and its implications of spiritual alignment and advancement. In a life blessed with many happy coincidences, I have never had a more astonishing experience than this one. To assign this series of circumstances to "good luck" would beggar the intellect. On the other hand, neither does the situation require acceptance of religious dogma -- only a willingness to explore the territory demarcated by it. Within Greenpeace, I quickly learned -- hardly a bastion of formality of any kind -- there was a long list of such happy outcomes logged under the heading of "Greenpeace karma." You can only really make sense of these chains of circumstance by acknowledgment of some greater benevolence than mere luck. That benevolence I think of as Grace.

I do not know whether Greenpeace was correct in assigning such remarkable events to "Greenpeace karma," or whether they would be better thought of as the product of "Greenpeace dharma." Karma may play its role in fortuitous outcomes, but those who deeply attend to the dharma -- the high truth, and the high way of being and doing -- and follow the path of greatness, transcend not only mere luck but the limitations of karma as well. Synchronicity is invited into our lives by our willingness to seek out the high path and commit to it. Even if I have come into the world with a backlog of superlative deeds done in former lifetimes, I am going to have to stretch a good deal in this one to realize my destiny. To have it otherwise would seem to diminish the whole concept of the thing. To attain one's destiny requires extraordinary commitment.

It also requires the willingness to grow; those who forge ahead advance not only their own spiritual cause but the cause of others. They do this in part by leaving a sort of vacuum in their wake, into which others are inevitably drawn. I have often thought that the best thing activists could do to speed social improvement would be to enroll en masse in programs of personal growth. There might be some surprises in the list of those unconsciously affected by their collective advancement. If you are in the business (for example) of pressuring corporations to achieve greater enlightenment, could there be a better way to lay the foundation than by showing a willingness to become more enlightened yourself?

Such a willingness of course implies humility, not a quality with which most visible Western activists are commonly associated in the public mind. In the end I do not suppose you can separate Grace from humility any more than you can separate entrance into a home from the opening of a door. Humility is a striking attribute of those generally held highest in the activist pantheon -- Gandhi, King, Mother Teresa -- and we who claim to reverence them might do well to emulate them in this regard. There is a rather large body of testimony which suggests that humility is essential to spiritual progress. If I am remotely accurate in thinking that Grace may be invited into one's life through a commitment to the high way, then surely humility becomes at some point an essential ingredient of the invitation.

"Humility," after all, simply means openness, the openness gained by setting the ego to one side and asking for a better quality of wisdom than one may currently possess. That is inherently an act of faith. One of my favorite frames of archival Greenpeace film -- from the campaign to save the great whales -- shows one of the organization's leading lights on the bridge of a vessel hotly pursued by Icelandic authorities, asking aloud of no one in particular, "Now what?" His face and voice evidence no panic, just a desire to know what is best. I like to remember that moment. Humility is the open heart abiding in the state defined by the simple question, "Now what?" The state of consciousness in which we apply preexisting formulae to our problems tends to the opposite of humility. Activists would lose nothing, and gain a good deal, by remembering this, and they would grow at a very deep level in the process.

Through such matter-of-fact humility the way might also be opened for a conscious faith that is now present in Western activism to only a very limited degree. I regard the link between true creativity and faith as inherent and unbreakable: one can only manifest a worthwhile goal with some degree of faith that "What you can see can come to be," and as a teacher of creative visualization, I mean this literally. -- I regularly maintain that to practice activism without the deliberate use of visualization is to approximate the carpenter who chooses to build a house with a stone and a butter knife instead of a hammer and saw; to overlook such powerful and readily available technologies seems almost unpardonable. I would prefer that activists go a good deal further and, through either traditional or contemporary forms of the vision quest, seek out an overarching vision for themselves and their work. But as a first step the practice of visualization in some form seems to me a _sine qua non_ of enlightened activism.

Formal processes or no, the successful activism I have witnessed has required significant mobilization of the spirit. I believe that the greater and more conscious the mobilization -- whether achieved through means traditional or avant-garde -- the greater the gains, and the more lasting. I do not assume that all who have deliberately cultivated such mobilization will achieve the level of enlightenment and Gracefulness of Stephen Harrison's Tibetans. What I do heartily suppose is that we may gain far greater efficacy in our work, and some measure of the spiritual protection those brave souls have experienced. Grace extends itself to us at the level of our need -- and our potential ability to receive it. It is divine Love attending in unpredictable ways to needs we may not even know we have. We can extend ourselves to it, through practices formal or informal but genuine and from the heart, even before we remotely realize what it holds for us. In such extension we transcend karma, "odds," mundane material limitations, and quite possibly even the supposed limitations of time itself. That is not a bad position from which to begin the task of remaking this or any world.

*On one occasion, I actually used the text of the show as part of an all-night walking meditation at a Buddhist Peace Pagoda. The separation between theatre and spiritual practice really is sometimes very thin.

[Photo above: Sakya Gompa Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. A "Free Tibet" bumper sticker and a Tibetan flag decal are prominently attached to the doors.]


____________________DR. JONES MAKES A HOUSECALL__________________

In appreciation of the life of Sabra Jones, boardmember, SEEDS. To paraphrase Thoreau, "She is more alive than ever she was. She is not confined to New Mexico, or to Nubri. I meet her at every turn." Ave atque vale.


The following essay was written after the events of September 11, 2001. It was distributed across much of the globe via individual e-mail, and was subsequently published in the Duluth, MN, _Reader Weekly_.


Copyright 2001 by Christopher Childs

This is what I want for my country in the aftermath of terrorism.

I want us to think about what we want to create, rather than what -- or whom -- we want to destroy. I want us to focus with greater intensity than ever before in the life of this nation on our collective vision of peace rather than on waging war. I want us to focus on peace as if our lives and the lives of those we love depended on it, because they may.

I want us to focus on creation because it is a primary activity of love in the world while destruction is the routine activity of hate. Peace, rightly understood as an active and not a passive state, is the manifestation of love -- not love as mere sentiment, but love as a state of being. War, whether waged in the heat of anger or the cold calculation of "strategic thinking," is the effective manifestation of hatred.

I want us to think about justice rather than revenge, retaliation, or retribution.

Justice is slow, deliberate, patient, and long-term. Revenge is too often swift, and its fruits correspondingly short-lived. There is no future in it and there is no vision behind it. Revenge, retaliation and retribution all ignore the Third Law of Terrorists in Motion: for every violent action, there is an equal and opposing reaction of equal or greater violence.

I want us to think about patriotism as a function of love for one another and for our national ideals, rather than as a sentimental, short-term bonding in reaction to an assault from "outside." There is no "outside." There is one world and we are a part of it. The patriotism of the heart excludes no one. Instead it celebrates communities of the spirit, communities that define themselves by shared interests and a shared vision, yet honoring all that is good and true in the visions of others.

I want us to think about the process at Nuremberg instead of the vengeful holocausts of Dresden -- or worse, Hiroshima -- and about the peace established at the end of World War II, not the humiliating, illusive treaty devised in the aptly-named Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in 1919. To convict and justly sentence your enemy through due process, and to exhibit him to the world as the object of utter condemnation, is to invest in the sane future state of humanity. But to make your enemy so faceless and inhuman that you can attempt to annihilate him, wholesale -- and along with him, the innocent among whom he resides -- is to corrode and degrade your own humanity. And if you succeed in defeating him, to humiliate him deliberately is to invite the cancer he represents to reappear and to metastasize: the Second World War arose directly out of the humiliation of Germany after the First. To leave in your wake a culture that produces a Hitler is hardly progress.

I want us to think about engaging the very nations that now provide a haven for terrorism as primary allies in rooting it out. I want us to think about ways _other than the threat of destruction_ by which we may persuade them that their own best interest lies in international justice, not international chaos. I want us to think like visionaries -- not like fanatics or Crusaders. I want us to ponder what we can offer Afghanistan or Syria or Libya or the Sudan, or any other deliberate or incidental host to terrorism, that is of such value they will bargain with us to receive it in exchange for yielding up the international murderers and criminals they now harbor.

I want Americans to turn first, not last or as an afterthought, to any of their neighborhood or their acquaintance who are of the Muslim faith, and offer them friendship. I want us to give them the absolute reassurance that they will not be blamed for the actions of those who would pervert the words of Mohammed, turning them to ends that directly violate the intent of the Prophet and the will of Allah.

And finally and most radically of all I want us not merely to pray for the souls of the thousands of victims of the terrorism -- who are surely, surely today received and embraced by the agency of a loving God -- but to pray as well for the souls of the perpetrators, living or dead. I want us to do this because those souls need Light as greatly as any in the entire universe of souls. I want us to do this precisely because it is the one action in which we finally, completely distinguish ourselves from the adversary. I want America to demonstrate to the world that greatness is a matter of transcending everything to do with hate. I want us to rise to a level of greatness we do not even expect of ourselves.

I want the world to see all this. I want the world to rise and meet us, and I want us -- all -- to go forward on that plane to which, by such thoughts and actions as these, America in its heart of hearts has always yearned to ascend.

This essay is copyrighted, and is for the private, _not-for-profit_ use of recipients and readers. It may be shared on any genuinely not-for-profit basis, but may not be reproduced in whole or in part _for profit_ without the express written consent of the author.


The following is the original text of a speech which was delivered, slightly abbreviated, at Northrop Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota on October 29, 2002. The speech was part of a campaign event featuring author and activist Cornel West, on behalf of Minnesota's Green Party gubernatorial candidate, Ken Pentel.


copyright 2002 by Christopher Childs

[Intro: slides/music, "Bound by the Beauty;" about four minutes. Final slide: HH the Dalai Lama with Desmond Tutu.]

The song was "Bound by the Beauty," by the great Canadian singer-songwriter Jane Siberry. The lyrics, in part -- I hope you could hear them -- are, "I'm coming back in five hundred years;/The first thing I'm gonna do when I get back here/Is to see... these things I love,/And they better be here,/Better be here,/Better be here."

(About that last slide: I'm leaving that one up. I'll say some more about that in a moment.)

For most of us that idea of "coming back" may seem pretty speculative. My Tibetan friends, though, they'd take that pretty seriously -- "I'm coming back in five hundred years." Either way: we might agree that it's worth working toward something worthwhile that might last the five hundred years.

_What_ we work toward is up to us. The truth of the matter is that there is a vision in the heart of every person, if you choose to go in and look for it. I have seen it everywhere I have traveled, everywhere in America, and in Tibet and in Nepal and in Dharamsala in India, and others, who have traveled far more widely than I, have seen it further afield. Across original cultures from the Middle East to Africa to Europe to Asia to Australia to America one can trace the outline of that universal vision. It's the image of the earth as a garden. That's what I call that vision, the World Garden. And I am convinced that, in their hearts, it really is what everyone yearns to work towards. If they could just figure out how to do it without too much risk, too much pain, too much... _rearrangement_.

So what do we do to work toward it as individuals? If we decide to at least _explore_ the territory of the risk, and the pain... and the "rearrangement"? That's... individual. But somewhere in each soul and in each heart is the sense of some part of the vision that is uniquely right for that individual to contribute to -- to conceive, develop, evolve, and most critically, to act on behalf of.

The visionary, the real visionary, the one who gets his or her hands dirty and makes the idea -- no: the ideal -- manifest in reality, is often, though not always, the agitator -- in the best sense. Martin Luther King, Jr., said he hoped he always remained "maladjusted" -- that he would never resign himself to evils in society as if they were inevitable and could not be helped. Somewhere in his consciousness had surely taken root the exhortation of Frederick Douglass: "Agitate -- agitate -- agitate." But it had taken root in a context of love, not hate. And the result -- one of the results -- was one of the greatest articulations of the human yearning for justice, for beauty in its deepest sense, and for the improvement of the human condition.

The Dream Dr. King had was not _only_ his; he was the great custodian of that Dream for his time, its custodian on behalf of everyone who enrolled in it and indeed -- and this is of the greatest importance -- its custodian for those who did _not_ enroll in it. It was in their hearts, for all their denial, and the denial cost them deeply. But the custodian takes on, in his or her greatest form, not only the task of harboring the vision, but almost incredibly, the task of forgiving those who attack it, suppress it and would, if they could, invalidate it. That custodian knows what pain, conscious or not, such individuals are self-inflicting by their act of willful denial. And that custodian never excludes even the actively hostile from the vision. They must do that by themselves. The custodian offers them no cooperation in willful self-denial or even self-destruction.

Robert Kennedy cited the credo, "Some see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream things that never were, and say, 'Why not?'" And he, too, was a visionary who agitated. Risky business, agitation. Cesar Chavez agitated. Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. Chico Mendes in the rainforest. Some of them leave us early. [Acknowledgement of Wellstone memorial wreath.] But, you know, the risks of agitation must be worth it. How do we know? Because the great visionary agitators keep on coming. They just keep showing up.

And thank God, many do not leave us early. And not all visionaries are quite so difficult, or difficult in that particular _way_. Some are true to themselves simply in the exercise of God-given talents. I'm an artist; so I like to think about the composer Charles Ives, breaking new ground because... he had to. It just didn't matter what anybody else thought. I like to think about Bucky Fuller. I like to think about Frank Lloyd Wright over at Taliesin, breaking the boundaries of architecture with absolute, stubborn determination, leaving us all something to think about -- no, something that _makes_ us think, and makes us think a little differently about architecture and about other things. I also like to think about Eleanor Roosevelt -- and about Marian Anderson singing, singing before the statue of Abraham Lincoln, those two outwardly improbable allies shattering a different set of boundaries. Eleanor agitated, Marian sang. It's a nice combination. Marian said she was a singer, not a fighter. People have to do what the Creator built them to do, and when they find it, and when they do it, you get some miracles sometimes. Just don't count on enrolling the Daughters of the American Revolution of the Nineteen-Thirties in your vision of the part of the Garden that has to do with equality and justice. Try to see the pain they cause themselves... right down to the soul... and forgive if you can, and move on.

It's the moving on, you see -- you moving on at the greatest deliberate speed you can muster -- that leaves a kind of vacuum behind it. And other people, certain people, simply have no choice: they will be drawn into that vacuum. What we don't get to do is to say _which ones_ will be drawn in: it's up to them. But: "Nature hates a vacuum." It's at least as true in activism as it is in physics; maybe a little moreso. People will be pulled into the vacuum you left by moving forward, and the power of the vacuum to draw people in will be proportionate to the speed at which you elected to move. As long as the movement is genuine and constitutes genuine growth, and what you are doing for the world comes from the heart and soul.

The real meaning of the vision from the heart and soul is not understood well in this culture. We don't have a cross-cultural, established, traditional vision quest in this society. So we borrow from the Native Americans -- with varying degrees of understanding and respect for what they mean, what the vision quest is really all about -- or we reinvent the vision quest in new forms and under different names, which is fine -- somebody had to come up with the original form once upon a time, too -- but the new forms aren't that widely accepted or established yet. The truth of it is that a real vision, the one that comes by inspiration, is inherently transformational. It transforms you, and to the degree you live it, it transforms the world. It picks you up and moves you forward -- at that speed which guarantees that others will be sucked in behind you. And in one way or another, it does involve loss of control, the kind of control we're used to in this culture and the kind of control which for most people is a kind of unrecognized or unacknowledged god in their lives.

I'll tell you something else about vision. I was writing a book, about all this stuff, about six or seven years ago, and I was watching TV one night and a man came on a talk show -- a pretty good talk show, _Charlie Rose_, I'm not talking _Springer_ here -- and he said something that made me sit right up straight and then grab for a pencil and a piece of paper. The man was Cornel West -- I'd read _Race Matters_, I was writing for the same publisher who put it out and they'd given me a copy -- and what he did, he summed up one of my major themes in a single sentence. He said this:

"We will not allow the present circumstances to dictate our conception of the future."

I had a whole _chapter_ planned to say that, and he said it in fourteen words. You have any idea how humbling it is to hear another writer sum up one of your central themes in fourteen words? Well, I'm no dummy. I wrote it down and quoted it in Chapter Eleven of my book. Every writer knows, if you're going to steal, steal from the best. -- I just did it again, too. Saved us all twenty minutes.

"We will not allow the present circumstances to dictate our conception of the future."

It doesn't matter how dark it is outside. Lately it's been looking pretty dark, it's feeling pretty dark in a lot of places. There's a lot of sadness, there's sadness in this room tonight, there's sadness across this state and a great deal of this country tonight. And there's worse than sadness; there's fear; there's a terrible fear in this country and it's been there for over a year now, and it's probably a feeling we're going to have to live with for some time. But here's what it's not: it is not a factor in the vision we shape for this country; for ourselves; and for our world. It's simply not a factor. It doesn't have that power, unless we make the very bad mistake of giving it that power. A genuine vision comes to us from a place that is simply beyond fear, beyond the power of fear to give it shape. For eight months or so my friend and my old Greenpeace colleague Ken Pentel has been asking people, "Vote for what you believe in, don't vote from fear," and he really means it... You know there must be some power in it somewhere, a Republican candidate just picked it up and put it in his TV ad -- "Vote your hopes, not your fears."

You know when Ken told me he'd decided to run again for Governor, I called him up early one day... well, not _that_ early... (if you know Ken you'll get that)... and without announcing myself I said, "Good morning, Mr. Pentel. Your assignment should you decide to accept it is to run for Governor of a large Upper Midwestern State." The old _Mission Impossible_ opening line. He got a kick out of that. A while ago I realized, I should have added, "Should you or any of your people be captured by the Republicans, the DFL will disavow any knowledge of your existence." And, I guess, "The Independence Party will release a statement saying they feel very strongly both ways."

Well, the Republicans haven't captured any of us yet as far as I can tell. Just one of our slogans. "Vote your hopes, not your fears."

"We will not allow the present circumstances to dictate our conception of the future."

But you know, the Republicans got it partly wrong! It's not just "hopes." It's vision. And vision goes beyond hope, and it is stronger than hope alone. That's what I mean when I say it involves inspiration. That real vision that picks you up and pushes you forward, that's something even bigger than hope alone. And the power it has is phenomenal.

I don't think for a minute that it was just coincidence that I tuned in to that _Charlie Rose_ segment and heard that quote from Cornel West. I don't believe in coincidence anyway, and not at all when I'm in the middle of creating something I know is righteous for me to be creating, and that book I was working on was a righteous thing. There are no coincidences when you're doing that. What there are, are miracles. Every day, large or small, stuff happening that just defies logic. -- You know how I got to write that book? A senior editor saw my name in the newpaper -- just my name, in the middle of a list of names in an article, an article focused on other people with Big Names -- and she saw my name and the word, "Greenpeace" next to it, and she sent me a letter saying, "How'd you like to write a book for us?" Some people write a book, and then spend _years_ trying to get a publisher just to _read_ the dam' thing. And here someone I'd never met, never spoken to -- never heard of me before -- one day she picks up the paper and sees my name, and asks, Do I want to write a book? Now _that's_ a miracle. You ask any writer.

But they happen all the time. They happen all the time when you are working for a vision, working _from_ a vision. Black Elk did the vision quest when he was just a boy, really, and he saw himself as a great leader of his people. And years and years later, as an old man, he felt he'd failed. The Indian had been beaten down, beaten almost into the ground, the lands were gone, the buffalo were gone, he felt he had lost any chance to become what Creator wanted him to become, and then one day a _wasichu_ came, a white writer, and the rest... well, the rest is history. Have you read _Black Elk Speaks_? Haven't read it? Get out there and read it! Or go see the story onstage -- they've made a play from it now. Here is a man who by all rights seemed headed for complete obscurity and he became one of the great voices for his people in a way that transcends time. People will be reading that book, hearing that story, for generations. He never let the vision die, it never really died. Even when he was without conscious hope, somewhere in him there must have been that flame. It's Goethe's advice to the young writer, "Don't despair, but if you do, [work] on in despair." It's the miracle that comes from the stubbornness inside in clinging to that vision, somewhere you may not even know you're clinging to it. And it's Grace. It's Grace.

"We will not allow the present circumstances to dictate our conception of the future."

Part of what I am saying to you tonight -- and I'm almost done here -- part of what I am trying to say to you tonight is, "Miracles come by invitation." A lot of them do, they do. You may not even know you're offering the invitation, but when you're stuck on a vision -- the real thing, the genuine article -- and you just won't let go of it, your heart just won't let go of it, your soul just won't let go of it, to paraphrase W.C. Fields, "Things Happen." They happen. Some of the miracles are small; some of them are not small, not small at all. Some of them are very large indeed. Half a century ago a Scottish writer, just returned from the Himalayas and a very risky but very successful climbing expedition, put it like this:

"Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way."*

In other words, when you have a vision -- the genuine article -- and you _commit_ to it, no one can say _how_ you may bring that vision into existence. You can't predict it. What you _can_ predict is that you _will_ get assistance in places and from people where and from whom you would least and last expect it. Vision -- the real article -- it doesn't die. Hope can die sometimes; sad but it's so; vision, vision is transcendent. I'm not just talking about _visualization_, here -- that's the subject of a whole 'nother evening -- I'm talking vision. Let it into this world, it doesn't die. It runs around looking for who's going to give it a home, but: It. Doesn't. Die. And here's the secret that everybody really already knows: it's here, now. It came in with you. _Your part of it_ came in with you. _You_ may die, _I_ may die, _it_ lives. And the World Garden lives.

It takes time, time for the vision to manifest here, you know? And we hurt with the waiting. That's Desmond Tutu crying out, "God, why must it take so long?" But it came; in South Africa, the miracle came; the transformation came. It _can_ happen anywhere. Miracles come by invitation.

That slide: that's Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, and I guess it was taken at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, because nobody I've talked to can figure out where else it could have been taken. That's two of my heroes up there. The Dalai Lama wrote a Foreword to that book I was writing when I heard Cornel West on _Charlie Rose_. He never met me, never heard of me, I wrote the Dalai Lama out of the blue -- it was my wife's idea -- and he _wrote the Foreword_ to that book. And that's a miracle. And in the original draft of the book, I quoted Desmond Tutu -- that was before it got edited. And a few months later, I got back one of these slide projectors down here -- I'd loaned it to a Greenpeace colleague -- and that slide was in the gate. I tried to give it back, and my friend said, "That's not mine. I don't know where that came from." So, I have a slide of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, smiling, laughing together, and nobody knows where it was taken or who took it, and nobody knows where it came from.

Now, _that's_ a miracle too.

Miracles come by invitation.

Know the vision. Get to know the vision. It's in your heart, it's in your soul, it came in here with you, it's not going to die. Get out and agitate, get out and sing, get out and do what Creator created you for. Live in joy.

God bless.

* from W. H. Murray's _The Scottish Himalayan Expedition_ (1951)





Tibetan Buddhism

Tibet Gov't-in-Exile

Free/Panchen Lama