Last Wednesday, the community at Urban Ashram had the good fortune to host an inspiring talk by Charles Eisenstein, renowned author, speaker and de-growth activist, as part of the Spirited Circle series of talks.
As part of the proceedings, we started the evening with an hour of silence, followed by Charles’ sharing and some Q&A. Over 50 pilgrim hearts had the opportunity to listen to Charles share his ideas, engage in conversation with him and participate in a group activity. Post that all the guests enjoyed a home-cooked meal that had been cooked by an enthusiastic team of volunteers who also found time to decorate the space with beautiful flower rangolis.
Our friends Vipul Shaha and Kathryn Scarfone who joined us that evening have jotted some of the special highlights from that talk and offer them here in the spirit of sharing.
* I loved the group process that Charles led us into wherein he divided the participants into two groups. One group was from the present times, and the other group was from the year 2114. He then paired one person from 2014 with another person from 2114, and that “future person” had to answer any questions we may have about the state of the world a century hence. Interestingly, there was much optimism about the future. No need for money, for heartless jobs, competition, wars, hunger. The ‘artificially created scarcity’ would not exist and abundance would thrive once again, was the tone from some of the participants sharing their interactions.
* We heard Charles expressing regret in an almost apologetic sense about the effects of Western colonization and capitalism. He spoke about human arrogance in trying to control, manipulate and dominate the natural world; also the flip-side of science and technology with its linear, fragmentary, and reductionist approach accelerating the crisis of modern times. He offered this picture in contrast to Eastern philosophies of holistic living and perceiving interconnectedness, the oneness of all beings. He was also cautious of not being another white guy trying to profess what needs to be done in the developing world and yet again fall into the trap of the colonizing mindset. He simply confessed: “We do not know any better. I am in India to learn from this land.”
* Chalres was comfortable with ‘not knowing the answers’. He repeatedly said that he did not know the way out of the current mess. However, he said that we do know that we cannot continue to pretend that the same old ways of doing things will solve the problems. His analogies were interesting. One of them was about trying to run faster and faster in the maze, in the hope of trying to get out of it. Instead of that, slowing down and trying to hear the song of the heart might help one come out the maze.
*I was struck by the idea that when a rainforest is cut down, or species of birds and animals are being wiped out, a part of me is also dying because we’re made up of the same universal consciousness.
* Charles remarked that 90% of consumption in the West, and increasingly in the East, is unnecessary. We can be happy with less. Material de-growth is what is imminent but that’s just too radical, and is being laughed away in political, economic forums. He also mentioned a study in Boston wherein millionaires with an average of $77 million were still feeling insecure about their wealth and stating that they needed at least 25% more in order to feel secure!
*What also resonated with me was the emphasis on the need for healing from our deepest wounds by disrupting the old paradigm with the power of love, trust, generosity, and small acts of kindness.
* Charles mentioned that the old story is getting weaker by the day. In the West, people are realizing the futility/impossibility of pursuing the infinite growth paradigm, so they’ve begun looking eastwards in search of ancient philosophies, and spiritual laws. This is where hope is!
Kathryn offers the following reflection:
“Charles invited us to imagine the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. As I wake up and bow to the beauty that we are surrounded by – discovering a deep gratitude for all that is, Charles suggests that an even more beautiful world is possible. I wonder, is this greed? Is this an attachment to a world that does not exist? Are we not meant to practice accepting things are they truly are, and not impose how we want them to be?
With these questions circling in my mind, my heart calls out while I imagine the possibility of this world. My inner bodhisattva knows we are deeply connected to all that is, and for as long as there is suffering around us, our work here is not complete – we are called to serve. A grief sets in and a warrior spirit takes over, not one ready to fight for the future but one ready to defend the option that this world is possible.
My heart calls me to action – to devoting my life to making choices in the direction of this more beautiful world. How can we continue to create this world? Do we follow the spiritual path of going inward, and focusing all energy on changing ourselves - or do we react to the urgency of the global maladies at hand and take immediate action? In shifting our perspectives and understanding of the world from a view of separateness to one of inter being, we are reminded that neither this inner spiritual path, nor the activist path alone is sufficient to create this world.
Charles proposes a path where these two meet, blend, and our practice becomes one of responding to the present – with a readiness to walk whichever path presents itself as necessary in that moment. My heart knows that this world is possible – and I am in deep gratitude for all the co-creators – and to Charles for helping to set my heart’s desires free.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. Om peace, peace, peace. ”
I am more and more deeply convinced that our innate wisdom dawns when we receive words in silence. The quality of the space and the silence around the words plays a critical role in determining how we will “digest” and “assimilate” all this food for thought.
I feel grateful that we were collectively able to create that field of an empty space and a potent silence in which Charles could so he(art)fully pour his reflections and experiences from both his inner and outer journeys.
I have uploaded a recording of the talk. Here are the two parts.
Part 1 and Part 2.
And deeply grateful to the Universe for all the synchronicity that brought Charles, the beautiful pilgrim to our city. May his journeys be blessed.
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu