One day the shaman of the tribe called a meeting. They gathered around him, and he spoke very solemnly. "My friends," he said, "there is a world that needs our help. It is called Earth, and its fate hangs in the balance. Its humans have reached a critical point in their collective birthing, and they will be stillborn without our help. Who would like to volunteer for a mission to this time and place, and render service to humanity?"
"Tell us more about his mission," they asked.
"I am glad you asked, because it is no small thing. I will put you into a deep, deep trance, so complete that you will forget who you are. You will live a human life, and in the beginning you will completely forget your origins. You will forget even our language and your own true name. You will be separated from the wonder and beauty of our world, and from the love that bathes us all. You will miss it deeply, yet you will not know what it is you are missing. You will only remember the love and beauty that we know to be normal as a longing in your heart. Your memory will take the form of an intuitive knowledge, as you plunge into the painfully marred earth, that a more beautiful world is possible.
"As you grow up in that world, your knowledge will be under constant assault. You will be told in a million ways that a world of destruction, violence, drudgery, anxiety, and degradation is normal. You may go through a time when you are completely alone, with no allies to affirm your knowledge of a more beautiful world. You may plunge into a depth of despair that we, in our world of light, cannot imagine. But no matter what, a spark of knowledge will never leave you. A memory of your true origin will be encoded in your DNA. That spark will lie within you, inextinguishable, until one day it is awakened.
"You see, even though you will feel, for a time, utterly alone, you will not be alone. I will send you assistance, help that you will experience as miraculous, experiences that you will describe as transcendent. For a few moments or hours or days, you will reawaken to the beauty and the joy that is meant to be. You will see it on earth, for even though the planet and its people are deeply wounded, there is beauty there still, projected from past and future onto the present as a promise of what is possible and a reminder of what is real.
"You will also receive help from each other. As you begin to awaken to your mission you will meet others of our tribe. You will recognize them by your common purpose, values, and intuitions, and by the similarity of the paths you have walked. As the condition of the planet earth reaches crisis proportions, your paths will cross more and more. The time of loneliness, the time of thinking you might be crazy, will be over.
"You will find the people of your tribe all over the earth, and become aware of them through the long-distance communication technologies used on that planet. But the real shift, the real quickening, will happen in face-to-face gatherings in special places on earth. When many of you gather together you will launch a new stage on your journey, a journey which, I assure you, will end where it began. Then, the mission that lay unconscious within you will flower into consciousness. Your intuitive rebellion against the world presented you as normal will become an explicit quest to create a more beautiful one.
"In the time of loneliness, you will always be seeking to reassure yourself that you are not crazy. You will do that by telling people all about what is wrong with the world, and you will feel a sense of betrayal when they don't listen to you. You will be hungry for stories of wrongness, atrocity, and ecological destruction, all of which confirm the validity of your intuition that a more beautiful world exists. But after you have fully received the help I will send you, and the quickening of your gatherings, you will no longer need to do that. Because, you will Know. Your energy will thereafter turn toward actively creating that more beautiful world."
A tribeswoman asked the shaman, "How do you know this will work? Are you sure your shamanic powers are great enough to send us on such a journey?"
The shaman replied, "I know it will work because I have done it many times before. Many have already been sent to earth, to live human lives, and to lay the groundwork for the mission you will undertake now. I've been practicing! The only difference now is that many of you will venture there at once. What is new in the time you will live in, is that the Gatherings are beginning to happen."
A tribesman asked, "Is there a danger we will become lost in that world, and never wake up from the shamanic trance? Is there a danger that the despair, the cynicism, the pain of separation will be so great that it will extinguish the spark of hope, the spark of our true selves and origin, and that we will separated from our beloved ones forever?"
The shaman replied, "That is impossible. The more deeply you get lost, the more powerful the help I will send you. You might experience it at the time as a collapse of your personal world, the loss of everything important to you. Later you will recognize the gift within it. We will never abandon you."
Another man asked, "Is it possible that our mission will fail, and that this planet, earth, will perish?"
The shaman replied, "I will answer your question with a paradox. It is impossible that your mission will fail. Yet, its success hangs on your own actions. The fate of the world is in your hands. The key to this paradox lies within you, in the feeling you carry that each of your actions, even your personal, secret struggles within, has cosmic significance. You will know then, as you do now, that everything you do matters. God sees everything."
There were no more questions. The volunteers gathered in a circle, and the shaman went to each one. The last thing each was aware of was the shaman blowing smoke in his face. They entered a deep trance and dreamed themselves into the world where we find ourselves today."
But we of the tribe know better. In the darkest despair a spark of hope lies inextinguishable within us, ready to be fanned into flames at the slightest turn of good news. However compelling the cynicism, a jejune idealism lives within us, always ready to believe, always ready to look upon new possibilities with fresh eyes, surviving despite infinite disappointments. And however resigned we may have felt, our aggrandizement of me and mine is half-hearted, for part of our energy is looking elsewhere, outward toward our true mission.
I would like to advise caution against dividing the world into two types of people, those who are of the tribe and those who are not. How often have you felt like an alien in a world of people who don't get it and don't care? The irony is that nearly everyone feels that way, deep down. When we are young the feeling of mission and the sense of magnificent origins and a magnificent destination is strong. Any career or way of life lived in betrayal of that knowing is painful, and can only be maintained through an inner struggle that shuts down a part of our being. For a time, we can keep ourselves functioning through various kinds of addictions or trivial pleasures to consume the life force and dull the pain. In earlier times, we might have kept the sense of mission and destiny buried for a lifetime, and called that condition maturity. Times are changing now though, as millions of people are awakening to their mission all at the same time. The condition of the planet is waking us up. Another way to put it, is that we are becoming young again.
When you feel that sense of alienation, when you look upon that sea of faces mired so inextricably in the old world and fighting to maintain it, think back to a time when you too were, to all outside appearances, a full and willing participant in that world as well. The same spark of revolution you carried then, the same secret refusal, dwells in all people. How was it that you finally stopped fighting it? How was it that you came to realize that you were right all along, that the world offered to us is wrong, and that no life is worth living that does not in some way strive to create a better one? How was it that it became intolerable to devote your life energy toward the perpetuation of the old world? Most likely, it happened when the old world fell apart around your ears.
As the multiple crises of money, health, energy, ecology, and more converge upon us, the world is going to collapse for millions more. We must stand ready to welcome them into the tribe. We must stand ready to welcome them back home.
The time of loneliness, of walking the path alone, of thinking maybe the world is right and I am wrong for refusing to participate fully in it... that time is over. For years we walked around talking about how wrong everything is: the political system, the educational system, religious institutions, the military-industrial complex, the banking industry, the medical system -- really, any system you study deeply enough. We needed to talk about it because we needed to assure ourselves that we were not, in fact, crazy. We needed as well to talk about alternatives, the way things should be. "We" should eliminate CFCs. "They" should stop cutting down the rain forests. "The government" should declare no fishing zones. This talk, too, was necessary, for it validated our vision of the world that could be: a peaceful and exuberant humanity living in co-creative partnership with a wild garden earth.
The time, though, for talking merely to assure ourselves that we are right is coming to an end. People everywhere are tired of it, tired of attending yet another lecture, organizing yet another discussion group online. We want more. A few weeks ago as I was preparing for a speaking trip to Oregon, the organizers told me, "These people don't need to be told what the problems are. They don't even need to be told what the solutions are. They already know that, and many of them are already in action. What they want is to take their activism to the next level."
To do that, to fully step into one's mission here on earth, one must experience an inner shift that cannot be merely willed upon oneself. It does not normally happen through the gathering or receiving of information, but through various kinds of experiences that reach deep into our unconscious minds. Whenever I am blessed with such an experience, I get the sense that some benevolent yet pitiless power - the shaman in the story - has reached across the void to quicken me, to reorganize my DNA, to rewire my nervous system. I come away changed.
One way it happens is through the "gathering of the tribe" I described in this story. I think many people who attended the recent Reality Sandwich retreat in Utah experienced something like this. Such gatherings are happening now all over the world. You go back, perhaps, to "real life" afterwards, but it no longer seems so real. Your perceptions and priorities change. New possibilities emerge. Instead of feeling stuck in your routines, life changes around you at a vertiginous pace. The unthinkable becomes commonsense and the impossible becomes easy. It may not happen right away, but once the internal shift has occurred, it is inevitable.
Here I am, a speaker and a writer, going on about how the time for mere talk has ended. Yet not all words are mere talk. A spirit can ride the vehicle of words, a spirit that is larger than, yet not separate from, their meaning. Sometimes I find that when I bow into service, that spirit inhabits the space in which I speak and affects all present. A sacredness infuses our conversations and the non-verbal experiences that are becoming part of my events. In the absence of that sacredness, I feel like a smart-ass, up there entertaining people and telling them information they could just as easily read online. Last Friday night I spoke on a panel in New York, one of three smart-asses, and I think many in the audience left disappointed (though maybe not as disappointed as I was in myself). We are looking for something more, and it is finding us.
The revolutionary spark of our true mission has been fanned into flames before, only to return again to an ember. You may remember an acid trip in 1975, a Grateful Dead concert in 1982, a kundalini awakening in 1999 -- an event that, in the midst of it, you knew was real, a privileged glimpse into a future that can actually manifest. Then later, as its reality faded into memory and the inertial routines of life consumed you, you perhaps dismissed it and all such experiences as an excursion from life, a mere "trip." But something in you knows it was real, realer than the routines of normalcy. Today, such experiences are accelerating in frequency even as "normal" falls apart. We are at the beginning of a new phase. Our gatherings are not a substitute for action; they are an initiation into a state of being from which the necessary kinds of actions arise. Soon you will say, with wonder and serenity, "I know what to do, and I trust myself to do it."