[notes from project advisory circle gatherings, 11/89-5/90]
Ram Dass What we all feel is the frustration of the way in which the media are used to deal with real social human problems, in which they dramatically present them or something, but the actual training of people through the media, through public media, is practically zilch--because of the models that media people have of how the media can be used. And I think that's what we are examining. We are confronting some of those models with this particular game.
Joseph The major conception is that this is not a -week affair which will go up and come down, but that it need not end when the series is over, that it's really an ongoing thing. Seeing the course--and, later, the TV series--as a device to enable people to come together. To function together in a group. To listen. To go deep. To become sangha with one another.
Ram Dass And that's something that can be done in the homes. And, in fact, in the promotion for the thing in advance, we can say, "A new concept in television: get your friends together as if you were going to have a party, and then watch this, and then after the show is over you meet as a group."
Tony For me the one thing that I really want to see in the course, and one thing that has come up for me, is 'how to transform myself--how do people transform--from fear to love' which I think is like the shift one makes from living one's own life taking care of one's own business, errands, family--to caring about others, and sharing with others and helping, serving. What causes that shift to be made?
Rob The question for me, in line with what you are saying, is, "What's the purpose of the show?" Is the purpose of the show to call people's attention to environmental issues? Is the purpose of the show to introduce a spiritual path based on service? Is the purpose of the show to turn on people in Middle America? Is the purpose of the show to gather small groups in the Bay Area together as spiritual community? What is it?
Joseph For me, it's some kind of a composite of all of that.
It's like a process of giving birth to ourselves. Making something visible in the Bay Area: the creation into public view of a segment of the community that is relating to itself and to the rest of the community in a way that we haven't made visible before, that we haven't really done in public.
And the basis of that is not only relieving suffering in the sense of social service, but also copping to the suffering that we're all party to: being on a dying planet in the midst of these grotesque allocations of resources, and feeling separate from one another, and not knowing how to help or how to connect. And liberating into some kind of effective social presence the individual and group energies that address in some coherent way the root issues that underlie the dysfunctions that are leading to the death of the eco-system and the devastation of the planet.
And then to see there is so much to do, that that impels us to go to the level of interdependence.
Barbara It is interdependence.
Joseph If I do my thing, Fred down the street is doing his thing, and, in fact, I can see him on television--so I know he's doing it. I mean, being able to see that other people....That's one thing that the television medium brings to this which is really hard to grasp, but it's really incredible, and it changes the whole game.
This is all stuff that is disabling if you are isolated in contemplating it, because you can't possibly do enough, and you don't see any demonstration that anybody else is doing anything. But when you can see--live --some simultaneous process taking place, it really makes Gandhi's thing about "What you do may be insignificant, but it is of the utmost importance that you do it" make sense. There is a sense of interdependence, inter-penetration, relying on each other, and so you do your part because other people are doing their part, and it's not futile, it doesn't seem empty, it's not just "Well, I ought to." It begins to feel very fruitful. I think it's precisely the television element that makes that perceptual vantage point possible for the first time.
Barbara Can we also talk about the possibility of having some kind of manual that people could use in their home that would be prepared ahead of time with questions that would relate specifically to that particular program--so that for folks who are not used to meeting in groups and who wonder, "How do we go about doing this,"--so that they have a little format that they can look at and think about how to listen and, you know, however we would create that. It could be quite simple.
Skip There's another aspect that I want to come back to just for a moment with the content of the course in mind, and how that can develop. One of the things that I was most tickled by in Ram Dass' New York course was that there was a challenge going on at the same time saying not only "We are going to be reflecting on it," but also "Take action this week." Reflect in a diary what is taking place, deepen with it, but act.
That dimension going on, I think, would be very valuable to have as part of what's taking place during the week. So the reflecting, the working on "why," the working on "how," the sharing of what's happening --and, we're also in action.
And then with the intermediation of small group process taking place, so people can get out what's going on inside them and they can share, and not feel like the Lone Ranger as they're working--those really are a very potent combination.
Shams I was starting to think about my own experience. Encountering some experience, I'm likely to be affected in any number of ways. I can seek to understand. I can be moved. I can act in relation to it. I hear some of this being touched on, but I think especially the space to be moved, to be touched, for the heart quality to emanate...And I would be sorry to have only, let's say, that which moved us toward action, or toward understanding issues, and not that other dimension: the capacity to be touched. The capacity to be touched. Not necessarily that we have to go around touching people, and tears would be the sign whether or not the course was working. That's not what I'm talking about. It's the working with the heart quality.
Tony I have a visual image of the series being like...well, people are going to come to it wanting some kind of spiritual healing, I think. And I almost have the sense that we want to get an excitement and emotional depth equivalent to a tent-meeting where there's a faith healing. Where somebody changes. They walk out of there changed.
But what we want to do is sustain this over seven weeks--which is more in tune with the way rational people change. Not in ten minutes with some preacher: "I heal you."
Alan You know, what you're saying opens up something that I don't think we've talked to as part of the content of the experience. And I think it could be really important. And that is "What are the feelings that emerge as you start to become aware of this stuff?" One of them being shame. One of them being anger--and judgment. And I don't think we can skip over those. I think we have to really honor the fact that people pass through those, that it's important to feel your guilt, it's important to feel your shame. Not to over-dramatize it, but it's there. It really is there. And it's one of the inhibitors preventing people from action. The shame and the denial of the shame.
Barbara The shame of the shame.
Skip It seems to me, Alan, that there would be two different modes for that. One would be that each person, if it were to work out that way, would have the opportunity to be in an ongoing weekly group for the period of the series to deal with that directly--and also to hear other people exploring their own. And second, is the working with their diary as they go through their action: one challenge is "Do you want to work on being more conscious as you're acting--and as you're not acting?"--and perhaps put it down in the diary.
Alan Sort of therapeutic tools for working with it.
Sat Santokh There is one other aspect that may be beyond our reach, and that is to use the TV thing as a vehicle to then get people in each major area to have something happen as a follow-up through an event where people meet together and work together in the flesh, following up on the TV.
Johanna During the meditation we just did I had a sense of how it might feel to be in front of the television set knowing, somehow, that I was part of a community throughout the Bay Area that was tuning in at that time. And that was kind of an electrifying feeling. And I was also a little afraid because I felt we would probably be getting to issues that I'd have a lot of stuff around and that would be hard for me to deal with. I also had a feeling of a sense of community in the hall, more than I usually would feel at one of your lectures, where we'd all come in strangers and go out strangers. And a real awareness of others in the TV community.
Ram Dass When you feel it from inside the hall or in front of the television set, it will, I think, just have a quality of evenness and a quality of increasing depth of shared compassion. That's what I would like this course to be. Increasing depth of shared compassion.
Alan Well, in the meditation I really was sort of plunged into the shadow side of some of this. What I came to was seeing what it is that people come to this with that resists it, because I was kind of overwhelmed with the feeling of really just being unable to effect change and of not thinking in terms of anything that I do being significant toward transforming the world. That started to change, started to lift as the meditation went on. And I started to see it more in terms of "What would many people be coming to this with?" I feel that that's a really important thing: the whole issue of empowerment, of having people get in touch with the sense of their power to do anything and particularly to do anything that would be helpful to the world, and particularly, again, in terms of dealing with the system.
Rob The major thing that came up for me in the meditation was compassion. And I was 'watching the TV program' and I was viewing the TV program as a TV temple. It was a sanctified space that you could tune into on Wednesday nights at 7:30. And this space awakened, elevated, and reinforced the value of compassion.
And then as I went deeper with it the next thing I saw was that everybody has some sort of resistance that will take place to that. So it seemed like the next thing that you could do is you could explore the resistance to compassionate service. That's as critical as the first part because you hit those resistances. And then the third part would be a place to share those feelings that you'd be creating a community--both a live and a television community--to both share the value of compassion as well as to share the resistances to that, which would give people a place to acknowledge, 'Well, I experienced that too.' You know... 'I feel like I can't do it' or 'I feel angry at people' or whatever it is. And I think that that helps to dissipate the resistances: to have an ability to communicate that in a communal forum. And then the fourth step for me was kind of a plan of action step, which is: OK, now that we agree to this value and we agree that this is something we want to nurture in each other and in this community, where do we go from here?
Skip The possibility of developing some ideas about navigation in the twenty-first century is really right to the point right now. It seems to me that right next to that is an issue of developing a vision--maybe looking out and seeing a vision of what could be --but also developing a vision of what is, now, right here behind the veil, if we can move the veil aside.
Patricia It's an unusual time that we're living in right now at the end of the cold war and a shift away from the politics of enemy. And I think there's the politics of friendship, the politics of kinship, or the whole positive scenario, the politics of possibility that really felt utopian only months and certainly years ago.
Larry What I hear to be a theme here, is developing a curriculum which is not just a personal sadhana, but a cultural sadhana. Indeed it's cultural sadhana that I hear this course being about.
It's a really great time to be talking about what sadhana might mean for a culture or for civilization as we try in that sense of the word to deliberately move towards a more conscious community--just as in personal sadhana, we try to move towards a more conscious individual.
Ram Dass Martin Luther King, in the 'Driving Miss Daisy' filmclip, is saying quite beautifully, "The issue here isn't the bad guys, the issue is the good guys. The issue is the apathy and the inability of people to see the possibility that it could be different than it is." I really see that the thrust of our work is saying to ourselves--because this is who we are, we're talking to ourselves --it doesn't have to be the way it is now, so let's get a model of how it could be. Let's see what the resistances are to the transition from where we are to where it could be. Let's examine that and practice about the whole business of transformation. And that is the essence of psychotherapy, it's the essence of all social change. Whether we do this as an individual psycho-dynamic thing or whether we do this as a cultural process.
Larry The part of this course which excites me is the part which speaks to not some vague human potential, but some great humanity potential. That's what I'm looking to see.
Ram Dass We are all part of a league of compassion, but often we don't know it. And the recognition of membership in the league is very exciting. When you suddenly realize you are part of something--it's like being on the side of the angels. And, in a way, what this course is about is acknowledging league membership. And that's the human spirit. The league thing is bigger than the individual. And that's really very exciting to me: to play with that in this course, rather than the usual individual game which is the one I would fall into, being a psychologist.
Patricia The core of the people in the audience begin to find other people in that audience, or resources outside of the audience, where they can co-create in a compassionate way and bring this compassion into action.
Ram Dass The idea--just playing with this idea--that what this television series is about is: not 'founding'...the word founding is too arrogant or too something...but this 'league of compassion' or this....It's bringing into figure something that is ground in the culture. And it's saying, "In everybody is the quality of this caring and compassion and the yearning for freedom, and we've seen it in Eastern Europe, and we see it, we see it, we see it, we see it." "It's there." "How do we...?"...And the course is about getting people to recognize their membership. That's the humanity thing that you're talking about, Larry. It's a beauty and I really like that thrust of the course.
See, what I heard in Martin Luther King was that he wasn't asking these people, "Do you think it's time for this thing to happen?" He wasn't even trying to convince them it was time. He was saying, "It is time." And that's the issue about this course. I want this course to come from that tone. Not from asking them, "Do you think we can?" or,"Let's do it." but "This is what is."
Johanna You [Ram Dass] said something about people being moved to a whole new belief in what is possible, and then you [Patricia] said, "They need the tools to bring it in." And it just reminds me of the work that Joanna Macy does that has turned my head around about how I feel about social change work, and that is her new project that she calls the Guardian Site Project, which, in brief, suggests that nuclear waste should not be buried in the ground or shot into the air, or whatever, but that what we must do is keep it where we can watch it, because it can be contained and it can be controlled, so long as we can watch it. And that will take seven thousand generations until that is no longer a difficulty.
Patricia That Martin Luther King comment is really one of the key themes, I think, of what we're addressing: is that those people that have heart and are not so different from us--empowering them, enlarging and grounding and taking away the fear and apathy, you know, for ourselves--certainly for me--and that's the guideline. I think it's not by chance that you keep coming back to that comment.
Ram Dass Umh hmm.
Patricia Because I think that's really where our power will be. And my own sense is that it's so unusual on television to have compassion communicated, and yet it's whenever there are programs that have some compassion, they really are received. So I think that's one of the keys: compassion in action.
Joseph The bottom-line conception is that it's essentially a bodhisattva training course. Understanding that as what our lives are, and that we're all in it. To consciously cop to that metaphor for existence.
Ram Dass 1. To provide a bridge to allow more of the society to become involved in action regarding social issues. To help facilitate that process.
2. A vehicle for attitude change among middle-class people.
3. A vehicle for providing a perspective about suffering that allows people to effectively participate in the world in which there is suffering. (That's the one that the spiritual one is lurking under.)
4. A vehicle for education of information about the variety of social issues that we might address, from homelessness to ecology to political issues.
5. A networking technique for allowing people to get support from others who are of like mind and heart regarding their role in society.
6. A way for us to reflect together about the optimum strategies for us to live consciously in this time.
7. I see it as inspirational. Meaning: not only telling people how to involve themselves...and why to involve themselves...but to also awaken their desire to involve themselves. (Not in a manipulative way, but in an arriving together at an understanding of why one would.)
Toward a Curriculum
[Ram Dass' Draft for the Content Committee Meeting, February 21, 1990]
Link personal transformation with broader social, political, economic, and ecological contexts.
Catalyze sustainable conscious/compassionate social action.
Catalyze ability to examine and change life style, values, and attitudes in the face of changing conditions and the need for personal integrity.
Recognize our existing predicament--spiritually, politically, socially, economically, ecologically.
Examine our reactions to the implications of the predicament.
Perform a set of actions to change the existing predicament.
Examine our experiences in performing these actions.
Repeat the last two steps with modifications.
[Joseph's reflections during initial course-planning period, 1/89-2/91]
The television series should represent a new way of using the TV medium that involves the audience as active participants in a social process combining the relief of suffering in our individual psyches, interpersonal relationships and communities at large--rather than as passive viewers of programs about the theory of such a process. Not just programs about the relief of suffering, but programs in which audience members become active participants in conscious work that relieves suffering.
Reaching Out should encompass not only the suffering that we as middle-class people see and feel at, say, seeing homeless people on the streets (as in Ram Dass' New York course), but, at a more comprehensive level, the suffering we all share as participants in the whole Kali Yuga catastrophe. Out of that profound commonality we can begin to find our common purpose.
The series should enable viewers to face the reality that we are indeed verging on extinction, and to understand that genuinely compassionate service to relieve the suffering of others in any way and at any level is a step along the path toward our common sustenance and survival. Instead of seeing our fellow beings as competitors for resources to whom we can be indifferent in the best of times, and antagonistic whenever our interests come into conflict, we would come to see that our concern for everyone's sufficiency is the ultimate strategy for our own security, survival, and well-being.
The intention: to serve a growing community of viewers dedicated to the healing of the planet, by informing them, inspiring them, and linking them.
The broadcast presentation should enable participants to come into actual open communication--and communion--with themselves, their families, and people they would otherwise know only as 'them.' It should become a metropolitan-area-wide 'workshop' in which we can share what we are experiencing in our own lives as we open into communion with people.
Larry Brilliant observed during the New York course that the course meetings were providing participants 'small groups to tell the truth with.' Home viewing groups could serve the same function for people in the broadcast audience. The home viewing group is potentially an optimum configuration for the development of small-group sangha.
I believe that one thing can save us and that is a communion among people. We are capable of it. And television can be an instrument for its awakening.
How to experience others on the street as collaborators in this process. How to be allies for each other. How to become conscious of competitive or antagonistic impulses as themselves being the adversary we must contend with. How to become aware of social structures and institutions of all kinds that promote or reinforce divisiveness and understand that they threaten our very existence.
The existence of great wealth alongside vast numbers of people lacking basic necessities complicates this process. The provision of basic human needs to everyone is a part of the process of finding our oneness. It is a skillful means toward achieving it. A better path than trying to save our privileged way of life over the dying bodies of the poor.
Recall Thich Nhat Hanh's metaphor of 'two small rocks' that we might learn to move, as a step toward learning how to work together to move the 'larger rocks': 1) reducing consumption of meat and alcohol in western countries by 50%, and thereby becoming able to feed the hungry people of the world, and 2) stopping the foisting of arms on 3rd World peoples. And now this third 'small rock': coming together in council as allies across racial, class, and any other 'adversary' lines to collaborate in solving problems by satisfying everyone's vital interests to the fullest extent we are able.
"When humanity does decide to pull together great things can happen. We have done it for war [as a nation, or, as contending nations], we can do it to ease the Greenhouse effectÉto respond to air quality conditionsÉ[for] massive reforestation." (Huey Johnson)
"A cause that put everyone on the same side and so melded the various peoples of the world into a global community would mark a turning point in human evolution." (Bob Fuller)
Two dream fragments that I wrote down back in July . The first dream had a name to it. It was 'What's My Game?' The image was of a Macintosh program that would allow viewers to access the 'archetypal-level menu' where they could toggle between 'fearful separate entity' and 'secure in the universe.' And then the second dream (on another night): being with the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh and retrieving what was called 'the second half of the Vinaya' which was the part that had been missing and that nobody previously knew about, that would enable the whole thing to become part of mass consciousness.
[Joseph's reflections during the editing years--1991-1997]
Starting point: we live in a time of accelerating ecological calamity and are unable to talk with one another or experience and express caring about one another, or even hear what each other's needs are, much less collaborate as allies.
Reaching Out is a story of people beginning to come together as allies across racial and cultural and class and gender and other identity distinctions, seeking healing in our relationships with one another and in our communities and world. And it is a living story that members of the viewing audience are invited to enter as well.
The point is not to see a TV series about a group of people who took a step, but to take the step in our own lives; and to continue on the trajectory--on a shared learning journey toward healing, toward wholeness. A call to be real together. Learning how to come together and talk about hard issues; and feel safe with each other; and support each other in the process.
This is a matter of life and death that calls us together. And this way of coming together is the deepest desire of our hearts. Coming to council as a spiritual path--a path of awakening.
Elements of 'coming to council' that distinguish that process from merely coming into each other's presence: making it safe for 'the other side' to be with us and deal with us; wanting to hear of anything I might be doing that causes you pain, rather than armoring myself against anticipated blame and attack; wanting you to hear of anything you might be doing that causes me pain, and not needing to overcome or subdue you to force you to listen, and so not embittered by your resistance, but empowered and invigorated and gratified by your receptivity and eagerness to hear. Mutual intention to become free of guilt and blame so that we jointly can feel the sorrow. Letting go of the armoring against hearing and seeing and feeling and acknowledging the real suffering, allowing caring to arise, and then hearing, seeing, feeling, acknowledging, and eliciting each other's beauty. And then being together becomes the very process that brings out each other's strength. And then we can cook--can look upon one another as allies sharing this marvelous moment, together.
The great 'cultural art' or 'folk art' Reaching Out seeks to rekindle and reclaim is nothing less than the capacity to meet one another with the presumption of friendship. The way to it is through council where conflicts can be aired and collaboratively addressed and resolved. The backlog of animosities and blame, posturing and armoring turns out to be a threshold barrier only, that fades as quickly as the trust-building process goes forward. We as yet have no earthly idea of what we can accomplish when we feel safe with each other. We still associate being with certain groups of people as bringing the burden of being with someone who is angry at you or is afraid of you. We don't yet know the relief that comes when we can speak together of the anger, speak together of the fear, and thereby create the bridge which grows from the tendrils of our trust. Re-discovering basic trust in one another through one another.
Meeting in a way that begins to build trust is a path to this liberation we all yearn for. What is it that will allow us to enter the arena, cross the threshold, and create a loop in which we become more open and develop more trust, become more open and develop more trust?
The magic of the course is also available to viewers of the series: the context of a supportive group of people to tell the truth with.
White people can not now wait for people of color to break the deadlock. It is a time for us to seek healing and invite dialogue--even knowing that we might well be met with suspicion, be severely tested, be reproached for our clumsiness and insensitivity, and perhaps ultimately even be rebuffed. We literally can't afford to hold back and lay low behind our walls any longer, or to remain exclusively pre-occupied with other issues, other pursuits, whatever they might be.
Creating a space together in which we can be comfortable with ourselves and with each other. A place where it's all right to feel guilt or anger, contempt or shame, and know that the circle itself is strong enough to endure and allow you to be there in your truth--and in the very way it responds, to let you find your own way through into your own healing and wholeness. And not sell you out by playing on your guilt, seeking to humiliate you or subjugate you or get vindictive rocks off.
Once we begin, each 'hard issue' we face, each conflict we resolve, each antagonism we lay to rest, strengthens us, allows self-protective defense mechanisms to relax and rancor to fade--and prepares us for the next hard issue. The next one might be harder still, but the mutual process of getting to it will have equipped us to handle it. Feeling increasingly safe, increasingly comfortable together, is something we earn by getting through increasingly hard issues.
If there is to be an initiative to be able to come together as a species, as a global family, in some way that's not just New Age rhetoric or spiritual fantasy, it has to come in concrete terms from the relatively privileged inviting the relatively disadvantaged to speak, to share their truth; and then responding to the pain without getting reactive to the anger with which it's delivered; and hanging in there long enough to get to the place where we can hear one another, care about one another, and start to work together.
We can survive as a species only if we can come together as a people in council.
Collaborative-Negotiation World-Game process:
Ask each other: "What future is it that you desire?"
Discover what we each haven't yet thought through that has to be worked out to get everyone's participation--in agreement on a 'desirable' future. (I.e., to get 'universal stakeholder buy-in'.)
Go on together toward bringing into being a future that we all agree to achieve.
©1998 Choice Point