America’s Heartland Hosts a New Spiritual Politics
Perhaps you’re tired of the current administration and would like to make a change. So where do you go to start a political revolution? How about Washington, DC, traditional seat of political power? Or San Francisco, historic hotbed of new social revolutions? Maybe you’d prefer New Orleans, poster child of government ineptitude and inaction? Jim Garrison, cofounder of the State of the World Forum and current president of Oakland’s Wisdom University, has a different idea—Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tulsa? That’s right. Garrison’s plan is to host a massive “sacred activism” conference right in the heart of Middle America, the self-described buckle of the Bible Belt. The conference will be called “Finding a New Political Compass for America,” and its goal is to galvanize a new force in America’s political culture, one that has been missed by political pundits overly fascinated with traditional ideas of left and right. Together with Wisdom University founder Matthew Fox and social scientist Paul Ray, Garrison is positioning this conference as the beginning of a larger effort to bring attention to a new voting bloc called the “new progressives.”
Ray, who became well known in the nineties for identifying the “cultural creatives” (a socially aware, ecologically sensitive, spiritually interested sector of the American populace), is now taking his work further into the political world, identifying the political behaviors and preferences of the cultural-creative demographic. He claims that these new progressives—who tend to be ecologically minded, anti–big business, interested in personal growth, ambivalent about globalization, highly passionate about the future, and concerned about the legacy we leave the next generation—now represent fifty-five million voters, or forty-five percent of the electorate. In order to further study this new political subculture, Ray has accepted a chair at Wisdom University, where he plans to update and expand the social data on a group that some are calling “political north” (neither left nor right).
Now even if Ray’s data is correct and cultural creatives really are mounting a challenge to conventional political wisdom, Tulsa doesn’t exactly seem like the natural habitat of this new species of voter. But Garrison sees it differently. He feels that the Midwest might actually be more open to hearing a progressive message than urban centers on the coasts, which have grown accustomed—and perhaps more indifferent—to new social movements. And just to grease the wheels in this evangelical heartland, he has teamed up with minister Carlton Pearson of New Dimensions church in Tulsa. A former conservative evangelical preacher who underwent a personal transformation, Pearson became disillusioned with the religious exclusivism in evangelical ministries. He now teaches the “gospel of inclusion” and has written a book called God Is Not a Christian.
Through his alliance with Pearson, Garrison hopes he can tap the tremendous religious energy contained in Middle America but channel it toward a different kind of politics than those that brought George Bush to power in 2004. Interestingly enough, Tulsa’s population demographic is more representative of America as a whole than that of any other city in the country, according to the 2000 census. Perhaps if he can succeed there, he can succeed anywhere.
Can 64,000 People Get Enlightened by 2012?
Millions of people have experienced it, many thousands the world over are flocking to India to learn how to administer it, and celebrities—from movie actors to high-tech executives to self-help gurus such as Tony Robbins—are swearing by it. It’s called deeksha, and if you believe its proponents, this new form of spiritual transmission is going to have quite an impact on spirituality in the new millennium.
Deeksha, which means “benediction” or “initiation” in Sanskrit, was created by a South Indian couple known as Amma and Bhagavan, founders of the Golden Age Foundation. Similar in some respects to the traditional transmission of shaktipat (the conferring of spiritual power from guru to disciple), deeksha is generally conferred through touch, with deeksha givers (who undergo a twenty-one-day training) laying their hands on initiates’ heads in order to pass on the energy. Current initiates include Arjuna Ardagh, author of The Translucent Revolution, and Catherine Oxenberg, actress, reality TV star, and daughter of the princess of Yugoslavia. While recipients’ experiences vary considerably, many reports are beyond exuberant, crediting the process with all manner of illumination and awakening. Some visitors to the new Golden City ashram near Madras even report that in addition to deeksha, they were told exactly when they would reach final enlightenment.
As word of deeksha has spread in the West, Golden City has become a popular destination point for Western seekers traveling in South Asia, no small boon to the reputation of Amma and Bhagavan. Devotees’ numerous websites describe them as twin avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu. That title might seem more than a little suspect these days with self-proclaimed avatars proliferating like colors on a Hindu holiday, but there is, in fact, scriptural validity to the term. Indeed, Hindu texts tell us that the Kalki avatar will help humanity transition out of the current dark age, or Kali Yuga, and no doubt that’s why Bhagavan’s students spent many years referring to their teacher as the Bhagavan Kalki. But no longer. Today, the Kalki references are out and deeksha is in. And Bhagavan has speculated on how the transmission of deeksha may be leading to a global awakening. He suggests that all we need is roughly sixty-four thousand people, or one-thousandth of the world’s population, to become transformed, and a sort of golden age tipping point will trigger the arrival of the prophesied Sat Yuga (blessed age).
What does this popular avatar mean by “transformed”? According to one longtime disciple, “changes will occur in the parietal and frontal lobes of the brain” that will allow people to experience “oneness consciousness.” Bhagavan has also made it clear that humanity’s transition to the Sat Yuga is on the fast track, destined for none other than 2012—that infamous year known for being, among other things, the end of the Mayan calendar. And in the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, the Golden City guru is reported to have already met with Mayan elders about the significance of this date. So what will 2012 bring? Whatever the case, expect to see a flood of materials on deeksha and the Golden City between now and then.
Digitizing the Twilight Zone
For several months leading up to September 11, 2001, a British woman had the same vision each time she flew to the United States: the face of a demon and a plane bursting into flames. On September 10, a twelve-year-old boy dreamed he was shopping at the mall with his friends when a huge jetliner zoomed from the sky right down on top of them. A woman from North Carolina insisted on canceling her family’s flight to Florida on September 11 because of her strong premonition of a disaster. In fact, the closer it got to that fateful day, the more people were having similar visions, and the more accurate they became.
According to futurist John Petersen, president of the Arlington Institute, a Washington, DC, think tank, the same phenomenon tends to occur before most major catastrophes, like the tsunami of late 2004. Even more interesting, Petersen says, it might just be possible to use it to predict disasters in the future. He is currently developing a specialized web environment through which anyone with internet access can file a report about his or her vision of a calamity. These reports will then be analyzed by a central computer and converted into a dynamic map, not unlike the kind used for meteorological forecasts, that describes the pattern of premonitions that people all over the world were having at a given time. Eventually, Petersen hopes, his digital crystal ball—aptly named the “WHETHEReport”—will learn to correlate these patterns with actual events, producing warning signals when danger is imminent.
Is this phenomenon at all related to the way animals often sense upcoming earthquakes or hurricanes and flee the scene just in the nick of time? Does it lend support to the notion of a “collective unconscious”? Petersen, at least, isn’t worried about figuring that out. “I don’t have to understand why it works in order to use it,” he says, “any more than my mother needs to understand how an automobile works in order to be able to drive one.” His previous work with psychics such as “dream detective” Chris Robinson, whose dreams have helped Scotland Yard predict IRA attacks, convinced him that premonitions of disaster can indeed be real. Petersen’s focus now is on conveying this conviction to potential sponsors in his bid to raise the $4.2 million needed to get the WHETHEReport up and running.