I once sat watching television with a friend while President Clinton exhorted us to build a bridge to the future.
'He's building a bridge to the future,' mused my friend. 'But are we really so sure we want to go there?'
I laughed when she said that, not only at her quirky humor but at her inimitable way of conveying a deeper truth that so often underlies a less serious one. The future is upon us, that's true. But what it looks like, none of us is all too sure.
I believe, as do most people I know, that beneath the economic giddiness and technological wizardry of America today, there is an underground psychic river of almost all-pervasive anxiety. The future does not seem as connected to the present as it once did. We feel that something big is about to happen, but none of us knows exactly what it is. Most significant of all, none of us can possibly know if this something is good or bad.
That is because the future is not fixed. The other side of the bridge to the future is not an objective, predetermined, static destination. In reality, it is a moveable object, a set of probabilities, and most important, a karmic consequence of the lives we lived yesterday and the lives we live today. The bridge to the future is a bridge that moves—and the land to which it is connected moves as well—according to how we walk across the bridge and who we are while we are walking.
Our thoughts about the future go far toward creating it; our minds and hearts are like filaments that connect today to tomorrow. They are conduits for either the status quo or the emergence of different, hopefully more loving, possibilities. How we think and how we behave determine where we are going.
Talmudic wisdom proclaims that over every blade of grass there stands an angel whispering, 'Grow! Grow! Grow!' I believe that extends to every moment as well. There are illumined thought forms that emanate from a divine source, guiding us, every moment, away from darkness and into light. The fact that we so often ignore these illuminations does not mean that they are not there. They are our thoughts of wisdom and conscience and love. They are our sense of goodness, the lure of becoming by which we are taken, though often kicking and screaming, in the direction of our healing. It is this illumined presence—in ourselves and others—that inspires us to hope. It carries the miraculous authority to reroute our bridges, individually and collectively, when the ones we have built are leading nowhere. That is because it has the authority to transform the human heart.
Some people are walking without a thought to where they're going. I did not ask them to write essays for this book. Some people are almost immobilized by fear of where we're headed. I hope that they will read this book. Some people imagine great light-filled possibilities ahead and work each day to invoke them. Their words are what fill this book. This book is to be read during our collective bridge time. I believe that by illuminating higher possibilities for the future, the essays here have the power to help us create them.
America has no dearth of problems, but neither do we have a dearth of genius. I had a dream once of a long dining table, yards long, at which guests carried on animated, fascinating conversations with one another. I sat in on many of them, wide-eyed like a child, taking in all the exciting ideas flying around the table. People were talking about how the world could be and what it would take to create Heaven on Earth.
That dream, in a way, was the genesis of this book. Every essay was written by someone whose words, upon reading or hearing them, caused my eyes to grow wide with wonder. All of them have aroused in me a big 'Yes, that's it!'
We are living in extraordinary times, when old boundaries are melting, assumptions long sanctified are being fearlessly questioned, and mental boxes that had seemingly been made of steel are crumbling all around us. Ask someone in business about their quarterly earnings, and they're liable to tell you about emotional factors affecting the workplace. Ask someone about their spiritual awakening, and they're liable to talk about extending their spiritual values into social activism. One simple thought now promises to transform Western civilization: that at the deepest level, there is no separation between internal and external. All outer phenomena are mere reflections of consciousness, and there is no changing the external world without addressing internal factors. Knowing that our primary spiritual task is to love, the highest work of consciousness is to not only try to find our love but also extend it into the world.
Thus, in addressing the future of America, we have sought in this book to address issues of both personal, internal transformation as well as institutional, external change. At heart, they are not separate. Writing about our legal system, a law professor speaks of injecting love into the heart of it. Writing about religion, a theologian posits the value of a sacred sensibility in the functioning of our secular institutions. Our deepest understanding of the world today involves our recognition of the creative, yet often fragile, marriage between the inner and outer realms. No one who has written for this book is naïve about America's problems. But each one of those authors has seen at least part of a way past those problems and found a way to articulate the path for others. They have obviously thought and felt deeply about their areas of expertise and responded deeply to their own imaginations. What emerges is a compendium of possibilities for a future whose underpinning is not anxiety but a deep and abiding peace . My questions to all the authors were the following: In the realm of highest possibilities, what could America look like in 50 years? What kinds of changes would have to occur in order for that to happen? How can an individual or an institution best contribute to such change? What is the deeper story trying to emerge within this nation and the world?
No one who wrote an essay for this book has a lot of time on their hands. They responded to this book project—which raises funds for a nonprofit organization dedicated to imagining and working toward a better world for our children and our children's children—because they are prepared to live by their own bottom-line message: that separately, we face almost inevitable darkness, while together, we face unimaginable light. In their taking the time to contribute their own unique and inspiring visions, they not only describe the bridge to a better future, but they actually walk it and, in so doing, model for all of us what it will take to bring it forth.
These authors gave their essays as a gift. With gratitude on behalf of myself and the Global Renaissance Alliance, I dedicate this book to each of them. I feel honored to call them colleagues and blessed to call them my friends. May the collective vision they have created here inspire each of us in our walk through life.
Essay escerpted from from Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, edited by Marianne Williamson. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling 800/848-4735 or visiting www.rodalestore.com
Join the revolution! Throughout November and December Cafe Utne will host discussions with several of the visionary authors who contributed essays to Imagine. For a full schedule, go to www.utne.com/salon.aspx