When “bubbles burst”-whether in our financial or personal lives-we have choices to make. Do we just feel impoverished while mindlessly waiting for the next bubble to inflate our bank accounts and our egos? Or can we mindfully pause to absorb painful lessons so that not just recovery but something better can emerge? These challenging times provide opportunities to transform adversity into promise through our courage and compassion.
Renewal connotes something more personal, demanding and ongoing. It is a journey and sometimes even requires starting all over.
What’s the difference between recovery and renewal? When I’ve got the flu, recovering means regaining my health. If I’ve lost a sum of money in the stock market, I’m eager for the Dow Jones to rise and recover my losses. But renewal connotes something more personal, demanding and ongoing. It is a journey and sometimes even requires starting all over. One clue to renewal is how it is the intention behind an ongoing Benedictine ritual: monks stop whatever they are doing seven times a day and go into the chapel to get quiet and listen. Then they go back out and invest themselves in the world again. Their constant desire is for their outer purposes to be renewed by their greater spiritual calling.
Our new President’s “no drama” demeanor appears to serve our collective yearning for renewal in our public life. In a recent news conference a reporter fished for a sound-byte by asking why it had taken the White House two days to respond to yet another piece of bad financial news. President Obama thought calmly for a moment before saying, “Ed, it’s because I think it’s important to know what I’m talking about before I speak.” The president’s pause demonstrated not only a capacity to recover from an in-your-face question, but also about his commitment to the renewal of civil public discourse. Rather than responding to confrontation in kind, a few well-chosen words invited everyone to take a breath and get a fresh grip on reality.
Bringing calmness and focus into our active lives is a supreme achievement. It’s never a one time “been there, done that” accomplishment. Like the daily practice of Benedictine monks, it involves a commitment to personal and collective disciplines that connect with a timeless power not inherent in the recovery of our material possessions or the assertions of our ego, but found in the continuous renewal of our awareness. As Parker Palmer has said, “Scarcity is the logic of the ego, while abundance is the logic of the soul.”
It is for us to develop a ‘prospective mind’, a mind not fixed on perpetuating the status quo.
For several decades Thomas Homer-Dixon has made it his business to research humanity’s capacity to deal with the complexity it has wrought. “We simply don’t have a vision of an alternative economic system that isn’t oriented toward unending material growth,” Homer-Dixon says. “Until we have an alternative vision, we won’t give up the one we have.” His answer is challenging but promising. It is for us to develop what he calls a “prospective mind”, a mind not fixed on perpetuating the status quo, one that instead is “comfortable with constant change, radical surprise, even breakdown….” In an ever-changing world, recovering what we think we’ve lost is a futile pursuit. But cultivating prospective mind, in our personal lives and in our civic life, helps us to be courageous in facing current realities and creative in beginning anew. Prospective mind invites us to embrace the more challenging yet more promising task of seeing with fresh eyes.
Recently a National Public Radio reporter went looking for silver linings in the financial clouds. One person interviewed said she was glad because Americans can now “drive fewer miles, build smaller houses and live bigger lives.” This citizen imagines the “largeness of life” less in physical quantities and more in spiritual qualities. That’s looking for abundance with fresh eyes.