“Baby I’m amazed at the way you pulled me out of time,” sang Paul McCartney during his Wings days. Being pulled out of time was a feeling I experienced throughout a conference entitled “Awakened World 2012: Engaged Spirituality for the 21st Century.” Time seemed to expand as participants left their comfort zones and fearlessly entered into dialogues with unknown destinations.
The eight-day event took place in Rome and Florence, Italy. It brought together religious and spiritual leaders—Catholic, Jewish, Tibetan and Zen Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Quaker and more. They came from over a dozen countries. Centers for Spiritual Living and Unity both had many delegates. It also included professors of comparative religion, a wide range of groups representing social activism, environmental and business issues as well as celebrated authors and speakers. Then there were people like me: a perfectly ordinary person who has been on the spiritual path for decades but who is still a seeker.
I am uncertain why I felt such a strong call to attend this conference, but it tugged at my heart from the first moment I heard about it. The months of waiting for the event were enriched by every-other-week conference calls which focused on different religious traditions. Each call featured a spokesperson who responded to the question, “What is the best thing about your belief system?”
These nuggets of wisdom were meant to pave the path to Italy. They helped prepare us for conversations that would demonstrate the profound connections we have with each other. Religious philosophy, we learned, is mostly not the cause of disharmony. The differences occur in dogma and ritual. Conference dialogues could then focus on our individual and collective efforts to promote cultural evolution.
Sometimes I felt like I was looking through a kaleidoscope. Conference sessions would give it a shake, and the pattern would change. This seems to be the way shifts are taking place in our collective thinking. If only we could all look through the peep hole and see the strengths, wisdom and beauty everyone brings to the conversation. Then, when a cultural shake occurs, fear and distrust will not have a part in the new picture.
Awakened World participants were asked to share their perspectives on changes they perceive in the world. What shifts are taking place? Are there hopeful signs? Are there ways spiritual awareness can contribute to much needed shifts in business and politics?
In the dramatic 2012 campaign season, some of these questions were played out. Fierce battles brought the issues to the forefront offering voters a chance to say yes or no. In so many cases, the answer was no, money cannot buy an election. Big business, big money and growing financial inequality were dealt a serious blow.
Now the real work begins. We cannot afford to remain stuck in old ways of thinking. Change is happening in the world and each of us has a role to play. Moreover, we must learn to play nicely with each other. In Italy, we learned how much we have to gain if we can just stay grounded in those areas where we are deeply connected.