The woman in the next seat reminded me of the fear and despair in which many live today. When she heard about the Awakened World conference I was travelling to, she seemed intrigued by the ideas of global citizenship and engaged spirituality that the conference would address.
But after she realized that genuinely caring for others and the Earth might threaten her lifestyle and status, she became angry. She raged at me about taxes for people who don’t deserve support. Then she put on her headset and the conversation abruptly ended.
I was on my way to Rome to connect with 200 others from around the world who, like me, see hope emerging as we awaken in our capacity to create the kind of world we long for. We would gather for 10 days of deep conversation and profound silence, adding our combined wisdom to a global movement toward wholeness and well-being for all.
Our group included many well-known people, including the granddaughter of Gandhi, the economic adviser to the G20 finance ministers and such authors as Joan Borysenko (Minding the Body, Mending the Mind), Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Joan Chittister (Following the Path: The Search for Passion, Purpose and Joy). But it also included ordinary people like me who are committed to personal and collective transformation through engaged spirituality.
The week unfolded with signs of new life as well as birthing pains. Those who were accustomed to presenting solutions slowly discovered the gift of listening to others. There were sacred moments: a man from China and a man from Tibet, two countries in conflict, stood and hugged. A young Japanese woman, whose grandfather inspired some 200,000 peace poles around the world, spoke of the day the 2011 tsunami raced toward the coastline and the Fukushima nuclear plant. While others ran in fear, she offered a prayer of gratitude for the Earth, bending down to a tiny yellow flower and asking for its forgiveness. A Buddhist monk from Korea invited us to sing the song that has inspired her journey, the room filling with Amazing Grace in a multitude of languages.
We all agreed that greater well-being begins by reconnecting to our authentic selves, our true selves, that we find by being in communion with God. Only then is healing the Earth possible. Spiritual practice is what makes this transformation happen; it is the key to opening us to the eternal power of love.
Moving from the fear and despair of my encounter with the woman on the airplane to engaging with people who believe we can create a world of peace was like moving through Holy Week. Obstacles were rolled away. New life emerged. Profound commitment grew for a vision of how the world can be when we live the fullness of our humanity and our divinity.
The experience confirmed what I have learned through my church community over the past 17 years: the importance of creating an intentional culture where people listen deeply, speak from the heart, do not try to fix each other, and make space to engage inner wisdom. It was amazing to discover that the longing of my heart resonates with the longings of so many others from so many different places. Hope deepens.
Rev. Karen Hilfman Millson is a minister in Orillia, Ont.
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