Editor's note: Claudia Moore has three decade’s experience as a journalist and holds an MSW in community practice. Her graduate project — Invest in Kids Initiative, 2001 — organized New Hampshire early childhood education professionals to strike for better pay and benefits in order to insure lower turnover rates in the state’s childcare centers. She has experience in hospice and bereavement counseling and has been a student in the Academy for Evolutionaries, which explores concepts and practices of evolutionary spirituality. Claudia facilitates courses at the Duke chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the subject of spirituality. 



The idea of service beyond self — what sometimes is more narrowly termed altruism — traces its roots in the human psyche as far back in time as what Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age, the period between 800–200 BCE when the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid. Service to the greater good — service to Spirit — was a core value in the seminal philosophies that appeared simultaneously and independently during this period in China, India, Persia, Palestine, and Greece.

Over the past half century, the voices urging that we recommit to this higher service have come from many quarters. To note just one example — as relevant today as when they were penned back in 1964 by the hippie troubadour/prophet who turned 70 on May 24, 2011:

Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
if you can’t lend your hand.
For the times they are a-changin’.(1)

The baby boomers, a massive vanguard of elders-in-waiting — “the best educated, most widely traveled, most innovative generation we have ever seen” — stand ready to serve humanity. Will they choose to do so? Some observers, like historian Theodore Roszak, are hopeful:

What boomers left undone in their youth, they will return to take up in their maturity, if for no other reason than because they will want to make old age interesting. Just as the Dutch have won land back from the sea, we have won years back from death. That gives us the grand project of using those extra years to build a culture that is morally remarkable.(2)

Another observer — philosopher Ken Wilber — offers a more tempered diagnosis. Members of the generation that fought for civil, women’s, and gay rights, staged war protests, and pioneered concern about the environment appear now to be gripped in a collective paralysis. They suffer from boomeritis, Wilber argues, a malaise caused by “the belief that reality is flat, that there are no levels of consciousness. We basically live in Flatland.”(3)

The problem, as Wilber sees it, is that baby boomers took a first step into a higher awareness — a further step in the evolution of consciousness — only to then find themselves stuck in self-absorption and narcissism. Like those stuck in the belief that the Earth was flat or was the center of the universe, intrepid boomers — however much they may have “stormed heaven” in places like Woodstock or Haight-Ashbury — are frozen in their beliefs about the nature of their reality and what to do with what they know. If we have the capacity to pioneer new states and levels of consciousness (as Wilber and others believe) — if we “are not human beings having a spiritual experience, [but] spiritual beings having a human experience” (as Teilhard de Chardin observes) — then what we do about this fact has implications for and responsibilities to generations that follow us.

Recent discoveries in physics — particularly in the field of quantum mechanics, along with trends in philosophy and psychology — provide evidence for an “instinct” for service beyond self and this “evolutionary impulse.” Don Beck, creator of Spiral Dynamics Integral and a leading global authority on value systems, societal change, and stratified democracy tells us:

Einstein said that the problems we have created couldn’t be solved with the same thinking that created them. And this is the hope that we have: that in the very dangerous and precarious global situations that we are in today, we could prepare the breeding ground and the fertile soil and the habitats to generate what the next models of existence will be. We have reached that stage where our successes and our failures have produced problems that we simply cannot solve, in the old Einsteinian sense, at the same level that they were created.(4)

The magnitude of the responsibility we as elders must assume may seem overwhelming. Roger Walsh, who has spent nearly a quarter century researching and practicing in the world’s great spiritual traditions (see his article in this issue), offers four down-to-Earth and reassuring insights to inform our service to Spirit:

bullet

The discovery of our spiritual service is a process. Thinking we should know what to do is a trap of the mind. It takes time, he reminds us, to discover and then make our own specific contribution.

bullet

We each have a unique answer to the question — “What can I do?” — because we each have unique skills, life experiences, and different spheres of influence.

bullet

Moreover, we are human. We can only do so much and must acknowledge our existential limits. Serving from spirit is best thought of as a long-distance marathon.

bullet

Finally, Walsh suggests we ask, “What’s the most strategic contribution I can make?” To think about this he gives us a splendid metaphor: the tiny trim tab found on the three-story-tall rudder of any 747 jet airliner. Rather than change the course of the plane by shifting the big rudder, the pilot employs the little trim tab. The “trim tab” questions for those seeking to serve from Spirit might be, “Where can I stand, what can I do to have the most influence?”(5)

We stand at a turning point in history. We have access to the wisdom of the ages and an unprecedented capacity to connect with one another. We are the leading edge of a massive demographic whose collective life experience has given us some inkling of what it might mean to be agents of social, economic, and political change and pioneers on the frontier of human consciousness.

So, what are we doing? What are we waiting for?

Among the articles in this issue of Itineraries you will find how some elders are responding to this challenge and see the shape their lives are taking as they try to live ever more fully in service to Spirit. May the articles in this issue encourage and inspire you to undertake similar choices and actions.
 


Notes

1 Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” from the album The Times They Are A-Changin’, Columbia Records, 1964.

2 Theodore Roszak, The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. 2009), p. 7.

3  Ken Wilber, Boomeritis (Boston & London, Shambhala, 2002), pp. 54–55.

4 See http://www.spiraldynamics.net/dr-don-beck.html.

5 Roger Walsh, “Becoming An Optimal Instrument of Service: What Does It Really Take?,” a dialogue recorded on April 3, 2001, as part of the Beyond Awakening Community Blog. Access the audio recording at  https://www.box.net/shared/static/gl42xyzk3e.mp3.