Yesterday, at a book signing event, I included a short talk. I was very pleased when a skeptic of so called "self help" books (who stated, quite honestly, that he had not read my book) asked: "This is all very nice, but what about the real world?" This is a great question because it leads to a core understanding. We should all know the answer.
It is helpful to look closely at two things: our definition of the "real" world, and what we can effectively do to make it better. I know that the person who asked the question is a socially conscious person and so am I. We are both disturbed by the perilous path the world seems to be taking.
What is usually considered the "real" world is the world of the ego, with its suffering, venality, and self sorting. Of course, there are good things in our world too, but they do not need as much attention and have a hard time making the "real" world qualifications of frustrating, depressing or despicable. When we say the "real" world we are thinking about things like permanent war, political corruption, poverty, the aristocracy of the one percent, erosion of liberty, environmental degradation, relationship difficulties and add your own frustration. The list is long and discouraging.
Most sensitive and compassionate people can see that our world needs to change, perhaps for our very survival. For instance, it should frighten anyone that the United States with 5,000 to 8,000 nuclear weapons has budgeted 14 billion dollars for more nuclear weapon research and development; that our government has destroyed the bill of rights and the constitution and created a complete template for a fascist police state; that banks and oil companies get a free ride for criminal activity, or that preemptive and contrived wars as well as "justifiable" torture are the new normal. This is the world which calls for attention, and these are just a few of the issues. This is what we usually call the "real" world. This is "just reality" we say scorning any alternate version. Waking up, becoming conscious, and taking personal responsibility is considered a side line, a path of study perhaps, an ineffective, intellectual journey made by people who wear rose colored glasses. This could not be further from the truth. Consider this:
I think we can all agree that the "real" world as described above is created and shaped by people. And for the world to change, since we are the ones creating it, it seems obvious that "we, the people," need to change. We need to move beyond the beliefs that are binding us to the same old patterns and worn out solutions. Changing the laws, changing the type of government, changing the leaders, changing the monetary system and other retreads are not working. The ego is so clever that it creates our so called "real" world, and then it tries to fix it! Thus, we have been moving the same pieces around on the chess board in the same way for centuries. Each generation has its wars, its despots, its corrupt governments; its evils. All forms of government have eventually failed, and the rich have always worked hard to increase their wealth by whatever means are necessary. We can jump up and down and get angry all we want, but, over the centuries things simply have not changed very much.
The solution? Well, for starters, we need to change from the inside out, not the outside in; from the bottom up, not the top down. We need to become a new people. We need to do everything in our personal power to stop listening to the voice of the ego, to be aware when it arises and to deny it; to open our hearts when they want to stay closed. We need to take personal responsibility, to face the unpleasant reality that, while this work is necessary for the good of all, it can only be done by ourselves, individually. We have to stop blaming the "real" world for our personal, psycho-emotional condition. And, by the way, just because this is our personal work does not mean we cannot share the difficulties and the joys we encounter with others. As the Buddha taught, the like group, the sangha, is very important. It can create synergy, compassion and joy and imbue us with a sense of great purpose.
Does waking up, changing ourselves, growing emotionally and spiritually, mean we give up on the "real" world as is often inferred? Not at all, we can write letters, sign petitions, show support and help causes we believe in. It is not an "either-or" situation. At the same time, it is helpful to practice some awareness around our responses to this "real" world. Are we angry and frustrated by events? Why? Where is the anger coming from, especially about things we can't control in any way? Are we escaping something else that needs our attention? Why are we so preoccupied and passionate about a certain situation? Is our frustration really about something else, completely unrelated? When confronted with our favorite passion, are we calm and centered and able to speak the truth as we see it without judgment or blame; able to manifest our personal power? In other words, we can use our involvement in the greater world as a teacher about ourselves, as an aid in our personal growth, while simultaneously supporting things we believe in. Interesting.
There are more benefits to our personal awakening work. According to Wikipedia, "Consciousness brings moral implications. Often, people with an awakened consciousness become socially active. A socially conscious person tends to be empathetic towards others regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, class, or sexual identity."
By now, we understand through the numerous models in nature, why doing our own work is so important. The micro informs the macro; the macro consists of multiple micros; the ego of a nation is the collective ego of its people. Thus, if we want the world to change we have to change, you and me. We have to be what we want the world to be; kind and loving; responding to events with intelligence and compassion. In this way, we become a positive force in our immediate world, the world we are experiencing and influencing directly. As we wake up and embrace consciousness, our immediate world benefits and it in turn becomes a more positive influence in the greater world.
Letting go of the incessant demands of the ego, questioning the voice of fear, releasing judgment, and actively taking up love and mercy are what we need to do to fill our own lives and the lives of those around us with joy and beauty. This personal work has always been the great challenge, the great work; the work of the real "real world," the inner world; the world that is creating the outer world that we all share. Our personal awakening is what the world is waiting for, and what it so desperately needs.