Monday, January 2, 2006

The Door on the Left: Entering the Room of Requirement

"Dobby knows the perfect place, sir! It is known as the Come and Go Room, sir, or else as the Room of Requirement! It is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker's needs. It is a most amazing room, sir."
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, from Chapter 18

Yesterday, while introducing Terry McKenna's thought-provoking piece on the state of our erstwhile democracy, I made a veiled reference to a certain problem with hope as the primary talking point of most New Year's observances. I should now expand a little on what I meant there. To do so, I'll call on the assistance of a certain well-known billionaire author and her boy wizard from Little Whinging. As anyone who pays the mildest attention to what goes on in Washington on a daily basis knows, the real children are the ones holding the gavels.

The Democrats of this nation need a Room of Requirement—some common ground where they can cleanse the mud of complacency that has covered this nation's heart, and meet the emergent needs of a moribund but still living democracy. They are not alone in their need, but they are certainly prominent. Today, I checked the websites of my state's two senators in Congress, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. Neither have a word to say, it seems, about the threat to democracy that Terry McKenna wrote about here yesterday; that Representative Conyers has raised to the attention of Congress (see the "Constitution in Crisis" download in the sidebar at right); that Barbara Boxer of California is investigating; that Senator Byrd of West Virgina is addressing in the most clarion terms (see quote and link at right).

Why does it take a crisis to shake these people out of their collective torpor? Why do we have to fall under the shadows of tyrants before Chuck Schumer gradually awakens to the fact that standing up to a criminal in the White House takes precedence over standing up for hunters in upstate New York? The War Powers Act has been in effect for nearly a quarter century, and no one—and I mean no one—has paid it the mildest lip service, let alone attempted to see its provisions enforced upon a bellicose executive. All right, the neocons in Congress wailed a little about the WPA amid their vendetta against Clinton (who, strange to say, prosecuted the one successful war in our generation—that is, the genocide in Eastern Europe was stopped and Yugoslavia is at peace unto this day); yet for a fairly serious and extensive piece of legislation, it has been met with a laughable disregard from all branches of government.

History is written by the winners, and law by those in power. Both can be, and frequently are, ignored. Thus, it will take more than hope to create prosperity in 2006, or some semblance of justice and balance in Washington after the mid-term elections are done. Hope, like faith, is a weak and mulish projection. We need a stronger, more vibrant consciousness if we are to have accountability and firmness returned to our leadership, and validity to our democratic forms. In short, we need wisdom. Not from a few elected officials or institutional symbols, but from every freethinking and independent citizen left in this land. Nothing less will save our democracy from the tyranny that currently owns it; nothing less will salvage the republic.

We have to consult our own experience, each of us, and make that the acid with which we test our leaders' performance and our candidates' promises. We have to apply a practical wisdom, based on whole-being experience, to our lives, and then elect politicians who stand up to the same measure within themselves (there are, believe it or not, still a few of them out there). Faith-based politics have failed miserably: we see the failure in Iraq; in the estrangement that America faces all over the globe; in the reckless course of our economy and our increasing servitude to the Chinese; in the murderous non-performance of our institutions in the face of natural disaster and public accountability; and in the moral decrepitude to which the highest officials of our government have sunk.

The same is true of hope: we hoped that an under-manned and under-equiped army sent to start a war based on false intelligence, a trumped-up rationale, and thinly-veiled financial designs would win, enforce order, and install the moving parts of a democratic (or at least friendly) regime. We hoped that handing massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans would somehow raise the fortunes of the lower and middle classes. We hoped that torture, extreme rendition, and domestic espionage would somehow protect America's borders from another invasion (even as legislators moved to once again legalize the very same kind of implements on airline flights that were the instruments of destruction in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington).

Well, faith and hope have both failed us again—just as they do in our personal lives. Because when we rely on faith, we ignore our own living truth; when we are slaves to hope, we forget reason; when we are married to doctrine and dogma, we divorce common sense and practical wisdom. But as I mention in my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, there is no need to toss out the baby with the water: you can have a psycho-spiritual practice without faith, and you can find both achievement and fulfillment without that weak and porous projection of hope. It's all about finding your own room of requirement within yourself, and then looking for leaders that apply that same practice to themselves and the institutions they serve.

Throughout Harry's journey within the magical world, he is brought the help and blessings he needs—often at the very moment when he has relinquished hope and expectation. For hope is to outer life what faith is to the inner: a grasping projection of belief and demand, which tries to reach beyond the arc of experience. This may fool us for a while; it may even offer us temporary or passing comfort; yet it does not bring us all of what we truly need from life. But to let go of hope is not to pass over into despair: it is instead to return to our center, to Te. This return to the center of being has the effect of removing the force of power and inner manipulation from the expression of need; instead, we simply acknowledge our desire and allow the Cosmos to respond. It also engages the extraordinary natural energy of "unforced action" from within us—what Lao Tzu calls wu-wei:

The greatness of modesty is fulfilled
In harmony with the Cosmic Source.

Its nature seems elusive, ephemeral;
It is evanescent, indefinable;
But only because its action is unforced.

It is the very center of the self,
Yet we don't know where it is.
It is the active voice of being:
Formless, and impenetrable to thought,
Yet manifest in every natural act
Through the furthest memory of Time.

It never arrives, never departs;
Its expression fulfills Nature.
It is the child of discernment,
The parent of action.

By what do I know this Essence?
From the formless truth within me.
(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 21)

In his classic novel, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse has his principal character offer his own perspective on wu-wei. Siddhartha appears before the beautiful courtesan, Kamala, and almost instantly attains goals that most people might strive mightily to reach through years of forced effort and struggle. He explains the principal that guides him to this seemingly magical kind and pace of achievement:

"Listen, Kamala, when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal. That is what Siddhartha learned from the Samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait, and fast."

Lao Tzu, Hesse, and J.K. Rowling are each teaching us the same lesson about wu-wei, from differing metaphorical perspectives: whenever we are in tune with Nature, with our deepest inner nature, then everyplace you go is Hogwarts; every moment you are living is a magical one.

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