Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > Apocalypse? Or a Breath of Fresh Air?

Currents and Futures


Just as one person’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter”, one person’s “end of the world” is another person’s “awakening”.

There really are many “worlds” that need to come to an end… and this Friday is just as good a time to end them as any!  Here are a few of my selections for the “Good Riddance!” pile:

Ending the Age of Isolation…

We are isolated.  We move from isolated nest to nest. We go from our home nest to our work nest to a school nest to a coffeehouse or restaurant nest… moving about in our auto nest. We communicate with the same handful of people, even when we travel to other countries.   We are isolated, in ways that hundreds of Facebook “friends” can never cure…

Ending the Age of Lies…

We lie to ourselves. Our big lie is that our little nests constitute the entire world, that we are actually interacting with the world when we are in fact interacting with a television screen or computer.  Our hearts know that we are not feeding our need for community and connection.  Lie upon lie upon lie.

Our largest societal lie we call the “American Dream”: that we can grow and consume forever, with no consequences.  We know it’s a lie.  This knowing untruth is what Vaclav Havel called the “Consensual Lie”: the lie we all pretend is the truth. 

Even the staunchest defenders of the “American Dream” know the untruth of it, in their hearts.  Yet, it forms the centerpiece of the political platforms of both the Right and the Left.  Which means that, no matter which party is in control, our government is based on a lie.  A quote from “Creating a World That Works for All”:

… We lie because we cannot face the magnitude of The Mess.  We consent because it’s easier than curing our emptiness.

It’s time we woke up from this.  This is why Havel titled his seminal work, “Living in Truth”.  Facing the truth is the hardest, yet most rewarding thing we can do.    

Ending the Age of Despair…

Last week, here in Oregon and again in Connecticut, we received yet another lesson in what happens when people remain empty, isolated and in despair for too long.

In this season our lies wear thin. We are brought face to face with the magnitude of our emptiness. Here’s a challenge: go to one of the citadels of consumption we call shopping malls – look around and see if you can find anyone who looks truly, genuinely happy. Can you see anyone there who is happy because of this season, not despite it?  [Note: I wrote this paragraph before the shootings at the mall in Portland…]

We can end the Age of Despair by Living in Community.  NOT with a pre-screened, pre-selected, “safe” group of individuals, not with people who look like you, or who agree with you, but with EVERYONE.  Gays and gun-owners.  Atheists and evangelists.  Homed and homeless.  Left and Right. 

Ending the Age of Waste…

In my apartment complex, near the mailboxes, is an old-style washtub.  It’s there for residents to drop their unwanted mail for recycling.  It’s almost always full.

When you pick up your mail, sorting through the tons of junk for a few ounces of value, you are a participant in a system that starts with the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest; goes through the energy-consuming and water-toxifying processes of pulping the wood for paper; through MORE energy for cutting, printing and collating; finally, a small army of thousands of Postal Workers delivers this to our mailboxes.

So we can throw it away, unwanted and largely unread.

The Postal Service could end this incredible waste in just two seconds: all they have to do is charge the junk mailers the same rate that you and I have to pay for our mail.  It would instantly become too expensive to send out junk mail.  The wasteful and ecologically destructive practices would end immediately.

So would the Postal Service.

The USPS relies on the junk mailers – it’s their principal source of revenue.  Putting the junkers out of business also would negatively affect countless printers, marketers, copy machine makers, chain saw wielders…

From this, we can see a fundamental truth: waste is a built-in feature of the American economy.  It is required, in order for the existing systems and structures to be maintained.  Recycling will NOT end this waste and ecological devastation.  Re-imagining a healthy, abundant yet appropriate economic system WILL.

 We can end the Age of Waste by creating an economy based in “enduring love and compassion”.  The Buddha spoke about it.  Jesus advocated it.  William Penn did it (Pennsylvania Dutch Country).  My friend Mark Anielski wrote about it in “The Economics of Happiness”.  All of them said: we can create an economy where love and compassion, not money, is the goal and vision of the economy. 

Ending the Age of Violence

A true story, from the intersection of Despair, Waste and Violence:

Some years ago, Portland was undergoing a water shortage.  City officials were asking people to voluntarily cut back on water usage.

Joe, a friend of mine, related to me that, after the news broadcast of the shortage and voluntary cut-backs, he observed his neighbor outside, pressure-washing his boat.  Joe went over to his neighbor and said, “Hey Mike, didn’t you hear?  They’re asking people to cut back on water.”

Without stopping, Mike looked at him and said, “Get out of my yard before I kill you.”

One thing is clear from this story: the issue was not about water usage. Something else was going on.

There was a time in human history when “conflict resolution” meant you blew out the brains of the person you were conflicting with, and the conflict would be “resolved”.  THAT DOESN’T WORK ANYMORE.  (It didn’t work even then, but that’s a longer story…) 

Nowadays, we are coming to see that most of our conflicts are within ourselves – like the guy pressure-washing his boat during a drought, we avoid our internal conflicts by externalizing to others.  On a collective level, that means blaming the Mexicans for our drug addictions, or the Arabs for our oil addictions, or everyone ELSE carrying a gun for our lack of security. 


Okay, enough of what needs to end… Here are a couple of worlds that are destined to take the place of the old.

The New World:  A Society of Compassionate Service

Do you know how GOOD it feels when you work with others, for the benefit of others?  When you end what the Dalai Lama calls “our habitual preoccupation with self”?  Do you know how FULFILLING it is when your work actually makes SENSE?  When your actions are healing for yourself and your community, for the planet as a whole?

 First, check out this 5 minute video on the concept of “shramadana”, or “shared labor”, from my work with Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka:

[If the video above does not work, please copy and paste this link in your browser window:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL7naGplNVc]

I was in Sri Lanka when this video was shot.  I was there when my friends Prof. Rick Brooks and Dr. Momo Waguri (no, she’s not a teenager!  And yes, she is that adorable!) brought their university students from America and Japan to participate in a shramadana camp to build a drainage canal for a village…with the village. 

I missed the camp (had office work to do).  So, I was standing outside my office door when the vans transporting the Japanese and American students returned from the work camp.  I had never seen a group of people so DIRTY!  Or, so HAPPY!  Most of the students could not talk with each other, due to their language barrier.  But, they could hug each other and LAUGH.  (Note: the vans were so muddy inside, they had to be hosed down after the students exited!)

Why would people spend their own money to travel halfway around the world to get covered in mud… for someone else?  Why were they HAPPY about it? Answering these questions gives you an idea of what is MISSING in large part in our society.  We have a need to be of service… it feeds our Hunger for the Sacred.

“Hey, Can We Buy a Well?”

Another sharing moment:  In 2002, I flew from steamy Sri Lanka to the snows of Vermont, to speak to a Unitarian Universalist group there.  As part of my time in Vermont, they asked me to talk to a few dozen teenagers. 

Vermont youthI explained some of my work with Sarvodaya, which included discussing how Sarvodaya helps organize villagers to dig their own wells.  When I got to the part where it takes about $100 to provide the materials for the well (primarily for the concrete liner), I noticed some of the youth talking among themselves.  Suddenly, they reached into their pockets and started pulling out ten and twenty dollar bills.  In a few seconds, they had amassed $100.  One of them gathered it together and handed it to me, asking, “Hey, can we buy a well in Sri Lanka?”

I was stunned.  As I fumbled for something to say, another of the youth said, “I wasn’t going to do anything with that money, anyway.  I was going to buy some more CDs… but I already have more music than I can ever listen to.  Buying that well will do some GOOD.”

Given the right opportunity, our youth – all of us – will rise to the occasion.

These young people in Vermont engaged in their own style of global economics:  the economics of giving, not the economics of taking.  Through their selfless gesture, they were able to help an entire village gain a clean, reliable water supply – and they were able to expand their own hearts.

 The New World: A Society of the Spirit

All of the old world – the pain, the suffering, the greed, the shallow materialism, the emptiness… all of this points us in a direction. Like saplings bending before a fierce wind, we are all pointing away from the blast point. But, what are we pointing toward? We know what we DON’T want… what do we WANT?

Our joyful task is to create a Society of the Spirit. A society that has replaced greed with love as its primary value.  A Spirit freed from the bonds of religious negativity and dogma. A society that asks that you PRACTICE love, respect and honor for yourself, all other beings, the Earth Herself, and the Transcendent Reality.

When you truly start to do that, you will find a deep well of fulfillment start to rise within you.  You will find the words “I’m too busy!” start to evaporate from your vocabulary.  And you will find, on the other side of the “End of the World”, that you don’t miss it at all.



PS:  As usual, please feel free to re-post or forward this article. 

[NOTE:  While I welcome your comments, I do not post comments from “Anonymous”, or from bogus email addresses.  That is not the kind of society that we should support.  The next society will be based on love and community, not snarkiness and anonymity.]

[On the other hand: there may be valid reasons why you don’t want your name used.  (For example: job-related issues.  It’s happened before.)  Send me an email and let’s discuss it.]


10 Comments, RSS

  • Chuck Willis

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 12:14 am


  • Deb Rodney

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 12:23 am

    I continue to be uplifted and impressed that you keep your heart so clearly focused on a positive future. It is SO important to our individual and collective health and happiness. Thank you.

  • Dede Farrell

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 1:59 am

    I loved what you wrote here. This simple concept is full of meaning and value. These kinds of ideas are left undisclosed in so many common social relationships. I was surprised years ago and still am, to discover adults all well intending, that have never volunteered for a cause, event or any group effort or endeavor. It can be so fun and rewarding.
    I agree on the new economy and social structures being based on co-creative action. Activities that provide meaning and purpose in one’s life and the life of others. The necessity of communities pulling together to survive a storm’s aftermath is a good example, where everyone is suddenly on the same page and truly need what everyone comes forward to offer. The kids coming up with the $100 to buy a well is awesome and it shows how they suddenly realized how exciting and useful it was to feel needed and purposeful. It is in the natural heart, soul and spirit of humanity to be compassionate and caring. I see as we move forward, that many, many people will open up in ways they may not even understand, yet I strongly feel it is our evolutionary imperative to care and help where we can, without a crisis to spur us to create a better world together. I have great faith in my fellow earthlings that we all will ultimately and soon, rise to the occasion to stand up and lend a hand for our common good. Thanks for the inspiration. I love seeing you around Portland. I’ll say hi next time I do.

  • Lisa Reed Guarnero

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 3:21 am

    I really loved the video, and YES, Dr Momo Waguri is adorable, as well as really wonderful!

    According to Chinese legend, the phoenix (fenghuang) was consumed by fire and was then reborn from its ashes; thus is considered immortal and the epitome of all birds. This legend seems to span many cultures and the phoenix is also known as the fire bird or thunder bird. So as I read your article, this legend arose in my mind.

    Pain and suffering is never fun or pleasant. Yet there is much beauty that can manifest from it. It’s all up to how we perceive it and receive it. Is it a hardship, a challenge, or an opportunity? Our perception can even intensify the experience or soften it.

    I’ve spent more than half of my life with a perception of hardship since there was much adversity in my life. I was often the queen of denial to my internal pain and suffering, and yet I was also intensely attached to it as well. So talking about internal conflicts! And after many decades of attempting to “improve” my life externally, I finally realized that I needed to positively reframe my perception of my past and present in order to improve my life. It is the ultimate of “be the change you want to see in the world”, and the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.

    Next month I go to my regular parole visits (every 2 years) for the man who took my husband’s life. I spent the first 20+ years in resolute vengeance. It was only a few years ago that I realized that I was not “walking the talk” if I continued to only identify him as “the murderer of my husband”. I realized that I needed to see him as a whole human being and not as “the other”, or else I was being a huge hypocrite. I’d be lying if I said it was easy and that I have completely transcended my pain. I don’t know that this will ever happen, or that it is even possible for me. I only know that this is part of my work, and that it’s the ultimate opportunity to “walk the talk”.

    This used to be my apocalypse and I’m working towards it being a breath of fresh air. I hope it’s attainable in this lifetime.

    Your articles are like a breath of fresh air. THANK YOU for sharing so much beauty and insight Sharif.

    P.S. Sharif, I know you know much of what I’ve written. Since it is what came to my mind as I read, I decided to write it for others too. Thank you for the opportunity. 🙂

  • Shirlene

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 7:21 am

    There is HOPE. Keep talking, Sharif!

  • Markus Barton Stringer

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Spiritual Cloning Rebellion

    Being in the cultural
    navigating the conventional
    I sometimes feel
    like a commodity,
    a shred of genetic
    one coveted sheep
    among a trillion trillion,
    conditioned to follow
    the corporate stall,
    the myopic trail
    of being led and fed,
    made fat and furry
    for the fleecing
    and the butcher,
    bleating insidious
    competitive blather
    that defies a sense
    of sacred reality…
    yet as subtle and sophisticated
    the enticing greedy ploys
    of zealous power priests
    and erudite pontificators
    of religious capitalism
    can certainly be,
    such dogmas and mind manipulations
    are dreary and squalid
    when understood
    by God’s omniscient knowing…
    the deepening darkness
    selfish violence creates
    only more clearly
    defines the sublime Light
    that imbues all
    conscious living beings,
    giving we the living
    radiant energy to
    persevere and perceive
    how many of us
    are sold
    fantasies and illusions
    as lovers,
    encouraged to remain
    compliant complicit
    prisoners of the
    psychological mind,
    pledging our allegiance
    to generations of human men
    seeking to own women
    for power’s sake,
    while forgetting
    the radiant beauty
    of the enlightened mandala
    emanating from the center
    of the eternal womb,
    the slick personal power
    merchants offer artificial
    socially sanctioned
    amniotic sacks
    like security blankets
    woven of materialistic
    elitism grown in the soil
    of destroyed habitat…
    while the True Love
    rejects the selfish
    suckling babe,
    calling to the bosom
    the hungry of Spirit,
    embracing the multitudes
    with intelligence
    that permeates infinity,
    exposing the illusion
    of wealth and power
    at the expense of others
    as the act of denying
    Mother Father God.

  • Starr

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    As usual, you say so much that there isn’t much left for me! My only wish is for more people to read this and to actually hear what you’re saying. Love is contagious – let’s spread it!

  • Victoria Clevenger

    says on:
    December 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Brilliant perspective — as you usually have. Thank you so much. At a recent Christmas party, all the guests were supposed to share what we wanted for Christmas, and I said I wanted people to shift their perspective. I love what you describe as a wonder-full perspective to shift to. I want to share your words with many others.

  • Pingback/Trackback December 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm
    Making Sense | mestarr.com
  • Starr

    says on:
    December 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Or maybe I DO have something to say…

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