Restoring spiritual values within the foundation of democracy has taken on a new sense of urgency. How can purpose, compassion and spirituality coincide as a beacon for a system that seems fueled by populism, anger and greed? These are the questions I had been asking myself when I was introduced to Terry Patten’s new book, A New Republic of the Heart.
The subtitle hints to the wealth of information shared in the book. Terry Patten’s writing on the “Ethos for Revolutionaries” is a guide for what is required of us to co-create a more compassionate globally democratic society. The theme throughout the chapters is a wake up call that we can no longer afford to leave the heart out of our activism and evolution. To transform humanity requires us to reawaken to our connection to the greater whole and release the illusion of separate selves that fuels so much fear. But why the heart, when it seems love is the last thing being shown in our challenging times? Terry writes:
“A New Republic of the Heart: Because its center is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere, wholeness cannot be pointed to. It has no particular location, because it is not “other” than anything. But if it is anywhere, it is here, at the very center of each “when” and each “where.” The wisdom of the center of the being reflects the character of the whole. And we intuit its intelligence at the heart.”
As we work to create positive change, it’s critical we have guides to offer insight and inspiration, and Terry Patten’s A New Republic of the Heart remains on my bedside table to continue using as a resource. My reflections below touch upon only a small part of the vast amount of inspiring information presented in his book, and I hope it inspires others to explore his writing in more detail.
Reawakening to the Heart’s Capacity for Compassion
A New Republic of the Heart explains that the first step in positive transformation is finding resources for healthy change that already exist. This could be as simple as forming and maintaining meaningful friendships. To be in service of the greater whole, to have a democracy that is respectful and empathetic, first requires us to get along with our neighbors, our family members and our colleagues. It is a simple yet critical reminder. As activists, our energy and intentions matter, but so do our daily habits in how we show up in the world, and Terry writes why this is so important.
“It is a deep truth that when we join in battle, we tend to become like our opponents. Evolution and the course of life would be served if we could learn to fight such “evil” in a different way—such as Gandhi and other non-violent resisters have discovered—so that we can prevail without becoming like what we oppose.”
Acting with love and care, especially when so many groups seem to thrive on hate, is no easy task and this book doesn’t pretend to offer easy answers. Again and again, Terry returns to the power of the heart as our guide for the journey. I resonated with Terry’s words, and how we need to return to agape love in our evolutionary growth. We have strayed from the platonic compassion that nurtures our transformation, and instead have become distracted by the need for instant gratification and excitement often found in eros love. While both are important in our evolution, humanity must find a balance to reconnect with the greater whole.
Terry writes in chapter three just how important this understanding of love’s capacity is to building a new republic of the heart. A practice in trust, compassion, appreciation, generosity, courage and creativity is needed as individuals and as a collective culture. In a time where a chasm seems to grow deeper and wider between those with differing opinions, and democracy itself is under threat, it will be our heart’s deeper intelligence that will inform our way of being and how we respond to challenges.
Change Requires an Understanding of Reality’s Undivided Wholeness
The book explains that Wholeness is intuited at the heart. In fact, reawakening to our sense of connection could be the most revolutionary form of activism we could engage in at this time. Terry writes that this isn’t just an ideal, it’s a necessity. We can no longer afford to leave this sense of interconnectedness, even to those people and ideas we oppose, out of our intentions and co-evolution.
This is a big ask, but this book doesn’t propose we need to be enlightened to achieve positive change. Instead, the message is to realize our connectedness rather than compartmentalizing our reality. Terry considers: “how our usual approach (especially in “civilized” societies) is to bypass this perspective in favor of endless fragmentation and analysis, which contributes to the pathology by which we have wrought ecological havoc on our whole planet.”
I agree with the book’s description of humanity’s illusion of separation, and the idea that we can’t seek out a connection to wholeness, but instead must reawaken to this way of being. This is why the heart is taking center stage. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen overnight and as Terry writes, will require a lifetime of practice.
In the latter chapters of A New Republic of the Heart, Terry pays homage to Michael Murphy and George Leonard, as well as Ken Wilber’s teachings, to defend this declaration. The solution to our global crisis isn’t going to arrive as a quick fix. And it isn’t going to come from strictly meditating, or an individual pursuit of enlightenment. This is an integral practice of body, mind, heart and soul.
Our challenge in reawakening to our connectedness is stalled by our natural tendency to compartmentalize identities, opinions and actions. However, Terry writes how “integralists” are working to “transcend the fragmentation of our postmodern world.” One way to achieve this is by understanding that every generation and stage of evolution has highlights and shadows of its time. In this chapter of A New Republic of the Heart, much of the writing is inspired by Ken Wilber’s teachings of “including and transcending.”
He lays the foundation for the wisdom of respecting lessons we can learn to “include and transcend” by describing the Traditionalist, Modern and Postmodern perspectives and worldviews that have evolved and what we can learn from each stage. This step is also critical if we are to transform our current democratic system to one of cooperation and compassion. We can no longer afford to separate into various camps of thought, pointing fingers at who’s to blame for our global situation.
To practice this also requires a narrative that holds a coherent story and meaning. The book describes the need for an archetypal story that can be true for both us as individuals and also as a culture. What I found interesting in this chapter was the importance of yin and yang in our hero/heroine’s description. Terry writes that “at the heart of yin heroism there’s a call for a new level of yang action.”
To be effective agents of change we must honor both the time to reflect, to be receptive and diligent about strategy and research, but then also know when it is time to take action. Both stillness and movement are critical components of this process. Once again we come back to the theme of the book, a heartfelt revolution of wholeness against fragmentation.
Introducing Love in the Domain of Politics
In the final chapters, Terry touches on ways to go “around the system” in achieving results in our activism, as well as the reiteration that communication and meaningful dialogue are the remedies to a fragmented society. He also highlights some work being done specifically in the realm of politics, which I found particularly interesting.
To enact love in the domain of politics is profoundly tricky, yet incredibly important, and Charles Eisenstein’s quote in the book suggests we start with empathy:
“As we enter a period of intensifying disorder it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together…. I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?”
This is entirely different from the kind of activism that intensifies polarization, scorning those it opposes. It counters progressive activist tendencies to demonize political enemies. Eisenstein goes on to suggest we take time to ask perhaps a more important question as we rebuild our political system. Yes, as a global community connected to a greater whole, we can say we’re all in this together, but what does that mean: “In what together?”
Terry believes that we are in “uncertainty together.” And if this is the case, each moment requires the ongoing process of learning and growth. Intelligence alone is not going to help us transform. The heart and even our spiritual center of our hara, must work in tandem with our mind to co-create a better future for humanity.
I really think Terry is on to something important here. Our educational systems have taught that “certainty” is the way to go—as there is always a “right” answer to our questions, but in the cultural, political and social quagmire of our present time, we are definitely ensconced in uncertainty, whether we like it or not. So, we are better off embracing this, feeling into the core of our being, and allowing our hearts to give us intuitive direction of the path to take, rather than expecting the mind’s logic to show the way. Again, the solution lies in the common source we all share of agape love, even if the best we can do for now is to muddle through and find some form of empathy for our adversaries. At least it’s a start.
A Heartfelt Sense of Purpose in Integral Evolutionary Activism
The true integral revolution isn’t along the left/right spectrum. A revolution of wholeness is inclusive; it does not leave people, or good ideas, behind. In many ways, the integral revolution is uncharted territory.
It is useful to examine the three domains of activism if we are going to bring the heart into evolutionary change. The book describes these forms of activism as: working within the system, against the system, and around the system. Sometimes these are presented as competing alternatives, but evolutionary activists work in all three of these domains when necessary.
According to Terry’s writing, evolutionary activism is integral.
“On one hand, it expresses a serious commitment to whole-system change, and the emergence of a life-sustaining global culture. On the other hand, it expresses a serious commitment to becoming the kind of people who can create and enjoy a life-sustaining global culture. That means simultaneous care for and engagement with individual human beings and local initiatives even while keeping the metasystemic big picture in mind. Evolutionary activists view all their initiatives as collectively impacting a whole-system transition. We keep our hearts on the prize of a life-sustaining global culture. We stay human, humble, and real, and we keep growing. Then we can also notice the synergies and commonalities among our projects, and we can harmonize apparent conflicts and cultivate a greater coherence.”
Integral politics also looks beyond the two opposing camps of liberal and conservative voters, and instead works to expand the perspectives rather than polarize. James Turner and Lawrence Chickering, executive editors for the Transpartisan Review identify two axes: freedom and order and the left and right. Integral philosopher Steve McIntosh has identified another axis of polarity to include: the tension between nationalism and globalism.
In the book, Terry doesn’t believe transpartisanship requires transcending all partisanship or diluting the efforts to find consensus, but rather, working to get things done by identifying “common interests and values and complementary benefits.” In the book, he describes this process starting with meaningful interactions:
“Our first frontier is our relationships with one another. At first it is a private matter, in individual hearts; but we can engage collective practices. And eventually, countless personal and interpersonal acts can co-create a social act, the knitting together of more and more personal virtue, strengthening the social mycelium, creating a new republic of the heart.”
So what does it look like when we take action with a heartfelt and integral sense of purpose? In chapter nine of the book, Terry uses a powerful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh to sum up his thoughts on this vision. “The next Buddha may very well be a sangha.” Personally, I would go so far as to say that the next Buddha has to be a sangha. No single individual is going to transform our world, but a cultural revolution of brotherhood/sisterhood of humankind could pull it off.
As the book comes to a close, the reader is left with hope that authentic connections and communication, alongside an integral life of practice, will create a new dimension Terry refers to as “we space.” This new dimension of being and acting in accordance to the whole rather than the illusion of separate self is not impossible. We just need to find our way back “home” to this interconnectedness. As Terry sums it up:
That new republic already exists, as our social mycelium, and as our intuition and intuitive attraction toward a still-unmanifest possibility. It is already fully present, but mainly as a potential. It is where we are heading, our telos or omega point. It is like the “strange attractor” that conjures order out of a chaotic open system as it transitions through a bifurcation point into a higher-order state. Even though it is still out of reach, it functions to orient and organize all our values, actions, projects, and plans. Moreover, as an attractor of the heart, not just my or your heart, it reveals a new potential in human relatedness rooted in the deepest truth of our nonseparation. I am also “we,” for real.”
Terry Patten has given us some beautiful, heartfelt, heart-generated thoughts about finding the way out of our darkest hour of uncertainty. I would summarize it as a call to stop thinking about it all and start doing something about right now. Let’s get out of our minds and back to our hearts. The republic of the human heart is the same one for all of us. Sometimes we think we are on the other side of something, but in the end it cannot be, because we are most definitely in this together. The only differences are a matter of perspective.
It reminds of one of my favorite stories of the Mulla Nasrudin, that comically wry and legendary teacher of the 13th century. Once there was a group of people making their way through the woods in unknown territory. They came upon a raging river that offered no possibility of crossing. Perplexed, they sat on the bank and thought about it until they espied their good friend the Mulla Nasrudin, standing on the other side of the river. “Mulla, Mulla,” they shouted. “How do we get to the other side?”
The Mulla looked at them in confusion, raised his hands in a gesture of simplification, and shouted back: “But you are already on the other side!”
There are no “sides” in the human heart, only the integral wisdom that we are all one in the we-space of now. Let’s live together from that premise and move forward in our activism, one friendship at a time.