Revolution from the Bottom Up By Robert Tolz




My underlying conviction is this: the world is in deep trouble, yet there is great hope for the future that can be realized through a spiritual revolution where individual after individual clearly recognizes the connection we all have on a level beyond the physical.  As each person transforms his or her feelings, thoughts and actions to be consistent with that premise, we strengthen the possibility of a lasting and just peace in the world.

Come with me on a short journey to experience the genesis of this conviction within me, the birth of my spiritual vocation.  

I was a typically naive college freshman in the spring of 1969, when radical students brandishing rifles took over Cornell University’s Willard Straight Hall.  Revolution was in the air.  Power was coming to the people.  Newsweek marked the incident with a stencilized cover photo of rifle-toting students silhouetted in stark black against a red background.

Despite the polarizing rhetoric, it became clear that nobody wanted gunfire—not the barricaded radicals, not the school administration, not the police, not the students.  Thousands attended a massive rally in the hangar-like armory building, where both the university’s president and the head of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) spoke and made nice with each other.  The take-over of the Straight ended without a shot, the university pledged to expand the African American Studies program, students were given a ticket to ride through their spring courses on a pass-fail basis without grades, and the board of trustees fired the university president, mostly for the sin of smiling alongside the leader of SDS in a photo plastered on the front page of the New York Times.

I understood and appreciated the undercurrents of revolution in the face of a violent and unjust world, but I had no faith that student radicals would lead us to the Promised Land. A line from the song "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who echoed in my heart:  “I get on my knees and pray we don’t get fooled again.  Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.”    I wanted the world to be fixed, but I didn’t have a clue how that could happen in a permanent way.

Four years later, in the summer following the first year of law school,  I decided to clear my head of academic mush and embark on a solo bicycle trip through the northeastern U.S. and Canada, my own modern walkabout.  

I was filled with a myriad of questions that needed answers.  “What would my future bring?”  “What was my relationship with the law profession?”  “What was my relationship with the opposite sex?  With my family?  With school?  With God?  With myself?”  “What is love?”

It was a time of historical importance. Our society was in the midst of extricating itself physically and emotionally from Vietnam.  The Watergate scandal was unfolding daily, exposing the abuse of power in the highest office in the land.  The potential for capitalism and communism to annihilate each other in nuclear holocaust remained very real.  Why was the world so screwed up?  Was there a way out of the morass? 

I crossed paths with quite a few people in my travels, though I kept mostly to myself. The only people who touched me deep inside were those who shared with me their spiritual aspirations, their conviction that we were all connected on a profound level and that there was indeed a divine force in the universe.

Two thousand miles alone on a bicycle had a profound effect.  Aside from the sheer transformative power resulting from the meditative experience of being in my body and not my mind for mile after mile, there was one pivotal moment that oriented the course of the rest of my life. 

Like many young people, I had ignored the possibility of death, silently assuming that I would live forever, but my mother had died the summer before.  That experience had proved the truth of mortality and was now percolating through my being  The pivotal moment came when I imagined myself on my deathbed looking back at my life, and I wondered whether I would be happy with what I would see.  Would this life have had value?  

I decided that waiting until the moment of my death to start thinking about value would be too late.  The time was now to make sure that this life had meaning.  The thought of asking cosmological questions like “What is the meaning of life?” now appeared to me to be merely a way to avoid the more pressing question of “What can I do to bring meaning to life?”

With this subtle shift in perspective, all the questions I had previously been asking now had a dynamic, living response rather than a conceptual, mental answer.  This had to be a response with my life, not an answer with words.  The state of consciousness in which we ignore our inter-connection is the root of so much of the sorrow in the world, both on an individual and a global basis.  What I needed to do was to make a basic change in my attitude so that my life could be a contribution to the evolution of society—a society where people would be able to live in a state of consciousness in which the fundamental connection among all souls would become an unstated assumption.  

I thought back to the would-be revolutionaries fighting for institutional change, and I realized that our governments and societies are merely a reflection of the predominant consciousness of the people they serve.  The top-down approach of trying to change an institution or a government could not possibly result in a permanent change in society without a corresponding change within the souls of all the people.  

However, if individual people freely and willingly change from a self-centered state of consciousness to one that embodies a transcendent ideal, then the way in which we conduct our business on a more global basis will necessarily become more expansive.  A spiritual revolution, from the bottom-up, could be permanent.

I smile inwardly at how the word “radical” is usually used to describe a political activist on the far left of the spectrum.  The word has another meaning appropriate to this idea of spiritual revolution.  “Radical” also refers to “root.”  When we respond with our own lives, we address the root of the greatest sorrows in the world.  Those who join the spiritual revolution are the new radicals.