Margaret (Meg) Wheatley
The Berkana Institute
"The Amazing Grace of Y2K Revisited"
Margaret J. Wheatley
January 4, 2000
Just nine months ago, I wrote about Y2K as a great teacher, one of the many global, systemic issues that could teach us about the way the world works. I expressed my gratitude for this powerful teacher, for the many lessons I was learning about systems, the government, people's denial of reality, and what it took, as a global economy, to support my blessed American life.
In recognizing Y2K as a teacher, I had no idea what I was in for. I have had some wonderful spiritual teachers, and I know them to be tricksters. They'll do anything, including telling you bald-faced lies, in order to get you out of your ego, to demoralize you past your certainty into the fertile spiritual terrain of not-knowing. Many spiritual traditions are filled with stories about this type of guru behavior, the incredibly strange and even despicable things a teacher will do, but always in support of the student's awakening. I just didn't realize that Y2K would carry on in that great tradition.
I am still in a state of shock, almost mental blankness, about how Y2K has materialized. The babe that's been born is unlike anything I expected or can even comprehend. I'm so confused right now that I couldn't even identify the parentage of this baby. What is it? Where did it come from? How did it get here?
These times of mental blankness feel much better than my other post-Y2K rollover states of being. I have felt embarrassed, wrong, doubting of my ability to see things clearly. My ego has had a field day, telling me to doubt myself at entirely new levels, to shut up and sit down, to acknowledge my incapacities. But I have also felt deep gratitude that the world is still functioning smoothly, while living with the insistent paradox that this world doesn't function well when it's functioning smoothly. It still needs to change, and I still want to be one of those who facilitates the change. But who am I, and what's going on?
Because I am in these very questions, and because my ego is so loud, I now see a little more clearly what a great spiritual teacher Y2K is. I am deep into not-knowing, the perfect place of spiritual growth. (If I am truly in not-knowing, then the following comments need to be followed by a huge question mark. Whatever I'm writing is subject to abandonment, no matter how accurate it feels right now.)
Here are two examples of how skilled spiritual teachers behave. Milarepa, who was to become one of the most revered teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, had disavowed his life of crime and murder, and sought instruction from Marpa, a renowned teacher. As his teacher, Marpa asked Milarepa to construct houses for him, but as soon as the building was complete, Marpa would insist that he take it down. Milarepa would then take apart what he had just built with such exertion and care. Marpa refused to explain his bizarre behavior; he would say he'd been drunk, or he had never asked for such a house to be built. Marpa continued to make so many other harsh and demeaning demands on his student that finally, Milarepa despaired of ever receiving teachings from this great guru and decided to commit suicide. It was only then that Marpa stepped forward and offered his wisdom.
Marpa's behavior as a teacher was consistent with what he himself had received as a student. He was told his teacher lived on an island surrounded by a lake of poison. He managed to get through the poison, only to find the teacher living in filth, with hundreds of dogs who continually attacked Marpa. When he asked for teachings, everything his teacher spoke was gibberish. Finally, Marpa gave up. He could no longer bear the vicious dogs, the filth, and the crazed speech of his teacher. He stopped taking notes, he stopped asking questions. He despaired of ever learning anything that would lead to his awakening. It was at that moment (of course) that everything became accessible and easy -- the dogs left him alone, the teacher spoke in clear and intelligible language, and Marpa received the teachings.
If Y2K is one of my teachers, then I might have expected this surprising turn of events. Teachers often "shock" students into their awakening; they do not gently lead them to the promised land. The only way to get outside our egos is through processes that are startling and humiliating. (One of my teachers, Trungpa Rinpoche, has said that the path to enlightenment is downward mobility, one insult after another.) To get us past our egos, teachers will use deception, humiliation, trickery, humor, abasement. We can only trust that whatever our teacher does, he or she has our true interest in mind. They are doing whatever it takes for us to abandon our certainty and open to our awakening. Whatever methods a teacher employs, it will not feel "fair", but it can eventually lead us to such despair that we give up, we let go of our assumptions, beliefs, patterns of behavior, our very identity.
Y2K has helped me on this path of giving up my very identity. So right now, to free myself from that identity, I want to sit in the startling bewilderment of being wrong. I want to recognize that I couldn't see what was going on, nor can I now. I want to acknowledge that those people I accused of being in denial, or those leaders who I named as intentionally deceitful and manipulative, may have been acting from a different understanding than mine, and that theirs was more accurate.
I also want to recognize my own pessimism and cynicism -- those beliefs that led me to believe certain things, and be blind to others. Why did I choose to notice what I noticed? What kept me from acknowledging other information, other people? What made me deny hopeful signs, why did I hold onto fear and cynicism?
And above all else, I want to become more vulnerable, more open, more uncertain. To be in this work of midwifery, assisting in the birth of a new world, requires that, in a spiritual sense, I disappear. I can't move into this new world carrying my ego. Selflessness, emptiness of ego, openness -- this is the path. So now I must look forward to a future of descent, of downward mobility, of ever increasing uncertainty, insult, humiliation. Each opportunity to clear myself of certainty and identity will create greater spaciousness for what wants to happen. It will create greater spaciousness for Spirit. More and more of us feel this Spirit working through us, asking us to step forward in these times. But what do we step forward with? Not with the confining, demanding, separate ego selves we have constructed.
In the 13th century, Meister Eckhart taught:
I advise you
to let your own 'being you' sink away
and melt into
God's 'being God.'
In this way your 'you' and God's 'God,'
will become a completely one 'my.'
There needs to be much more room inside me -- less 'me and just more space -- if I am to embrace the world with love and compassion. Y2K has been a great friend, a magnificent teacher. I don't know what else Y2K is, but I bow before it in thanksgiving for this one true teaching.