Last week Cyndi and I found ourselves in Hamburg, with a two day respite between teaching yoga/meditation workshops in Berlin and Copenhagen. What a beautiful and wonderful city!
Hamburg is one of the biggest ports in the world (seventh to be precise) and is also a major center of commerce and culture. One of the highlights of our stay there was a boat tour of the docks, which gave us a close up view of the industrial shipping operation. Having never seen this setting before, I found the magnitude of it to be truly mind-boggling.
Even in this day of rapid fire information transfer and worldwide high speed air travel, there is really no other way to conduct the transfer of large scale goods around the world. When we buy Danish furniture in New York, toys or books made in China, put gas in our car from Saudi Arabia, drink Colombian coffee, eat kiwis from New Zealand, all those goods have been transported via freighters, much as they would have been 50 years ago.
The size and scale of the docks, the ships, the cranes, and all the technology for loading and unloading the crates is awesome. After exploring this elaborate and massive setting for a while, I looked over at our guide who was describing what we were seeing (in German, but we had a loose and occasional translation). He was a reasonably fit, normal-looking male human being, maybe 6 ft. tall. I looked at him and then looked back at these massive ships, cranes and platforms and thought “Yikes! This person, or people like him anyhow, somehow conceived of, built and are operating all of that.” It seemed incomprehensible for a moment how such a thing could be possible.
Obviously at the physical level our species built all that with our relatively little bodies, but somehow it is really our big minds that enabled us to put such a massive and elaborate system together. If I were from another planet I would surely assume that this was a brilliant, clever, capable and resourceful species and that surely a civilization that could accomplish all this must have the resources, the capability, and the vision to solve any and all problems confronting their race and their planet.
It felt so clear to me that with the right motivation, the right intention, the right leadership, the right mobilization of resources, we could and would be able to solve all of humanity and this world’s problems in time, and live a wonderful, creative and vibrant existence that could be shared by all. It just seemed completely obvious that this kind of positive outcome was within the realm of possibility for us (usually I’m a bit more cynical, but this was a clear burst of optimism!).
So that led to a contemplation about where are we missing the boat (so to speak) as our species marches forward into what could turn out to be the most innovate century in our history (think genetic engineering, virtual reality, nanotechnology, a universal translator and a complete revolution in information access and exchange). Where are we missing the ship? Why is there so much trouble, poverty, heartache, war, struggle, disease, ecological disaster, ideological conflict and outright lack of compassion and wisdom in our world? Why does our world appear to be in crisis?
I shared this musing with my friend and dharma brother Krishna Das who in the spirit of shameless promotion I will mention is on a U.S. tour this month and who I will be joining him on guitar for the last week of the tour. In any case, KD’s email response said it all, summed it up, and brought it all together — so I wanted to share it with you:
“Yes, isn’t it amazing the amount of stuff that is actually moved around this world.. if only the motivation was compassion instead of greed!”
So simply and eloquently stated (I guess all that chanting can make you a man of few words!).
At this new frontier of our ongoing journey as the human race, we will need to pause and check our motivation. If we mix our technological capacity with our spiritual evolution as a species, we can turn this world into a beautiful place. If we don’t, we might have a powerful nightmare on our hands. It is going to be up to us. Compassion and wisdom might be the most valuable commodities we can ship around the world in the coming century!
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