In February 1998, Deena Metzger sent out the first of a series of letters outlining her vision of a global council of elders–Elders of the various world traditions, gathered together, discovering and teaching each other, as well as society, the ways and the means of wisdom.
This letter could be included in a Doris Lessing novel, in one of the Canopus in Argos: Archives series, Shikasta, for example. But this isn’t science fiction. I think it’s in the nature of a transmission, embarrassing, frightening, perplexing as this thought is. And I wouldn’t dare write this letter, even to my dearest friends, if I were not compelled to do it.
When I heard the voice there was no sound, neither internally nor externally, only the undeniable presence of a voice, as if voice were space or form or image of something beyond these and beyond my understanding. As if voice were silence, and it was exactly in that absolute silence that I recognized its verity.
It was about 9:30 a.m. on Monday, May 6th; the sky was overcast, and I was driving on the freeway, eavesdropping on the radio news. I’d just been in an early morning conversation about sacred song and healing, and was on my way to see another friend with whom the conversation would inevitably turn to AIDS and cancer. I was formulating the same question in my mind I had formulated in 1973 when I’d written The Book of Hags : “Why are so many dying, why these, why now and why so young?”
The voice said, “If there is a chance to save the planet it is only through altering consciousness and behavior so profoundly that a nuclear holocaust will not be inflicted to stop the proliferation of a species which, having lost its humanity as it developed technology, is dangerous not only to itself but to the cosmos. More than the planet is at stake. The work is not to prevent nuclear war, but to establish a vision and initiate reculturalization so that a nuclear holocaust will not be inevitable before life can start up anew.”
When I ‘heard’ it, I understood what I had not understood, had refused to understand before — how very close the end is — how very precarious we are.
“Forgive those people who seem to have died prematurely, without fighting sufficiently, whose deaths seem such a global and personal loss. They were pulled out” the voice continued, “or had done what they had to, or had not volunteered for this last stand. Try not to be angry with them for leaving when it seems to you that a change in their consciousness could have turned the disease around, but be prepared to ask the luminous ones who are dying to reconsider, to give them the conscious choice to be here in these crucial times.
“A few of you,” the voice indicated, “are here to see things through to the end.” Then I was given to understand that some of us have undertaken the monumental task of shifting consciousness against all odds; we are, it seems, volunteers. And worse, if we don’t succeed, we have also undertaken the unspeakable task of bearing witness and bringing comfort at the end.
I couldn’t turn to the voice because I didn’t know its direction but I was moved to object, a crazy person in the car, screaming silently that I wasn’t certain I had volunteered for this terrible round. There was silence, silence without a voice, but only for an instant because immediately I was reminded of a dream I’d had some years ago. In the dream, the holocaust had occurred. Anguished, I was looking out the window of a white frame farmhouse onto devastation. There was nothing to see except a flat ashen landscape. Desperate to kill myself, I decided to slit my wrists in the bath only to find that the tub was filled with the body of an enormous dead black woman, too heavy for me to lift away, and who did not leave me space to lie down upon her. Agonized, I returned to the window. A car drove very, very slowly down what might have once been a road. It stopped and a dark man, Ethiopian perhaps, exited and came toward the house. As he approached, I felt relief. I intended to ask him to kill me or to help me die. Then, in the dream, a voice ordered, “Make a child.” I refused and yelled back, “I can’t. I’m 46, there are no facilities left to test for birth defects. I’ve had cancer, I’ve had two children, the world is destroyed, I can not, will not make a child!” The voice remained kind but adamant: “New life,” it demanded. “New life!”
Was the voice in the car the voice in the dream? Was I now listening to the very same voice calmly insisting, “You see, you volunteered.”
I was shaking, considered pulling over to the side of the road. As I came slowly to understand the words, if not the meaning, I knew I had never had these precise thoughts; they were not mine. The voice was clear: nuclear war cannot be prevented directly. We can make all the right political moves, impose checks and balances, create detente, even disarm a little, keep our fingers off the red buttons and still be annihilated if we don’t shift consciousness.
I vaguely understand that we can’t do this in half measures, that the change must have complete integrity, must come from the marrow of our psyches. That the most impeccable public action alone is not sufficient, nor the most impeccable private behavior by itself. Integrity of the highest order. Action, honorable and consistent in the body, heart, mind and spirit. A reversal of the rule of disembodied, detached mind that has plagued us for centuries. As within so without, as above so below. The sacred.
I don’t know much more about this. The urge to send this letter, but only to a few people, followed within minutes. “To what purpose” I asked but the voice didn’t respond except to suggest a few names, mostly friends but there was also strong compulsion to send this to just a few whom I don’t know yet; the names accumulated, a motley, raggle taggle assortment of odd visionaries who might be willing to listen to voices. “Find 36,” the voice continued. “36 Luminous ones. 36 Lamed Vov.” “36?” I wondered. There used to be a time when 36 were enough to bear the sorrows of the world. But that time has passed. 36 are not sufficient; and bearing the sorrow is not sufficient. Still, I thought, clusters of 36 — networks of clusters of 36 might be sufficient to initiate an extraordinary action of the heart so that we will not be called to bear the ultimate sorrow. 36 who see and think differently, who take different paths but to the same goal. 36 for the sake of diversity, for the ecology of the spirit. 36 to heartstorm together.
There was something else — not quite as explicit — the sense that this was not supposed to be transmitted as dogmatic doom prophecy, ‘repent and live’ from some latter day Jeremiah. The voice was gentle and did not indicate any master plan. To the contrary it seems the paths are ours to find, each individually within our own nature, while thinking with our hearts.
For myself, it seems the demand is to change my life from the inside out, finding the unknown places where I sabotage nature, the spirit, or the heart, so that private and public, personal and political accord with eros, the life force, and all actions become consistent with the heart. The great question in my mind has been the nature of the Feminine and now I must come to a practice through which I live it, no matter how difficult it is to embody that disdained path. It’s not only so much we have to do, but so much we must be…
This is probably only the beginning. I am haunted by the voice; it was so clear that any action undertaken without a change of consciousness is wasteful (when there is absolutely no time to waste), despite our sense of urgency and political and humanitarian necessity. To be honest, I am apprehensive about how meticulously I must scrutinize my own life. I don’t know where to begin. It feels like total revolution inside.
I don’t know any more than this. I feel quite mad sending you this letter. I don’t know what I think or believe about transmissions. I have no idea what you, I, we will do with this. Feel free to use this letter, if it serves any purpose, in any way you wish. I would like to hear from you.
I wrote a bit of a poem some years ago which once again seems pertinent:
There are those who are trying to set fire to the world
We are in danger
There is time only to work slowly
There is no time not to love.