Author: Michaele Ferguson

Visions of Enlightened Societies

“There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.” -Bernice Johnson Reagon1 The three articles in the first issue of The Arrow illustrate the challenge of articulating a single vision of “wakeful society, culture, and politics.” That is to say, their three authors—all experienced scholars and practitioners from the same contemplative tradition: Shambhala—do not exactly agree on what such a vision should look like. Consider how Richard Reoch offers a comparatively optimistic assessment of the present, finding in contemporary environmentalism “a fresh breath of the human spirit, and awakening from the dreadful history we have lived through,” whereas Adam Lobel seems more pessimistic, finding in the present an acceleration and compression of time that produces increased stress and deteriorating well-being. Or consider how Holly Gayley focuses in particular on the Shambhala view of how individual practice relates to social change, in contrast with Lobel’s broader view of a range of contemplative practices that can all function as sources of individual and social transformation. By …

Illustration of fly and bottle

Practicing Society

—Practices of Self, Society, and Time on the Way to Personal and Societal Transformation— Abstract While there is no fundamental separation between personal and social transformation, modern conceptions of the self (as internal) and society (as external) can construct unnecessary obstacles for the theorization and practice of contemplative social movements. Instead of imagining a fluid and interdependent relationship between transformations in subjectivity—such as shifts in psychological experience, identity, and awareness—on the one hand, and shifts in socio-economic and political circumstances, on the other, we may be led to imagine a situation in which we must first make “inner” change and then subsequently enact “external” structural change. In this article, I offer a practice-oriented view that understands the sense of self as embedded in everyday social practices, and society itself as a practice, as a way to remove these unnecessary obstacles. In the space opened up, we can better conceive of spiritual practices that include the socio-political realm and socio-political practices that include transformations in subjectivity. The primary example that allows me to trace these themes …

Illustration of two forks facing in opposite directions

Society as Possibility

—On the Semantic Range of the Tibetan Term Sipa— Abstract Tibet has been credited as a repository of ancient wisdom, even as its political and social systems prior to 1950 have been viewed more ambiguously. The three-century rule under the auspices of successive Dalai Lamas has been condemned by some as an oppressive feudal theocracy and idealized by others as a Shangri-la ruled by a benevolent “god-king.” What vision of society is captured in usages of the Tibetan term sipa, which can mean both “society” and “possibility,” and how has this been reimagined in recent decades? One avenue to pursue such a question would be to look at the deployment of this term and its implications as the Tibetan government in exile has transitioned to democracy. Instead, I am interested in charting a different type of innovation, one in which the Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa and his son and lineage heir Sakyong Mipham have probed the valences of the term sipa and fashioned a fresh vision for contemporary society. —Download full article below— Download Article …

Illustration of two faces looking in opposite directions, one looking at the text "No future," the other looking at "The future is now"

Is the Future Back in the Picture?

—Resilience, Resurgence, and Redisovery: Reflections on the Quest for a New Social Vision— Abstract Why, in the face of an apparently relentless onslaught of resource depletion and seemingly irreversible social patterns, are voices not just of protest but of optimistic advocacy being raised? In my lifetime of work in the fields of human rights, environmental protection, and war prevention, I have witnessed some of the most heartbreaking cruelty and devastation of which human beings are capable. The difficulties we face in confronting and preventing such abuses have left many wonderful and committed people on the front-lines of social action in a state of cynicism, bitterness, and hypercritical despair. People often ask me what sustains the human spirit in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. It’s a question worth asking, as each of us in our own way is living through times when we are forced, increasingly, to consider it. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Is the Future Back in the Picture? Illustration by Alicia Brown