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First a little context…I have lived in Portugal for almost 5 years. My wife and I came here with a vision for a new world and founded our project when we bought an abandoned farm, really a pile of slate stones and land covered in brambles! Now 5 miraculous years later we are 10 people, ruins have been renovated, gardens planted but, most unexpectedly and joyously and importantly, we are connecting with more and more Portuguese who are inspired by our vision.
In the last two years I have been teaching evolutionary spirituality and leading meditation retreats and I am now working closely with many Portuguese people. I have lived in many countries and been intensely involved in spiritual community dedicated to evolutionary human transformation for over 20 years. During this time we discovered that while the pathologies and potentials in the human condition are fundamentally universal, our culture and nationality does shape our character and attitudes in significant ways. The main thing I want to speak with you about is a very positive quality in the Portuguese people that I have not seen anywhere else in the Western world. The problem is that the Portuguese don’t see it or appreciate it, but when I point it out there is often an immediate spark of recognition, just as there was in many who heard me speak recently on SIC Noticias, who then sent me emails expressing their appreciation.
So what is this quality? I could say it has two expressions which are two layers of the same thing. You post-traditional, post-modern Portuguese, who are actively seeking new pathways into the future, are very open and receptive to what you do not already know, which is a prerequisite for change and quite rare in Northern Europe. But follow that same thread deeper and it opens into something that is very rare. It is a spiritual quality that I would call humility or a certain purity of heart. One could say a kind of innocence, but I do not mean in the sense of naiveté. And I don’t mean meekness or the distorted notion of humility often found in Christianity. I mean a refreshing lack of self-importance and negative pride. The Portuguese who are attracted to our work are very quick to recognize the importance of a higher meaning and a higher moral context for human life that comes from within. Of course I am generalizing, however I can tell you that the Americans and Northern Europeans are much more entrenched in self-importance and narcissism than you all are, and compared with other Southern European nations, like Spain and Italy; the Portuguese are less narcissistic and emotionally dramatic and much more genuine and authentic.
Now this quality is not something that is valued in the “old world” that is collapsing all around us, but it is of primary importance in forging the new world we want to create. Why? Because we need to find a way to come together beyond the Age of the Individual, of Materialism, of Narcissism, just as we previously went beyond the Age of stifling Tradition and, in Portugal, Fascism. This means going beyond the arrogance of “I already know” and the endless narcissism of “What is in it for me?” And the adolescent post-modern mindset of “I am Free to do what I want when I want to do it”.
So how do we find a way to come together in a new collective context in which our individual creativity is harnessed within a larger whole? Are we ready to embrace the emerging new understanding, which is the convergence of science and spirituality, of East and West, that we are all One and part of a Cosmic Creative Evolutionary Process that is going somewhere? For those of us who are awakening to our deeper identity in the 21st century, we are beginning to recognize that we are the eyes and ears of the Universe becoming conscious of itself and we are not merely a bunch of separate personalities! But genuine awakening is not possible without humility, for without the ability to see our crazy, ignorant egos for what they are, we can never move beyond them! It is humility that helps us recognize that we cannot create a better world outside than the people we are on the inside.
And there is another quality in the Portuguese character that I see and feel in the people who are open to new possibilities, and that is passion. It is a kind of quiet passion and dignity, but it is there burning under the surface…I don’t mean emotional passion for things and people, although there is also plenty of that, as there is everywhere; I mean passion for the New, for the Possible...
A Portuguese friend told me the other day that when you learn about the Age of Discoveries at school it is taught like that was how the Portuguese were then but definitely not now. Also she told me that many only view that time as ultimately being negative because of the colonialism and the injustices etc. Well I, in my admittedly limited experience of this country and its people, disagree, and maybe it is because I have the fresh eyes of a foreigner who has fallen in love with Portugal!
In those days Portugal was the leading edge of cultural creativity! Portugal was a pioneer in creating the foundations of our interconnectedness and globalization, way before us British! Now of course all kinds of injustice happened and is still happening, although the Portuguese were far more humane and tolerant than the British, Dutch and Spanish colonizers that followed, but you have to see and appreciate that in the big picture you Portuguese were on the leading edge of human development and discovery. And yes evolution is a messy business, and our current crisis is the latest expression of it, but would you rather go back to pre-industrial, medieval serfdom and mythic pre-rational worldviews? Would you rather go back to Salazar? Or are you, the deeply passionate and creative new Portuguese who are looking not to the past but to the future, with a refreshing openness and humility (I hope), ready to reclaim your revolutionary evolutionary spirit and take a step forward for us all?
This is definitely possible but you all have to contend with the counterforce in the Portuguese psyche that is currently the dominant factor in your collective culture. And what is that? It is the voice of “I cannot”. It is a national inferiority complex and victimized passivity that seeks to strangle every inspired intuition and sabotage every step forward. In essence, you are suffering under the same cultural malaise that afflicts the British; we have a lot in common! We both had great empires, we ruled the world, we were the pioneers of western civilization, but now we are small nations, who are oh so willing to complain about everything and deeply convince ourselves that everything is hopeless, so why bother? The British spirit is squashed under a cold, sophisticated veneer of irony and cynicism and the Portuguese spirit under an oppressive blanket of inferiority and passivity. So are you ready to rip off the blanket, individually and together? Do you say “I am, I will and I can”? Are you willing to stand for that commitment publicly with your family, friends and community so that you challenge the life-denying status quo of inferiority and passivity and demonstrate that it is not the truth of the Portuguese, and nor ultimately, of the human spirit?
Well I am and I am half-Portuguese by now!
We are the ones we have been waiting for. The crisis is our birth. Can you think of anything better to do?