Thriving in the Crosscurrent:

Clarity and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change




Why This Book, Why Now?

Chapter 1

Rhyming Hope and History

Chapter 2

Just Changing . . . or Evolving?

Chapter 3

Four Strong Winds

Chapter 4

Three Crossings

Chapter 5

Modernity: How Can a
Sea Change Go Wrong?

Chapter 6

Who Says It’s
Getting Better?

Chapter 7


Chapter 8

Life in the Renaissance

Chapter 9

The Second Axial Age

Chapter 10

Thriving in the Crosscurrent

Chapter 6

My friend Wayne Teasdale was one of the major inspirations for this book. Though he knew about the project and loved it, he never fully understood his formative role. I regret that. Wayne, who died in 2004, was the most visionary spiritual thinker I have been privileged to know. He would have relished contributing his ideas to this book, especially this chapter. What is the new wave? He had a clear idea about that, and he was convinced that the new wave was advancing.

So I begin here with an insight offered by this extraordinary man (author of The Mystic Heart, A Monk in the World, and so many other books). “So many of the wars in history, thousands and thousands of them for the past five thousand years, have been related to differences in Truth claims. If we can evolve beyond that problem, then I think there’s some chance that we could retire the whole institution of war and begin to focus on the peaceful evolution of humanity.”1

Wayne’s optimistic perspective sets the tone for this chapter, which examines our current sea change. We begin with a brief assessment of the period and place that marked the first real awareness of a cultural shift underway: the 1960s in America. What were the anomalies and ahas that heralded the horizontal sea change? And when did they first intrude upon our collective awareness? Unlike other sea changes, this was one I was in on from the start, so let me share my personal perspective.


Even today, people argue about the “good sixties” versus the “bad sixties.” It was the time of my own coming of age, but only now do I understand why my inner debate about the period was so long unresolved.

The sixties were not the period of the ascendancy of a new wave, as we then fervently believed. They were instead the period in which the crystallization of the older wave became increasingly apparent. Since anomaly always slightly precedes aha, emergent new wave values take longer to manifest. Ours was a decade of problems recognized and solutions vaguely glimpsed, all set against turbulent events.

Figure 6.1. Crystallization of the Old and Ascent of the New

I spent a significant portion of 1968 as a foreign exchange student at the University of Leningrad. (Today Leningrad is once again St. Petersburg.) My Russian sojourn gave me a new appreciation of “the year that changed everything.” (1968 brought devastating assassinations, the effective loss in Vietnam, the end of the LBJ years, and the beginning of a conservative political renaissance that would carry America through the Reagan presidency and beyond.)

I remember with particular clarity an evening spent with Russian friends discussing the war in Vietnam. Their opposition to the war was as sharp as my own, although their positions seemed based more on propaganda than reliable information. I was stunned by their reaction, however, when I mentioned that I was a conscientious objector. They were simply furious, demanding to know how one could “refuse to comply with what your country asks of you”? I later realized their reaction precisely mirrored the counter-demonstration taunts we endured at antiwar rallies. (My Russian friends were, however, considerably more polite.)

Today, the sixties controversy pits conservative veterans of the culture wars, like Harvey Mansfield and Pat Buchanan, against progressive veterans of the actual struggles that defined the decade. Tom Hayden recalls: “If anything, the ’60s were a triumph for the notions of decentralized democratic movements championed in the Port Huron Statement [the defining declaration of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)]. Slogans like ‘Let the people decide’ were heartfelt. The powerful dynamics of the ’60s could not have been ‘harnessed’ by any single structure; instead the heartbeat was expressed through countless innovative grass-roots networks that rose or fell based on voluntary initiative. The result was a vast change in public attitudes as the ’60s became mainstreamed.”2

This mythologized chapter in American life is significant to our inquiry in at least three ways:

  • The Incongruity: The progressive members of the “Movement” clashed with the “Establishment” over the most destructive anomalies of the modern project: war; social, racial, and sexual inequality; ecological madness; and religious hypocrisy.

  • The Shape of Things to Come: By the end of the decade, the seminal elements of the new wave could be clearly discerned. A flood of new ideas, new models, and new paradigms was unleashed. The ahas were much more influential than the all-too-obvious anomalies, though the negatives received most of the publicity.

  • Whirlpools: Several of the most daunting eddies of resistance to cultural change in the early twenty-first century have a strong link to the sixties. Some began or enjoyed a significant development during that period (e.g., religious fundamentalism). Others would later define themselves in opposition to what they saw as an indulgent and destructive idyll (e.g., neoconservatism).

Not surprisingly, many yeasayers see the sixties as the source of the current value shift (the dawning of the Age of Aquarius), while naysayers often identify the decade with the beginning of a traumatic societal breakdown. While neither view is correct, the pro-sixties argument is closer to the mark; the period helped accelerate cultural-evolutionary sea change. And while the movement’s promise exceeded its reach, it gave form to the young wave in words, images, and actions.

The 1960s witnessed the early signs of the oncoming sea change in music, the antiwar movement, and meditation. It was a time of international war and domestic violence, but also of scientific breakthrough and the exploration of outer space. The best-remembered and most controversial aspects of the sixties—civil rights, political, social, and ecological activism, communitarianism, the sexual revolution, and the spiritual quest—are now much easier to understand as harbingers of the more-developed evolutionary patterns that were to come.

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the Crosscurrent

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