If Not Me, Who? If Not Now, When?
by Robert Rabbin
When I was 11 years old, I had one of those
epiphanies that shape one’s life in unexpected ways.
In my case, I developed a restless soul that longed for
missing pieces in the puzzle of living: Who am I?
What is my purpose? How shall I live? A few
years later I took to the road on a spiritual quest,
traveling around the world in search of answers to my
questions about life and living, reality and truth,
meaning and purpose. I spent the next 25 years immersed
in various non-dual wisdom traditions, including ten
years of study with Swami Muktananda. During the course
of those years, I experienced awakenings, realizations,
epiphanies, and transcendent bliss beyond the scope of
words. But there always seemed to be a higher place, a
summit yet to climb. One day, I stood atop a summit from
which no other summits could be seen. I had found the
missing pieces of my long-ago longing. My search for
existential clarity and wholeness came to an end
standing atop a summit of eternal silence and pure
being. The weight and confusion of "self" had
disappeared, like a snowflake blown from the face of the
It seemed I had come to a final end, resting in deep
peace marbled with constant inner joy. From time to
time, gusts of bliss would swirl through the emptiness
of my being. Whenever questions or troublesome thoughts
or feelings arose within me, they were immediately
dissolved in silence and stillness. My eyes looked
through and past everything, locked on eternity. Life
came and went by itself.
And yet in some unknown, unseen, unfelt place, a
storm was gathering, which would force me from this
place to a truer place. Though there was no further
summit on the climb to existential clarity and
wholeness, there was more distance to travel—the
distance back down the mountain, to the valley from
where I had come.
In Little Gidding, T. S. Eliot writes,
"The end is where we start from." I came to
one end, only to find myself at another, wholly
unexpected, beginning. I was to start over again.
Another restless spirit began moving through me, a new
passion: a deep hunger to fully engage the world around
me, the world I had neglected during years of
inward-focused meditation. But there it was, bright as a
sun and wilder than an avalanche. The world, which had
become transparent, had become solid again, but not so
solid I couldn’t see all the way to its soul. The
world, from which I had sought to escape, had become
beautiful, enchanting, and compelling. The world, which
had been a prison, had become an epic adventure of
endless freedom. The world, which had stood beneath the
majestic summits of spiritual glory, had become
mountains of greater majesty and glory.
This wondrous world—full of complexity, chaos, and
contradiction—is all the proof one needs of
transcendent spirit and mystery. Here, amidst the names
and faces of people and things, the light of the creator
is most brilliant. I’ve discovered this world is my
world; I belong to it and it belongs to me. This world
is my body, and my body is this world. I know why Walt
Whitman exclaimed, "I am large. I contain
multitudes." He said this because it is true, in
the most physical and pragmatic of terms. There are
practical implications to becoming "one with
everything." This is not a salon word-game. It is
actual. Existential clarity and wholeness remained, and
remain, untouched, even as I discovered the distance down
is a climb as steep as the distance up.
And so I start again, at this new beginning, in love
with this world, which is as much my body and myself as
these arms and legs and heart and mind. The new
beginning is summed up in these words from the Kabbalah:
"First we receive the light, then we impart it.
Thus we repair the world." Imparting the light
requires great things of us: authenticity, honesty,
courage, determination, empathy, personal
responsibility, and a commitment to action. Imparting
the light means to heal and make whole not just the
existential wound of separation, but all things broken,
all things hurting, all things growing tumors of fear
and pain. And all of this is within my body, within your
body; within the one body we share. Repairing the world
means to translate the glory of transcendent spiritual
realization into common language, common currency, and
common decency. Repairing the world requires that we
make love an action. Repairing the world requires we
give voice and force to spiritual wisdom, that we stand
for the sanctity of life, that we take on projects of
renewal, transforming old bodies of prejudice and pain,
of hate and ignorance, of fear and suffering into
polished new bodies of freedom and joy, of wisdom and
Many things in our world are bent and breaking, if
not already broken, and these things need repair.
Hundreds of millions of people are suffering, hungry,
and hopeless, living in mean and fearful places where
people shouldn’t live. Entire continents are
threatened by disease and starvation. Militarism is the
most popular religion, while political corruption and
corporate greed are epidemic and threaten the very
continuation of human civilization. The Earth itself is
under murderous attack and her animals, plants and
trees, her oceans and rivers and skies are all pleading
for relief. In the U. S. alone, 12 million children
live in poverty, 43 million people are without health
insurance, and only one in seven working poor families
having access to affordable child care. Two million
people live in prisons and jails. The average CEO makes
in one day what the average worker makes in one year,
and 10% of the people own more than 70% of the wealth.
Civil and labor rights are being hunted to extinction.
The Pentagon gobbles up $400 billion a year: 51% of the
annual discretionary budget. I think our world has
become koyaanisqatsi, a Hopi word meaning
"crazy life, life out of balance, life in turmoil,
life disintegrating; a state of life that calls for
another way of living."
The world has become small—a lifeboat in which 6
billion people sit, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip.
When a single person wiggles or moves, the others feel
it. We cannot be victims of people who have no
consideration for others and who threaten our boat’s
balance with reckless behavior. We have to get involved,
speak up, be counted and heard. We cannot be complacent
or apathetic. We must not be silent about the koyaanisqatsi
culture within our lifeboat. This is the year to
bring the beauty of our hearts and souls into the world
in real and telling ways. We cannot hide from this
world, nor escape it, nor transcend it. We must embrace
it and love it and beautify it.
The poet Rumi said, "Take on a big project, like
Noah." The world is begging to be healed of
violence, brutality, and greed. Let this be our project.
The world is crying to be filled with clarity,
stillness, insight, kindness, tolerance, patience,
empathy, authenticity, and courage. Let this be our
We cannot use our spiritual life as a shield from
social life and responsibility. We cannot be afraid to
put our spiritual hands into the earth of politics.
Mahatma Gandhi said, "I do not believe that the
spiritual law works on a field of its own. On the
contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary
activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the
social, and the political fields."
So, let us affirm the qualities and values of this
spiritual law, and let us see how we make them manifest
in the economic, social, and political fields. Today,
let us take on the big project of repairing this world
in the same way we once sought to heal and repair and
elevate our own lives.
Let us come together as one at this new beginning,
and let us work day and night with our whole being, with
all our force and beauty and tenderness, to repair the
world. Let us start now, right now, this very minute.
If not me, who? If not now, when?
© Copyright 2004 Robert Rabbin. All Rights Reserved
Robert Rabbin is a
contemporary mystic and catalyst for clarity. He began
practicing meditation and self-inquiry in 1969 and
subsequently spent ten years studying with meditation
master Swami Muktananda.
Since 1985, Robert has been leading Truth Talks,
lecturing, and advising professionals and corporate
executives. He has written three books, coauthored
three others, and published over fifty articles. He
was also interviewed for The Awakening West, a
collection of conversations with contemporary
For additional information,
please visit Robert’s web site: www.robrabbin.com.