Speaker: Richard Flyer

Trance-ending Culture of Separation: Birthing the Symbiotic Age

"As a Westerner, my heart was lifted in the 1980s when I heard about Sarvodaya. It answered my longing for a way to transform our very individualistic and materialistic culture. Thus began my own 40-year journey to translate Dr. Ari's principles into American cities." - Richard Flyer

A disciple of the late, recently deceased Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, who was informally revered as the Gandhi of Sri Lanka, Richard Flyer has dedicated his life to integrating embodied spirituality and the building of community-based ecosystem networks.

Author of Birthing the Symbiotic Age: An Ancient Blueprint for a New Creation (2023), he synthesizes his learnings from five decades of experiments and explorations across different nations, wisdom traditions, and organizational structures, seeking a shift from a culture of separation to a culture of connection. The book provides his autobiographical and historical roadmap outlining "how we can emerge from our fragmented and conflicted social networks/silos and create sustainable, interconnected ecosystem networks consisting of local leaders, organizations, businesses, and local government -- in parallel to our already established systems." He concludes that a new culture of connection can only be created from the bottom up by connecting and amplifying the positive work of local communities. Realizing that every crisis in the world is at its root a spiritual crisis, he writes that we must first cultivate "spiritual climate change" within ourselves and practice it daily "in the context of a down-to-earth, face-to-face, local community" rather than "trying to reform, fix, or tear down the systems by which society operates."

Birthing the Symbiotic Age is partly based upon Richard's first-hand experiences with Sarvodaya Shramadana, an ongoing grassroots movement in Sri Lanka, founded in 1958 by the late Dr. Ariyaratne. The movement has mobilized millions of poor across 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka to build tens of thousands of small businesses, preschools, health centers, village banks, etc., without any government support -- restoring to the poorest people "control over their own lives and destinies."

"Meanwhile, I've gotten to experience Sarvodaya's wise theme and motto time and time again: We build the road, and the road builds us," says Richard. In addition to his decades-long involvement in various regenerative projects in Sri Lanka, Richard has been engaged with a syntropic food forest project in Big Island, Hawaii, and a Local Food System Network in Oahu. He is also the visionary behind Symbiotic Culture Lab, which aims to activate 50,000 micro-bioregional villages, towns, and cities as community networks by 2033.

In reflecting on Dr. Ariyaratne's unique impact flowing from the blend of personal spirituality with community-based practice --which inspired Richard's own desire to develop and embody spirit in his community-building work in the West -- Richard writes, "Dr. Ari is an example of living a spiritual life wherein one does not have to make the ego smaller by beating it into submission. Rather, by living a daily, engaged Spiritual AND community life -- being of service to others, with all its challenges and egos involved, and by seeing everyone as sisters and brothers -- our ego identification with everyone keeps growing until it disappears!"

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in the 1960s, Flyer enjoyed a typical American childhood until he had his first spiritual experience at the age of twelve. "I connected to a 'Luminous Web' that I recognized as the Ultimate Reality beyond that which we see and feel with our senses. The experience was truly 'trance-ending' -- ending the trance of separation. I was left awestruck and feeling connected to something larger than myself -- in fact, connected to everything." Rather than retreating from the material world after such an "other-worldly" experience, he writes that he "ran TOWARD the world. I was fueled by the desire to embody the Love I had received from those transcendent experiences and be that Love in the world -- to bring the two worlds I have been experiencing together as one."

Richard's experiments in "connecting the Transcendent with the Immanent" or "bringing Heaven to Earth" extend well beyond Sri Lanka's villages -- including when he found himself stuck in a confrontation of drug dealers armed with baseball bats, knives, and guns. He also founded Vecinos Unidos (Neighbors United), a non-profit initiative in a high-poverty and high-crime community of 50,000 people in San Diego, and subsequently led San Diego Food Bank, one of the county's largest nonprofit social service agencies. Overcoming his own prejudice and negative feelings about "the business world", he even started his family business in the medical industry in Reno, Nevada, where he parallelly engages in creating in local symbiotic networks by customizing his learnings from Sri Lanka -- a developing country, for an "overdeveloped" western city context.

In addition to Dr. Ari, many teachers have graced his journey, including a Vietnam war Veteran in San Diego who taught him about Christianity and service; an Aztec medicine woman in Mexico who taught him what Love and Service in action are; a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche who taught him meditation; his wife Marta, who he says "has shown me what unconditional love is."

Richard's list of teachers would be incomplete without including nature. After high school, he worked as a Hellitack firefighter at Challis National Forest in Idaho, sometimes rappelling down from a helicopter to fight a blaze and then hiking forty miles back to the station. Years later, he would spend hours in solitude in nature, often with insights bursting forth spontaneously in the form of his poetry. Inspired by Jane Goodall, he spent several years researching pilot whales, often literally immersing himself in their society around Catalina Island. He also pursued a master's degree in biology, seeking to unravel the mystery of whale and dolphin communication.

The call will be moderated by Rick Brooks and Preeta Bansal. Rick is the co-founder of the Little Free Library project, a movement that has spawned 60,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all U.S. states and over 80 other countries. Preeta is an Awakin Calls anchor and has  served for more than 25 years in some of the most senior posts in the public and private sectors including the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court.    

Join us for a conversation with this visionary leader, community weaver, and student of nature.

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