On Writing Once Upon a Yugoslavia
Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, believed that American schooling should focus on history. He said, “The people are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty. History, by apprising them of the past, will enable them to judge of the future. It will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations. It will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men.”
When we consider the world history currently playing out, we can easily fall into the trap of despair. Relentless culture wars and terrorism, excessive economic imbalance, devastating diseases resulting from affluence as well as poverty, life-threatening climate change and eco-collapse, species and resource extinction, nuclear radiation leakage, the commercialization of just about everything, moral and ethical decline -- the list of global problems seems to lengthen, not shorten.
Outer appearances can convince us that humanity is lost to the destructive forces encouraging dysfunction, fear, greed, exploitation, and violence. This perception conceals a hope-giving message: Within the present-day Crisis of multiple crises – among them economic, social, and environmental -- continues to emerge the powerful force of positive social transformation. Even while human society as a whole shows every sign of whirling downwards, for decades human thought and behavior have simultaneously been spiraling upwards.
Still unnoticeable to many is the worldwide consciousness expansion affecting people of all backgrounds, cultures, and strata of society. More people are standing up for the basic rights and securities that the greater part of humanity lacks. A global community of socially-responsible torch bearers, championing the rights and welfare of all beings and the environment itself, is steadily maturing. Negative outer circumstances have, ironically, helped more of us recognize the interconnections and relationships we have with each other, all beings, the global society, and with the living Mother Earth. More people, yearning for positive change for the good of all, are actively contributing to change in various ways.
But, as the popular slogan expresses: “Before we can change the world, we have to change ourselves.”
The hands-on reality of personal lifestyle change emerged for me in Yugoslavia, a country that experimented with equality, cooperation, and unity as part of President Tito’s “Third Way” national policy. The book narrates – through my subjective eyes as a Westerner, an American, a woman – my impressions of life in that one-off country. There I was led to conclude that human beings cannot establish a positively transformed society until human beings themselves change, from inside out. The outer changes of a society have to synchronize with the inner changes of its citizens.
To become deeply in touch with our innermost being takes effort, perseverance, and time. Pursuing the object of our heart’s deepest attraction, the dynamic relationship that we have with our self and with others, takes years to explore and cultivate. My transformational odyssey through different stages of the self-developmental process -- consisting of many steps forwards as well as backwards and sideways -- actually requires narration in a series of books. How else to convey adequately the never-ending process of inner growth? The process unfolds naturally and spontaneously as we pursue the full recovery of our true identity in the highest state of Humanhood.
A guiding principle of my writings on transformational themes has been to relate insights and tips gleaned from my own experiences that may possibly help readers participate more consciously in their own transformational process. Whether we know it or not, we are all participating in the turtle-paced evolutionary journey that is moving us ahead, as individuals and as a race, step by step from “I” to “We” and “Thee” awareness. In this present period of planetary rebalancing, each one of us is being stimulated to take up, or ignore at our collective peril, a lifestyle de-education, re-focusing, and re-education.
The wonder of self-transformation remained well hidden from me at the point where my story begins in Once Upon a Yugoslavia. The book in part describes the de-education that may engage us on life’s transformational path. During the de-educational process, we become aware of the disproportional emphasis in this world on negativity, and the debilitating influence of the negative mentality on our well-being. Release from negativity helps cultivate a stable inner state of calm, peace, and brightness.
My conscious de-education began at the end of the nineteen sixties, that epochal decade of humanity’s increasing mass awareness. In America, some people were speaking out for their civil rights and marching for the end of the Vietnam War; some people, dreaming as well of a compassionate humanity creating a humane society, were sowing loving ideas and ideals as seeds of consciousness into the societal atmosphere.
Perhaps Once Upon a Yugoslavia could be seen as just another call to transformation, another reminder to rethink what matters in life and how to attain it. But my tale of transformation takes place against an unusual setting, in a society unique in recent human history. Yugoslavia was a Second World country that, post-World War II, managed to stay unaligned in a sharply divided Cold War world while forging for itself an experimental, self-styled, political and economic path balanced between Soviet communism and Western capitalism.
Thomas Jefferson's words about the importance of knowing the experience of other times and other nations are as true today as when he stated them in 1781. If we as citizens have knowledge of where human civilization has been, we have more chance of understanding where our human future might be heading.
Today we are witnessing increased public demand for a humanized capitalism favoring social, economic, and environmental equity. Yugoslavia tried (however imperfectly) to move toward such a goal. Speaking to both the pros and cons of the extinct Yugoslav lifestyle, Once Upon a Yugoslavia describes innovations, especially in regard to participatory democracy, that could possibly be adapted into the evolving global future.
Interestingly enough, a good number of people who lived through Tito’s authoritarian reign, and their descendants, still esteem and even adulate their late dictator and the societal life he put into place. For the Yugoslavs, except for political dissenters and government critics who landed in Yugoslav prison camps, Tito’s thirty-five years in power turned out to be a peaceful pause between the hated World War II Axis’ occupation and the bloody inter-ethnic battles that erupted after his death.
“Yugo-nostalgics,” people emotionally attached to idealized features of the former Yugoslavia, somehow forget or ignore the downsides of life in an authoritarian regime. Selectively remembering, they fondly recall a society that guaranteed them essential securities as employment, affordable housing, free education and free health care. As flawed and forced as was the Titoist regime, it enabled a level of personal welfare and security for which people in the Yugoslav successor states now ache.
Personalized glimpses into the everyday life as it really was lived in Tito’s Yugoslavia are rarely, if ever, mirrored in scholarly books because academes usually know the former Yugoslavia only from research. They did not live in the society as one of the people. Once Upon a Yugoslavia, based as it is on my own experiences, tells a story that, relatively soon, will not be able to be told personally since the experiencers are dying out.
As readers of my past articles and books will recognize, Once Upon a Yugoslavia fits quite naturally into my oeuvre: writings and talks on themes of personal and planetary transformation. Once Upon a Yugoslavia is actually a prequel to The Call of the Sun.
After the publication of The Call of the Sun, which described my mystical encounters with our Sun, leading to my subsequent transformation of spiritual level, some readers asked me: “What previous experiences prepared you to be open to the call of the Sun?” Contemplating the question, I saw that Yugoslavia loomed large. My transformation on social and political level in Yugoslavia in 1968 helped opened my mind and heart for the inner experiences that awaited me four years later in India.
Having given people guidance in their spiritual development for nearly two decades now, I have found that one’s everyday life usually needs some amount of transformation before one can wholly reap the benefits of spiritual training and knowledge. As I better recognized during the writing of Once Upon a Yugoslavia, the tests and trials I faced in Yugoslav society helped me embrace and nurture certain abilities – for instance, slowing down, being patient, self-reflecting and self-correcting – that are vital for spiritual ripening.
Only after I immersed myself in the book writing did I truly grasp why I was inspired to share my learning adventure in a disappeared society in an extinct country so many years after the fact. In short, informed – and transformed -- citizens enhance the cause of creating a “better society.” Once Upon a Yugoslavia has timely relevance in this era asking for personal transformation and social innovation to rebalance the unbalanced global society.
Quite unexpectedly, the Yugoslavia of 1968 launched me on the path of creating for myself a harmonious lifestyle balanced between material welfare and the subtler human possessions of inner peace and fulfilment. Furthermore, that period activated my inborn urge to contribute to a “better world.”
Looking back, I understand more insightfully the underlying processes now driving world events. Precarious global conditions are nudging more of us along the transformational road, just as Yugoslavia did for me in 1968. Life-threatening global conditions are launching more of us into working for social change.
I trust that Once Upon a Yugoslavia will make a fruitful contribution to the needed process of awareness expansion, inner growth, and changed social behavior calling to all of us in this twenty-first century.