Sowing the seeds of a new consciousness
Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must play his part
To sow a new mentality closer to the heart
Closer to the heart
If you are reading these words, then you were born during the most momentous century in human history. And the younger you are, the more momentous your life is likely to become. I wish I meant that in an optimistic sense. But the truth is, the road ahead is going to be rough. I feel a deep sense of guilt, as a member of perhaps the most profligate and careless generation mankind ever birthed, to those who have their entire adult lives ahead of them. Because those of us who came of age in the latter half of the 20th century enjoyed a way of life that never was and probably never will again be possible.
There’s a joke that was popular in international business circles back around the turn of the century, when it was already possible to see the direction we were headed. An Arabic businessman’s father, who refused to be impressed by modern progress, was asked if he was unhappy with “progress” and “internationalization”. “I don’t mind fancy inventions” he replied. “It’s just that you can’t expect them to last. My grandfather rode a camel. My father rode a truck. I ride in a limo, and my grandson wants to fly his own plane . . . . but HIS grandson will ride a camel.”
Although that might be a bit TOO pessimistic, the truth is that future generations cannot live as wastefully and as destructively as my generation. That places me … and for that matter, everyone old enough to drink alcohol … in a massive moral debt to those who are just coming of age. What we have done to our habitat is inexcusable, and will be very VERY difficult to repair. What kind of caretakers have we been?
Bad ones, obviously… and we cannot complain if Gaia should decide that it is time to put someone or something else in charge. At a minimum, though, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to at least support their efforts to turn things around. The only way that humans can hope to avoid a very nasty existential crisis, over the coming 50 to 100 years, is to start taking the role of “custodian” seriously, and start considering the planet as a whole (including the seven billion nine hundred and ninety-nine million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine humans with whom we share the planet) when we make decisions that will affect the planet as a whole.
There is a deep, organic connection between each human being, and the universe that surrounds us. This statement may strike the reader as an innocuous truism. It is so obvious and yet so unremarkable that it barely needs to be stated in words. And yet, how many of us really ponder the depth of this bond, much less allow such considerations to influence our daily behaviour?
Comparative anthropology suggests the "dualistic" perspective most of us English-speakers share is far from universal. It is a fairly common feature of European cultures, with the distinct subject-object and noun-verb divisions that are a feature of both Latin- and Germanic-based languages. But it has not always been thus. Those who can speak two or more languages will quickly understand what I mean when I say that language limits what you are capable of perceiving or conceiving. There are some ideas, thoughts, and perspectives that simply cannot be grasped using the English language – they are only possible if you have a language in which to describe them.
When you learn a new language, you open up new possibilities in terms of how you think, and how you perceive the world. Curiously, it is exactly those languages that we view as most "backward" (many Native American languages, some Pacific Island and Southeast Asian forms, and certain African languages) that are most conducive to thinking about our world most holistically. I do not mean to suggest that everyone should go out and learn Navajo or Siswati, if they want to develop a holistic consciousness. I am merely pointing out that the artificial separations that we put between ourselves and our world are not "essential" or a priori facts of logic. This is an important thing to understand, and to accept, before we start looking for ways to escape from - or at least weaken - the chains that keep us in the current unhappy state that we see around us today.
I was inspired to begin this series of essays by a series of first-hand experiences – moments in which the water of consciousness spilled out of my bowl and flowed back into that ocean of holistic consciousness which contains ALL human experience. I have had such experiences in the past, particularly back when I was still an optimistic youth with enough self-confidence to genuinely believe it was possible to change the world. But I have rarely before experienced the intimate connection – so euphoric yet heartbreakingly painful – between this fragile human flesh and the wellspring of life that surrounds it. Once you see it, you cannot UN-see it. Whether we like it or not, we are all bound up inextricably in the tidal events and swirling currents that drive human society and civilization.
Human civilization is in trouble. We are racing madly towards a catastrophe of our own creation, in which the combined effects of environmental degradation and excess population will collide to shatter all the basic assumptions which form the bedrock of our society, and our daily life. We already see the chaos that erupts every time a small area or country faces the sort of existential crisis that will eventually threaten the entire planet. When a famine, or a war, or a repressive government creates conditions that make normal life intolerable/impossible, people behave like locusts on the leading edge of the apocalypse -- frantically impelled to swarm towards even the faintest hint of a better, more conducive environment. If these swarms and disruptions are creating havoc TODAY, how can we even imagine the challenge that will arise as an even broader swathe of the planet becomes intolerable, and potential places of refuge grow increasingly rare . . . . . .
The options available to us grow fewer and less promising with each passing day. Different people may imagine different approaches, solutions, and ways to respond, varying from person to person based on their politics, preferences, philosophical predilections or personal pedigree. But inaction is no longer included among the viable options. We must do SOMETHING. That is where we are, today. But when you sit down and try to think of ways to “make a difference”, the monumental scale of the task can be so daunting that one feels powerless. As Ronnie vanZandt put it:
Lord I cant make any changes
All I can do is write em in a song
Yes but I can see the concrete slowly creeping
Lord take me & mine before that comes…
The first, and most obvious imperative, is to stop living the selfish, neo-Darwinian sort of lives that “Western Capitalism” has laid out as a blueprint for society. For the past century or two, people have embraced the most animalistic metaphors about the human condition: the rat race; a dog-eat-dog world; survival of the fittest and so on. The results of such thinking are plain to see. As I noted in an earlier essay, even the most dispassionate, logical/mathematical analysis of the self-oriented, self-serving, “greed is good”-style philosophy illustrates the inherent contradictions, even if we accept the premise that life is a zero-sum game.
If everyone on the planet acts in their own selfish interest, viewing others as either irrelevant or as an obstacle/opponent, the result is that you have one individual (yourself) actively seeking to benefit YOU and make YOUR life richer and happier , while seven billion nine hundred and ninety-nine million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine individuals are actively seeking to thwart/obstruct/take advantage of YOU, or to benefit at YOUR expense.
Nobody can beat those odds . . . at least not for long.
Conversely, if everyone adopts the assumption that we are interconnected, that each one of us is “our brother’s keeper”, and that our mission in life is to benefit The Whole, the mathematics change dramatically. You have one individual (yourself) who is willing to overlook YOUR needs, and is motivated to expend YOUR time and resources in order to help others . . . . while seven billion nine hundred and ninety-nine million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine individuals are willing to expend time and resources in order to help YOU.
The same principle applies regardless of what goal or task we are trying to accomplish. As a single individual, my ability to affect the world – or for that matter, even my little home town – is rather limited. But when I act from the standpoint of holistic consciousness, everything I do is connected to a vast ocean of potential. My little ripple is subsumed in a great wave of human endeavor. The individual human soul can be likened to an isolated zero – it is meaningless… insignificant… empty when it tries to stand on its own. But when joined to the actions and objectives of others, that little zero can add a full decimal point to the group’s power and influence.
For someone who cares deeply about these issues, it can be very discouraging to evaluate your paltry contribution to the planet in the light of the contributions from people like Malala Yousefzai, Greta Thunberg, Rosa Parks, Joe Hill or any of the more historical "heroes of the people" who have come and gone over the centuries. But the discouragement arises from a false premise. You assume that the leaders of historical "movements" are the ones who provide all the value, all the influence and all the impact on global events.
In actual fact, Gandhi really was, as Churchill referred to him, ". . . nothing but a little brown half-naked fakir." His genius was to make himself the positive integer at the top of the series – A "1", followed by 300 million zeroes (the population of India in the early 20th century). It was those 300 million zeroes that made Gandhi such a powerful force for change.
My objective, in creating this website, was to seek out and join forces with as many “zeroes” as possible – to discuss the nature of our human existence, consider the challenges that we face and look for solutions, or at least ideas and hints on how to improve the prospects for long-term human prosperity. Dr. King’s optimistic observation that “the moral arc of the universe . . . bends toward justice” may be valid, but experience shows that unless average, ordinary people are constantly leaning their weight upon that arc, it is unlikely to bend at all.
The world is entering a new era – the “Age of Aquarius” – and the symbolism of The Water Bearer could not possibly be more appropriate. The world has become a thirsty place, both literally and figuratively. As recent stories about Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey suggest, it isn’t only people in developing countries who face a shortage of clean, life-giving water. In coming years the shortage of drinkable water in many parts of the world threatens to create a flood of climate refugees that will make the current stream of people at the borders of North America and Europe look like a leaky garden hose.
More importantly, though, the world is thirsty for the water that feeds spiritual growth. Mainstream religions have lost touch with the wellspring of Spirit that their founding prophets or philosophers drew upon to refresh their followers. Though the need for spiritual refreshment is still as powerful as ever, there are few if any reliable places for people to turn when they find themselves stuck in parched and sterile lives. This partly reflects the passage of time, and the failure of our “major religions” to renew their message using idioms and metaphors that people in the 21st century can comprehend.
The planet needs a “new religion”, or at any rate, a modern translation of those lessons that used to nourish the Soul. This is not to say that there is anything “wrong” with existing religions – at their heart, all contain the same lessons and hints on how to connect to the holistic consciousness that serves as the wellspring of ALL religions. The problem is that people have lost sight of the original source – the spring of pure, spiritual water which nourishes the Soul. As a result, everyone is so busy arguing the fine print and the copyright information that they fail to recognize the essential unity in ALL spiritual endeavor. We are so busy arguing about whether to call upon Jehovah, or Allah, or Christ, or Buddha, or Atman … that we have lost sight of the fact that ALL of them are the SAME.
When I was a young child, my parents lived briefly in a predominantly African-American part of Chicago, where all churches regardless of denomination or membership were deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. I can clearly recall my first “spiritual experience”, at the age of 4 or 5 (one of only a handful of things I can clearly recall at that age), while listening to the gospel choir at Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church. The song they were singing had been penned just a few years earlier by a Catholic priest (Fr. Peter Scholtes), who was serving at St.Brendan’s – also located on the South Side of Chicago. It was an appeal to unity and cooperation between various Christian denominations, but it may as well have included all other sects and creeds as well. I don’t remember whether it was the words, or the sheer majesty of the voices intoning the harmony, but for a few brief moments I felt the warm soft comfort of the Spirit – a sense of “belongingness” that remains vivid every time my memory replays the tune:
We are One in the Spirit
We are One in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored . . .
The reason I say “we need a new religion” is that all the old ones carry the burden of history – a history of divisiveness, sectarianism, and geopolitical one-upsmanship. Instead of focusing on the unifying ideas and experiences that spawned ALL religions, we end up arguing over trivial disparities in terminology or ritual. It is time to throw those divisions overboard, in the name of saving the ship from foundering. It does not matter whether you are deeply religious or a confirmed atheist; when you look at the state of the world today – the Amazon in flames, sabres rattling in the Gulf, a madman in North America straining to drag half his country into his 18th-century imperialist delusion, most of East Asia still living in the early 20th century and trying to refight battles that took place five generations ago – it is clear that the planet needs to rediscover a sense of unity, and belonging… not to mention some basic humanistic and moral principles.
Some claim that religions offer a set of principles for “how to live properly” because religion itself is trying to control behavior and set social norms. This is a fair assessment of the social role played by “organized religion”, throughout history (even if it misses the underlying SOURCE of religion). As I noted in a previous essay, religion is the byproduct of man’s spiritual [thymos] urges. And "Organized Religion" ... well, if you mean the rules, the rituals and the power structure ... that is something I never really had much use for. As the saying goes: Organized religion is to Spirituality as pornography is to Love. But then, if you decide to reject religion, you have to look somewhere else for something to serve as a moral and social compass.
Look at any religion and how it was founded, and you will discover the same basic facts: Some individual or group of individuals had an experience of holistic consciousness. They perceived the divine spark at the centre of their own Self, and began teaching others about it. Over time, a set of basic rules, creeds and rituals developed, and some portion of the teachings were set down in writing. By missing this fact, skeptics of religion also miss out on the most accessible and reliable template for their own use as a guide to moral and social behavior.
Because most of what you find in the moral teachings of the various religions boils down to a single lesson – one that lies at the heart of spiritual experience. In fact, it seems quite likely that the religions codified their rules as just a verbal exposition of what holistic consciousness means. When a person recognizes the basic unity between himself and his neighbor -- as separate droplets of consciousness in a single ocean – the moral principles and socially approved norms we find in organized religion almost write themselves.
George Carlin once had a sketch where he lampooned the moral absolutism of the Ten Commandments, and joked about how arbitrary they seem to be, taken out of context: “Why ten? Why not nine? . . . or twelve?” As it progresses, Carlin comes to the recognition that most of the Commandments are repetitive, or even unnecessary. In a flash of “insight”, he boils the whole list down to one simple rule: “Don’t be an asshole!”
Think about it… Thou shalt not kill? … Exactly! Don’t be an asshole! Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery? … Don’t be an asshole. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife? Wait . . . isn’t that the same thing as thou shalt not commit adultery? Is it possible to commit adultery without coveting??? Anyway … lets move on. Thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods? … again, don’t be an asshole! Even thou shalt have no other gods before me . . . it’s the same thing, right? I mean . . . I took the time to carve these things in rock, and all. Show some appreciation! If you want to go take up with some other god NOW . . . well, that’s just being an asshole.
In addition to being funny, the joke highlights the fact that holistic consciousness gives you the moral compass needed to handle basically any situation. It encapsulates the so-called “Golden Rule” – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth anticipated George Carlin when he said “…love the Lord your God . . . and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two Commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Once you have personally “experienced” the fact that everyone you meet really IS your brother or sister, the guidelines on how you should treat them are pretty easy to recognize. Four simple words: Don’t be an asshole.
The same truth applies when it comes to the planet. When you consider how many humans over the course of history have exploited the metaphor “Mother Earth”, the things we have done to this planet are incestuous at best and, at worst, the sort of thing that could get you stoned to death. When you view the planet in the light of holistic consciousness, you not only refrain from casual environmental destruction or any actions that harm other forms of consciousness. Indeed, the experience of Oneness with the planet is so powerful that it becomes hard to resist the compulsion to do something . . . . anything . . . to preserve what we still have left.
So where do we go from here?
Well, the first step is to build bridges and connections to as many like-minded people as possible. That is why I created this website: To begin a dialogue with others, share personal experiences and ideas, and plant the meme-seeds of holistic consciousness.
If you are interested in this quest, or want to share your own experiences and ideas, please join in. If you have your own blog dealing with spiritual, social and political issues, or want to create such a blog, this website is for you. If you know of someone else who might like the site, or who wants to write about/discuss such issues, please pass on this website URL. Most of all, we welcome your feedback, questions, concerns or perspectives on the articles. Each article has a comments section at the bottom. Toss out any inhibitions you might feel and post your own comment/feedback. If this life is indeed a learning experience, then we should view everyone on the planet as a potential teacher. We are here to teach and learn from one another. What you might view as a trivial comment can be the key that unlocks meaning for someone else. As the song goes . . .
Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
Just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don't let the uncertainty turn you around
Go on and make a joyful sound
Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
That you'll never know