Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | April 30, 2008

In The Eye of the Storm – How to Stay Sane in an Insane World

This year I’m giving a talk in a number of places about the most pressing issue of our times, and I thought I would share these ideas with you here, but ‘serialised’ over time, to give readers a chance to voice their own ideas. One of the great advances, aided by the internet, is that we can now share and pool our thoughts and inspirations, so if what is below triggers any thoughts do share them by making a comment. This first bit will probably be familiar to you and just sets the scene, but it contains the core issue ‘Can we face the future positively?’ I’ll serialise it by pasting in sections every few days below…

IN THE EYE OF THE STORM – HOW TO STAY SANE IN AN INSANE WORLD

PART ONE

But the time is not a strong prison either.
A little scraping of the walls of dishonest contractor’s concrete
Through a shower of chips and sand makes freedom.
Shake the dust from your hair.
This mountain sea-coast is real
For it reaches out far into the past and future;
It is part of the great and timeless excellence of things.

From the poem ‘A Little Scraping’ by Robinson Jeffers

All of us here are alive at a very unusual time in the history of the world. Some scientists are warning that humanity may not survive beyond this century and all sorts of predictions about impending catastrophes are being evoked, often in relation to the year 2012. So these are worrying times to be alive.

Some people respond by saying that every age has been scared of extinction – Millenarians prepared for the end of the world in 1000; prophets predicting doom have regularly appeared and have disappointed their followers by continuing to be alive beyond their ‘due date’; during the Cold War we were scared of humanity being destroyed by nuclear warfare, and here we still are, and so on. But a little thought tells us that the situation we are now in is different.

At least five factors are all converging to make the present status of civilisation unsustainable. Something has to give, something has to change. These five factors, all interrelated, are: the population explosion, climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation from pollution and the destruction of habitats, and species extinction.

Like five runaway trains heading for the same destination the outcome is hardly going to be pleasant, and their arrival seems imminent. The trouble is we’re all sitting right where these trains are headed – in the eco-system itself.

So this is a very frightening thought. We’re at a time of crisis. There’s plenty of information out there about these factors, and indeed about what we can do individually and collectively to try to mitigate the situation – from living in a more eco-friendly way to looking at community and global solutions. So in this talk I’m not going to address these – not because they are not important – quite the contrary – but because others are doing this very well and there is a wealth of resources to turn to for this information.

The Gold Hidden in the Darkness

Instead I want to focus on the question of whether there is anything positive hidden within this time of crisis. Psychotherapy and the metaphor of alchemy are good at attempting to unearth the gold hidden in the darkness of the prima materia, or in the ‘darkness’ of a person’s experience or unconscious. In the past, alchemists even reasoned that if the ‘highest’ was hidden in the ‘lowest’ then gold or the elixir of life would be hidden within the lowest of matter: excrement. And so they tried working with that to get their results. Although they were wrong at a material level, at the psychological and spiritual level many believe they were on to something, and since humanity is now in ‘deep shit’, maybe an alchemical perspective can help us understand what is happening – to extract whatever gold there is out of the situation.

Some thinkers are now talking about this time as one of great potential – as a time of collective initiation, or of a great ‘shift’ in consciousness. And it’s not just New Age prophets who might be deluded, who are saying this. Deep thinkers like the neo-Jungian analyst James Hillman writes: “The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”

Now either this is all just nonsense – we’ve made the most incredible mess of the world and the ship is about to go down, and experts as we are at rationalisation, we are telling ourselves that something wonderful is really occurring, or it’s not nonsense and we are in fact living through one of the most exciting and potentially rewarding moments in the story of humanity.

Even though we might be tempted to say “Oh I just can’t cope with this New Age mumbo-jumbo. I’m off to the wilderness to grow beans, or – more likely – pour myself another drink and switch on the telly,” I think it’s worth pursuing the question “What if it’s true? What if there is gold hidden in the depths of this situation that seems so hopeless?”

The reward, if this is the case, is huge – which is why it’s worth pursuing this question. If it’s true, we can move from living in a state of fear to living with hope and trust in life. Given the size of the pay-off it’s worth a few minutes of our time, so let’s go!

Our Response to the Present Situation – a Third Way

I don’t know how you’ve been feeling lately, but I would imagine we are all sensing roughly the same things. An image of how I’m feeling is this: my duvet doesn’t work any more. When things got bad, when I read or heard too much about how deeply we are in a mess, I used to be able to hide under the duvet. It was warm in there, there was someone to cuddle up with, a glass of whisky, even a television, so it was a sort of hide-out against the harshness of the world. But the water has got in now, the draught keeps coming in. I can’t hide from the painfulness of reality – of food riots, micro-plastic in the seas, the melting of the Tibetan plateau – with those strategies any more. It feels like there’s nowhere for my consciousness to hide.

Once you’ve taken on board the enormity of the situation it’s hard to go back to being in denial. But of course there is a great swathe of humanity who simply aren’t aware of how serious things are. Their thoughts and concerns are focussed on other issues – getting enough food to eat, struggling with economic and health problems, or perhaps just shopping.

Once you’ve woken up to the situation, though, it can feel very odd – there is a sort of mismatch between the information you have and what is happening in your daily life. You know this stuff intellectually, you may feel the pain of it emotionally, but experientially in your day-to-day life you are driving into town, going to work, and everything seems to be ‘business as usual.’ This creates a peculiar kind of discomfort: like dishonesty it produces a split in your awareness – it’s as if we’re all living a kind of lie that at some moment will get found out and will bring the world as we know it crashing down around us.

So is that it? Do we have to be either informed and therefore scared and miserable, or uninformed and therefore as happy as larks? I believe we don’t have to be caught between the ‘devil and the deep blue sea’ of being either unaware, and hence ignorant, or of being aware and consequently frightened and confused.

Instead there is a third way that faces reality – recognising the critical nature of this moment in the world’s history – but which is also hopeful: that is anchored in a different way of understanding and experiencing life, a way that is open to the opportunity for transformation this moment represents.

Finding a Safe Harbour

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
André Gide

Images related to water come naturally when contemplating this issue. In the Druid tradition Spirit is depicted as emerging from springs or wells as a force that brings inspiration and life to the world. It comes from deep underground, and in the Irish myth of King Cormac and Manannan MacLir the source of the river Boyne is depicted as feeding five streams, which represent the five senses. The wise are said to drink from each of these streams and from the pool itself. Part of the spiritual journey can be characterised as reconnecting with your ‘source’ of spiritual nourishment, your sense of who you are as a spiritual being in the world, and connecting with an awareness of something beyond you, or deep within you, that is transpersonal, which nourishes you at a soul level.

In psychology, the unconscious is often depicted as a sea, which can be calm and tranquil on the surface but which can have monsters lurking in its depths. But once we learn how to swim and dive – how to negotiate the realm of the unconscious through dream analysis, through befriending it, and as we go deeper, with psycho-spiritual techniques, such as meditation and shamanic journeying, we discover that the ocean is full of wonders. And this metaphor teaches us that to gain wisdom we need to dive, to go deeper, beneath the surface, and to do that we need two things: courage and techniques. Courage to face our fears, to dare to ‘lose sight of the shore’, and techniques to help us navigate and avoid drowning.

As we go deeper in confronting our fears about what is happening to the world we are likely to discover that we have been frightened of allowing into our consciousness a full awareness of the truly awful state of affairs and the suffering involved. We have been scared of allowing more fear into our lives, and of opening even more than we have already, to the grief and sense of loss we would feel. This is important work to do, but again this is not the focus of this talk. The Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy has developed a very good way of working with this, and I’m sure others too, so let’s not reinvent the wheel (Joanna Macy terms this process ‘the Work that Reconnects’ which is designed to assist the ‘Great Turning’ that she sees happening, saying “The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” See www.joannamacy.net). Instead let’s note it as an important work to be done and move on, to try to answer the question “After we’ve fully allowed ourselves to get upset about what is happening, what shall we do next?”

We need to dive deep, to drink from the source, to connect to meaning and purpose, and work out how we can maintain some sense of stability in this crazy world. But how do we do this when we sense a storm coming? Economist are talking about ‘the perfect storm’ that may be on its way, but an economic storm is only the tip of the iceberg – to keep using these watery analogies. To remain anchored, or to find our anchorage we need to find a safe harbour.

Getting Into Position – From Fearfulness to Fearlessness

In trying to find a safe harbour many people are now scrambling to position themselves so they can weather the storm, but the position they are seeking is a material one – trying to ensure that they will physically survive. Of course it is perfectly reasonable to be taking steps to downsize, to move to the country and so on, but there is a line we want to avoid crossing, that moves us from trying to live more sustainably, to adopting a ‘survivalist’ mentality where we are living out of reactivity and fear.

How can we move from a position of fearfulness to fearlessness when contemplating the future?

In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He won the bet by writing: ‘For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ The BBC are now encouraging readers to write six-word stories or autobiographies. Here’s one that very much relates to the topic we’re exploring: ‘Wasted my whole life getting comfortable’.

Ask yourself this: “How much of my life have I spent getting into position?” In other words, how long have you spent manoeuvering yourself towards the point at which you can say ‘This it! This is the life I want to be leading!’ Psychologists sometimes call this ‘provisional living’, whereby you tell yourself that you’ll truly come alive, truly be fulfilled and optimally creative when you’ve moved, married, divorced, retired or whatever. So much of our culture is based on it, it’s hard to resist. When the mortgage is paid then you’ll really be free, when you move to the country, when you no longer have to earn a living, when, when, when…and then of course you die.

Most people in the developed countries suffer from this. Most of us are trying to ‘get into position’, and the current time of concern about the future is increasing the sense of having to do this to a fever pitch. Most of the people I know are in this boat – trying to downsize, or second-guess the situation so they can ride out the storm and stay safe.

Truth is paradoxical and at one level it is reasonable to work towards goals such as sustainable living and decreased work loads, but at another level we need to stop ourselves and ask “To what extent am I being driven by the story line: ‘I’m wasting my whole life trying to get comfortable?’ Or perhaps: ‘Wasting my life trying to escape what may happen.’

The Moment of Initiation

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of worrying about the future, and in fact anyone who read the Club of Rome’s report on the state of the planet thirty years ago could well have been worrying for the last three decades. And worrying makes you sick.

I followed a spiritual teacher for a while in the 1980s who taught that world disasters were on the horizon, and as a result some of his followers didn’t bother to paint their houses or take university courses, and here we are 20 years later.

When AIDS first hit a friend tells me that many gays in the USA maxed out their credit cards because they thought they would be dead long before the bailiffs arrived. Many of them are now struggling to pay off their debts.

So worrying about the future to such an extent is a mug’s game. But there is another approach we can take – which is to stare the future in the face, without denial, fully acknowledging the risks we perceive, but also aware of the fact that we do not really know what will happen. And at the same time we can open ourselves to the enormous potential that exists in the present moment.

Becoming aware of the current situation can actually provoke us to make a choice between a life of fearlessness, living in the present moment, or a life filled with fear for the future. Eckhart Tolle in his books The Power of Now and A New Earth deals with this subject with great clarity and wisdom, and it is heartening to see how many people are responding to this idea: his webcasts with Oprah Winfrey on ‘A New Earth’ have been downloaded 11 million times just in the last few weeks.

Here’s the question to entertain: What if this present situation is it? What if the moment of initiation, the moment of opening to your true nature at the soul-level and surrendering to it, is now, not tomorrow, when you’re in the ideal rustic situation that combines wilderness with easy access to facilities?!

When the home of our planet is threatened, our feelings of homelessness are intensified, and we want more than ever to feel at home in the world. But throughout the ages spiritual teachings have explained that our home is at a very deep level beyond the physical. This is not to deny the importance of the physical manifest world, but simply to acknowledge that it is only one level of reality.

Perhaps the potential contained at this time of crisis is this: that it can help us to let go of provisional living precisely because it intensifies the search to ‘find our home’ to an almost unbearable point. And if we will let it, the intensity of this yearning can lead us to the point of surrender, to acceptance of the ‘What Is’, that will lead us to break through, to find the safe harbour, the farther shore, which is not outside, but inside.

And in doing this, the distinction between inner and outer, manifest and unmanifest worlds, dissolves and we find ourselves here – now – at home in the world at last, cherishing the Earth and all of Nature.

From this overview or ‘primary perspective’ let’s move on now to look at some specific suggestions as to how we might be able to not only ‘stay sane in an insane world’ but how we might actually use this time as an opportunity to develop spiritually.

As a reminder, the focus here is not on the legitimate questions ‘How do we solve the world’s problems, or how do we create a better future for the Earth and humanity?’ Instead this essay is attempting to answer a different question, which is ‘How can we relate to our perception the world situation in a way that is positive – that moves us from being fearful to being hopeful’. To explore the former questions a good starting point is The Club of Budapest’s site and this introductory video:

You might also like to look at fellow Chief Druid, John Michael Greer’s blog, The Archdruid Report, which offers excellent analysis of the current situation and informative comments from readers. You can find his April 30th post ‘Not the End of the World’ here.

PART TWO

STRATEGIES FOR STAYING SANE IN AN INSANE WORLD

Strategy 1 – Finding the Doors, Holding them Open, Showing them to Others, Walking Through them

‘In every human being there is a Heaven – whole and unbroken.’
Paracelsus

Roger and Joan Evans at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London developed a helpful way to relate to therapy clients. Adopting a stance which they termed ‘bifocal vision’ they suggested that you see your client both as ‘messed up’ and ‘whole’ at the same time – as if wearing bifocal glasses. Rather than being idealistic, focusing just on their ‘perfect soul’, or purely pragmatic, just focusing on their woundedness, the Psychosynthesis therapist is urged to relate to their client in the belief that they’re both whole and broken – at the same time – at different levels.

We can apply this same method of perception towards life and the world – facing the fact that it is messed up in many ways and yet seeing its beauty and sensing its perfection. This perspective avoids the traps of both denial and despair.

At the heart of all spiritual approaches lies the belief that this world that we know through our five senses is not the only reality. Instead ‘earthly life’ is seen as just one expression of Life, and there is a belief in other worlds, a heaven or heavens, or even parallel universes – an idea now being explored at the farther reaches of physics.

Many of these approaches also believe that the physical universe emerges out of this Otherworld, and in certain cosmologies this emergence is seen as cyclical so that the ‘Manifest (physical) world’ is periodically reabsorbed by the ‘Unmanifest (Other)world’.

This idea parallels the conception of the soul which ‘manifests’ in a physical body for a certain time before returning to its source. With this understanding, both the Earth and our bodies are manifestations in the dimensions of Time and Space of Beings whose source is in the Otherworld, in another dimension.

If you believe this, then adopting bifocal vision means simply that you remember to be aware of both levels, and you sense yourself as being anchored in the world of Source and Soul. The story of the source of the river Boyne, the Well of Segais, mentioned earlier, offers a graphic description of this process by reminding us to drink from the well as well as from the five streams that flow from it.

The prime function of a spirituality can be seen as this: to provide doorways, portals, gateways through which people can access the Source, the Otherworld, (or Deity in other ways of speaking about these things). People, books, organisations and places can all act as these portals between the ‘messed up’ world and the ‘parallel universe’ of the Otherworld – the Source.

Pilgrimage to sacred places, reading books that awaken our spiritual awareness, talking to, listening to, or communing with spiritual friends and teachers, following a particular path, meditating, and so on are all ways of opening to the Other – of switching our vision for a time from the bottom lens of the bifocals to the top, or to use a more evocative image: of finding the doors, holding them open, showing them to others, and walking through them.

We see this idea reflected in children’s fiction that deals with magic, since almost always the story is based upon the process of moving from the everyday world into another more magical world, as in C.S.Lewis’ Narnia stories where a wardrobe acts as a portal.

This idea of ‘Gateways’ between the realms is central to the spiritual path. Each tradition will speak about this in different ways – as an example, in the Jain tradition the 24 great teachers are known as Tirthankaras, which means ‘Ford-makers’ – suggesting they help create a bridge/ford/gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness. The founder of the Baha’i religion was known as ‘the Bab’ which means ‘gate’. In Druidry, natural features or deliberately placed stones or trees form magical gateways that can help us access other realities, and the banner photo on this blog shows the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ in the Sussex landscape, who also seems to be creating a gateway for us, reminding us of Novalis’ statement that ‘Visible and invisible, two worlds meet in man.’ This idea is strongly evident in shamanism in the process whereby the shaman makes journeys into the Otherworld to bring back healing, or knowledge that will help in the manifest world.

All these things – teachers, teachings, sacred places, practices such as ritual and meditation – have as their purpose the creation and maintenance of gateways so that there can be traffic, commerce, connection – a flow – between the worlds. And in this period of instability they take on an increasing importance as anchor points that can help to stabilise us by anchoring us in Spirit.

Strategy 2 – Using the Crisis as a Call to Presence, to Source, to True Identity

Have you ever had the experience when a crisis is occurring that a part of you is excited, pleased even? I’m thinking here not of a crisis that involves suffering, but one in which there is some danger and drama that wakes you up so you become suddenly fully present. This was strongest for me in my first experience of an earthquake in New Zealand, and then later in a bush fire that threatened the house we were staying in. At one level I was scared and yet at another level I was excited – suddenly everything was so intense, so vivid.

When a crisis occurs, or there is a threat to our survival, we can function at the level of a stimulus-response mechanism, just seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, or we can use the immediacy of the drama unfolding to awaken to a way of being that goes beyond the survival instinct to locate our awareness at a level that feels more real, more like our true identity. This is why it is a mistake to think only of the current situation in terms of ‘How can I save my skin?’ Running away from something never feels as good as running towards something.

I am not suggesting we run towards danger or life-threatening situations, but instead that we don’t ‘waste our lives trying to get comfortable.’ When life is too soft and easy we can feel trapped in meaninglessness, cocooned in a safety-net underpinned by an existential void. And we don’t need to seek out a crisis to awaken to this sense of being more fully aware. The crisis is already here, wherever we are located in the world.

A cautionary note needs to be sounded though. It is one thing to use a crisis to wake ourselves up and engage more with life, and quite another thing to gloat or ‘feed’ off the drama to satisfy what Eckhart Tolle terms the ‘Pain Body’. And there is no doubt that some doom-sayers get a mysterious kick out of envisioning the worst possible outcomes, just as much of the media feeds off human misery and suffering.

One of the appeals of Nature religions like Druidry is that they encourage us to get out of the cocoon and into the wild. You know the feeling: you are sitting at home with the TV or a book, a friend says ‘Come on let’s go for a night walk’ and the lazy part of you wants to stay sitting inside, but if you accept the invitation, you find yourself wide awake as you look up at the stars and engage with world of Nature once again.

So you don’t have to use this strategy just in relation to how you think about the world situation. You can use it in how you act in the world too; by going towards experiences that engage you with the wild, and away from experiences that keep you locked in the ‘box mentality’ that tells you we must all live in a box, get our breakfast out of a box, travel in a box to a big box, where we work at a box all day, before getting back in a tin box to our brick or wooden box to relax in front of the box, before going to sleep. Until, of course, we are carried out in a box…

Instead this strategy calls us to embrace life – even the unpredictable, wild side of life – and to use the urgency of the current situation as a call to a greater engagement with the world. To do this, the next strategy will help us…

Strategy 3 – Embracing Uncertainty

‘Non-egoic consciousness is characterised by freedom from having any investment in things being a certain way and, above all, being willing to enter death fearlessly. Non-egoic consciousness is free from emotionality and characterised by clarity, wisdom and compassion.’
Caroline Sherwood

‘My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.’ Michel de Montaigne

Human beings are natural scientists. As part of the evolutionary process to ensure our survival our minds are constantly hypothesising about the future and making predictions about it based on past experience and the information that we have available to us. Our minds want to cling to certainty, but the fact is that we live in an increasingly uncertain world. And if it is hard to know what the future will bring in the physical world, how much harder is it to be certain about what we call the spiritual world! Druidry is a spirituality that is deliberately agnostic with regard to theology and cosmology. Druid teachings do not specify the nature of Deity or the After-Life, which can be frustrating to the mind which longs for certainty, but which is satisfying hopefully to the Spirit, which knows that these matters lie beyond the reach of the intellect. The apparent weakness of Druidry in its lack of a defined theology and cosmology becomes its strength.

When it comes to the everyday task of living in a world of stress and worry, if you can embrace uncertainty – allowing yourself ‘not to know’ what’s going to happen to humanity and the world – you not only free yourself of anxiety, but also open yourself to the possibility of the inspiration and enthusiasm which would be denied to you if you had created ‘closure’ in your mind by believing in a certain outcome. The emotional equivalent of embracing uncertainty, surrendering to it, is the movement from fear to trust.

The bottom line is that we cannot be certain about what is going to happen, and trying to guess or predict this may be intellectually interesting, but at a practical level can lead to the problem of provisional living mentioned earlier and a ‘confusion of levels’ whereby you pin your hopes on securing a material future, rather than on obtaining the really valuable things in life: happiness, clarity, wisdom and love.

I’ll never forget a story told to me years ago by a friend who knew someone who spent his entire working life dreaming of his retirement. With great effort he saved enough money to buy a villa in Spain. On the day he retired he flew out there to fulfil his dreams. He got drunk with friends in celebration, and for a moment he forgot that the swimming pool had not yet been filled with water. He dived in and was killed instantly.

There is a danger in the current situation that we obsess about the future and seek out certainty in people or ideologies that profess to know what will happen. The way to enhance a personal relationship is simply to be fully present to it, and not to be concerned about the ‘future of the relationship’. Perhaps this applies to our relationship with the world too.

Strategy 4 – Cultivating the Mystery – Constantly turning to Source – Spiritual Practice

‘Perhaps there is something in us that needs to surrender to the mystery at the heart of this troubling uncertainty. True surrender takes trust; it is that moment when the tightness of a clenched fist relaxes and opens; it is receptiveness, a willingness to be filled no matter how empty we feel. Surrender is arms stretched wide, feeling the full force of life moving through you, trusting where it will take you, engaging with each Goddess/God given moment. We can become so paralysed by pain and fear that we forget how wonderfully joyous, vital and meaningful life is, even in the midst of the most awful challenges. When we open, when we surrender, we make space for the Mystery to enter. It is this Mystery that I trust and believe in, whether we survive or not.’
Maria Ede-Weaving

The spiritual, emotional, psychological goals we seek – of love, peace, trust, wisdom and so on – need time and the space to ‘arrive’ in our lives. It is in the silence, the gaps, the waiting, the ‘not knowing’, the reverence for the ‘Other’, that we have a chance to connect ourselves to something more than our wandering minds and anxious hearts.

Of course they’re not really ‘arriving’ – they are always there, we just need to still ourselves enough to become conscious of them, which is why spiritual practice is important. If the first strategy suggested in this essay involves finding the door or doors, then this strategy involves making sure one returns to make use of them often.

Here the time-honoured methods shared by most paths offer ways we can do this: by meditating, taking retreats, observing sacred times and honouring sacred places. By taking advantage of these we can build the spiritual practice best suited to our needs, our temperament, and our circumstances. And in following this practice we can cultivate the Mystery and return constantly to our Source.

The hope in the present time of humanity is that more and more people are discovering this – and this is what is meant by the Great Awakening, the Great Turning that we are witnessing. Finding a safe harbour involves not so much altering our physical circumstances as finding our spiritual home – the spiritual practice best suited to anchor us in our sense of the Source, the Great Mystery at the heart of Creation. This is why 11 million downloads have been made of Tolle’s work – people are turning now from a preoccupation with externals to an inner awakening.

Some, particularly those who are keen to actively fight against injustices in the world, might think this approach is selfish: “Oh great! Your solution to world problems is navel-gazing!” But to take this position would be to fail to understand the lesson of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Stephen Covey uses this idea as one of the cornerstones of his highly pragmatic and ethical approach to living effectively, as set out in his books, such as ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’. In Aesop’s story a farmer becomes fabulously wealthy because one of his geese lays eggs made of solid gold. After a while the farmer becomes greedy and kills the goose to get the eggs out of her, rather than waiting for them to be laid. Covey suggests we need to take care of the goose (ourself) to ensure that it continues to lay golden eggs, rather than killing it through greed or neglect.

If we nourish our needs – and particularly our spiritual needs – we will be more effective activists, and less likely to suffer burn-out.

Spiritual practice offers a safeguard against burn-out. Nowadays it is so easy to feel swamped by too much information – without care it is easy to get pulled from your anchored centre by becoming preoccupied with the details of the changing world. Every day depressing and upsetting news can be heard on the radio or television. For your own sanity you need to balance the effect of this information with a turning inward to draw strength and calm, otherwise you are likely to feel destabilised – pushed off-centre – and your ability to be of help to others will be diminished. To function effectively in this world long draughts from the still pool of Segais – from the source of Awen and Nwyfre (inspiration and life-force) are vital.

Strategy 5 – Hallowing Limitation

When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Viktor Frankl

When faced with Parkinson’s Disease, the Quaker writer John Yungblut wrote an essay entitled ‘On Hallowing One’s Diminishments,’ in which he described a different way of thinking he had developed about his progressively diminishing capacities. Rather than grieving over loss he decided to ‘hallow’ it – to make it holy.

Sharon Astyk has taken this idea and applied it to the environmental crisis. She has a blog called Casaubon’s Book, which she describes as ‘my explorations of our future, one that cannot but be shaped by peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I believe passionately that these crises are not the end of our world, but that they must be faced squarely, honestly and with integrity in the true sense of the world – the integration of our whole lives into our ethical principles’.

In an article on her blog (quoted and developed here) she explains Yungblut’s idea and then applies it to the coming diminishments she expects we will all experience as Peak Oil, Climate Change and the economic downturn really start to bite. She calls this ‘Hallowing the Descent’, and explains how Yungblut suggests we adopt a friendly rather than adversarial stance towards our sufferings or privations, which – since they won’t go away – will help us live with them more effectively. Yungblut points out how each diminishment comes with gifts, as Astyk explains: ‘the physical limitations that come with aging also bring with them ‘the reconversion from earning a living to cultural activity’ – that is, there is time to talk to others, to think, to devote to the outside world as we retire and age’.

Yungblut then talks about the ultimate diminishment – death – and how accepting its inevitability is the most effective strategy.

I’d like to suggest another phrase which helps me apply this idea to my own life: ‘Hallowing Limitation’. Born in the post-war years, and growing up in a liberal society, I have spent most of my time immersed in a culture that has constantly pushed against limitations and restrictions. Go for gold! The sky’s the limit! has been the message, not only of consumer marketeers, but sadly of motivational psychology and much of New Age pop-spiritual-psychology – which has reached its peak in the mind-numbing materialism of ‘The Secret’, whose popularity forces us to question whether a Great Awakening really is happening!

But now we need to accept that we may be entering an era in which we will need to limit our ambitions and desires. The mind is a wonderful tool, and with the power of a good idea we can change the way we experience our lives. If rather than feeling punished by them, we are able to hallow the limitations we might start to experience, they can become our allies rather than our enemies. I wonder how many DVDs and books ‘The Next Secret’ would sell – which shows the way to happiness is the path taught by most spiritual traditions since time immemorial: that of limiting our desires and expectations, so we can open to the blissful awareness that exists beyond the desire body.

If this is too esoteric for you, here’s a down-to-earth image that illustrates the gifts that limitation might harbour – imagine losing access to the television!

Hallowing the Descent, Hallowing Diminishments, Hallowing Limitation – it all boils down to opening ourselves to the gifts that ‘Less’ has to offer: the gifts that silence can bring, that Being rather than Having or Doing can bring.

Strategy 6 – Shifting Your Focus from Money to Culture, from Owning to Learning & Appreciating, from Consumerism to Creation & Participation

Doesn’t need explaining much does it? How much richer our lives would be if we made these shifts!

PART THREE

Frequency Holding and Rocking the Boat

So you’ve organised your life to have enough time to take care of yourself as the golden goose – you embrace uncertainty, cultivate the Mystery, and avoid getting destabilised by too much focus on external information. You hallow limitation, let go of provisional living, and open to being fully present in the Here and Now. You develop a spiritual practice best suited to you.

These strategies can help you live more effectively in the world, and can help you relate to life and the future with less fear and anxiety. Not put into practice they are ‘just ideas’, but there is a power in ideas when they are acted upon, even when they result in only apparently minor adjustments to one’s perceptions or attitudes. Just as changing the course of a ship one degree in its direction as it leaves Europe will radically change the destination it reaches on the other side of the Atlantic, so applying these ideas can result in radical changes to our experience of being alive.

All the ideas and suggestions discussed so far have turned around the question “How can I keep myself anchored in Spirit – in hope and with an enthusiasm and optimism that will help me cope with the instability that I see around me?”

Is it all about ‘me’ then? No!

As a result of working with these strategies you should find it easier to be of service, to be a ‘force for good’ in the world. In what ways you do this will depend upon your abilities and circumstances – and indeed your life purpose or ‘mission’. And it’s important to understand that simply working with the strategies mentioned will have an impact beyond yourself – you will be thinking, feeling, and acting differently, which will change the way you affect the world around you. It is also important to realise that much of the mess we’ve got ourselves into as a species has come from our obsession with doing rather than being. Being of value, becoming a spiritual anchor or source of support in the world, does not necessitate grand gestures or ambitious projects. Simply changing the nature of our being, cultivating and enhancing it, is of itself helpful.

Eckhart Tolle gives a name to people whose primary role seems to be radiating a certain energy, maintaining a certain level of consciousness, rather than engaging in any specific outward acts. He calls them ‘Frequency Holders’: ‘Their task is to bring spacious stillness into this world by being absolutely present in whatever they do.’(Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, Penguin, 2006 p.307) In another age they would be called ‘contemplatives’. Tolle sees their role as just as vital as that of creators, doers and reformers.

But what if you are a doer? What if you want to actively engage in trying to change the world?

Ervin Laszlo, founder of the Club of Budapest, specialises in systems theory, and in his recent book The Chaos Point – The World at The Crossroads, he uses Chaos Theory to explain how we have arrived at a critical juncture in history, where individuals can actually make a difference more effectively than at any time before – precisely because the situation is now so unstable. His book goes into the detail of how this is so, but one image should convey the process simply: imagine you are on a small boat in a calm sea. If you stand up and start rocking the boat, it is likely to stay buoyant. Imagine a storm breaking and the sea starting to churn. Rock the boat now and you might well tip it over. In unstable situations Chaos theory demonstrates that small changes can have major, and totally unpredictable effects. There has never been a better time to get radical and to act for change.

Whether you are a Frequency Holder or a Boat Rocker your goal is to be of service, to be of use, of value, to the world and to others. That’s because we all have within us a fifth instinct.

Feeding the Flame – Strengthening the Unselfish Gene

Our instincts are powerful motivators and the cause of much human behaviour and misbehaviour. When outer circumstances become difficult we have a tendency to regress to instinctual behaviour. A classic example is the way in which communities of different ethnic groups live peacefully side by side until war comes and suddenly neighbour starts fighting neighbour.

Traditionally psychologists have talked about ‘The Four Effs’: feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproducing, but I believe there is a fifth instinct which, to keep to the mnemonic, we can name the ‘flame within’ that longs to help, heal, nurture and protect, or ‘fostering’ which longs to nourish and serve. Some might see it as a feminine instinct – and the flame that of the goddess Brighid.

Think of the example I cited of different sides of a community fighting itself, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Northern Ireland. Although most of the stories emerging from these regions were of conflict, we also heard of certain people who didn’t respond in that way – who acted not out of fear or aggression but out of love and a desire to make the world a better place. They were operating from the Fifth Instinct – the desire to serve, to be of use, to give to the world.

Why do so many people want to be healers? Why do so many people pay huge sums to become Reiki Masters or therapists? We can be cynical and say it is their ego that wants feeding, but I believe the deepest reason is that they have awoken to this Fifth Instinct – they want to give, to be of service.

This is why most religions place an emphasis on service, expressed as ‘charity’ in Christianity, and as ‘seva’ in the Dharmic religions. A spirituality’s job is to help us feed this fifth instinct – to fan this flame within.

PART FOUR

SUMMING UP

Now, in our time, three rivers of awareness are flowing together. They are anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and rediscovered ancestral teachings. From the confluence of these three rivers we drink. We awaken to what we once knew: we are alive in a living Earth, source of all we are and all we can achieve. Despite our conditioning by the industrial society of the last two centuries, we want to name, once again, this world as holy.
Joanna Macy, Buddhist teacher, shaman and deep ecologist

Psychology and religion, or spirituality if you prefer a less loaded term, offer themselves to us as approaches that help relieve anguish and that lead us to the realization of our potential. Of course both approaches have sometimes been spectacularly unsuccessful, as the critics of psychiatry and psychotherapy, and as the critics of religion such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins, have shown.

Anyone who is prepared to be rational and objective cannot fail to agree with much of their criticism, and yet when it comes to the questions of ‘How should I live in the world?’ and ‘How can I face the future without fear?’ religion or spirituality, infused with psychological insight, can offer ideas and methods that are pragmatic, potent and effective.

The handful of ideas and strategies presented in this essay are really built around the core ideas of religion, but expressed in a different way. The problem with most religions is that these central ideas get forgotten or distorted. They need constant re-expression to avoid fossilisation into dogma. What are they?

1. That there is a soul rooted in something other than the apparent world.

2. That meaning is inherent in life.

3. That to be of use we have to put our house in order and seek our salvation/enlightenment/self-realisation.

4. As we do this we can fulfil one of our primary purposes: to be of value to others – to love quite simply, expressed in the Buddhist tradition as the Bodhisattva vow, and in other religions in the ideal of seva, charity or service.

Just as we turn to Science and the goodwill of many beings to help safeguard the planet and all its species, so can we turn to Spirituality/Religion to help us live without fear – in peace and happiness – finding gold even in the darkest places.

Philip Carr-Gomm



Responses

  1. “The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”

    This reminds me of the old adage that at the moment of death people have a deep insight in what living their life was all about – and then die. Do the cells I am made up of or the many, many creatures living in and on me gain anything when I, their host, will die? Perhaps not, because most of them will die with me and perhaps yes; for some time their consciousness is independent from mine – the price for freedom is a high one though.

  2. Thank you Hennie. If we see death not as an end but as a Gateway then that changes our perspective hopefully!

  3. Ok let’s play devils advocate a little here… could it be we are all worrying for no reason?? – that the majority of what is happening is down to the natural cycles of nature – the world had gone through climate changes before – ice ages have come and gone – the med has dried up and got wet again – our very own country was far warmer in medievial times than it is now – so could it be just the cycle of nature going off one one again – it just happens to be us this time who are experiencing it – scientists (of todays calibre) didn’t exist 2000 years ago – so the odd ice cap could have melted and no one would have known – until the sea level rose a bit…. are we making a big deal just because we are being told by a few scientists that we must?

    The above no doubt will be an unpopular theory but it is possible – it just doesn’t take into account people and our contribution….

    As for gold being found in dark places – it happens all the time – saltpeter from human waste – natural fertilizer from chuck poo, and how many times have indivduals in their darkest hours found something simple like a rainbow or a sunset the most beautiful thing in the world – and against all the odds – smiled! How many people when faced with severe disability or disease have found a new lease of life through their own determination and inner strength that they never knew they had until life dealt them their wounds…. It is true – in the darkest hour – in the darkest soul there lies a glimmer of gold…. HOPE!

  4. For me, there are a few perspectives in the way I look at this. The first is doing my bit to be ecological,( and I try to) help the planet, recycle, etc. hoping that my bit and everyone else doing the same will add up and ‘make a difference’.
    Another perspective may be seems fatalistic, but is there a Great Plan and we are in the middle of an alchemical change that will reveal gold after getting rid of everything that is base metal?
    The gold that all this is an illusion or dream after all and the bubble will burst and we will see and understand out of eyes like Christ and see life as it truly is, a Heaven (not the hell we seem to see around us more and more created by fear and insecurity).
    The Mayan Elder, Wandering Wolf, when he came to Spain a few years ago ( where I live) gave a talk about these times leading up to 2012. When asked what we could do as individuals he simply said, ” love God “. He talked about getting to the place of loving God and making that a priority. He said as things get worse, that will be our ‘duvet’ (as Philip put it.) and security. “Seek ye the Kingdom of Heaven and all else will come from that”.
    Re-reading what I have written sounds abit God pushy…. but whatever you call God… the Divine, the Creator, the Great Mother ( or Father), Great Spirit etc. humanity seems to have forgotten our origins and created their own God…. called materialism and matter and money!
    This Earth was once a Garden of Eden, a gift to be in Heaven, not just in our bodies and matter, but within our thoughts and feelings too.
    I feel we are in a cauldren of change and its an inner attitude and love and kindness that is being asked too. A new ( or very old ) way of being.
    Has anyone read the Anastasia books?
    http://www.ringingcedarsofrussia.com
    She is an amazing recluse living in the Taiga in Siberia, and lives as humans were intended, in pristine origins. Her access to God thought and awareness is amazing. She is also very very close to the Earth and right eating and thinking, and attitude. (She has very positive things to say about Druids) I have been deeply inspired by these books and highly recommend them.

  5. I keep turning to the land beneath me to try and make sense of scary stuff. Near to my home is the ‘Undercliff’, a very ancient and gigantic landslip: a ledge that sits above the south-eastern coast along to the southern tip of the Island. The geology that made this incredible place continues to shape it: the slim, slippery layer of gault clay – known locally as the ‘blue slipper’ – is a notoriously unstable footing for the steep high ground above it. One of my favourite places is Luccombe Bay. This dramatic place signals the start of the Undercliff. Via the shore, it can only be reached around the headland at low tide, but there is also access from the landslip, down through a narrow cutting in the rock into a magical glade that clings to the Undercliff. From here a path can be found that descends through Luccombe Chine (the steep, tree-lined gash cut into the cliff by natural forces) down to the beach.

    The bay is ominously beautiful: towering, blackened sandstone cliffs frame the beach. A large section of the cliff has fallen, its vast ledge running under the rock face across the entire bay. Mature trees cling to the cliff’s edge, their roots clearly visible, trunks leaning into the sheer drop. Long fallen trees, bleached by the sea, are strewn amongst the large boulders on the sand. There is wildness and uncertainty here. Each time I visit, I find it hard to believe that my home is just around the headland in the next bay; hard to believe that people exist at all, only this wild, ancient, constantly moving energy that powers though every fibre of the place: the crumbling earth, the relentless tides, the forces of sea and wind and land, constantly reshaping and transforming. It isn’t exactly a cosy place but I have come to find a paradoxical sense of comfort amongst all that shifting and movement – a sense that I need to embrace its lessons in order to find some peace and strength.

    I learned (with amazement and awe) that until a hundred years ago, a small fishing/smuggling community made its home here, building its cottages on the ledge beneath the cliff. The community sadly succumbed to a landslip in 1910; the weathered ruins of their homes still litter the beach.

    In this starkly beautiful and unstable landscape -where nothing can stay the same for very long – there is a lesson of how to let go, how to adapt, how to trust in the relentless and sometimes frightening forces that shape and reshape life. The entire island is sedimentary, built up of layer upon layer of marine life and debris, compacted and solidified over countless centuries, raised up from the ocean floor by the unimaginably slow and powerful forces of the earth as she rasied her mountain ranges. Now the Island is softening her boundary, surrendering to the sea…

    Perhaps there is something in us that needs to surrender to the mystery at the heart of this troubling uncertainty. True surrender takes trust; it is that moment when the tightness of a clenched fist relaxes and opens; it is receptiveness, a willingness to be filled no matter how empty we feel. Surrender is arms stretched wide, feeling the full force of life moving through you, trusting where it will take you, engaging with each Goddess/God given moment. We can become so paralysed by pain and fear that we forget how wonderfully joyous, vital and meaningful life is, even in the midst of the most awful challenges. When we open, when we surrender, we make space for the Mystery to enter. It is this Mystery that I trust and believe in, whether we survive or not.

    One of the most amazing things about the Island is that Dinosaur bones erupt out of the crumbling cliffs, a poignant reminder that in the most global of disasters – in the shedding of all that is known – the potential for new life, for renewal, exists. I would like to think that (unlike the Dinosaurs) we could grasp the chance to play a positive part in that renewal.

    Many Hindu devotees of the Goddess Kali state that her terrifying face transforms into the deepest love and compassion when one finds the courage to meet her gaze.

  6. Dear Maria, Alice, Jane & Hennie,

    Thank you for your wonderful contributions. They are inspiring and helpful. I am conscious that this piece is becoming rather drawn out – but I think it is worth the effort. Hopefully by the end I can ‘distill it’ down to something more manageable.
    Meanwhile do keep the comments coming – the cauldron is bubbling and the ingredients you are all contributing are excellent!

  7. and yet

    and yet, sunrise ‘s still beautiful
    shivers down my spine
    dark and harsh and frosty cool
    what shall I longer whine?

    and yet, full moon ‘s enchanting
    glimmer in my soul
    dim and soft, a lovers sting
    what shall I curse my dole?

    and yet, this earth ‘s all living
    the pumping of my heart
    taking what she ‘s giving
    what shall I waste my part?

    and yet all things are changing
    ever and ever and ever more
    still deeply engaging
    from exit hall to entrance door

  8. Keep going Philip – I consider this to be some of your most important writing yet! No need for edits or further “distillation”, in my opinion. There are a number of people I would like to circulate this to, once you have finished (with your permission of course).

  9. Thank you for the encouragement Phil. Yes by all means pass on to friends.

  10. Re: Getting into position

    I read this and got goosebumps – it’s me all over! It’s that old old saying – life is a journey not a destination – but how difficult it is to even begin trying to live without the desire to be comfortable (in my case – comfortable means in my mind) to live without fear… Does any animal live without fear? I was watching the frogs in my pond only this morning – I walked up to the pond talking to them as I normally do (I’ll talk to anything – me) and there was a new little one – it was sitting looking comfortable but then spied me and tensed up looking at me the whole time – unable to relax and enjoy the sun on his little back – i was making him nervous – I caught myself thinking if only he knew I would never hurt him he could relax and enjoy himself – his fear is imaginary! Then I had to smile as I thought about what I contantly do – live in fear of the imaginary – of things that may or may not ever happen – and in doing that – miss out on comfort – admittedly when you are fearful you see beauty more vividly and you treasure the good moments ‘fully’ in a bizarre way – because you embrace it so fully knowing how easily it could be destroyed but you are never comfortable – like that frog who had everything there to be comfy – but he wasn’t.

    Fear is our survival – but it is also our self destruct button. But what is the secret? How do we live comfortably in the present when the future is so uncertain??? Or does our fear make us appreciate what we have now even more?

  11. I was opening my mail when your comment came in Jane. Reaktion Books, who are a wonderful publisher I am working with, had sent me their catalogue and I was looking at it. I read your comment and then turned the page – to the book I think that probably addresses your questions: A Philosophy of Fear by Lars Svendsen to be published August 2008.
    Details are not yet up on the publishers web pages, but are in the pdf catalogue you can download from http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk. He ‘investigates whether we can ever disentangle ourselves from the continual stare of alarm that defines our age…and argues for the possibility of a brighter, less fearful future.’

  12. I have just started reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ – it has lead me to ponder further on how our fears take us away from the potential blessing of each moment. It seems to me important to stay connected to these blessings in such difficult times – a challenge in itself. We spent most of the weekend walking. I didn’t see a newspaper or the TV and didn’t hear about the awful tragedy in Burma until Tuesday morning. The sadness and empathy I felt, hearing of the plight of those poor people, was also tinged with guilt. I had been stood in a little copse on the slope of the downs amongst a sea of bluebells, wild garlic and red campion. Every inch of that woodland was covered in flowers, the trees an amazing spring green. I felt such joy and connection. After, I thought how strange that I should be so happy in that moment and yet thousands of miles away others were experiencing something so hellish. And yet I think we have to bear witness to all these moments -the simple, pleasurable times and the crisis that strips us down – allowing ourselves to feel and engage. We have been given life and, in living, each of us is subject to an extraordinary spectrum of experience and feeling; even when so much hangs over humanity and our planet, it seems to me crucial to keep bearing witness; to feel gratitude for those amazing moments of beauty; to feel empathy and compassion for another’s pain, for our own pain, and, as you so wonderfully express in your writing, to reach for the Source, and in doing so venture more deeply into the Mystery at the heart of our lives.

    I wrote about Luccombe bay in my post. On the path down is a tree with an old board tied around its trunk. The writing has long faded but someone has written in large lettering ‘You are asleep’. The first time I saw this incongruous message, it gave me that shivery hairs on the neck feeling. I became so obssessed with Luccombe becasue it reminded me that home and belonging is not necessarily dependant on feeling safe. I had spent so much of my life psychologically fending off the next crisis, anticipating yet more loss and pain, longing for safe harbour. I learned that the effort it takes to try and single-handedly freeze time and therefore prevent any further pain, was immense compared to actually being awake to each moment, regardless of whether I was perceiving it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You miss so much when fear stops you from being present. I am coming to believe that feeling connected, even when the storm is raging, brings its own sense of safety and belonging. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes ‘you are already home’ and awakening to this is perhaps our greatest challenge. To be awake in ones’ own life is the first step to engaging with the Mystery that moves through all of this, and I absolutely agree with you that cultivating techniques to open us to this place is such an important step in dealing with those often immobilising feelings that our global situation can inspire.

    I love your writing – it strengthens my resolve and inspires me; I always end up feelings positive about the future, and that’s such an important thing to make people feel, especially now.

  13. Thank you very much Philip for the book suggestion – sounds fascinating – I’ve added myself to their mailing list and I’ll be having a read definately when it comes out – (they’ve got some very interesting book titles there!)

    Strategy 1

    mmm… I guess it’s all about balance and bravery – to balance between the two worlds – fear and hope – madness and sanity – reality – fantasy… and having the courage to find and go through the doors – and listen and look well enough to find them!… perhaps we are so busy immersing ourselves in reality(and getting ourselves off balance) that we can forget to listen and look and miss the doors – can we be in balance though if the Earth isn’t? Or is she already in balance?…. – afterall she is like you say, between being messed up and beautiful at the same time – much like nearly every human – is she relecting us?… or are we reflecting her? The more we tip off balance – the more she will – so if we sort ourselves out – she will be sorted out too?.. so if we work individually to be the most whole that we can opening oursleves up in the truest sense – then she will follow – Thats why we have to start with ourselves – it’s not selfish – we can then hold the doors open for others – it is kind of treating the illness – not the symptoms… perhaps…

  14. Greetings Philip,
    Working with you and so many in the OBOD, much has come to light. Your blog here sums up very well the direction of the spirit and how it awakens to see so much when we find ways to shut out the panic, and embrace the gift of life we have. To witness creation, and create.

    In a dream, one that always comes to me when faced with choices of direction, I was in a long hallway and along both sides are doors, and at the end is one more, the final doorway to my next life. Each door is my choice to open, and each door leads to another hallway and always is the door at the end, always a choice in my life.

    Through the cycles of life comes that of chaos, and in this often holds the greatest potential in our life. To become still, quiet and able to awaken to life, and shut out the chaos, I then hear the great oak grow. Only when I do this do I hear the great oak speak to my spirit. In this I find how to face and seek in the maze that is my life. In doing so I stay clear to see what was once obsessive chaos in times once feared. In these moments the doorways to great potential good appear through all the others of comfort, safety and refuge. It is “this” choice which brings the sword of Excalibur and my choice to use my inner light for the good of all. In this one step, through the doorway in life which once seemed impossible, comes a stop in time, and where my life moves forward, away from the maze of confusion and into the three fold spiral of clarity, expression and love.

    It is with this inner passion for life that the worst fear becomes the greatest hope and as simple as one step may be, it brings the inspiration to light.
    And with the choice comes calm. The calling to do what we love most awakens love in our lives and through this beacon of light others are able to see us for what we really are.

    And that last doorway, the one at the end of the hall, is but one of many, nothing more. But until then, my inner fire seeks them all and life is alive, vital like the dawn, contrasted and forever like the stars in the sky. To offer hope, is indeed to live each color of our life, like the rich red apple and the five seeds within.

    The Merlyn is the pony running through the tall grass, eager, alive and free.

    Thank you for your gift Philip
    It will live on in our lore and culture always.

    John

  15. Thank you John,

    The idea coming from the Hindu and Jain traditions of India that the we go through great cycles ‘Yugas’ seems fitting here. Our current age is a tricky one, according to this view. Jainism suggests we’re in the downward curve of a vast cycle. This will last about 21,000 years, then there’ll be another of 21,000 yrs which will be even worse. But the good news it will then get better! And 63,000 or so years from now we’ll all be in a blissful state.
    Hinduism suggests that we are in ‘Kali Yuga’ – a difficult time too, and good old Wikipedia has a concise article on it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kali_Yuga
    A friend recently told me that the Brahma Kumaris believe we are in a short cycle within a cycle: the Diamond Age, which due to external pressures will be very useful for spiritual development giving us the optimum conditions. Whether or not it is true it seems a nice idea to hold on to!

  16. Re: strategy 2 and 3

    sorry for breaking them down like this but this essay is saying so much that I have to do this for it all to sink in!

    strategy 2

    it is true about crisis – nowhere near on the same level as an earthquake but little things like thunderstorms can make you feel so alive – you hear a rumble of thunder and you want a massive storm to let rip – and when it does it wakes up something inside that was asleep – perhaps it is complacency – I guess it’s about learning to be truly alive…

    Strategy 3

    I had to smile when I read that quote from Michel de Montaigne – it reminded me of a brilliiant book I’ve only just finished reading (for the third time) OK so its not anything highbrow – it’s ‘The Moomins’!! (that’s about my intellectual level;) I don’t know if any of you have read these stories but they are fantastic and one of them is called ‘The Fillyjonk who believed in disasters’ and it just reminded me of the theme of this essay – anyway Mrs Fillyjonk lives in fear – she knows something bad is going to happen – she doesn’t know what or when but she knows it will be bad – anyway she goes through life scared and anxious until one day the disaster happens – and as it does – she wakes up – she becomes truly alive ! The book is called ‘Tales from moominvalley’ and it has so many gentle, half hidden life lessons within it on this theme!

    So uncertainty of the future can work both for and against us – it is our choice – we can either worry about it , try to control it and by doing so miss out on the here or now – or treat it as a mystery yet to be explored – and live fully now – sounds good to me but isn’t it a natural human reaction to think of the future?… how do we train ourselves to embrace uncertainty – do we somehow create a ‘future amnesia’ within ourselves? – but then ignoring the future is not embracing uncertainty. somehow we need to acknowledge it – but not be scared of it – live comfortably alongside it… that is a very hard thing to do!!!

    I like that term ‘ fully present’ and that’s something I will take to heart – it sums up embracing uncertainty – if you are fully present you’ve done it…. I think

  17. The Moomins – yes Jane! My favourite childhood books! If I had been able to magic myself into any form, I would have turned myself into a Moomin! Such wisdom in there – yes!

  18. Aren’t they fantastic! Utopia is Moominvalley!!:) What a genius Tove Jansson was!

    Strategy 4 and 5

    Strategy 4

    That is a lovely quote – it can take a lot of courage to surrender – to let go…

    I guess that is what meditation etc is for – to create the waiting room before the door opens and we get invited in… and that the only really safe place – is deep inside us…

    We should turn inwards more – people think it is a cop-out but it isn’t – why should we feel that it is a responsible and adult thing to do to get swamped by news and politics until our own sparkle gets drowned in pessimism and spin – everyone has a different emotional pain threshold which should be listened to – that is responsible – looking after our minds and bodies is responsible!

    Strategy 5

    It’s what you were talking about earlier – about running towards the crisis – sometimes an illness can make the world come alive – I was diagnosed with SLE about a month ago and it does do something weird to you spiritually – you can either fight against it – which upsets everything like two magnets repelling each other – or you can embrace it – (embrace uncertainty ;)) and learn to work with it – like for so many other people the body may now have its limitations – but the mind/spirit hasn’t got any!!! I find that thought so exciting!!! Hallowing limitation unlocks something inside us which in turn could unlock and let us stumble upon endless magic within the soul! (it’s like the old saying when a door closes somewhere a window is opened) If only the world could just slow down for a while and everyone hallow our species and our Earth’s limitations!!

  19. Yes if Moominvalley existed on this planet I’d be there like a shot! (Along with thousands of others I suppose, crowding out the poor old Moomins, who would come to live in our empty houses! 🙂

    I’m sorry to hear about your SLE, but as you say so well:
    “Hallowing limitation unlocks something inside us which in turn could unlock and let us stumble upon endless magic within the soul!”
    When I read about Hallowing Diminishment I found it so inspiring – I think it’s a huge key. I think one can even apply this concept to these ideas – just focusing on one of them would be to sufficient to unlock the door for us.

  20. Strategy 6

    Oh if only we could all live like this! I guess all it is is habit – we just need to harness the energy and the oommph to change – channel the desire that goes into materialistic dreams into a different route – same desire – different dream….

    Now its time to put these strategies into practice – the phrase that keeps coming back to me and is having a powerful effect is ‘fully present’ – that seems to have really hit a nerve with me (perhaps I am naturally hallowing limitation:) – and I guess once one is fully present, it forms the basis for all the others…

    They are all so inspiring and I am sensing doors slowly creaking open all over the place 🙂

    Part 3
    Frequency holding and rocking the boat

    I love that term ‘Frequency Holders’!

    To continue the boat analogy – I think that perhaps by employing these strategies we are ‘clearing the decks’ of all the things that get in the way of being of service and cause burn out – by doing this we would be more receptive to everything including our own purpose – it is like preparing the vessel to be sea worthy – to do what it is meant to do to the best of it’s ability – if we are cared for by ourselves (spiritually and physically) we can weather the storms and help other vessels who are struggling….

    Subtlety is strength…. and it is true about the frequency holders or contemplatives – when you come across these individuals (which is not often) they still the storm – like what trees do to our air – they do the same to our minds and that is something so worthwhile – I suppose if more people engaged with the above strategies, there would be more of that feeling and the whole human race would benefit… which would have a knock on effect for the Earth 🙂 So does that mean because the world is so unstable that we must change gently so as not to capsize? That the boat rockers will be in fact, the Frequency Holders… mmm lots to think about…

  21. Feeding the Flames and part 4

    Oh I’ve come to the end of it 😦

    I have really enjoyed reading this essay. It has opened my mind to a lot of new thoughts and I have found it very comforting and inspiring. Thank you Philip for sharing with us such a fantastic piece of work – very cheeky of me to ask, but would you allow me to print off a copy of it to look back over?(however I’ll completely understand if you rather I didn’t)

    Thank you again for such an enriching piece of writing! It is work like this that helps to fan the flames!

  22. I think where on a ride towards the second paradise on earth that whe have created ourselves whit divine inspiration. We need to balance the fruits of our knowledge with the world as such being a place that existed before us. To accept its primal force being shown in the beauty of nature and in tremors and hurricanes and such reminders of the earth shaking.
    To stay in the analogy of a ride i think of the train of our thoughts going towards the second paradise.
    Where the positive and negative act as the rails.
    You can’t ride on just on rail you need them both.
    And the rails have to be fermly anchored to support the train.
    So i think it’s the interaction between the two forces that enables as long as it is balanced.
    Like in star wars where Luke Skywalker goes to master yoda and despite his warning enters the dark side which later helps him as he faces the emperor who wants to enlist him just like his father. So rather then avoiding Luke took another aproach and because of that he fullfiled his fathers promise as predicted he balances the force.
    Creating an bridge between good and evil so both can llive and interact.
    Which helps all dealing with the force and its dark side. Rather the the old way to put an overemphasis on either side and avoiding the other side.
    Well see once we face and balance the two well reach an equilibruim, rather then to be torn between them drawn to either one of them or pushing the other side away.
    This helps us since positive and negative or often a matter of perspective. once the are alligned thell can work together creating another outcome.
    That’s my idea sofar when it comes to this.

    Soulgreat from the shrinkcafe

    Boombeing Ruerd

  23. Enjoyed your essay, Philip – timely and well put.

    Thank you. x

    Paul and Stephanie Newman.

  24. I have been thinking about your thoughts on Hallowing Limitation. For the last few years I have been practising Yoga daily and I have come to realise what a lesson it has been in accepting and honouring limitation. Our western mind-set is incredibly focused on goal attainment and there was a time, in the early days of unrolling my Yoga mat, that I was guilty of setting my sights on being super-bendy, hoping to reach the most advanced position of each pose that I tackled. Thankfully, my body is a lot wiser than my ego and over time has taught me the value of engaging with my own limitations. Each of our bodies is unique: supple in places, chronically stiff in others; I found that certain poses – no matter how many years I had practiced them – made little advancement. When I got past trying to be ‘good’ at Yoga and started being present at whatever stage of the pose I was at, I realised that my body was teaching me about acceptance. I found that when I hit that limit, I was forced to engage with the present moment, with the state of my body and mind as it was, not how I might have wished it to be. The acceptance of the limitation brought with it a paradoxical sense of freedom and contentment; a whole new perspective.

    It’s such a shame that we have come to view boundaries and limitations so negatively in our culture. They are perceived as threats to our personal freedom. But what is freedom? I think our understanding of it is so entangled with the consumerist illusion of endless choice, that we have made a mockery of the word. I think hallowing limitations might hold for us a deeper wisdom. In the light of possible future events, it might become one of our greatest allies. ‘Hallowing’ is a very beautiful word.

  25. Jane – You ask if you can print it off. By all means, but I just need to say that this is a first draft. I think it needs some hefty pruning to make it clearer and more effective, and I hope to do this at some time and then use it in some other way – perhaps on a website or in a publication. But in the meantime by all means use it!

  26. We stand all together at the end of the age of innocence. Behind us is our history, that frantic running from the facts of our own mortality, via lifetime subscriptions to innumerable forms of material and spiritual insurance. Alas, we have found nothing to protect us from the inevitable and unscheduled arrival of death, that pesky interrupter of our living revelry. So now it is our species itself that faces the very real prospect of its own mortality. Shock! Terror! But wait, did we think we were different than all the other species that have disappeared from existence. Did we assume that although we had not mastered individual survival, surely we as a species are immortal? We have feigned naivety too long, and have institutionalized our denial in religions and governments. As we slowly (and I fear angrily) wake up from our long and diluted sleep, how will we greet the great psychological and physical reckoning in these strange daze? May compassion abide. “Today is a good day to die.”

  27. Philip, thank you for writing this — a sane and spiritual approach to the needs of our time. The middle path between the comfortable belief in the invulnerability of business as usual, on the one hand, and despairing (or gleeful!) fantasies of universal destruction, on the other, is a difficult one to walk, but it seems to me, at least, that it’s also the path that matters most just now.

    One thing that I think Druids in particular can offer the world just now — though of course we’re far from the only people offering it — is a renewed sense of the sacred nature of the cycle of rise and fall in which our civilization (and each of us individually) is moving. Whether or not anything quite like the present situation has occurred before in human history — and I remain an agnostic on that, noting both the legends and the lack of hard evidence to back them — many another human society has run through its resource base, destabilized the environment on which it depends, and encountered hard times. It’s part of a cycle we all know well: spring to summer, to autumn, to winter…and then again around to spring.

    If our civilization is facing its own Samhuinn, then, one of the many good points you’ve made is especially relevant. If meaning and spirit are always present in the world, then they’re present in this situation, in all its grimness. It’s not simply randomness or folly; there’s a deeper meaning to it all. Thank you again for pointing that out so eloquently.

  28. Thank you Philip – I shall keep it in mind that it is not the finished work and look forward to reading the completed essay sometime in the future 🙂

  29. Here’s a pertinent article to this debate from
    Marjorie Kelly, founding editor of “Business Ethics” magazine, and author of “The Divine Right of Capital”. Her Tellus Institute (www.tellus.org) colleagues Paul Raskin and Allen White contributed ideas to this article:

    “A Great Transition”
    A Plausible Course to a Culture
    of Sustainability and Equity
    Large-scale systems change is the focus at the Tellus Institute, a Boston think tank founded 30 years ago by physicists and scientists which has taken on a final collective project of charting a plausible course for a “Great Transition” into a culture of sustainability and equity.
    This focus grew out of scenario planning the institute undertook in the mid-1990s, when it convened an international group of scientists and development professionals to explore alternative global futures. The scenarios and their quantitative models have been used by groups like the United Nations Environment Programme, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    That systems can transform in deep and lasting ways ”without destroying themselves” is a lesson we can take from history. To understand why and how this kind of change happens, we can look to systems theory, which offers insights useful to our situation today.

    The premise of this work is that massive change is inevitably coming, but the outcome is not foreordained. The Tellus framework outlines 4 broad possible future paths.

    1. In a Market Forces scenario, current trends in resource use continue to increase through 2050, as other nations converge toward American lifestyles. With population rising and economic output quadrupling, the strain on ecosystems becomes unbearably severe. By 2050, carbon emissions soar well beyond safe ranges, and the result is runaway climate change and a radically damaged biosphere.

    2. In a Policy Reform scenario, government emerges as a powerful actor, embracing ambitious policies to reduce energy use, carbon emissions, hunger, and income inequity. Problems are solved by government fiat. Yet, given the likely resistance of corporate lobbyists, it’s hard to imagine this occurring without massive citizen demand, which can only arise from broader cultural awareness. Policy reform in the absence of cultural transformation likely is a fantasy.

    3. A Fortress World scenario envisions that reform fails and problems cascade into self-amplifying crises. Environmental conditions deteriorate, combining with food insecurity and emergent diseases to foster a health crisis. The affluent live in protected enclaves amid oceans of misery. With governmental priorities focused on security, draconian police measures sweep through hot spots of conflict. This is the plausible future of our foreboding.

    The future we have yet to focus on is that of a Great Transition. Here we may be prodded initially by higher fuel prices and carbon constraints, but ultimately we embrace travelling less, consuming less, living in smaller houses, not with a sense of deprivation, but because we recognise that quality of life matters more than quantity of stuff. Conspicuous consumption is seen as a vulgar throwback to a coarser time. With the ecological crisis deepening our sense of connection, there is recognition of the need to guarantee a decent minimum for all. This is the source of the massive citizen demand that alone can drive both governments and markets to adequate measures and innovations.

    The first two scenarios, ”business as usual” and “policy reform,” represent the status quo and incremental change from the status quo. Both are transitional states, for neither is plausible as a stable future. In the long run, we face a choice between two worlds: collapse or transformation.

    There’s a knife-edge phenomenon at work, where we can be pitched into one of two profoundly different worlds, as the result of tipping points. Today we talk about negative tipping points, like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. We need to also understand positive tipping points. And that brings us to systems science.

    Systems Science and Transformation
    Systems thinking looks at a variety of natural systems, from organisms and ecosystems to social systems, and sees them as open systems in a steady state. They are “open” in that they require constant throughput of energies, substances, and information. They maintain a steady state by self-repair of their internal structures. These internal structures are not fixed, like a clockwork mechanism, but are self-organising. Thus when conditions outside a system change substantially, the system survives through self-transformation. It makes a sudden, creative advance into novelty.>> think of it as evolution 🙂 we’ve been doing it since time began.

    Fundamental transformation is not only possible, it is the routine way natural systems evolve. Radical change is as common as grass in world history, because it is as common as grass in the life of all living systems.

    But here’s the critical point: What unlocks social transformation is a shift in values, because they are at the core of a self-organising human system. To value something is to care about it deeply, making it the True North of our internal guidance system. Values give meaning to human action and legitimacy to institutions, for they define what is good, true, and beautiful. As such they direct human action. We do not simply maximise our individual economic outcomes as the economist rational actor model would have us believe: we do pursue our interests, but that depends on what we think our interests are, which is a matter of values and social norms.

    We can detect the beginning of a values shift in the unnamed spiritual hunger felt by many today. As capitalism threatens the life of the planet, so too does it threaten the life of the human spirit. For many people, the endless cycle of work and consumption leaves them feeling dead inside, unsatisfied, alienated from what really matters. In The Left Hand of God, Michael Lerner writes of the interviews he and his colleagues did at the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, finding among middle Americans a pervasive sense that their deepest life energies are being depleted, that life is filled with meaningless activity, that they are going through motions imposed on them by outside forces. The interviews speak of a hunger for something more, for work that contributes to a larger good, for lives of purpose and meaning.

    If we are to move beyond the current destructive phase of capitalism, we will do so because we tap the spiritual energy that progressives have yet to tap in any coherent way. Values hold the key. The hungers of the heart can be the bedrock on which we build a new social order.

    A Shifting Roadmap of Values
    A global civilisation is taking shape
    Current capitalist values are easy to tick off, for they pervade the cultural air we breathe:

    Self-interest is central: getting the most for ourselves and neglecting the consequences for others.
    Free markets are paramount: letting a boyish financial elite run the global economy with little adult supervision.
    Growth is the aim: indulging a fantasy of endlessly rising gains in Gross Domestic Product, the stock market, and personal consumption.

    This trio of values holds together the current economic orthodoxy. But this orthodoxy is today under pressure to transform, as the world itself changes dramatically. In the years before and after the turn of the millennium, we have witnessed the end of the cold war, the shredding of the old social contract in the wake of a globalising economy, the rise of the Internet, the mushrooming growth of global civil society, the emergence of global terrorism, and the extinction of species on a scale not seen since the demise of the dinosaurs. From the European Union and international trade institutions to new regimes like carbon trading and the International Criminal Court, we are witnessing the formation of a global human and ecological system. The long journey of expanding human connectivity from city-state to nation-state has reached the scale of the planet. A global civilisation is taking shape, for the first time in history. Not for hundreds of years have the values and institutions of society been in such flux.

    The institutions of capitalism seek to reign supreme over this emergent world order, profiting from its global connectivity while evading responsibility for its health and maintenance. But this is a bargain that won’t long endure. Financiers, hedge funds, and corporations cannot forever seek maximum wealth on a finite planet, in a state of unaccountable liberty. As we are seeing in the credit crisis brought on by excess speculation the game contains the seeds of its own undoing. It is not so much an ideology as an adolescent fantasy.

    An alternative set of values is emerging today, which represents the seedbed of a new public philosophy. Three principles are central:

    Interdependence: Moving past isolated individualism, we are beginning to see our kinship with fellow citizens at home and neighbours abroad, with generations past and future, and with other living beings with whom we form one unbroken chain of life. The planet’s climate which knows no boundaries makes of us one living system. None of us can prosper if the whole suffers. Self-interest is inseparable from the welfare of others. Morality and reality are met in this new truth.

    Sustainability: We are beginning to grasp that short-term, speculative gains are not the true measure of economic success, for bursting bubbles destabilise an economy. What matters is not always captured in stock price, or GDP. It no longer makes sense to suppose that ecological issues are external� to our economy, for toxins we discard as wastes return to us in the fish and animals we consume and in the waters our children drink. Markets are a subset of the earth and subject to its requirements.

    Well-being: The blind pursuit of ‘more’� brings us not more happiness but more stress, more obesity, and more anxiety. It brings us less time for our families, less time for creative pursuits and quiet introspection. As we see that we must consume less, use less energy, become less busy, we face an opportunity to reclaim the good life in all its forms. We are relearning that security and well-being are found not in a trip to the mall but in human community, and in lives of meaning and dignity.

    As we support one another in embracing these emerging values, we are reshaping culture at its deepest levels. We are living into being a new age of civilisation.

    A Transformational Approach to Ecology
    A rising spiral of transformation
    We might imagine, for a moment, what a transformed culture could look like, if sustainability were to become a widespread cultural norm, and the foundation for a new suite of public policies. With energy costs rising, a carbon-constrained future will not be easy. Economic hardship will increase. But with a values shift around the meaning of the good life, everyone could more readily embrace the chance to rely on mass transit, to buy local, to turn down the thermostat, to do with less, seeing such changes less as individual hardships than as the end of gluttony and the beginning of cultural sanity.

    Even with a surge of conservation and a shift to renewables, America is not likely to entirely forestall the effects of climate change. Growing seasons around the world will shift, creating regional winners and losers. Some islands and coastal areas may become uninhabitable, and climate refugees could number many millions. If we meet these developments in a spirit of self-interest, we will close our borders and retreat into gated communities. But embracing a sensibility of interdependence, Americans could grasp how our own profligacy contributes to the suffering of others. New windows might open for compassionate immigration policies and strengthened carbon limits. Rather than seeing negative events spin out of control, positive values could allow change to feed back into a rising spiral of transformation.

    We might see a massive wave of interest in reducing fossil fuel use, and making transport and the built environment energy-efficient. Carpooling, bicycling, home insulation, green building, and other steps could be encouraged by government incentives, updated codes, and neighbour-to-neighbour outreach. Here is how all citizens could do their part, in a surge of solidarity on a par with WWII.

    A Transformational Shift in Economics
    An index of well-being might take its place alongside GDP
    Imagine that in economic policy, the neoclassical paradigm evolves as it incorporates the pioneering theories of today’s progressive Nobel Prize-winning economists. Breaking the mould of rational economic man, the isolated individual out to maximise his own utilities, we embrace what George Akerlof, president of the prestigious American Economics Association, calls ‘The Missing Motivation in Macroeconomics’. That motivation is social norms. It’s the notion that we can encourage citizens to make healthier choices by shaping the cultural milieu to make those choices more likely.

    Rather than seeing endless consumption as the end of economic life, we could conceptualise success as Nobelist Amartya Sen does, as being about expanding human capabilities. In Development as Freedom, he describes development as “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” Rather than GDP, the focus is on removing sources of unfreedom, including poverty, tyranny, and repression.

    Economic policy might begin, as ecological economics does, with the carrying capacity of the biosphere. Since physical throughput cannot grow forever, allocation becomes central. It’s critical to see that everyone has enough. We might also recognise that markets are not good at distributing certain kinds of resources, like our common wealth, and so we must create new institutions to protect the commons. managing the sky as a commons, auctioning emissions permits, and using the income to serve the public good.

    Grounded in these ways of thinking, public policy could focus on helping the too-numerous families who are a step away from financial devastation, recognising that when any of us are suffering, our national commitment to the pursuit of happiness remains unfulfilled. The challenge of climate change could become a historic opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure for sustainability, creating millions of green-collar jobs. A national index of well-being might take its place alongside GDP as a new measure of policy success.

    A Transformational Approach to the Corporation
    Inexorably, the culture of capitalism might shift
    With the current deflation of the housing bubble likely to be followed by the bursting of a bubble in financial derivatives, our economic downturn could lengthen. If we help policy-makers connect the dots, they will see that the behaviour of irresponsible banks and corporations traces its roots to the casino economy. The reckless pursuit of unsustainable, short-term gains enabled by waves of deregulations is at the root of many of our financial ills. Seeing this, we might leave behind our addictive fantasies of an infinitely growing pile of financial chips, recommitting to genuine wealth: the health of the biosphere and our own well-being. This awareness could create a cultural framework where, through political battles, we rein in speculation with robust new national and international institutions of capital constraints.

    Drawing on the insights of new economics, we could create broad recognition that corporations do not exist to meet the needs of capital alone. Their purpose is to broadly enhance human well-being. Business people might be emboldened to speak out about the burden of meeting unceasing demands for growth in earnings, which some CEOs even today deride as “short-termism.”

    Policies could be adopted to redefine fiduciary duties to include social and environmental responsibility. Corporate boards might meet these new duties by adding worker and public interest directors. Alternative, community-friendly company designs like cooperatives, social enterprises, and employee-owned firms might flourish, because consumers and employees seek them out. The federal government could make widespread employee ownership a major goal, and steer government contracts toward responsible firms while avoiding irresponsible firms, creating a new Moral Bottom Line.

    Inexorably, the culture of capitalism might shift. The short-term focus on maximising profits could become yesterday’s management theory, replaced by a sensibility of protecting and enhancing our common life, for the benefit of generations to come.

    Tangible policies and practices like these could be where transformation plays out, but where it begins is in the human heart. As long as we imagine that our self-worth equals our net worth, that poor people are lazy or inferior, that the size of our house equals our standing in the community, capitalism will retain its hold over us. But when we begin willingly to choose time over money, to pay more for organics because clean soil is worth the cost, or to focus on the BTUs (thermal units) on our heating bills rather than the size of the check we write, we will have begun the shift that can carry us through.

    It won’t be quick or easy. Certainly it’s not inevitable. But we can, as one whole, make that creative advance into novelty which this eleventh hour demands.

    [Marjorie Kelly (MKelly@Tellus.org) was founding editor of “Business Ethics” magazine, and author of “The Divine Right of Capital”. Her Tellus Institute (www.tellus.org) colleagues Paul Raskin and Allen White contributed ideas to this article.]

  30. Thank you for this Philip – really inspiring. It comes across as Green/Spiritual Socialism, and for those of us from the left, a heartening vision (although I think what is being required from us goes beyond those values traditionally associated with the old left and right). I have never believed that you could leave the well-being of the collective in the hands of free market economics and expect a happy ending. I think it’s a major reason we are in the mess we are in now. I also don’t buy the assumption that Capitalism and Democracy are inseperable bedfellows. For me it is a mark of our true development as humans that we endeavour to care for all members of our society (I include the wider family of nature here too), and I think Marjorie Kelly hits the nail squarely on the head in focusing in on the importance of re-evaluating the values that underpin our lives and shape our world. Our priorities appear incredibly distorted at present -we need to get back in touch with what is really important; understand the true cost of how we live. Our political environment has for some time been dogged by a cynical pragmatism – on both the left and the right. We need to re-embrace our vision, idealism, collective empathy and political courage. It’s lovely to read this article because it makes me feel that such a shift is really possible.

  31. I feel the shift is happening already – there is something in the air – I think the fuel problems and the credit crunch (I hate that phrase) is causing a knock on effect in our favour – it is making people think more – if everything is easy and disposable, values fade but as things become more difficult those values are forced up to the surface again – it could be that the media obsession and over exposure of the ‘credit crunch’ will actually do some good – by making people pause for a second and ask ‘do I really need that’ – (a valuable question that can lead to so many more) – the same for the fuel crisis – it surely must push and highlight the question about sustainablilty. I think we are at a real turning point – people aren’t prepared to put up with half living anymore – windows and doors are opening because things are getting so bad – it is almost as if the cosmos has got to be cruel to be kind.

    Thanks for posting this article Philip – after what was a rather pessimistic start, it turned into a very hopeful and inspiring piece of writing 🙂

  32. Hi Phillip,
    This essay by Marjorie Kelly sums up a great deal very well. I look at it this way, as we can see things as being in turmoil, or we can see all of this unrest and war over resource as a result of humanity needing ecological change while the majority go kicking and screaming.
    The human cost of fuel is unacceptable. War as one of these costs as example, pollution as another.
    The kicking and screaming is really smoke and mirrors. We have gained the technology, or magic in a sense, to turn to nature for infinite natural energy. Eco-technology is here, developing at a very fast pace and no matter how capitalism tries, by its own fundamental principle, it cannot stop this progress.
    For the near future, it is a good thing. Soon our need for fossil fuel will end. Our ability to see photosynthesis and bio-synthesis in ways to sustain our own needs is evident and in action.
    However this will remove the limiting factor in human over-population. The natural justice in life has held humans to limits over time, and as we have seen, if given a chance we drastically over-populate.
    So our quest for life will still challenge us greatly. This is perhaps a question for our morality and religion to reform. Old ideas long out-dated must go through reformation at many levels.
    But for now, if we open our inner eye, we might see this “insane world” for what it is, like a young child being stubborn as growth takes away the bliss of ignorance and replaces it with the spiritual reality of love. this love manifests if given chance into what we do. So long as capitalism forces us to labor in jobs we despise we are slaves to our own blindness. Creativity of our spirit is the expression of our inner light.

    Dark unto light,
    John Owings
    (Merlyn)

  33. Highly relevant to this topic is the work of Michael Meade. His book ‘The World Behind
    The World – Living at the Ends of Time’ addresses the current crisis in a creative and perceptive way. Here, from his site http://www.mosaicvoices.org

    ‘Michael Meade is one of the few people who provides a mythological view of critical issues affecting the world at this time. In The World Behind the World, Meade weaves a tapestry of mythic tales and cogent commentary that truly inspires and offers a “mythic inoculation” in times of great uncertainty. As nature rattles and culture unravels, mythic imagination tries to return to the world, for endings and beginnings are particularly mythic. When “the End” seems near, how people imagine the world becomes more important; how people imagine humanity becomes of the utmost importance. Meade shows how “myth makes meaning” and helps a person find the meaningful path through life. He mines a series of “re-creation” stories in which the earth renews itself just when all seems lost. When it appears that there’s no time left, it isn’t time that people need, but the touch of the eternal.’

  34. Greetings of Yuletide Philip,
    Prophets fail in predicting the future of mankind as their prophecy is translated literally. Druidism gives us a very different perspective. Knowing the spirit will pass into life, and not some polarized heaven or hell allows us a better understanding removing the fear.

    Thanks for the link, “The Water of Life” also looks like a good read as well. History shows us that “terror” is not anything new, as castle walls echo to us and the great wall of China shows a culture’s resolve to preserve it’s ways.

    The myth and lore of all cultures brought together is perhaps one of the most eye opening ways to show how things change but remain the same in so many ways.

    Our planet needs brighter minds and eager hearts and a will to grow into our future. Today’s terror groups insist on another way with genocide and ideologies of fear and god. For us to move past the fear we must awaken all at a deep level of spiritual growth giving us reason to think and act past our own future and life.

    Good discussion Philip,
    Thanks again for the opportunity.

    John

  35. Appreciating the commitment you put into your blog and in depth information you present. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information. Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    • Thank you! There are stretches where I just drop in movies or interesting quotes and so on – when I am deep in writing – but every so often I manage to bob up for air and post a thoughtful one that I’ve worked on!


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