Where do we go from here?
What follows is a synthesis of forty-years with J. Krishnamurti, David Bohm, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Samdhong Rinpoche and other mentors. The passion, clarity and hope that inspired these teachers etched deeply and took root. I see what I see standing on their shoulders.
The future of humanity is questionable. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan, a hero, and trickster. Prometheus defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity as civilization. In the West, Prometheus grew to represent human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of unintended consequences. Mary Shelley gave The Modern Prometheus as the subtitle to her novel Frankenstein (1818). Indeed, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The underlying theme of the Prometheus myth looms larger today than ever.
Humanity Has Destroyed Half the Animal and Plant Life on Earth
The increasing rate of species threatened with extinction that's alarming biologists is just one feature of the massive transformation humans have wrought on our planet. Another shocking reality is that Earth is far poorer not just in the diversity of life, but also in the raw amount of life.
"If you take the overall biomass on Earth before humanity arrived on the scene, it was about twice what it is now," said Ron Milo, a professor of plant and environmental sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel… Earth's population nears eight billion people, but that only accounts for 0.01% of our planet's overall biomass. Yet, despite the fact that we represent tiny fraction of life on Earth, humanity has had an outsized impact on species around the world that are threatened with extinction. This loss of biodiversity and numbers means we're eroding the ability of our planet to support life — both natural life and our own growing human population. CBC Radio, 23 October 19
American children have never been sicker. Over half (54%) are suffering from one or more chronic illnesses. The “4-A” disorders—autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma and allergies—have experienced meteoric growth. U.S. children are far more likely to die before their first birthday than infants in other wealthy countries and life expectancy is falling, driven largely by rising death rates in adolescents and younger adults. Social anxiety and depression among children and young adults is epidemic. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens, half of whom are reported to have at least one mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. Rising levels of pollution, global technologies combined with a media blizzard and near complete immersive in a scripted experience spawned by political-media-entertainment, designed distract rather than inform, all contribute. Could all of this stem from a simple case of mistaken identity, a pervasive misuse of memory? Is that the root?
I asked David Bohm, considered one of the brightest scientists of the twentieth century, if he was optimistic about the future of humanity. “No,” was his reply, and I paraphrase: “Given the unstable state of human consciousness it appears unlikely that we will survive our own destructive tendencies another hundred or two-hundred years.” As David notes however, the adulterated mind is not the natural order of the mind. That adulterated state is so powerful however, the vast majority never experience the natural order of the mind, our true nature, which is transcendent. Transcendent, as Joseph Chilton Pearce described in the Biology of Transcendence, is a drive to overcome limitation and constraint. Transcendence is, by its very nature, creative, boarding on the miraculous and fundamentally optimistic. Our challenge is to awaken from the spell of culture and model a way of being that is grounded in transcendence, not culture, no matter how big or fatal the dragon appears.
My daughter, Carly Elizabeth, is five-years-old. How do I model a state of being that will awaken and expand in her the capacity to live a full, authentic, even miraculous human life, to break the destructive spell we call Civilization and rediscover who and what she really is – transcendent-nature, and by so doing tip the scales from death back to life in this next, most threatened generation ever? Holding this question spawned several essays, each addressing central themes that together may offer some clarity, hope and creative optimism. Your thoughts and recommendations please.
More of The Same is The Same
The uncertain future of humanity has a direct impact on how we parent and educate; for what, why and how. What the next critical generation needs most is not content as data, information or knowledge. What they need, and most urgently, is to negate their identification with culture which implies the discovery of a new, more authentic identity-reality, and second, they must discover, awaken and develop new states of being, perception and action that are now excluded by our identification with culture. Together, these two forces represent a new, or renewed, direct relationship with life and the natural world along with the opening of new creative capacities that may survive the unprecedented changes we, and every other species, now face.
Negating identification with culture is not replacing one abstract concept for another. Negating this primary identification cuts to the root. Rather than our attention and awareness being immersed in abstraction, which concept as culture is, negating implies lifting attention out of concept altogether. It implies an insight into the very nature and structure of concept as a state of the mind, a distilling or washing the mind free from image and concept. It means seeing and responding directly. With direct perception it becomes obvious that we are not a concept; not an American, French or Russian, not a Democrat or Conservative, not a member of this tribe or that gang, not a Buddhist or Evangelical Christian, not Black, White, Red, Brown or Yellow, not even a Man or Woman. We are human beings, completely interdependent and interconnected with all life forms, including light, soil, wind and water. We are that, all of us together. Nor can intelligence, that mysterious force that brings inert elements to life, be reduced to a concept. The conceptual, intellectual realm is not intelligence.
At the very root, our crisis-in-consciousness emanates from the capacity to imagine, which is the source of image and concept, undisciplined and misused. Paraphrasing environmental educator David Orr, it is not more imagination that will save us but imagination of a certain kind. More of the same will only compound our problems. The worth of parenting and education, and more deeply, imagination and identity, must be measured against standards of ecological-wholeness and wellbeing for all living beings, and that means mutual survival, not as an idea or concept, as a direct experience, what J. Krishnamurti called ‘living the insight.’ A direct experience is an embodied experience, not just a nice idea. Our first and most urgent challenge is to experience the difference between direct experience and concept and move forward from there.
It has been argued that the Age of Enlightenment, 1687 to 1789, and the Scientific Method represented a much needed distilling and focusing of imagination, an uplifting of mind out of infectious fantasy, the supernatural and superstition; superstition being a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation; a black cat crossing your path is bad luck or tales of witchcraft, and magic. The First Enlightenment also attempted to ground reality in the observable, the scientific method, in contrast with the supernatural: belief in an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe, especially: of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, devil, or transcending the laws of nature, often attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit). All well and good for the medieval mind, but clearly limited given our current understanding of quantum physics, parallel or embedded universes.
Central doctrines of the First Enlightenment were individual liberty and religious tolerance, in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. Individualism, the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy, implicitly abstracted and separated the observer from nature. The First Enlightenment exposed superstitions, abstractions and fantasies, but did not expose the illusions and fantasies we hold about ourselves or culture. Failing to reveal these deeper fantasies, nature became something to be conquered and manipulated, including, and most intimately, the feminine, not as the Taoists insist, life forces to be in alignment with. Abstracted, self-centered individualism and manifest destiny trampled native traditions, such as the Seventh Generation Principle, based on an ancient Iroquois philosophy that decisions made today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future, dating somewhere between 1142 and 1500 AD.
As David Bohm describes in Thought as a System, though he never used the phrase, we need to evolve a Second Age of Enlightenment, a pervasive and sustained insight, as a direct experience, of the false-hopes and false-fears attributed to image and concept expressing as culture and our enculturated self-image, which includes, of course, the false images we attribute to others, along with artificial divisions such as nationalism and racism and other self-centered and divisive abstractions.
Perceiving directly has ancient roots. In Greek the word, `mysticism,' meant `hidden,’ more specifically, `hidden to the mind of image and concept.' A mystic is a person who perceives directly. St. John of the Cross, one of the great exemplars of this tradition, had a beautifully clear image. "If I have my hand in front of my eyes, I cannot see the sun. If I have an image of God, I cannot see God." The Second age of Enlightenment Krishnamurti and David Bohm invite applies the same simple logic to the images and concepts we have about self and culture. If we have an image of ourselves, we cannot see what we are. If we have an image, and more importantly identify with our concept of culture, we cannot see culture. Zen Buddhists have their way: “If you see Buddha, kill him.” If you see Buddha you are seeing the image, the concept. Negate it. Only then, when the mind is free of imagined images, can we see clearly what is not an image or concept. David Bohm goes further:
Proprioception of Thought
We could say that practically all the problems of the human race are due to the fact that thought is not proprioceptive… The word proprioception is used in biology and medicine and means essentially the same as self-perception or self-awareness…. Is it possible for thought to observe itself, to see what it is doing, perhaps by awakening some other sense of what thought is, possibly through attention?
Proprioception [of thought], together with passion frees the mind from the intellectual-emotional disorder and therefore "heals" it from irrationality and self-deception. The intellect becomes orderly, rational and clear and, therefore, will become intelligent as well. The emotions also will begin to express a more subtle response to true and meaningful feelings, such as love. As a result, the human mind will be creative rather than destructive. This amounts to a transformation of human consciousness on a deep level.
Self-perception or self-awareness of our basic thought process is not something we do easily. Like texting, our day-to-day thought process is a distraction, a virtual reality that enchants. Rip Van Winkle binging on one YouTube program after another comes to mind. Our normal, low-state of attention is completely siphoned onto the show, and the show is culture and the role we play in it. We are not really aware of what we are doing. More to the point, we are not doing it. Most often, thought is running mechanically, as a reflex. The mechanical and reflexive nature of normal thought is the problem and a problem can’t be solved at the level that created the problem. More of the same is the same. Something ‘other’ is required, a completely new approach.
As David suggests, and resonate with Krishnamurti, Buddhist and Christian Mystics, this ‘other’ involves a quality of attention not distracted by imagination, mental images and concepts. Once a new baseline of consciousness is embodied, free from distractions - imagination, thought, mental images and concept are used objectively, as tools, like a hammer pounding a nail, without being identified or motivated by the hammer as an image or concept. When the nail is secure, we stop pounding. The hammer disappears. We, however, are never secure living inside a fear-based-culture. We keep pounding all the time which is crazy, but, driven by threat and fear, we believe constant pounding is both necessary and normal. This is what culture-as-identity is designed to do in a fear-based-culture, and it works beautifully. The distilling of human consciousness Bohm and Krishnamurti describe represents a Second Age of Enlightenment. With that, everything changes. Without it, nothing changes. Here we are. Nature is making us an offer we can’t refuse.
The Second Age of Enlightenment involves insight, a quality of energy and attention that reveal the reflexive and mechanical nature of normal thought along with the major forces or fields that evoke our false identification with culture and that, simultaneously, maintain culture, including:
- The subject-object syntax of language.
- Contemporary parenting practices based on subject-object projections; comparison, competition, psychological praise, rewards, punishments, stages of psychological becoming, etc.
- The implicit judgements and commandments of theistic, God in the sky, religions.
- Corporate media and technologies, including; psychological self-image based social media platforms and programming that promotes existing cultural images and beliefs.
- Structures of information, data and knowledge-based education that impose comparison, conformity, and obedience to authority in their fundamental design.
All these forces appear perfectly normal and necessary looking from within culture at culture and our identity with it. From a Second Age of Enlightenment perspective, the spell or enchantment that maintains these powerful forces is broken. From this new reality, a quality or state that is not the source of the problem, what might be done to resolve the problem is revealed. No longer wasting all our energy and attention in culture-based-distractions, we free tremendous energy that can be focused, like a laser, on completely new ways of relating to each other and to life, all life.
Attention being the catalyst that awakens, not concept, we understand the distinction J. Krishnamurti made between studying the insights he presented and living them. The Second Age of Enlightenment Bohm and Krishnamurti propose is a lived-experience, a direct perception, not a concept. David and Krishnamurti understood that we can rearrange concepts endlessly, believing we are moving very far, while remaining exactly where we are. Indeed, more of the same is the same. A Second Age of Enlightenment breaks the spell, opening the doors of perception and possibility far and wide, and not a moment too soon.