What I have to say is that everything that we read in the papers today about the need for change, was being said in the late sixties and early seventies. Only not necessarily in the mainstream press. I quote what a certain radical Nobel Lauriat said in 1971. ‘If, as a species, we are to survive, a radical change of consciousness is required. Mankind has to wake up and become more mature. This is not going to happen as a result of our adhering to the ‘business as usual’ approach. We need to shift our thinking away from our selfish consideration with what we want, to consider what is in the best interest of our planet as a whole, and to do this, we need to think wholistically. …’
This might have been said today. Indeed, it is being said today. And by increasing numbers of people, and in mainstream journals. It is sad that it is only being said because times are so tough that we are being forced to look at ourselves. But perhaps we have to agree with Gurdjieff when he suggested that ‘Mankind is so set in its ways, that we seem to need a shock greater than the sum of our own inertia, if we are to wake up.’
The truth is that the symptoms of what is now imploding upon us today, were visible half a century ago. Only because we didn’t need to do anything then ( the crises were containable) we preferred not to see them. Indeed, for as long as I can remember, our world leaders have talked change talk but never questioned the system out of which they operated . Why? A) Because they didn’t have to, and b) because to maintain the status quo worked in their interest. It was comfortable. Those holding the reins of power in the world ( primarily white-skinned) never really listened to the advice of the so-called ‘crazies’, i.e., those on the ‘edge of civilisation’, the ‘radicals’, the visionary cuckoos, the non-suited brigade, the ‘alternativists’ – call them what you may – those who did not subscribe to the old boy network and who were not anaesthetised enough not to feel the pain of Gaia and who, in their hearts, understood the crises that our planet was in and had important solutions to offer.
As a result , most ideas for ‘making a difference’ occurred inside the old boxes which kept the system the way it was. Yes, money would be sent by the rich nations to help the poor nations, but this was easy, because nothing was ever done to change the process which allowed the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Nobody in those days recognised the evil that they were unconsciously colluding with. Nobody thought that evil, in addition to having an excessive ‘obvious side’, i.e., our Hitlers, Mugabes, Saddam Husseins, also has a banal side and sits next to each of us, unbeknownst , as we have our breakfast each morning!
I say ‘ sits next to each of us’, because we need to know that each of us are responsible for the state of our planet. It is all too easy to scapegoat our unimaginative politicians and greedy bankers as being the cause of all our woes. But the whole thing goes much deeper and is about the system itself which throws up certain kinds of people. We need to know that in a very real way, ‘they’ are also ‘us’! If we have the courage to look at the darkness inside our own hearts, we will see where we, in subtle ways, have also colluded in keeping an unjust system alive, either by taking advantage of it or by not withdrawing our subscriptions to it powerfully enough.
How our world has behaved over the last half century is analogous to how many of us behave when confronted with the first symptoms of crisis. Often, we go into denial. We bury our head in the sand. Take the case of an old university buddy of mine, a real old smoker and drinker and lover of la dolce vita! Many years ago, his body displayed signs of something not being quite right – a terrible cough, night sweats. But the symptoms were not bad enough to warrant examination. He considered himself a tough old bird. So he continued his old lifestyle, which he was very attached to, making one or two minor changes; he’d swallow vitamins every day and have a weekly massage! And he got away with things for a long time, until one day, his symptoms worsened so much, that he could no longer not pay attention to them. It took him becoming so ill for him to wake up and see, as if for the first time, how much he had abused himself and how little he had ever listened to his heart and how deeply damaged he was as a result.
And this is analogous to our situation today. As Ben Okri put it. ‘Our economic crisis is a crisis of our civilisation. Our material success has brought us to a strange spiritual and moral bankruptcy. The more our society has succeeded, the more its heart has failed.’ And now, we are seeing the consequences of that failure. We thought we’d ‘get away with it’ forever. So long as Climate Change and Terrorism and Economic hardship didn’t affect us Have’s personally, so long as the Footsie continued to go up and our houses increased in value, and Paris and New York remained the centre of fashion, things were fine n’ dandy! Yes, Nine Eleven was a pointer that things were not as they seemed, but instead of our ‘getting’ the deeper message about that attack – with America perhaps asking herself why she was so hated – in the vain belief that you can kill off evil by waging war against it, the sum total of world evil and world insecurity actually increased as a result.
The point is that we , the world’s Have’s, entrenched in our comfort zones, never realised – never fully let in – the fact that for large swathes of our planet, Armageddon had already happened and that the dark riders of the Apocalypse had already ridden – and are still riding – in many areas of the world. We preferred to shut off our hearts to this. Only if one happened to live in Darfur or Zimbabwe or Gaza or Iraq or any other war/terror/famine zone of the planet, as opposed to in Mustique, London or the Bahamas, would one know this.
The truth is that we didn’t want to know. This is why our current economic crisis hit us out of the blue. For eons, we Have’s have projected our shadow side onto other parts of the planet and let ‘them’ deal with all the nastiness and despair and confusion and terror and uncertainty that we didn’t want to have to face ourselves. And what is now happening is that the shock waves are returning to engulf us and whether we like to or not, we are being forced to confront the consequences. For once there is nowhere to hide. Even the Tax Havens where the rich have sequestered their money – even they are now being broken open!
This all said, I do not share your pessimism. I have the utmost belief in the core nobility of man, and in altruism being a core part of our constitutional make up, and hence, in our capacity to use crisis wisely. I believe that in the months and years ahead, the very best will emerge from us. As I have said in many articles, what we are witnessing is the death throes of an old regime, whose time is over, in order to make space for a new one. As David Spangler once put it: ‘Underneath the patterns of instability in the world, a profound spirit of love and good will is at work and using the instability and the individuals that emerge from it as the farmer uses a plough, to turn the soil and prepare it for new seeds and new harvest.’
We must understand the profundity of these words and realise that we are now at a crossroads. We have a choice. Do we ‘get’ this and so choose to align our lives with the forces of innovation ( which Obama is doing his best to do – and it is very tough and he is a remarkable person) . Or do we still battle to shore up a dinosaur needing to die? The choice is ours.
Barbara Mark Hubbard, a most unusual thinker, once equated these times to a long-ago era, when life on our planet was just starting out and when all that existed were very simple life forms: unicellullar organisms. Then along came a common enemy, oxygen, that threatened these life forms. The unicellular organisms, in order to survive, were forced to adapt and what they did was to combine together and morph into a higher-order organism, a multi-cellular organism, which was not only able to resist oxygen, but actually thrived on it and as a result, gave birth to a higher-order organism still, namely man! The so-called enemy to evolution, turned out to be the friend!
Her thesis is that something not dissimilar is occurring on our planet today and that the common crises we face, are also having the effect of accelerating our evolution, and that even the most hard-boiled of us are coming to see that the problem with our world is us, and our ‘unicellular’, greedy, selfish, nationalistic, patriarchal, egotistical viewpoints which breed hatred, despair, alienation, dysfunction, separation and destruction. Increasingly we are coming to see that, as a species, we have remained incarcerated in this limited mindset/dysfunctional system for too long and that what the visionaries have been saying, is actually true and that unless we make a vast shift of awareness, we have not a hope of surviving.
From this viewpoint, then, our current crises are our friend galvanising us to make a vast leap of soul. Will we shift from being primarily ego motivated to becoming increasingly heart centred? Will we start to care for and share with, our fellow human beings and learn to open our hearts wide enough to embrace all of humanity as one big family inside them? I believe we will. It will be tough but we will. Yes, it is important that our world leaders make the right decisions, politically, economically and ecologically and one hopes this happens at this oncoming G12 summit of all the world leaders. But any system is only as good as those who operate it. Much more important is what each of us do at a grass roots level as we recognise our own capacity to make a difference from the bottom up and commit our lives to doing exactly that. My experience of those I know who live out of this commitment, is that they are happy people.