My Story

 MY STORY

 

 

CHILDHOOD

 

Born in England in 1940, I am very much a child of the Western mind, growing up in its intellectual tradition and painfully sharing its late 20th century crisis of meaning. I was blessed with a secure and loving, if somewhat over protected, childhood. Wedwelt among the untrodden ways” of English Fen country. Miles upon miles of reclaimed marshland yielded lush pasture for “Lincolnshire Reds” and the rich black soil cut through with dykes and ditches was the endless horizontal map of my childhood. Alone with the larks and the family dog I would wander off for hours on end. The corners of a dried up ditch became my secret cubby house. I would lie on my back there feeling totally at home with the sounds and smells of my English countryside. The flatness of the fens meant that on a fine night the sky was a natural planetarium. A dome of starlit brilliance would span the horizon and it never failed to fill me awe and wonderment.

Astronomy became my passion in those pre-puberty years and it constantly nourished the mystic in me. I took myself off to Evensong most Sundays, catching the bus to attend a particular Anglo Catholic church which had a fine choral tradition.  The poetry and mystery of the liturgy and hymns, like my starry heavens, inspired in me an alluring blend of ecstasy and humility. My parents viewed my rather isolationist enthusiasm for Christianity with a mild benevolent concern, being reasonably confident that I would grow out of it and settle down to share their middle-class Anglican view of churchgoing as a seasonal occasion and God as an entity believed in but not felt and certainly not discussed.

My family was the nuclear ideal. Father was the emotionally distant but honourable breadwinner, always deferred to as the final arbiter of disputes. In contrast my mother and I enjoyed an open and volatile relationship. I adored her.  She was warm, witty and elegant. Apart from successful excursions into amateur theatre, she did little with her many talents except dedicate them to the needs of her daughter, son and husband. It is no wonder that she found it so hard to let go of her children later on. Sadly she succeeded in alienating both my brother and myself with her possessiveness.

My own distancing process began with my grammar school experience and the distractions of peer group pleasures and passions. My secondary school years were ordinary and yet delicious. Interestingly I journeyed back to my hometown with one of my sons a few years ago. It hadn’t changed much and he was quite appalled by its dreariness and ugliness. And yet I have such happy memories of my childhood there, memories shared by several lifetime friends.  By modern standards we were short on luxuries. But this is a common story. Happiness can flourish in the simplest, most basic lifestyles, if the soul is nourished.  And in our case our material needs were very adequately met.

Academic success came easily to me, as did friendship and sporting skills. My best friend and I were tennis partners and the grass courts of the local cricket club were our favourite meeting place. Throughout my sociable teenage years, my discretely veiled love of Christ and my delight in solitary excursions into nature persisted and my passion for astronomy deepened. My religious beliefs became increasingly subject to intellectual scrutiny however. Seeds of doubt were sown by the atheistic leanings of my physics teacher and others whom I held in high regard. The concept of God as a Final Cause and the awesome mystery of that starry firmament continued to sustain my faith but my feelings gradually became less finely tuned to the mystical.

 

 

ADULTHOOD

 

Our society is sick with adultism..A tired, pessimistic, patriarchal adultist culture has projected its own weariness and exhaustion onto divinity-and we wonder why our youth are dying.

Matthew Fox (1988:23)

 

In 1960 I set out in fear and trembling to take up a course in anthropology at University College London. I understood all too well that I had been a big fish in a very modest pond. The ocean was now my challenge and I really did not feel equipped to deal with it. University College was known as “the godless institute of Gower Street”. The “in” word while I was there was “meaningless”-a term liberally applied to any proposition which was not amenable to scientific scrutiny. Exit all religious beliefs. I was initiated into this fashionable school of thought-known as logical positivism-on the night of the fresher’s ball, when I was flattered by the attentions of a seductively intelligent and articulate postgraduate psychology student. As an ardent logical positivist in love with words, he delighted in grinding others down to his way of thinking. My insecurity, naivety and impressionability made me an easy convert or should I say victim. Two years later I married him inspite of, or perhaps because of, passionate maternal opposition.

Much of my time as an undergraduate student was spent in the company of intellectually impressive postgraduate philosophy and psychology students who argued that anyone countenancing religious beliefs had to be either stupid or emotionally crippled. Naturally I was doing my best not to come across as being either of these. Generally speaking I listened attentively and said very little. In this intellectually awesome company the young lass from Lincolnshire lost her faith and her Lincolnshire accent as well as her virginity.

Thought became my new god. To my lasting shame I learnt to measure people‘s worth in terms of their intellectual abilities. Years later, when I discovered the joys of meditation I came to know for myself that. “If the power to think is a remarkable gift the power not to think is even more so”. (Satprem 1968: 9) I have come to understand what Krishnamurti meant when he said that thought and time are at the root of all suffering. It is a message that is being well received across the planet at the moment through the writings of Eckhart Tolle. We constantly stress ourselves with thoughts of what happened yesterday and what may happen tomorrow. In the process we fail to connect with the power of the present, the power of NOW. The next stage in our evolution is a capacity for pure awareness, free of thought.  Strange notions indeed for the Western mind.

After graduation my psychologist husband and I migrated to Australia. He took up a lectureship at Adelaide University and I taught maths and science at a local high school. I had a good rapport with the students and loved teaching but I was restless and unhappy.  My unease manifested itself in an excess of flirting and drinking. Inevitably one of my romantic searchings led me into divorce and instant remarriage to someone at the opposite end of the personality spectrum from my logical positivist mentor. Western culture has separated mind and body. (Cartesian dualism)2. True to that conditioning I moved from mind into body, from intellect to sensation. The days of wine and roses and guilt fell upon me-not I think therefore I am’ but “I sense therefore I am.

My second husband was an Australian anglophile so soon after our marriage we visited London for a few years. I completed a master’s degree at my old college. The research topic was tribal religions. I had been drawn to anthropology in the first place because of my interest in what was at the time referred to as “primitive” religion. In my thesis I sought, in my intellectual arrogance, to demonstrate that tribal beliefs in magic and ritual function as pseudo scientific explanations in cultures less sophisticated than ourselves concerning natural causation. I was obliged in the course of my studies however to acknowledge that it was not quite that simple. Tribal ritual had a great deal more to do with internal states than external reality. Ritual action and symbolism are geared to the controlled expression of complex mental energies and social imperatives.  I also realised that our externalised Western worldview has much to learn from them in that regard.

 

MOTHERHOOD

The mother’s battle for her child-with sickness, with poverty, with war, with all the forces of exploitation and callousness that cheapen human life- needs to become a common human battle, waged in love and in the passion for survival.

Adrienne Rich (1977:280)

The lure of the gum trees brought us back to Australia and I became pregnant. This event had been “sensibly” postponed for economic reasons but I desperately wanted a child and I was not prepared to delay the experience any longer. I hoped that the satisfaction of that particular desire would ease the restlessness in my soul, as indeed it did for a while. Joy consumed me during my pregnancy. I experienced something of the long lost harmony, self-respect and contentment of my summer evenings in the Lincolnshire countryside. I had been caught up in confusion for so long that I hadn’t even recognized that I was disturbed. The fulfilment of pregnancy gave me an alcohol and nicotine free nine months and planted a seed of transformation, a new awareness of what might be.

Childbirth was an explosion of love. It was as though my natural feelings had been dammed up for years and the stimulus of this utterly dependent, beautiful and deliciously alive infant dissolved the blockage. Gratitude and goodwill flowed from my every pore. And he was a gorgeous baby.

During my pregnancy I had enrolled for a Ph D in behavioural sciences having been persuaded that the accompanying scholarship would be invaluable during my unpaid early mothering years. Eight years later, including three years leave of absence to bring baby boys into the world, I was awarded a doctorate.  Predictably the thesis topic was religion. This time I looked at the grounds for belief in God, comparing the experiences and personalities of ex- Roman Catholic atheists with those of Catholic converts from non-religious backgrounds.

Again, the findings surprised me. Intellectual considerations had very little to do with it either way. The scars and voids left by inadequate parenting of one kind or another were of course relevant, especially for embittered ex-Catholics and emotionally needy converts. Many of the converts however had enjoyed loving, secure and happy backgrounds. They had been drawn to Catholicism’s liturgical richness and mystical dimension. These believers exuded a softness and sensitivity which made me feel I had lost something precious although I continued to call myself an agnostic (a person who neither believes or disbelieves in god).  The logical positivism of Gower Street had taught me that it was the only tenable option in these matters and I still liked to see myself as being impeccably rational.

In spite of my deep love for my sons and my interest in the subject matter of my research, I was far from happy. Like the little girl who so wished to please her adored mother, I tried hard to be what others expected me to be- intellectual and extremely capable in all respects. Superficially I did a good imitation of superwoman but beneath the successful academic, middleclass facade there lurked a guilt ridden, angry, self effacing, confused soul. I suffered pre-menstrual tension so my frustrations surfaced with a vengeance monthly and whenever I touched alcohol. I drank too much and too often, either for the euphoria it induced or the anger it released. The hangover of sickness and guilt lasted for days and was usually followed by a brief period of optimism and enthusiasm for life.  Somehow however, resolves and hopes always faltered and frustration and sheer fatigue would build up again. And so the cycle continued:

 

Ye suffer from yourselves, none else compels,

None other holds you that ye live and die

And whir upon the wheel and hug and kiss its pokes of agony

Its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness. (Quoted in Watts 1951: 152)

 

Had it not been for the love I felt for my children, which reached like a fine thread into a deeper level of my consciousness, the agony of nothingness would have driven me to suicide. As it was, before the children came, alcohol induced cries for help had landed me in hospital needing a stomach pump on two occasions. No one listened of course and unlike Psyche I failed to listen to my inner wisdom. I simply did not at that time have the necessary skills or the inclination to pursue any inner exploration.  My indulgence merely fed my sense of failure and guilt.

My second son was born with a serious heart condition and I became convinced that this was a consequence of a drinking episode during the early stages of pregnancy. He was subjected to a barrage of tests and had to have open heart surgery at the age of four. His suffering awakened a level of compassion in me which transcended my own guilt and my own needs. It called me to do something about myself urgently and irrevocably.

 

 

TOOLS OF TRANSFORMATION

 

The cultivation of our greater attributes is not an easy task. At this step in our integration of extraordinary experience, the way can be difficult and full of dead ends. Synchronistic flow requires our transcendence of limiting habits and scripts, narrow desires and mechanical responses to life’s graces

   James Redfield (2002:151)

 

On first coming to Australia I had been moved to take up yoga. This was fairly unusual back in the 1960s.  I suppose I saw it as being a more intellectually respectable spiritual enterprise than going to church. Unfortunately my efforts there got lost during the upheavals of divorce and re marriage. Twenty years on I tried again. I was particularly taken with the relaxation practice at the end of the class known as yoga nidra. I began doing it every day. It is a technique where, usually with the help of voice guidance, you lie on your back and rotate your awareness passively through your body, letting go of tension. You drift into a semi hypnotic state of harmony and whole body consciousness. At the beginning and end of the practice you repeat a resolve to yourself. Doing this in a state of deep relaxation is very powerful.  It acts like a post hypnotic suggestion. My resolutions have ranged successfully from the specifics of losing any desire for alcohol or cigarettes to the generalities of creating feelings of wellbeing and self esteem. The deep relaxation experienced in this practice in itself is profoundly therapeutic. It painlessly releases unconscious anxieties and the state of whole body consciousness which it induces is very healing. You begin to experience a flow of subtle energy: of life force. I am convinced that it is a therapy for the future, once mainstream medical negativity around such practices begins to thaw and once much greater emphasis starts to be placed on prevention rather than cureNothing worth doing comes easily however. Two steps forward are usually followed by one and a half steps backwards. Nevertheless, once you start to honour yourself as a spiritual being, once you become enamoured of the Infinite, there is no going backwards;

 

Nothing can return to its previous lesser state. No mirror can become iron again, no bread again wheat. There is no return to being a little green apple after you have gotten the blush of the Beloved upon you! (Houston 1987: 207).

 

In my case, steady progress did not come about until I took myself and my children off to the Blue Mountains of New South Wales to create a new life. It is all very well to argue, as many do, that overcoming difficulties is a growth process (one should work through one’s “karma”) but if those difficulties are not being overcome it makes sense to distance yourself from them and create a deliberately nourishing and nurturing environment-at least during the initial stages of transformation. The caterpillar won’t turn into a butterfly unless it has a cocoon. Leaving the old familiar ways requires self-confidence, however, and that can be a Catch 22.

My self-esteem grew gently with bodily purification. Inspired by a brilliant shiatsu massage I followed the advice of my practitioner and radically changed my diet. I cut out red meat, sugar and dairy products and called myself macrobiotic. My avoidance of sugar instantly did much to mellow my emotional excesses and curb my abuse of alcohol.

The amazing healing I experienced through that first and subsequent shiatsu treatments persuaded me that I must learn the skill for myself. My training as a shiatsu practitioner deepened my experience and understanding of the flow of life force in my body that I was experiencing in yoga nidra. In turn the rewards of yoga practices inspired me to train as a yoga teacher and   awakened my interest in meditation.  For meditation techniques I turned to Buddhism.  All these ancient Eastern tools of transformation helped to prepare me for my connection with Dr Samuel Sagan.

It is said that when you are ready your teacher appears. This was certainly true in my case. Shortly after my move to the Blue Mountains I met Samuel. He had recently arrived in Australia with the intention of founding a school of esoteric studies in the Gnostic tradition of Christianity. I attended a yoga seminar he was giving on a meditation practice for awakening the third eye. It was very clear to myself and my fellow yoga students that this newcomer was an exceptionally gifted spiritual practitioner and teacher. I lost no time in establishing a further connection with him. Given that he is the source of so much of the esoteric wisdom that I share in the book it seems appropriate to tell you more about him.

Dr Sagan’s skills and qualifications are formidable. He has a medical degree but also trained in traditional Chinese medicine with a Taoist Master. He studied sanskrit at the Sorbonne (He is French born) and has acted as a translator for Hindu and Tibetan Masters visiting Europe. Above all however, he is a spiritual giant, a visionary.  He radiates an extraordinary vibrancy. When I first met him I was still a sceptic around non-physical phenomena. Auras and psychic abilities were well outside my field of experience. I was totally taken aback by one early encounter when I actually saw a halo of brilliant light around him. He has spent years in full time meditation. His clairvoyance is indisputable. His knowledge, both sacred and profane is truly vast. His output in terms of books and tapes and videos and lectures over the last twenty years is formidable. Not only is he a scholarly authority on the great philosophers and sacred texts East and West, but he actually designs his own computer programs. Nothing technological daunts him.  Intellectually he is undoubtedly a genius. Not surprisingly, his school has been a phenomenal success. He now has hundreds of dedicated students, not only in Australia but across the world, working with his techniques and with the energy of his tradition. I am deeply grateful for his guidance and inspiration on my journey of spiritual awakening. Through him I have come to realise that if you are to bathe safely in the life giving energies of the Infinite it is important to give your spiritual aspirations sacred roots. Serious exploration of the inner realms can unleash powerful energies and should not be undertaken without the guidance of a spiritual master and an authentic spiritual lineage.

 

ACKNOWLEDGING THE DIVINE BELOVED

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.

The Soul that rises in us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come…

 

Wordsworth

Something within us, which for want of a better word we can call our soul, houses a seed of the Divine or some memory of It and yearns for re-union. For years I was like a fish out of water, an exile, until I reawakened my repressed mystical sensitivities. Once I allowed my soul to seek solace in the Divine Beloved I began to live with a sense of an inner connection with something grander, more sublime, more real than my little self or ego. The concept of a dual self is found again and again in myths and stories,  Distinguished American mystic Ralph Waldo Emerson called the Divine “other” the “oversoul”. His reflections on his experience of it in early childhood resonates with my own:

 

I recognize the distinction of the outer and inner self; the double consciousness that within this erring passionate, mortal self sits a supreme, calm immortal mind, whose powers I do not know; but it is stronger than It is wiser than I; it never approved me in any wrong; I seek counsel of it in my doubts; I repair to it in my dangers; I pray to it in my undertakings. It seems to me the face which the Creator uncovers to his child. (Quoted in Wei 1982 :122)

 

When I first read this passage I was reminded of the inner friend I had as a child whom I called Gillian. She was everything I wanted to be-wise and kind and exceptionally skilled in everything she did. When I was playing a ball game for example I would know when “she” had taken over. It felt so right. I lost touch with her around the age of ten. It was about that time that I moved into my religious phase and began to sense the Presence of Christ in my life. He became the Beloved of my soul,  the face which the Creator uncovers to his child”.

With the help of spiritual practices, the inner relationship with the Divine begins to blossom. We begin to emulate the Divine Beloved. We begin to embody the Transcendent. (The Dalai Lama has spoken of the aim of life as being to “embody the Transcendent”)  The love has of course been with us from the beginning but for most of us a journey of self-discovery through personal pandemonium is required before we are able to lift the veil of ego and taste the fullness of that love:

 

As the owl opens his eyes all night to the moon,

we live as the great one and little one.

This love between us goes back to the first human;

it cannot be annihilated. (Kabir 1977:7)

The whole concept of what it means to be religious or spiritual is transformed once we begin to actually experience the Divine Other instead of merely having faith in, or believing in, some notion of “God”. What I now call the Beloved of my soul manifests most tangibly as inner Light and an all-encompassing love that awakens causeless joy-a joy unmoved by the vicissitudes of life. An experience of the Beloved of the soul is a holistic experience that transcends thought. It is felt viscerally uniting body and mind.

 

God guard me from those thoughts I think

In the mind alone,

He that sings a lasting song

Thinks in a marrowbone.

W.B Yeats

Expressed one way or another, a spiritual awakening is an endless opening to the Beloved, allowing more and more of the exquisite energy of the Divine Other to flow through and guide the little self: “I live, yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me” (St Paul). For the Christian, Christ is the Beloved of the soul.  It is an awakening that moves us into the service of the greater good.  If an encounter with the Divine Beloved, fails to enrich in some way our capacity for human love then we must question its authenticity as an experience of Divinity:

 

…contact with the Divine Lover is never complete until some other human being feels more loved and cherished as a result of that contact . . . .you cannot love the Beloved of the soul without increasing your capacity for loving another human being. (Father Morton Kelsey 1987:133)

 

THE INNER QUEST

 

Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rue

From outward things, whate’er you may believe.

There is an innermost centre in us all,

Where truth abides in fullness. . . and to know

Rather consists in opening out a way,

Where the imprisoned splendour may escape,

Than in effecting entry for a light

Supposed to be without.

Robert Browning  (Paracelsus 1835)

 

There is no well-trodden way to spiritual awakening but there is no escaping the inner journey in our process of transformation. The poet’s words here are so profound. They carry the message that, contrary to commonly perceived thinking, the inner journey does not isolate us from the world but enriches our participation in the world by “opening out a way where the imprisoned splendour may escape.” Everything in the manifest universe is bringing forth in its beingness, the Divine Light that is both its Source and sustenance. This is the essence of our new story. The uncreated Light shines forth into the world through all its wondrous creations and becomes conscious of itself in the transpersonal human.

Our evolution into that story requires us to awaken skills for plumbing the inner depths of our psyche. Only then will we be able to perceive the universe and our relationship with it in a radically different, more sensitive and harmonious way. Our masculine dominated culture worships externality and the conscious realm of the rational-the horizontal dimension of consciousness. There is nothing wrong with thought and reason and analysis. They are remarkable tools but they become dangerous if they are severed from the vertical dimension of consciousness-from our inner depths and heights. It is through the vertical dimension that we liberate the imprisoned splendor that is the Beloved of the soul. Without an inner spiritual  connection we can do nothing more than drift aimlessly on the ocean of existence. In the words of Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna “The winds of grace are always blowing but to catch them we have to raise our sails.” 

Each person has to have the courage to lose themselves in the unchartered territory of the inner realms and learn to surrender to the winds of Grace. This is another reason why it is so important to find, someone whose authority rests on an authentic spiritual tradition and who therefore understands something of the perils of your journey and can monitor the progress you are making. The key to success, as with anything that is worth doing, is undoubtedly practise, practise and more practise. Brother Wayne Teasdale uncompromisingly agrees:

 

Without a spiritual practice of some kind, spirituality is a hollow affair. It has no substance and is reduced to the formalism of external religiosity. Daily spiritual practice is the ‘technology’ of inner change. Without it, such change is inconceivable. (Ibid: 128)

 

Spiritual practices require discipline, dedication and persistence in the face of adversity and disappointment and pain. This is understood in all spiritual traditions. The message of my story however, is that it is great deal more painful to live without spiritual connection.  As the journey progresses, the rewards far outweigh the hardships. And there are always spiritual allies on hand.

Let us be clear on this. There can be no vitality, no joy, no emotional resilience, no lasting sense of well being, no dancing to the music of creation, without an inner journey that leads you to your mystical centre- your Buddha nature, your Christ consciousness, the Beloved of the soul, God or simply Consciousness with a capital “C”. Call it what you will:

 

The goal of the hero trip down to the jewel point is to find those levels in the psyche that open, open, open, and finally open to the mystery of your Self being, Buddha consciousness or the Christ. That’s the journey. (Campbell 1991: 23.)

 

And make no mistake about it, if, one way or another, our spiritual  yearning is repressed, the universe will conspire with our soul to make life difficult for us.. The negative behaviours and emotional reactions that sabotage our lives can so often  be understood in this way. They are nothing less than manifestations of the repressed energies of our Unique( divine)  Self yearning for liberation, yearning to be expressed as your true story. It is a theme powerfully elaborated upon by Marc Gafni

 

 

Until the story of your life is lived, you will go on desperately yearning for it. When your desperate yearning is not nourished by the Eros of your story, it devolves to desperate craving, which is filled by the pseudo Eros of addiction……. Once you have realized and integrated your shadow, which is your unlived life, the shadow qualities lose their raison d’etre and begin to drop away. (ibid:205)

 

 

 

FLOWING WITH THE TAO

 

Nothing in nature is so lovely and so vigorous, so perfectly at home in its environment as a fish in the sea … We take it out and at once a poor, limp, dull thing, fit for nothing, is gasping away its life.

 Evelyn Underhill (1904)

 

The idea that a spiritual connection brings a feeling of flow into existence is well expressed and understood in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. The Tao is the eternal harmony of all things in all places and all times. It is “the intelligence which shapes the world with a skill beyond our understanding” (AlanWatts).  It is the vitality and power that is the energy of the universe. When you are flowing in the current of the Eternal Tao you are like the fish in the ocean. You are tapping into that power. Life begins to abound with synchronicities. You find yourself to be in the right place at the right time. You go through the doors that open for you. Suffering on the other hand arises when you lose touch with your spiritual roots and hence with your natural role in the intrinsic order of existence. You lose touch with the Tao.

For nigh on twenty years of my adult life I disconnected from those life giving energies causing unecessary suffering to myself and loved ones and greatly diminishing my capacity to be a creative and caring human being. I am convinced that this was in no small measure a consequence of my Western education and cultural conditioning. In my search for wholeness and healing I had to look beyond my Western heritage and discover spiritual wisdom and spiritual practices from other traditions. Thanks to Samuel and in no small measure to my early love of Christ, I have since returned to my Christian roots, my Christian tower, with a whole new appreciation of its hidden mysticism and its core message of love.

My story will I know be understood by many as reflecting the story of our Western culture. With its intellectual and technological successes Western culture is rapidly becoming a global culture but it is like a fish out of water. It has severed its connection with the Tao, with the sublime mystery that is the universe. It is a disconnection that has led to our shocking abuse of nature. We are in the throes of a cultural mid-life crisis that is calling for a spiritual revolution.

Writing over forty years ago the Jesuit priest and scientist Teilhard de Chardin warned that humankind was fast approaching a time when it would have to commit itself to either worship or suicide. The onus is on each and every one of us to hoist our sails, not just for the sake of our own sanity but, more importantly, to help humanity flow in the current of the eternal Tao.

 

 

 

Big History

Brian Swimme’s “short version” of Big History:

“It’s really simple. here’s the whole story in one line. This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: You take hydrogen gas, you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.”

Food for thought!!

At this time in history, when consciousness finds itself in a race against catastrophe, it is imperative that humankind takes a massive stride of soul into a new story, a new way of seeing not just ourselves but the universe in which we are embedded.  We need to begin to experience ourselves as something infinitely grander than a mere mammalian biped occupying a miniscule corner of the cosmos. We also need to see the cosmos itself as something infinitely grander than the inert machine like entity bequeathed to us by Newtonian science.  Our new story sees us as nothing less than the evolving consciousness of a living numinous whole.

It is most important to understand that the universe we are reflecting upon is very far removed from the spiritually arid one of conventional science.   It is not being seen as an accidental conglomeration of inert matter hurtling through space and time. Our new story honors our universe as a divine, sacred, ineffable and quintessentially mysterious reality.  We are a mode of that awesome reality. Our destiny through the evolution of consciousness is to house its magnificence, to bring forth its beauty. Indeed we could well be destined to become the mind of the universe. One of the most profound visionaries of this earthquake of the mental plane is mathematician and cosmologist Brian Swimme. In his inspiring  telling of our new story he speaks of three great macrophase transitions:

THE THREE MACROPHASE TRANSITIONS 

 Man is evolution becoming conscious of itself.

                                                                                    Julian Huxley

In his telling the story of evolution as science now understands it, Swimme conveys a sense of an unfolding of possibilities as though it was all a delightful Divine dance of energy. The dance began with the “Big Bang” or what Swimme refers to as  “the primordial fireball” ( “Think in terms of  a ‘bang’”  he comments, “and you think of shrapnel and it is not like that at all !”)   In the early steps, there was light.  Photons dominated our evolutionary destiny. Matter was there but only as a passenger, “specks of dust in the midst of a tornado of light”.  After 300,000 years however the universe experienced what Swimme refers to as its first macrophase transformation – matter came into its own. It starts organizing itself forming helium and hydrogen atoms. These give rise to the stars and galaxies and eventually, four billion years ago, to the planet Earth.

On the Earth, matter organizes itself into the lithosphere, the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. The intereactions of these determine the evolutionary dynamics of the planet for the next 2 billion years.  In that time a living cell pops up. At first like, matter in the early universe, it seems to be only there for the ride- an accidental, innocuous epiphenomenon.  It is extremely fragile. If it is too hot it dies if its too cold it dies.  Eventually however, it is powerful enough to alter the atmosphere by bringing significant amounts of oxygen into it which in turn throws the Earth into a huge ice age.  What was fragile and insignificant has become a power on a par with the atmosphere and lithosphere and hydrosphere. The biosphere emerged as the second great macrophase transformation in the evolutionary dynamics of our universe.

Four million years ago a primate stands up.  The early hominid Australopithecus emerges- “a four foot hairy guy doing what he has to do to survive”.  In terms of the evolutionary dynamics of the planet he is a totally insignificant creature. He is there for the ride. We now live in the time of the third great macrophase transition however. That hominid presence in the form of Homo Sapiens has become fundamental to the evolutionary dynamics of the planet alongside the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. There is not a single species on the planet at this time that is not affected in some way by humans. There is scarcely a single atom that is not in some way affected by us. Our impact on the lithosphere, atmosphere and biosphere is so dramatic that we are now threatening the entire life support system of the planet.

In Darwin’s time, the primary shaping force of life was natural selection. This is no longer the case. Humans are now the primary shaping force. Darwinian theory only applied up until the 20th century. This is an astounding fact to get into our consciousness. We are the third great macrophase transformation. Mind, consciousness, has come into its own in human form.  The responsibility of that, once we grasp it is awesome indeed.

Unfortunately at this early stage of its evolution, consciousness is far from adequate for that responsibility. Homo Sapiens has great difficulty in even acknowledging that it has a serious survival problem on its hands.  Our capacity for denial on this issue is very much a part of the problem.  Our mind is a primate mind. It is geared to a primate agenda, primarily concerned with the survival of its own genes in the form of the local group. In our emotional bonding, for example, we focus on parents and offspring and siblings. That primate mind is also geared to its own survival in its consumption of natural resources. In its transit across the globe Homo Sapiens left in its wake untold species destruction, including the total extinction of the magnificant megafauna such as the Woolly mammoth and saber -toothed tiger. (Our precise role in this extinction remains controversial but it is known that we herded them over cliffs in our hunting exploits)  In our settling down period (known as the Neolithic revolution around 10,000 years ago) we greatly expanded our numbers with irrigation strategies, and deforestation for the cultivation of crops.

There has been no restraint built into this process of destruction and consumption. There was no need for it. As Swimme puts it  “There was never any sense of ‘enough’ built into our DNA”.  Our long habituated unrestrained greed for natural resources is now matched by the destructive power of the machinery used to deliver them to us.

Our minds have been shaped by natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years to give us advantages as one species among many. We developed brilliant strategies in that regard which is why we have become so powerful. However, as strategies for the survival of the whole they are ruinous and it is the whole of life that we are now impacting upon.

Scientist agree that humankind is the greatest disaster to hit the planet in 65 million years (the time of the demise of the dinosaurs).  The news that will not go away is that we are bringing to an end a whole geological era, that of the Cainozoic.(2) Quite an achievement.  Offering a little light relief on this heavy topic, Swimme surmises that in years to come, hominids will be reflecting on our time and comment that it was the time when “a strange species known as the ‘American consumer’ managed to knock out the Cainozoic”

A graphic way of getting a handle on the exponential acceleration of our macrophase power is to imagine filming the planet from outer space over the last 10000 years and then speed the film up to play for ten minutes (one minute per 1000 years). Nothing much would happen for seven and a half minutes. Changes after that would be gradual and scarcely significant but in the last two and a half seconds (since 1950) it would look as though a storm of locusts had descended upon the planet. Swimme                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      brilliantly sums up our current crisis by saying that we now have macrophase power but are endeavoring to organize it in terms of a microphase mind.  That microphase mind is our localized, primate mind.  It has served us well but our challenge now is to transcend it and develop and sustain a consciousness more appropriate to our macrophase power.  In other words we have to evolve a macrophase mind and  macrophase wisdom. This will be the largest stride of soul folk ever took. I will share Swimmes reflections on it in my next blog.

Consciousness v Catastrophe

“There is now a single issue before us: survival.
Not merely physical survival, but survival in a world of fulfillment,
survival in a living world, where the violets bloom in the springtime,
where the stars shine down in all their mystery,
survival in a world of meaning.”

—Thomas Berry

In November 1992, a few months after the Earth Summit in Rio, a document entitled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ was released. It was signed by more than sixteen hundred senior scientists from across the globe, including over half of all Nobel Prize winners. They listed the crises in global pollution, deforestation, biodiversity and human overpopulation and warned that:

No more than a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished…. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievable mutilated.

Two decades have passed and although there is certainly a greater recognition of the dangers of climate change there is still a stunning complacency around the severity of its impact. Proposed solutions tend to be bandaids rather than radical responses to root causes. For example, economic growth is still seen as being the cure for all ills. The notion of economic sustainability remains well outside our political agendas. We continue our daily pursuit of consumerist inspired happiness with little or no recognition of the need for restraint in the use of the Earth’s precious resources.  We are like the passengers on the Titanic who were so blissfully confident that the ship was unsinkable that when it hit the iceberg they carried on dressing for dinner and playing bridge. Panic set in later; ss Earth has struck the iceberg of Western civilization. The impact of our Western lifestyle and technology on the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecosystem has been compared with that of a collision with a giant meteor. Life as we know it is under serious threat.

Our denial of this reality is aided by the fact that the effects are gradual rather than catastrophic. This allows us to exhibit what we might call the ‘frog effect”; a frog, if placed in warm water that is heated slowly will sit there and literally boil to death. However, if it is placed in hot water it will have the sense to leap out and save itself.

Our denial is also assisted by the cleverness of our technology. We can create artificial environments that help to delude us into believing that it’s business as usual. We can tell ourselves that, one way or another, our wondrous technology will avert catastrophe without our having to unduly modify our consumer driven lifestyles.

Our material comforts and high tech distractions numb our senses and encourages us to believe that we are indestructible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many civilizations lie buried beneath the ravages of time destroyed by human greed and corruption and no doubt every one of them succumbed to the frog effect. What is critically different about Western civilization is not its indestructibility but its capacity to destroy. Never before has a civilisation dominated the entire planet.  Never before has a civilisation threatened the survival of the planet. And, above all, never before has a civilisation lost touch with a sense of the sacredness of the natural world.

On the positive side, the failure of our Western culture and democracy to meet the challenges arising in our time could well be the catalyst for a dramatic shift in human consciousness, an earthquake of the mental plane.

 

In the words of poet Christopher Fry:

 

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The largest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul sized

The enterprise

Is exploration into God.

Where are you making for? It takes

So many thousand years to wake,

But will you wake for pity’s sake

[A sleep of Prisoners. Quoted in Houston 1982: Preface]

 

Affairs indeed are now ‘soul sized’. They call for a giant evolutionary step into a new way of seeing and feeling and being. It is delusional to believe that the problems besetting us can be solved by the same worldview or model of reality that created them.

We desperately need  new model of reality, a new story for humanity that will rescues us from the meaningless abyss of scientific materialism and mindless consumerism.  We are beginning to see that new story  being forged in the midst of crisis across many different disciplines.  Our new story, totally compatible with scientific discoveries and ancient spiritual wisdom, is that our universe is a sublime living evolving interconnected whole that is becoming conscious of itself through us. Our new story places consciousness not material progress centre stage in our evolutionary journey.  It is a story that transcends the separation of mind and matter, psyche and cosmos, inside and outside.

Arising from our new story and waiting to be awakened collectively is a consciousness that transcends the fear driven agendas of the ego, a consciousness that can experience the subtle interconnectedness of everything, and that honours the sacredness of the universe.  Above all a consciousness that will move us to serve the earth community with wisdom, compassion and humility. This awakened state of being is no longer the prerogative of the saint and the shaman. It is the evolutionary birthright of every one of us and the time to claim it is now “When wrong comes up to face us everywhere”.

Finally, the evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern, however incompletely, the lineaments of the new religion that…will arise to serve the needs of the coming era”.

—Julian Huxley: (grandson of Thomas Huxley, the biologist who supported Darwin)

 

(Blogs to follow on the  Big History of the evolution of the cosmos  and on  cultural evolution, including  Western aberrations.)

The Consciousness Revolution

Consciousness is the basis of all life and the field of all possibilities. Its nature is to expand and unfold its full potential. The impulse to evolve is thus inherent in the very nature of life.
Maharishi MaheshYogi

For more than thirty years now I have been exploring religious traditions and different techniques of meditation and have found the mystical heart of all of them to be uplifting and transforming including the Christianity of my childhood. This has made it very hard for me to put any sort of label on my religious affiliations. In recent years however I been more than happy to call myself a spiritual evolutionary in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo(1) in the East and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin(2) in the West.

Evolutionary spirituality celebrates what has become known as our Big History. It is the epic story of evolution from the formation of galaxies and the origin of life, to the development of consciousness and culture.

A rapidly growing community of spiritual seekers across the planet are finding inspiration from the new cosmology that tells the astounding story of the evolution  of our staggeringly vast  universe  out of nothing 13.7 billion years ago.  All the riches of planet earth: elephants, butterflies, Mozart, Shakespeare and you and I and the world wide web have all emerged from  the energy of that initial event.

It is a story that is now familiar to most of us but it is not always appreciated just how new it is. A mere two centuries ago Charles Darwin introduced the notion of biological evolution and it was only in the late 1920s, when Edwin Hubble with his telescope found evidence for the expansion of the cosmos, that the idea that the entire universe might be evolving was entertained. It wasn’t until the 1970s that sufficient evidence had accrued for cosmologists to embrace what had become known as the Big bang theory of the origin of the universe.

I find it hard to comprehend how anyone becoming aware our evidence based Big History and contemplating the vastness and sublime beauty of the cosmos is not moved to acknowledge the spiritual mystery at the heart of it all.  The story of cosmic evolution is a story of creative abundance. As a spiritual evolutionary I believe that creativity, manifesting as a never ending quest for greater consciousness and complexity, to be propelled by an evolutionary force that manifests in each and everyone of us: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, drives my blood” (Dylan Thomas). “The love that moves the sun and other stars (Dante). And it is a force that is purposeful. It is taking us somewhere. It is seems ludicrous to me to believe, as the Darwinian materialists do, that an organism as complex as a human being could have evolved through mere random fluctuations in the arrangement of inert matter. It has been said to be about as likely as a wind sweeping through a junkyard and assembling by chance a Boeing 747!

Spiritual evolutionaries see the universe from the microcosm to the macrocosm as having some form of consciousness. In other words consciousness does not emerge as an accidental epiphenomenon of matter but is the very essence of matter. When Teilhard de Chardin expressed such ideas in the mid 20th century they were dismissed by conventional science as being religious hocus pocus but revelations around the curious behaviour of subatomic particles has forced some revisions in that regard. For example, physicist Freeman Dyson has said:

I think our consciousness is not just a passive epiphenomenon carried along by the chemical events of our brains, but as an active agent forcing the molecular complexes to make choices between one quantum sate and another. In other words, mind is already inherent in every electron. (quoted in Combs 2002:73)

Big History is the first origin story in human history that we can all share and which is based on evidence not faith. Evolutionary spirituality holds the promise of transcending cultural and religious differences uniting humanity in a shared perception of where we have come from, where we may yet go and what really matters.

There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.

I highly recommend a recently publishes book by Carter Phipps entitled “Evolutionaries:Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea.  Extremely well written coverage of the history of evolutionary ideas and their pressing relevance to us all at this time . Quote:

As the fog of fixity lifts, we are finding ourselves much more then observers and witnesses to life’s grand unfolding drama. We are influential actors, newly aware of the immense tides that are shaping the world within and without, just becoming cognizant of our own freedom- and immense responsibility.” (p.30)

Carter Phipps edited the magazine EnlightenNext  and is a long term student of evolutionary guru Andrew Cohen.

Hopefully this is a book that will  be very significant in bringing evolutionary spirituality and what is known as the “Integral Movement” into mainstream where it desperately needs to be.