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:


 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.

Residential Weekends on Evolutionary Spirituality

“Evolutionary Spirituality is evolution inspired, world embracing, and future-oriented. It is a creative, anticipatory spiritual path in which salvation, however we define that word, is to be found not in connection to the ancestral spirits of yesteryear, in promises of a heavenly beyond, in achieving a transcendent state of inner peace, or even in letting go into a timeless present, but in fully embracing the emergent potential contained in the depths of an evloving cosmos.”

Carter Phipps (Evolutionaries)

Since  my first encounter with the spiritual perspective of cosmologist Brian Swimme on our evolutionary story(back in the mid nineties) I have been absorbing the teachings of what has grown to be an evolutionary spirituality movement.  I have grown to have the deepest respect and admiration for  the integrity and  breadth of knowledge of its many leading teachers. They are all forging a new worldview for the twenty first century- one that integrates the wisdom and practices of all the ancient spiritual traditions with our Western expertise in science and psychology. My enthusiasm for the movement is such that I have now set up the infra structure on my 40 acre property in Northern NSW to be able to modestly accommodate a small group of interested folk ( max 10) for residential weekends exploring the  personal and planetary impact of these  inspiring new teachings.

The weekend practices will include yoga and meditation and relaxation sessions but I also plan on sharing  on-line talks from one or two of the leading teachers of the movement . These I hope will inspire stimulating discussion  and reflection. Significant teachers for me( in addition to Brian Swimme) have been Marc Gafni and his teachings on the Unique Self,  Craig Hamilton and his transcendence of ego process in an evolutionary context,  Terry Patten’s “Integral Spirituality” , EnlightenNext guru Andrew Cohen ( his recent book Evolutionary Enlightenment has become an international best seller) and founding mother of the movement, Barbara Marx Hubbard She offers ACE trainings ( agents of conscious evolution) on line that I can highly recommend. All these teachers and many others are now offering free seminars and  reasonably priced on line courses that connect you with like minded folk across the planet. The interconnecting power of the web for this sort of thing is extraordinary.  Other luminaries of the movement include the ebullient Jean Houston ( sacred psychology) Donald Neale Walsh ( Conversations with God) and Deepak Chopra as well as the ever present Einstein of consciousness Ken Wilber.

There is so much rich material that my challenge will be to select the best for the purposes of inspiring newcomers to these ideas. Please understand however that it is not my intention to encourage “heady” intellectual argument. We will be creating a sacred space of communion helped in no small measure by  the magical  land energies of Pemavalley. My hope is to bring a small group of people into a sufficiently deep state of  heartfelt connection with what we call the “Evolutionary Impulse”  to  experience something of the  ecstatic intimacy   Andrew Cohen speaks of:

In that higher state, carried by the evolutionary impulse there is an ecstatic intimacy that cannot be surpassed. It is a sweetness that is infinitely deeper than the experience of sexual union, personal friendship, familial connection or ethnic bonds. It is not separate individuals coming together; it is one Self delighting in consciously recognizing itself

In that state, ego agendas dissolve and one is left enthused with a desire to serve the greater good.

Our humanity is the conscious meeting place of the finite and the Infinite and to grow more and more towards that Infinite in this physical birth is our privilege.”    Sri Aurobindo

If you are interested in participating please e mail me:
Click here to enquire

Details of dates and cost etc can be found on the WORKSHOPS page

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.