“Most people don’t inhabit a living reality, but a conceptualized one." Eckhart TolleRead More
We are the Cleverest Stupidest Species
In Westernised countries the lives we live are relatively comfortable and easy. (Relative, that is, to the billions of people who live on a few pence a day. To them it’s survival. To us it’s coffee.) We go to the nearest shopping centre (temple) to pick up our groceries, maybe buy a package holiday and ogle at some gadgets. We have ample time to worship the gods of consumerism but no time to recreate our souls. Social progress or standing is linked to the attainment of material possessions. The supply chain is finely tuned to deliver our dreams. High fat foods and glitter allow us to escape for a while. Yet, high percentages of patients visiting GPs are ‘depressed’. They find it hard to cope with life. Many people feel lonely and are not part of any meaningful community. We have high rates of suicide and an increasingly obese population. A lot of us are dying to get away from it all.
It’s left brain (masculine) thinking, with no thought to mortality, which has delivered this Nirvana. Systemisation, problem solving, dealing in facts and applying logic (all good things in their place) have given us supply chain economics. We are all going to live forever so there is no need to worry about the massive fossil fuel subsidy which allows this system to exist. Nor need we worry about the mono cultures which are created by industrialised farming to feed us. (These are effectively ecological deserts, maintained by chemical fertilizers, and devoid of diverse insect and wildlife populations.) If you buy cheap clothing someone probably got exploited. The price is always paid somewhere down the line.
Any proponent of the Transition movement (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/) will tell you about the problem of Peak Oil. There are still lots of hydrocarbons down there but they are becoming exponentially more expensive to extract (and they will out run out). To me nothing sums up how stupid mankind is more than the rush to exploit the oil reserves in the Arctic. More of the same for profit. Really? We are the cleverest stupidest species on the planet.
You May Travel Faster Alone but Ask Yourself: “Where am I going?”
The Enlightenment gave us permission to prioritise our rational mind over soul and spirit. Well, we are where we are. I am not proposing that to bring balance we need to prioritize right brain thinking – creative, intuitive, reflective ,subjective (all good things in their place) for the next 300 years. We need both. For me personally I have difficulty in resolving the dichotomy of left brain/right brain. It is a duality within. Part of life’s work is to balance our creative and systematic self which gives us access to a deeper purpose and meaning. It is contemplating and acting. It is creativity and production for a higher purpose than mere personal gain, ego enhancement or profit. Currently we are using up resources, through market economics, without proper reflection. We create and maintain systems which are not healthy for the Earths inhabitants or its’ future generations.
Can we find common purpose with other people where each brings and offers the unique gift we have uncovered on life’s journey? Dare we think that as maturing individuals we might actually affect and change things for the better? There is a challenge here to the individual but it also makes sense that we can only find a real balance and fulfilment in finding, interacting with and serving our community. You may travel faster alone but ask yourself: “Where am I going?” Its clichéd, but I think it’s true. We will only really arrive anywhere meaningful if we are part of and contributing to something bigger than ourselves.
Ewan Mealyou continues the series Dislocation of soul and modern life...
It should be the baldest truism to say that people are not merely units of resource on balance sheets, but alas that is exactly how they are being treated in the planning and financing of higher education in too many parts of the developed world.”
A.C. Grayling in www.universityworldnews.com
“Education (instead) has become an institution whose purpose in the modern world is not to make culture, not to serve the living cosmos, but to harness humankind to the dead forces of materialism. Education as we know it, from preschool through graduate school, damages the soul.”
From “Facing the World with Soul” Robert Sardello
Education + Economics = Social Control?
We often hear it said that children and young people should grow up to be useful members of society. No one actually stops to define what ‘useful’ means in this context, but we know it’s something to do with being a net contributor to the economy, and not breaking the law. I have heard a teacher echo these sentiments recently, about helping ‘problem’ children in the secondary education system.
It’s part of the process whereby our society turns its citizens into units of economic production (workers) and economic consumption (consumers). These constraints are built into our lives almost from the beginning. We need to be useful and we need to spend. It’s death to the soul, but it’s how the system works. That’s why any politician, of almost any hue, is talking about economic growth. I find this profoundly depressing.
Does a person need to be useful?
Money is always found for science and engineering, new drugs to sell, new products to create and new bridges to keep the traffic moving. These are the engines of progress and clever people are needed to turn the levers. What about the arts, literature, philosophy, history, theology? Subjects that should allow space for consideration of the human condition and the soul. I think graduates from these disciplines find themselves serving the economy soon enough.
Progress is not wrong in itself. I confess myself in awe of steam engines and men walking on the moon. However, if the master progress serves is materialism, we are consumed from the day we are born. But what if progress served mans soul? Our lives would be different. I leave you to wonder how and why.
Does a person need to be useful? I don’t believe that. We need to ‘be’. Not at a superficial level. We need to ‘be’ at the level of our calling. I think people like that change everything around them for the better. Now that would be useful.
Pittsburgh 1874, Otto Krebs
Ewan Mealyou writes...
The Cost of Prosperity
We are a very successful species. In the last 10,000 years we have developed highly effective technologies, social and religious structures to exploit the opportunities, and deal with the challenges, that are an inherent part of living on Planet Earth. Shelter, food and energy, bring security, while culture & spirituality bring meaning to our lives.
However, as we proceed into the 21st century it is apparent that the opportunities afforded by these advances are not available to all. Despite man’s astonishing progress the largest portion of the planets population live in poverty and subsist on meagre incomes which deny them security and curtail cultural and spiritual development. Our industrial systems, which bring short term benefits to (largely) Westernised economies, are highly destructive to the environments and natural systems that humans, and all other species, depend on to survive and thrive. Current economic systems, dependent on growth and expansion, are unsustainable in a world of finite resource. Animal, vegetable and mineral resources are exploited, depleted – lost, and poor people in poor nations look at this ‘prosperity’ and rightly ask why they can’t have it too.
Many look at the Industrial Revolution and see it as the source of this trouble. It was the time when the division of mass labour to produce goods efficiently became possible, drawing families from the countryside to work in the industrial centres. There was a massive exploitation of other peoples’ labour to accumulate capital into the hands of a few. (It’s still happening today.) The price paid for this was a loss of agrarian communities and a fundamental dislocation from the seasons, the weather, the Earth. Then, as now, the true cost is not reflected in the retail price of the product. However, much of the life we now know would not be possible without the advancement it brought. Like it or not, as children of the industrial age, we have to live with a paradox.
Downsize, Move Out, Drop Out?
It is this paradox that is at the centre of the environmental debate today. We are living beyond our means but unable to change because our political and industrial structures won’t allow it. By and large, because we humans tend to be short term thinkers, we ignore these bigger problems, and do our recycling. It can seem a hopeless and dispiriting task to think of changing much else. I admire the activists who have the energy and vision to keep going. Most of us don’t get started.
So how do you and I grapple with it? Downsize, move out and drop out? Possibly, but this is probably self serving, and it won’t necessarily change us deeply or have an impact on our society. Maybe we start to ask. What happened (is happening) to our souls? What are the voices of our grandfathers and ancestors saying, or warning us about?
I want my activism to grow out of finding my soul again, and this is a journey inward. If we travel this way we might come back with a gift to our community, which impacts other souls, and helps us all to connect to deeper truths. The fruit of this? Fulfilled lives, simply lived I hope - which may be the antidote to conspicuous consumption. I think going on this journey is to take part in what Jesus called the Kingdom.
“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” C.J. Jung
It makes faith a very small country indeed.
When we are young in our faith (whatever that faith may be) the necessary questions we ask are ‘What must I believe?’ and ‘How do I believe it?’ In essence, what are the rules? Bearing in mind that many in our modern world do not have any faith engagement this is a worthwhile place to be. It provides us with foundations, a necessary set of rules and a marker to find our place on the map. It’s black and white thinking but it is good. We grow some understanding of faith and look at some wider fundamental questions about our existence and the meaning of life.
But many never get beyond this stage. There is security in the faith group we are born into (or adopted by). The language and rituals of our chosen subculture are underpinned by belief in a shared ‘truth’. This ‘truth’ becomes monolithic. Questioning it will see you moved to the edge of the group and eventually you will probably jump or be shoved. This is because the groups’ continued existence depends on maintaining that edifice, even if it makes faith a very small country indeed.
Tribalism pulls us down at all levels
So it’s time to move on, but many will not question or leave, because of the security and comfort the group brings. Some, though physically present on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday (please delete as appropriate), are metaphorically travelling the back lanes and rocky shores (turning over stones to see what crawls out). They are wanderers on their way to some sort of desert experience. Others may ‘lose’ their faith at this point or be sidelined as heretics or backsliders. These happenings are all part of a faith transition which makes room for doubt, critical analysis, questioning and deeper spiritual growth. It takes some courage to go there, but this journey is essential to get us beyond dualistic thinking.
This type of thinking opens our minds to wonder at our place in it all – insignificant but important – a paradox at the centre of our existence as individuals and a species. Failure to reach a point where we can embrace paradox is a failure to even begin growing up. It could be said that the human race still behaves like a spoilt teenager, making a mess of everything – economically, environmentally and socially. Being altogether too big for our boots we have failed to realise that our unique and special gifts are ours to serve the Earth community, not to rule it. Tribalism – identity with my ‘right’ group - pulls us down at all levels – government, group or family. We need seers and wise elders to incorporate life transitions correctly into our group settings. Unfortunately it is often people with this potential that get excluded first and are lost to the process.
“Our unique little bit of heaven is installed by the Manufacturer within the product, at the beginning! We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it, and to live our own destiny to the full. If we do not, our True Self will never be offered again, in our own unique form – which is perhaps why almost all religious traditions present the matter with utterly charged words like “heaven” and “hell”.”
The Dog and Cucumber Seed
They have been looking, but are apparently yet to find, a dog that is self aware. One that looks in a mirror and knows itself as ‘Rover’ and not as ‘dog’. I hope they never find one. I just want the dog to be doing its thing, unburdened by the search for meaning. Cucumber seeds are definitely not self aware but they know what they are doing. If they germinate, and find favourable conditions, they throw out leaves and tendrils and produce flowers and fruit, fulfilling the calling of a cucumber seed.
It also helps us to find favourable conditions when we are small - love, warmth, food, security and affirmation. Otherwise we may spend our whole lives looking for these and never get to grips with the real purpose of our journey, a search for the unique core of ourselves. This is what James Hillman refers to as the ‘daimon’, the distilled essential essence which is the kernel of who we are. Surely this is what the psalmist is revealing when he writes in Psalm 139 ”All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV)
This isn’t faux Saturday night TV
The paradox here (and isn’t there always one of those) is that we have to search our ‘True Self’ out, live it, agree with it and embrace it. It won’t just happen, and it’s a place of risk, loss and failure as well as fulfilment. In fact, isn’t God sometimes absolutely delighted with our failure? Not because He wants to see us hurt, but because we need to move on. Life, crucifixion, death and resurrection, with Jesus the exemplar. This story of transformation is constantly played out around us in the natural world, in the lives of others and in all good stories and myths. Why should it be any different for you or me?
You already know this isn’t a faux, Saturday night TV “tragic back story, live your dream, be all you can be”, kind of thing. (Although aren’t they reaching for something?).This stuff is fundamental to a fulfilled, whole life, and a good death. Yet living in fear that we will miss ‘it’, is as counterproductive to us finding ‘it’, as Rover chasing his tail. This is surely where faith and trust are vital for us. Faith that we are guided, trust that our experiences are never wasted. If we search we will find, even if we often feel lost.
Ewan Mealyou writes...
I recently returned from a family holiday in Assynt in the North West of Scotland. I know this area well, revisiting a number of times in the last 20 years.Read More