Scotland trip report
Many of you responded with considerable energy to the ‘trip report’. I will be doing some responding on a personal basis, and I think it is appropriate to mostly respond by expanding on the ideas.
People seemed to get the impression that I had made a big shift, as regards spirituality. In a certain sense, that may be true, but not in the sense one might assume from all that ‘stuff’ about the nature of consciousness, and reality, and esoteric paths. That may offer insights into the nature of things spiritual, but the map is not the territory — it remains largely ‘head stuff’, a mental model, shadows on the cave wall.
Upon reflection, I see two ‘lessons’ that I somehow integrated, brought into somatic expression, while on the retreat. The first is that human conversation is equivalent to a game of patty-cake. A way of bouncing off one another in order to be ‘in rhythmic relationship’. The exchanges must reflect cleanly off one another, as the hands do in patty-cake, but the content may or may not be of consequence. The medium is the massage.
If one unilaterally changes the ‘significance level’ of a conversation, that breaks the balance and spoils the game. It’s called ‘being a bore’, of either the air-head variety or the pedant variety. The story of my life. Somehow when I got back to Wexford, I found myself able to play patty-cake. Is that a spiritual breakthrough? Perhaps. It was certainly something I needed on ‘the path’, something that was holding me back in various ways.
And this same lesson does show up in a Sufi story. In the Wisdom of the Idiots, I turned ‘by chance’ today to a story called “Correction”. An ignorant critic tells the teacher that he misspelled a word. The teacher changes the word accordingly. After the critic leaves, the students ask the teacher why he accepted the erroneous ‘correction’. He answers:
That was a social occasion. I applied the behaviour of culture and politeness, not the behaviour of truth, because when people want politeness and social interchange, they cannot stand truth. Only stupid people and pedants imagine that their duty is to instruct everyone, when the motive of the people is generally not to seek instruction, but to attract attention.
The other lesson, one that takes longer to integrate, is about becoming oriented with the ‘parallel path’. The Sufi path is in fact a parallel path, but I didn’t see it, because of the esoteric nature of many of the stories. It always seemed to me that one would need to master the esoteric before really being on the path. What I see now is that an ‘esoteric’ story is simply a signpost for a part of the path that the student hasn’t reached yet. It’s meant for later and has no value in the present, other than the encouragement of appropriate humility.
The stuff by Berman, and the Misty Path stuff, were able to convey the concept of ‘parallel’, of the path being everywhere and all the time, and every moment being equally magic. When I think of this in the context of the Sufi material, which I’ve been working with for a long time, a number of observations click into perspective. I cannot say they are ‘true’ observations, but they do feel like a kind of ‘truth’.
There is only one path for you; you are already on it, and no one else is on that path. Your whole life is your path. Being ‘on’ the path, in the spiritual sense, means being fully open to your own experiencing. Being more open may cause you to shift the nature of your experiences, into more useful practices and activities, but it is not the activities themselves that make you ‘on’ the path. It is about being open to your experience right now, á la Tolle.
Be wary of spiritual groups and spiritual leaders. How can a one-fits-all path be your path? A highway is not a path. A real teacher must first see the path you are on, before guidance can be offered. For the student, there is little to distinguish between a real teacher and a false teacher. The false teacher is more likely to say that which is appealing, and that which sounds ‘enlightened’. Truth itself is often not appealing and may appear mundane; that is why we have avoided noticing it.
The path of being a good carpenter is as holy as any other path. You do not need to switch to a ‘spiritual’ path, but to welcome the spirit that enlivens the path you are on, á la Arjuna. Anyone you meet may be your teacher. You may learn more from the bus driver, than you will in the ‘place of learning’ where he drops you off.
The next step on your path is overcoming that which is currently blocking the growth of your consciousness. You may not need to visit a holy shrine; you may need to learn how to play patty-cake. What you need can be found not in a catalog of spiritual adventures, but in the circumstances of your own life. Diagnosis precedes prescription. Pay special attention to your failures and upsets — particularly when they are ‘not your fault’ — there is always a needed lesson there for you.
There is a lot of talk these days about humanity being on the verge of a transformation of consciousness, about an evolution to a higher consciousness. I believe that is a real possibility, that there is an emergent spiritual energy afoot. However people have many pre-conceived expectations about the nature of such a transformation, expectations arising from a confused understanding of spirituality, of transformation, and of the human condition.
Consider this. How often in history have you heard about humanity rising to a higher level of consciousness? There have been real teachers and real disciples; there have been enlightened beings; there have been emergences of somatic energy at certain places and at certain times. But there has never been a species-wide transformation of consciousness, nor much in the way of a lasting transformation of consciousness on any significant scale.
If there is to be an evolution to a higher level of consciousness it will be an unprecedented happening, and we should not expect it to come in a familiar form. We must be open to being surprised. We must be open to turning a corner on the path, where a whole new vista opens before us, one that may be more like Kansas than like Oz.
When we talk about a transformation in the consciousness of humanity, that is something different than talking about the transformation of individual consciousness. And it would be a rather rash conclusion to jump to, that the transformation of humanity will emerge from the simultaneous transformation of every individual, whatever that might mean.
From the perspective of the parallel path, there is little if any meaning to the phrase ‘transformed consciousness’. That is an ascent-path concept. People can be more, or less, open to the light, and far, or not-so-far, along on their paths, but there is not a qualitative distinction between ‘transformed’ and ‘untransformed’. Atman is Brahman. Even ‘the least’ Atman, as well as ‘the lilies of the field’, are already Brahman.
In other words, we are all mortals and we will remain mortals while in this life. There will continue to be people on all stages on their paths, from sinners to saints, from the asleep to the aware. There is no magic winning line we will all cross together, after which we will all have a ‘higher level’ of consciousness. We must accept the diverse reality of the human spiritual condition.
What can it mean then, for humanity to move to a higher level of consciousness? What does it mean for humanity to have a consciousness of any kind? Is the ‘consciousness of humanity’ simply a phrase referring to all of our individual consciousnesses, or is it something else?
I find it quite interesting that people toss these kinds of phrases around, as if we all somehow agree on what they refer to. What do the speakers mean? What do the listeners think is meant? In fact, every listener goes off into their own individual fantasies of what ‘transformation’ might look like. I include myself among those listeners. And here I’d like to share another brief story from Idres Shah’s Wisdom of the Idiots…
O man! If you only knew how many of the false fantasies of the imagination were nearer to the Truth than the careful conclusions of the cautions. And how these truths are of no service until the imaginer, having done his work with the imagination, has become less imaginative.
In exploring my own fantasies of global transformation, as cyberjournal readers know, I have come to focus on certain kinds of cultural transformation, as being the appropriate vehicle for the kind of social transformation, that could deal with the crises humanity is facing at the species level.
In the new book, 2012: Crossroads for humanity, I talk about the practical stages of these cultural transformation ideas, such as the pursuit of localization and community empowerment. What that material is all about, in the context of our current discussion, is facilitating the emergence of consciousness in humanity-as-a-whole, what we might call species consciousness.
In the phrase people are tossing around, ‘humanity moving to a higher level of consciousness’, I interpret ‘humanity’ as referring to humanity as an organic entity, a conscious macro organism, that needs to move to a higher level of consciousness. Indeed, it needs to emerge into consciousness for first time.
We can understand humanity-as-conscious-entity in the microcosm, in the case, say, of an indigenous tribe. If they say they want to keep living in the rain forest, we can understand that the whole people, the whole tribe, are saying that as one. They have a sufficient degree of cultural coherence that they are able to speak as one on such a matter.
In our modern societies we don’t have that kind of cultural coherence. We cannot speak as one. And no one asks us to, because there are powerful people around who are quite happy to run things for their own benefit, and who routinely suppress upsurges of cultural coherence — such as protest demonstrations and separatist movements — with considerable vigor.
In fact our modern societies have two distinct cultures: the grassroots culture and the governance culture. The grassroots cultures lack overall coherence, and the governance cultures tend to have considerably more coherence, although at present those cultures are going through a global crisis of their own making. In an overall coherent culture, among other characteristics, the governance culture and grassroots culture would be in harmonious relationship.
Cultural coherence is a pivotal concept. It is a concept we can relate to, that we can in some sense understand the meaning of, even though we don’t know what cultural coherence would look like in a modern society, or on a global scale.
At the same time, we can in some sense ‘understand’ how cultural coherence, if sufficiently evolved, could enable a society-as-a-whole to be ‘conscious’. ‘Behaving coherently’ is more or less what we mean by ‘being conscious’. And a society with a coherent culture is a society that can behave coherently.
That’s about as far as I can go here in terms of presenting my ideas on how we might achieve global cultural coherence, and hence create a ‘conscious civilization’. I do think that my fantasies in this area have settled down a bit, become less imaginative, and are getting to the point where they may be ‘of service’, á la Shab-Parak. Readers of the book can decide.
What I would like to say a bit more about, is that today’s popular ‘gurus of transformation’, when they speak of a ‘higher consciousness for humanity’, are speaking in terms that resonate very much with humanity-as-entity, and with cultural coherence.
They are having the right fantasies, regarding how a ‘conscious civilization’ could be expected to operate, but being spiritually inclined people, they haven’t been thinking in any depth about the ‘mundane’ aspects — sociological shall we say — of how cultural change comes about.
Just this morning I received an email from “Evolutionary Leaders”, inviting me and thousands of others to A Call to Conscious Evolution in Los Angeles, tickets available at Ticketmaster, with a VIP option, and live-streaming on a pay-per-view basis. A long list of spiritual visionaries, including Chopra and Sathouris, will be there, presenting “our moment of choice”, crammed into a two-hour program:
In their invitation they talk about ‘co-creating a new narrative of conscious evolution’, building a ‘global community’ and a ‘culture of peace’. They are asking us, the people of the world, to behave coherently on a massive scale. And they are hoping that this coherence can be encouraged by a massively propagated message, that people will choose to align themselves with.
That approach, as a strategy for moving toward species coherence, is hopelessly flawed, but we do not need to expand on that here. What is important is that lots of spiritually aware people seem to be coming into consensus about the need for coherence in human affairs, and they are expressing this in terms of humanity consciously guiding its own evolutionary process.
My own work began from an entirely different perspective, more related to geopolitics, and more or less dismissing the relevance of things spiritual. They’ve started at the top, you might say, and I’ve started at the bottom, as regards spirituality.
And from these quite separated beginnings, our paths have converged on a primary principle of human progress: the need for species consciousness, aka a coherent global culture, aka a global society that is able to behave coherently in guiding its own evolutionary process.
I suggest that ‘cultural coherence’ is the pivotal concept, that provides a bridge between the vision — a conscious civilization — and the means — cultural transformation.
Finally, in closing, I’d like to bring us back to the parallel path, and relate that to our discussion of cultural coherence.
From an ascent perspective, we would expect cultural coherence to emerge from everyone jumping on to the same spiritual-ascent highway, a second-coming, mass-following kind of thing. I think this is what many people have expectations about. The ascent perspective puts Atman at the level of a sheep, waiting to be saved by Brahman the shepherd. Embrace not the illusion of your own disempowerment.
From a parallel perspective, we cannot all jump on to the same path, because we are each on our own path, pursuing our own spiritual destiny, at our own pace. But notice how we are speaking here at an atmospheric level, about ‘paths’, off in some ‘spiritual space’.
There is also our bodies, our somatic being. In that sense our paths are crossing all the time, every time we meet or do business with one another. Our paths are intimately intermingled with the paths of those around us. This is true at a spiritual level, as well as a physical level. To a very large extent, we are the substance of one another’s experiences; we are each other’s paths, and each other’s teachers. Atman experiencing Atman.
From a parallel perspective, coherence for humanity emerges not by a change of individual paths, but by the development of coherence among our paths — the emergence of harmony in our relationships with those around us. The carpenter can continue to be a carpenter.
The emergence of harmony at the local level begins the process of co-creating cultural coherence. What begins as a social project of community improvement becomes gradually a matter also of spiritual evolution, as the ‘business of our paths’ increasingly involves ‘harmonization among paths’.
In this sense, the transformation of humanity’s consciousness does involve the transformation of individual consciousnesses, but not in the sense in which ‘personal transformation’ is generally imagined from our traditional ascent perspective, and not occurring as a ‘prior event’.
Instead, there is a co-evolution between cultural coherence on the one hand, and the expansion of our spiritual paths into the cultural domain on the other. Cultural transformation and personal transformation happen together, as we would expect in a social species. The ‘next spiritual step’ for humanity is about harmonizing our paths, not switching to new paths.
2012: Crossroads for Humanity:
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