Periods of Renaissance

In “The Heart of Man”, Erich Fromm relates social narcissism to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Renaissance, in an illuminating discussion on the nature of periods of Renaissance which might give us clues to the nature of a New Renaissance.

Humanism and Fanaticism

When considering narcissism in large groups, such as major religions, Fromm suggests that there are counteracting forces of narcissism and anti-narcissism at work. He uses the Roman Catholic Church as an example, the personal humility that is at the heart of Christ’s teaching being at the opposite end of the scale to the intense narcissism of a church that believes it is the only chance of salvation and its officers provide the only path to God.

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Secret Teachers

There is an increasingly frequently told tale of the vicissitudes in the development of human consciousness over historic times, of the loss and reconnection with an understanding of who we are and our place in the scheme of things, of the golden thread that runs through history, of the recovery of balance in the human psyche, of the various periods of renaissance of the highest spirit of humanity…

secret teachers coverGary Lachman is an able storyteller. In his book The Secret Teachers of the Western World he tells this tale, giving pictures of the significance of many key actors along the way – the secret teachers. To my mind this story of the polarity of movement of humanity between the extremes of darkness and renaissance is of utmost significance, particularly given the dark times that threaten.

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Cause of The Renaissance?

We’ve travelled around Europe a fair amount over the years and it is clear from the evidence of art and architecture that something special happened around the 12th/13th centuries and again the 15th/16th centuries. The Romanesque and Gothic architectures, the paintings and sculptures of Tuscany, the establishment of universities, printing, the beginnings of great literature,…

What was it that led to this original Renaissance? What special combination of circumstances caused that great explosion of the human spirit? Philosopher Jean Gebser had an answer in his book The Ever Present Origin (1949), and it goes back to the basic nature of our own consciousness.

Humanity has gone through four basic ‘structures of consciousness’: the ‘archaic’, the ‘magical’, the ‘mythic’ and the ‘mental-rational’. He dates the period when the transition began from ‘mythic’ to ‘mental-rational’ at around 1225. This was the period when left brain consciousness began to assert itself against the submersion into a right-brain dominated world. For a period the two were in some sort of state of balance which led to the creative explosion of those periods of Renaissance.

Then as time progressed the dominance of left brain was gradually asserted (see The Master and His Emissary), interconnectedness was reduced and the emphasis moved to individuality and competition. Of course, this has been creative in its own way, see the explosion of science and technology, but it has been at a cost of the basic connection with life itself. Hence increasing problems of pollution, environmental degradation, global warming, species extinction, mega-wars, terrorism,…

Gebser postulated that we are on the threshold of a fifth structure of consciousness – the ‘integral’ – which would begin to redress the balance that has gone too far one way. Such a new consciousness would re-establish that creative balance between the two halves of the brain, but at a higher level – leading to a New Renaissance.

Many thinkers have since then built on Gebser’s ideas, including Ken Wilber and Iain McGilchrist.

I am indebted to Gary Lachman’s book The Secret Teachers of the Western World for inspiring this post.

Featured image of Botticelli Venus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Just before the Dawn

I was struck by this observation by Steve Taylor in his February newsletter:

“The cultural conflict taking place now is between the old values and traits associated with the human race’s old state of ‘sleep’, and the new values and traits associated with a wakeful state. The old traits are threatened, and so are trying to assert themselves more strongly. It’s almost as if, within our collective psyche, the state of sleep senses that it is being superseded, and is trying to tighten its grip. So that’s why, in spite of all the madness in the world at the moment, I still remain optimistic.”

No doubt Steve is referring to the chaos of Brexit, the Trump presidency and the resurgence of values of discrimination against minorities, racism, misogyny, nationalism, separation, beggar-thy-neighbour…

It can seem disheartening that the progress made over the 70 years since the second world war is under threat and apparently in retreat.

I do feel that it helps in this situation to see the wider context, as Steve suggests. Humanity is undergoing a great developmental change, and it is inevitable that the ‘old’ values will from time to time reassert themselves with renewed vigour. It is our job to weather the storm and forge the path forward to the new world that we would wish to bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

As the saying goes, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Featured image One Minute Before Sunrise by Jessie Eastland, via Wikimedia Commons

Intellect and Intuition

Our education system is mostly geared to education of the intellect, the understanding of the outer of things, the material, the objective, that which is of the left brain. So we live dominated by materialistic concerns. At its culmination the intellect takes us to realms of abstract thought, science and technology and all their wonders.

But in this process we are losing touch with the inner of things,  and the interconnectedness of all things, empathy for fellow humans, animals, nature, that which is of the right brain. The media increasingly press upon us the results of this dysfunction,  an outer merely reflecting that depopulated inner.

What that inner connection can give is direct perception of the essence of things unmediated by language – people,  situations,  even past and future. This is the realm of intuition, creativity. The more we are receptive to intuition the more we become what is our true essence, rather than following taught conditioning. The more we forget the concerns of ego and act in empathy with all.

Of course this does not mean rejecting the glory of the intellect, but restoring the intuition to its rightful place.

This is the raising of consciousness that humanity needs.Read More »

Chris Lyons

It was a shock to learn in early December that Chris was terminally ill and then that he passed away on 9th December 2016. I’d just been rereading the last communication I had from him a year ago, when he was very positive about moving on to a new stage of life in Didsbury. Another contemporary has moved on, from a world that begins to look increasingly strange.

A GP in Horwich, Bolton, Chris turned up at just the right time in 1994, when we had started our New Renaissance lectures in Knutsford, but needed more experience and more hands to keep moving on. Chris was a vital part of the operation from thereon, looking after the finances and playing an increasing role helping to get good speakers as we moved on to the series of Manchester Schumacher Lectures.

In the later years we shared chairing the sessions until waning energies led us to close down the lectures in 2004.

For me personally Chris was a great sounding board and a good friend. It was Chris who got me interested in the work of Ken Wilber, one of the most advanced thinkers of the time. We had many a chat over the phone mixed up between discussing the latest lectures crisis and the most exciting philosophical books and ideas we’d come across.

Chris also introduced me to the Scientific & Medical Network, which I have been glad to have been a member of ever since. He became SciMed Treasurer, a post he held until fairly recently, so he was evidently closely involved in their affairs.

Recently I sensed a certain disillusion in Chris, with SciMed, with the reality of mysticism and non-material phenomena. A great shame that I never got to really explore this with him. The end just appeared out of the blue for me.

Thank you so much, Chris, for helping to spread the light around.

Featured image shows Chris Lyons introducing the afternoon session at Manchester Schumacher Lectures 2002

New Thinking for a New Renaissance

It’s nice to be reminded sometimes that the solutions to the problems that exercise those of us concerned with humanity’s development are not actually conceptually difficult.

WordPress blogger Christopher Chase has produced a magnificent blog entry Ready for a New Way of Thinking?, beautifully illustrated, which I heartily recommend to you all.

As Chase says “What is missing in mainstream consciousness is an awareness of ourselves as members of the human family, the Universe and the Earth community.” We are so concerned with our separative notions such as money, nations, religions, races and so on, that we forget the big picture.

He also includes a salutary warning: “If we don’t learn to live in harmony with Nature (and be generous with each other) all future generations will suffer. The future will be dystopian, violent, poverty stricken and sorrowful…”

I won’t steal his thunder by saying more, just go read it – again and again.
In my terms, this is the direction of travel for any consideration of a New Renaissance of humanity.

Will you wake

Christopher Fry’s poem from the play A Sleep of Prisoners is one of those pieces which really sets my timbers a shivering. It’s so expressive of the situation we find ourselves in collectively. It’s been quoted many times, so you may already be aware of it. For me it repays a regular re-read.

Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul we ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
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!

Christopher Fry was an English poet and playwright 1907-2005

Featured image of Arctic ice floes from Collection of Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon, Chief Scientist National Ice Center, via Wikimedia Commons

Restoring the Soul of the World

restoring_soul_of_worldReview of the book by David Fideler, subtitled:
‘Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence’.

This is a story that cannot be told too often – our story from the beginnings to now, in the tradition of such a magnificent telling as Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind first published in 1991.

David Fideler’s great breadth of knowledge and understanding is on show in this tour de force, as he traces human development and our relationship with the natural world over millennia.Read More »

The Presence of the Infinite

presence-of-the-infiniteReview of the book by Steve McIntosh, subtitled ‘The Spiritual Experience of Beauty, Truth and Goodness’.

This is in some ways a very theoretical and philosophical book about spirituality, a bit dry. In other ways it is frustratingly vague, in setting future directions for the evolution of spirituality but not being very specific.

Yet in other ways it is very practical, pointing a clear direction for the development of human consciousness, exploiting the fundamental attractors of truth, beauty and goodness (see Goodness, Truth and Beauty) as a direction, a sort of ‘gravitational attraction’ for consciousness. It is worth reading just for this, building on the work already published in Steve’s earlier book Evolution’s Purpose, reviewed here.Read More »

Evolution’s Purpose

What if there was a book that

  • provides a model of evolution that applies to outer and inner – objective and subjective
  • thus reconciles science and religion/spirituality, showing how their historical differences came about, and how primitive materialism can be transcended
  • gives a context for the ‘culture wars’ in the US and elsewhere, and outlines how they can be transcended
  • explains why areas such as the middle east present such an intransigent problem
  • gives a story of development of human societies that is convincing and explains why such things as democracy are so difficult to transplant to other parts of the world
  • gives a philosophy of hope, with a vision of an emerging spirituality and a realistic approach to getting there
  • shows how the good, the beautiful and the true provide the attractive direction of human development
  • explains why the so-called, traditional, modern and postmodern elements of society find it so hard to get on, and what is the transcending evolutionary process that can pioneer the way forward
  • shows how the dialectic is a fundamental part of the evolutionary process
  • puts evolution at the centre of the story of life, the natural world, the universe and everything
  • gives the hope that we are on the threshold of a New Enlightenment.

evolutions_purposeWell there is such a book. It’s all laid out, and more, in Steve McIntosh‘s Evolution’s Purpose.

If you’re familiar with the work of Ken Wilber and Steve’s other books on ‘Integral Philosophy’ you may not need to read it. But this is really great philosophical stuff.

This sort of approach is a fundamental part of the New Renaissance, as I prefer to call it. This book gives an idea of how it could just come about through the conscious development and gradual transcendence of each person from their own starting point – despite those who are just not interested.

[A great subject for my 100th post.]


Resurgence and Ecologist magazine is now in its 50th year, and its evergreen chief editor Satish Kumar is in his 80th year. In the May/June 2016 issue he reminded me of the significance of MK Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha, which can be roughly translated as non-violence, but in an active way that refuses to submit to wrong or co-operate with it in any way, with a dedication to truth. This is similar to the reasonably successful approach of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in USA.Read More »

Inspiration from North Wales

It’s difficult to recapture that oppressive atmosphere of the early 1980s – Thatcher, Reagan, US missiles in UK, the threat of nuclear winter, Greenham Common, support of unsavoury regimes… A time when things did not make sense. Environment and recycling didn’t get much of a lookin.

Then we took the children to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology in a reclaimed quarry near Machynlleth in North Wales. What a refreshing experience! Here sustainability was king – alternative energy sources, solar panels, windmills, recycling, composting , growing vegetables, conserving energy, explaining nuclear dangers… I still recall the relief that someone was taking these things seriously and doing real practical stuff. I’ve supported CAT and its development ever since.

Research and education have always been key themes for CAT. Leading light Peter Harper gave an inspirational talk as part of our series of  New RenaissanceLectures in Knutsford in the early 1990s. I’ve added used cardboard to the compost heap ever since!

It was a pleasure to recently receive Issue 100 of their magazine Clean Slate, still going strong, with news of the latest developments at CAT. In case you’re not aware, CAT is leader of the Zero Carbon Britain initiative, a source of inspiration to many across the world.

Congratulations to all involved with CAT, and may you continue to inspire us for many years to come. The need for your work is as great as ever.

Incidentally, the centre an excellent place to visit – friendly staff, good displays well explained, water-powered funicular, ‘green’ café, child-friendly, nature walks,…

Featured image of CAT funicular courtesy of Dr Neil Clifton , via Wikimedia Commons

Noel Charlton and Gregory Bateson

I was very sorry to hear recently of the death of Noel G. Charlton. I did not know Noel well, but remember him as a regular and enthusiastic supporter of our Manchester Schumacher Lectures in the decade from the mid 1990s, often coming with his wife Jean to our post-event celebrations.

bateson_coverSome time later, Noel’s book Understanding Gregory Bateson was published – described as the first accessible introduction to Bateson’s work. A copy has graced my shelves for some years now, and does indeed provide a good source of information on Bateson, a true modern Renaissance Man who deserves study.

You can find good introductory material on Noel’s website. I can give no better introduction than to quote from this material:

“The thought of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980): biologist, anthropologist, systems thinker, psychologist, student of animal communication, ecologist and profound thinker, eventually drawing together science and spirituality, is now urgently, vitally important to us all.

His thought offers ways of using a new and wider understanding of mind and mental process as existing throughout the living world, of recognising our aesthetic sense of beauty as a guide to valuing of the systems of the ‘more-than-human’ world, and of learning to feel and act upon a new sense of reverence and respect for the living Earth and the vast process – the great ‘going-on’ – of the Universe.”

As I understand it, Bateson saw direct perception of the world as vitally important, without the intermediary of language – similar to the thinking of Alastair MacIntosh in my post The Master and His Emissary or Stephen Harrod Buhner in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.

If we can only tune in, the direct aesthetic sense of beauty tells us whether an ecosystem is healthy, what is the true need of a situation, how we should respond, etc. The language of thought is a later rationalisation and communication mechanism. Bateson uses words like aesthetic engagement, the sacred and grace to describe our needed relationship with the world. This is what leads to wise action.

Noel’s book traces the evolution of Bateson’s ideas throughout his life, from the early years that he was married to anthropologist Margaret Mead. It was based on research Noel did at Lancaster University.

I am not able to do full justice to this work, but it is clearly of some importance that Gregory Bateson’s work was brought to a wider audience. There is an excellent review of the book by Jean Hardy.

Thank you, Noel. We are all in your debt.

Science, Religion and the New Age

This article was first published in Conjunction, magazine of the Astrological Psychology Association, around the turn of the millenium. I believe it is still relevant today.

In the recent media attention given to attacks by scientific and religious personalities on aspects of ‘New Age’ thinking you can almost hear the sound of paradigms shifting. The frozen floes are beginning to crack. In his Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn did great service in clarifying the nature of the learning process of the scientific community, indeed of any human communities of common interest. He showed how the existing shared viewpoint (paradigm) is defended at great length by the current ‘establishment’ until finally it gives and is overwhelmed and superseded by a new and more encompassing paradigm.

We can see a parallel in the recent media discussions. Scientists attack the New Age as representing unscientific, woolly thinking, which threatens their rationalist paradigm; it is in some way even more threatening than religion, which is regarded as equally woolly – but which they have learned to live alongside and dominate. Religionists attack the New Age as primitive and dangerous mysticism which threatens the ‘true’ paradigm they have constructed over the nearly 2000 years AD.

Astrology, Astronomy and Paganism

It is interesting that astrology and paganism bear much of the brunt of these attacks. Both are more ancient than today’s science and religion. From the days of the ancient Greeks astrology and astronomy were a single field of study, until sundered by modern science. Many leading exponents in the early days of modern science were indeed astrologers, such as Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe.

Paganism as a loose and embracing term was there before Christianity. Many of its features were incorporated into Christian practice to ensure acceptability to the populace. Most celebratory events such as Christmas happen at the time of pagan festivals. Many churches are built on ancient sites of worship and incorporate pagan symbols such as the Green Man. They also include astrological symbols.

New Age interest in astrology and paganism is thus in part a return to our roots. It is understandable that science and religion should be suspicious of that which they thought they had superseded. Our concern should perhaps be that they have thrown out the baby with the bath water.


The essence of science is its objectivity and insistence on proof by the experimental method. Its extreme proponents deny anything that is not amenable to this approach, and insist that the material world and its mechanistic operation according to scientific laws is all that there is. Modern physics has tended to retreat from this position as relativity and quantum theory have demonstrated that the objective separation of observer and observed is not possible.

We have perhaps put science on too much of a pedestal. It is after all only about the construction of models of reality, and not about reality itself. History tells us that today’s model which seems so natural will tomorrow become discredited by a better model. For example the ‘flat earth’ theory with the sun going round the earth was eventually superseded by the ‘round earth’ theory with the earth going round the sun.

It is difficult to see why scientists attack phenomena for which there is extensive subjective evidence, such as telepathy and spiritual development. Explanation of these phenomena is clearly beyond the capability of current scientific models, but their subjective reality is surely undeniable. A true scientific attitude should surely see this as the spur to developing new models, rather than reject the reality of the phenomena.

Mathematics has provided a salutary message in this context. Gödel’s theorem tells us that in any model that we construct there will be things that we can neither prove nor disprove – they are outside the scope of the model. A model of everything is impossible. Thus extremist science appears to be being unscientific, what about religion?

Church as Institution

If we look at the evolution of Western Christianity since the time of Christ we can see the construction of the Church as an institution. A theology of accepted belief has been developed – a paradigm. The history of the Catholic church contains a story of evolution of doctrine, with corresponding ideas outside the doctrine being regarded as heresies. Eventually the universal paradigm proved unsustainable and the Protestant movements in particular broke away.

The Catholic church provided the pathway to God, with the priests as mediators between the individual and the divine. The Gnostic traditions, which provided for the individual approach to God independent of the church as institution, were rigorously suppressed at the early stages of this process. Signs of resurgence were equally repressed, such as that shown by the Cathars in 13th century Languedoc. Thus was individual spirituality channelled through the church or suppressed.

Crisis of spirituality

In the modern world the church has lost much of its power and influence, contributing to a crisis of spirituality. If you doubt this look at our modern buildings and their lack of soul; stand in a field of modern agriculture with its loss of vitality; see world poverty and injustice with its lack of compassion; see the pollution of our earth and the loss of species,… You will only truly ‘see’ these if you open your heart and perceive as a whole human being, rather than just using your mind, and particularly your logical left brain.

Compare this modern evidence with the flowering of that which is highest and best in man during those special eras of the ancient Greeks, the early Gothic cathedrals and the Renaissance. It is surely the search to resolve this crisis of spirituality that much of the New Age is about.

New Age

Let us sum up. Science has led us too much into the limitations of an objective, left brain, mind-dominated world view, belittling the complementary parts of our nature which are subjective, right brain, and of the heart.

Religion is not providing for most the route to the spiritual that the testimony of the ages tells us is there. It is these chasms of malaise at the heart of today’s Western societies which the New Age is destined to resolve.

The paradigms of our science and religion must come up to date and become part of our solution. The strong reactions of those fundamentalists deeply embedded in the current paradigms are an encouraging sign that the change is beginning to take place. The ice is beginning to melt.

Featured image shows sunrise over tessellated pavement, courtesy of JJ Harrison and Wikimedia Commons

The Meaning of Aging

What is the meaning of getting old? Is it something like this:

“the challenge of growing old is not to conquer aging but to enter a natural, meaningful, and profoundly transforming process”?

three_secrets_of_agingIf you think it is, then you will probably like John C. Robinson’s book The Three Secrets of Aging. 

It is good to think that aging can be a meaningful process that can positively contribute to society, rather than just a desperate hanging on in the face of increasing tribulations and eventual infirmity. Again, Robinson gives a positive vision, akin to playing a part in a New Renaissance:

“…the aging experience described here can eventually become the path to a collective transformation and the discovery of a new world.”

Part 1 tells the story of the authors own coming into the aging process and becoming aware that it is not about more ‘business as usual’ with the preoccupations of earlier years, but more about an emptying of consciousness, a spiritual transformation to awareness of who we really are – a sort of modern form of enlightenment, away from the everyday concerns of the ego and its thinking monkey mind. It is the ego and the personal identity that actually keeps us away from our inner core. From this perspective, aging is a process of transformation of consciousness, and the individual is contributing to a collective process of transformation.

Part 2 offers three ‘secrets of aging’. The result of aging is seen as the creation of Elders, wise people who have always been valued by native peoples. The work involves both psychological and spiritual work, transforming loss and change, away from the life we knew with its materialistic concerns, into meaning, wisdom and renewal. Squarely facing our own personal death is a key task of aging, catalysing our initiation. We can finally reach a state of pure consciousness, untroubled by the previous interminable concerns of the ego mind. The author refers to the Cosmic Consciousness promoted by Richard Bucke over 100 years ago.

Eventually, yes, the body will in some way break down, and it will eventually be time to pass on into the Mystery. But that too is all right, a natural part of the process, no longer resisted by the ego.

In part 3 the author offers ‘A Spiritual Blueprint for the Enlightened Elder in the Twenty-First Century’. He highlights the need, in that the effects of our separation from nature are becoming increasingly apparent – the technological ego-maniac period is increasingly running into the buffers.

“Coming to our senses means experiencing the Earth directly as a vast, intelligent, living and divine being everywhere expressed in a marvelous diversity of forms and processes.”

The Master must regain control from His Emissary, in the terms of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary, reviewed elsewhere.

There is much food for thought in this book. For me, John C. Robinson offers an inspiring vision for the process of aging, and its relevance as part of our collective experience.

The bottom line is if you like the overall thesis you are likely to benefit from reading it.




Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm

Beyond the doors of perception into the dreaming of the earth

Review of a book by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

plant_intelligenceFor some time since reading Stephen Buhner’s book, I have been struggling to comprehend the full richness of what he puts forward. It is a book about how we perceive the world, about perceiving the depth, rather than the surface, of the world. For example, in this quote from Manuel Cordova Rios:

“As my glance wandered in the treetops I became aware of undreamed beauty in the details of the textures of leaves, stems, and branches. Every leaf… seemed to glow with a greenish golden light. Unimaginable detail of structure showed… A nearby bird sang… Exquisite and shimmering, the song was almost visible…”

Many people have had similar deep experiences, but the problem is to keep alive to them in a world dominated by surface things.

Buhner suggests that by opening up to and accepting our true selves we begin to see the world from a deeper perception than the mere surfaces of social conventions and laws.

Henry David Thoreau was one of the most eloquent exponents of our deep connection with nature. Robert Bly speaks of his books:

“As we read Thoreau’s work… we slowly become aware of a light in and around the squirrel, the ant, the woodcheck, the hawk, that belongs to them and not to the eyes observing or the brain producing words.”

Buhner states that his book “is about developing the skill of intentionally altering perception in order to perceive the light in and around the squirrel… about learning how to consciously use it as a tool of perception and cognition…” Now that is ambitious.

Let us get a sense of the work by looking at some of its main themes.

The doors of perception – sensory gating

Buhner suggests that every organism is deeply interwoven into the ecological matrix from which it is expressed. At the interface are located specific organs for perception of the exterior world in order to survive. The implication is that all life forms are self aware and intelligent and can determine meaning from the environment. Sensory gating allows the organism to focus on a limited aspect of world, rather than the myriad inputs; otherwise we would be overwhelmed with input. The gating becomes unconscious habit. We perceive what we expect to perceive.

Children are expected to fit into a defined ‘normal’ range of gating. The more wide open their gating channels, the more likely they will be seen as ‘not normal’. Newborns have minimal gating, so it develops during childhood. They don’t have the intermediary of language and see and hear ‘the old way’ before language. Developmental stages have different function and gating dynamics. Earlier stages can be reverted to at any particular point in time.

People trained in exterior focus (c.f. modern education) get stuck on surfaces and in language and can no longer find depths. This is pretty apparent in today’s Western societies.

Modern science has gated the meanings that come from the world, such as synchronicities, empathy with other life forms, and astrological significances – because they cannot be measured.

Opening the doors

“…the door to the soul is unlocked; you do not need to please the doorkeeper, the door in front of you is yours, intended for you, and the doorkeeper obeys when spoken to”

Robert Bly

Intentional activity or attention can override habitual gating. Once open more widely the gates can stay open; it is repetition that habituates the skill.

Goethe said: “every new object, clearly seen, opens up a new organ of perception in us.” Paying attention, even at a later age, on a regular basis, can reset unconscious gating and make us more sensitive, eg to music. The capacity for opening the doors of perception is built into us. This gives a way through the problem articulated by Einstein (I paraphrase) “We cannot solve the problems of today with today’s thinking” …which tends to be interpreted in a purely logical way as a ‘paradigm shift’, but probably more importantly relates to the need to actually change our perception of the world.

Other ways are identified to override gating, include meditation, halluicinogenics, focus on feeling perception.

Once gating is more open, we become sensitive to more meaning. The existentialist despair at the loss of meaning in the world was actually a disease of the scientific enlightenment.

Opening to the feeling sense

Reclaiming the feeling sense, and developing it as a primary sensing tool, is one of the main ways to begin to enter more deeply into the metaphysical background of the world. The key is practice and focus on How does it feel? Every physical object has its own distinct feeling sense.

“recovering the response of the heart to what is presented to the senses”

James Hillman

Absorbed reading, writing, creative science, playing music can all involve a shift in consciousness involving feeling and invoking the ‘dream state’.

But in feeling, you will see the dark as well as the light. It takes courage to keep feeling and not close down. The first step is to feel everything you come into contact with. Determine whether you like it or not – get a sense of its underlying nature. ‘Why this response?’

Buhner covers issues that may arise, such as how to handle self caretaking, sensory overload, depression, taking on other people’s stuff and other issues. He references inner child / inner council work of e.g. John Bradshaw and Eric Berne.

Everything is intelligent and inextricably intertangled

The reductionist scientific viewpoint has led us up the garden path. The world is far more complex than that. It is living intelligence, described by concepts such as complex systems, self organisation, state changes, symbiogenesis, autopoiesis etc. Intelligence is manifested by all organisms – bacteria, plants, animals, ecoranges, the earth as Gaia… This was actually the direction of thinking taken by Darwin in his later works, eg seeing the root of a plant as its brain, sensitively using intelligence to navigate through the soil. Evolution sees common patterns emerging from bacteria through plants to animals and humans,

The natural world from which we are expressed when we are born is a context or scenario, continuously evolving, fluid not static, dynamic and co-evolving. The biosphere is so complex and evolving that we cannot know the consequences of anything we do.

Background and foreground are tightly coupled. There is a “softness of the boundary between inside and outside” (Lewontin). Opening of sensory gating channels leads to thinning of the boundary between self and nonself.

Golden threads of connection run through the world. We should trust our response to world; it has meaning. These threads touch us because something deep inside us needs what’s on the other end of that thread. [c.f. synchronicity, astrology.] We can immerse in the thread through feeling…

Reductionist education discourages this capability that is in us.

Psychotropics in the ecosystem

Psychotropics such as serotonin, psilocybin, DMT, cannabinoids are deeply interwoven into the structure of life, where they play a role in reducing gating. History shows such drugs as playing a role in ‘depatterning’ a certain percentage of the population to subsequent advantage. The explosion of creativity from the 1960s provides a fairly convincing example eg 1960s western music, Steve Jobs et al and the creation of modern IT. However:

“Those who open sensory gating are a danger to the fundamental underpinnings of the reductive paradigm.”

The psychotropics have been long banned by conventional society.

Natural Science and the Imaginal World

The naturalist Barbara McClintock was ostracised because not she was not reductionist. Her approach was to have the “patience to hear what the material has to say to you”, approach the world with a childlike self.

“the first step in the ecological reclamation of the self is to feel, to reclaim the parts of ourselves that feel and feel deeply.”

This ‘seeing’, rather than ‘looking’, requires empathy with the material. Something new arises. Meaning is grasped. This was the essence of Natural Science, and was the science of Goethe.

Sensory perceiving is what you do instead of thinking with your mind; it is ‘the old way’. This can lead to the encounter with other intelligence, such as the dolphin. Becoming aware of the living contextual field, we touch the one livingness, the Tao.

Science vs Barbarianism

In every field, the original pioneers who followed their heart without formal training are followed by the sober well-prepared ones, who have little wisdom to offer. We might take the example of the development of modern psychology and its subsequent codification, or the distortion of the ideals of the USA by some of its modern ‘leaders’.

Also, the early pioneers’ gating channels narrow with age… they become more conservative and pass this on to those following. We have only to look at the later Freud resisting the advances of those who came later to build on his foundations.

The disadvantage of formal schooling is that it takes a long time to discover that one has been poorly educated, to realise that what one was taught is a mere map giving but little insight into reality. I well recognise this syndrome.

Buhner is hard on science, suggesting that most published research claims are false, due to the influence of large scientific journals, sponsors, referees, and money. The dissociated mentation that has come from science – communication devoid of feeling – is seen as the hallmark of the ‘reasonable man’.

He suggests that sensory gating is a lot more open in every other culture on earth (compared to Western)! Yet we want to impose top down solutions on the rest of the world.

We have to use a different kind of thinking, step outside normal channels. We must become the new barbarians, asking “How does this feel to me?”, the crucial question every time… We will begin to be truly ourselves; our words beginning “to take on a depth that is truly alien in our time”.


This book is a tour de force presenting a world view that is immensely appealing to this reviewer, consonant with the views of many working towards a New Renaissance, and profoundly disruptive of the current Western majority paradigm. It requires a change in the way we perceive the world. This is what the real world is about.

New Renaissance Lectures

unity_houston_lecturesWe were having coffee at the Beans Cafe (again). There in the local free paper was this announcement of public lectures by the Association for Global New Thought, which reminded me of our initiation of lectures in the North West of England from 1993 to 2004.

Our local town of Knutsford in Cheshire, England had just established a new Civic Centre with a then-modern cinema hall. We speculated one day that this space would be ideal for public lectures similar to the Schumacher Lectures that were (and still are) run annually in Bristol by the Schumacher Society. We realised that this would only happen if someone did something about it, so we did, with a couple of local friends. Fortunately the hall was available on suitable evenings.

The first series of six ‘Knutsford Lectures’ was held, one evening per month, in the autumn/spring of 1993/4. We learned the ropes as we went, including booking the hall, arranging speakers, selling tickets, audio recording, and initially primitive publicity – hand-delivering leaflets, informing local media and developing mailing lists.

Our New Renaissance logo

The overall series theme was ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’, which remained the theme for all our lectures. The scope of change necessary in our thinking was indeed of a magnitude that implied the need for a New Renaissance, and vision was needed to set the direction (this is even more true today). Proverb 29:18 “Without vision the people perish” seemed apposite.

Individual speakers chose their own subject within that context. We even had a logo.

Our first speaker was Rt Hon David Ennals, one-time Secretary of State for Social Services in a Labour administration, also known as Baron Ennals – although he was obviously totally disinterested in titles and had a charming personality, as indeed did most of our speakers. Ennals accepted our invitation with alacrity, subsequently explaining that he was delighted to see such an initiative, knew how hard it is to get things off the ground, so wanted to support it. Despite being obviously somewhat handicapped by the ailments of age, he gave an entertaining talk which was much appreciated. Sadly David died a couple of years later.

We eventually ran three seasons of lectures, building up a small organising committee of enthusiasts. I think Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski probably hit the nail on the head when he said to me that I was involved in organising the lectures because that was my process of educating myself. I hope it also helped others.

Our speakers included Jonathon Porritt, who gave us a taste of the problems organisers face, when he arrived over twenty minutes late with a ‘full house’ audience waiting. Other speakers included scientist Rupert Sheldrake, the Schumacher Society‘s own Satish Kumar, Stephan Harding from Schumacher College, and Peter Harper from the Centre for Alternative Technology. In conversation, Satish subtlely challenged us with ‘why not set up your own Schumacher Lectures?’, thus planting the seed that led us to start annual Manchester Schumacher Lectures in 1996, where Satish was our first speaker.

The Manchester events took place over a full day, with usually three speakers followed by a panel session, chaired by myself or Chris Lyons. Here we managed to attract sponsors, including the Ecology Building Society, who faithfully supported us throughout. And there was the provision of music, bookstalls, refreshments etc.

Memorable speakers included Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life, Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, novelist Lindsay Clarke, scientists Mae Wan Ho and Brian Goodwin, ex-bishop David Jenkins, activists George Monbiot and Ann Pettifor. Many speakers joined with the organisers in a post-event evening meal, which was usually enjoyed by all.

We also had a fair share of problems. Two well-known international ‘green’ speakers cried off late after committing to come; maybe Manchester was not prestigious enough for them. Fortunately, Herbie Girardet of the Schumacher Society was very helpful in finding late replacements. Also, two well-known UK speakers excused themselves from the agreed panel session, two others behaved in a rather ‘precious’ and demanding way, and there were often problems with the sound/AV systems. It is not always fun organising such events!

I think the stresses and strains eventually took their toll, and the energies of our committee reduced, without the renewing emergence of new blood. Eventually, after the 2004 lectures, we closed down the Manchester Schumacher Lectures, bequeathing our remaining resources to the Schumacher Society. But the spirit did not die; almost immediately new Schumacher events were set up in Leeds, and continue to this day under the banner of Schumacher North.

The need for new ideas showing up the inadequacy of current thinking is ongoing and will never die out – so there will always be the need for initiatives such as this, changing the world’s thinking one person at a time…

So, all good wishes to the organisers of such initiatives, whether run from a more religious perspective, such as the Association for Global New Thought (which I guess is part of the New Thought Movement) or from a more general spiritual or even secular perspective such as the ongoing Schumacher Lectures and the regular events held at Alternatives at St James Church in London.

PS Success of our New Renaissance lectures was dependent on the voluntary energies and good will of many people, but perhaps worth special mention are those who at different times formed the core of our organising committee: Joyce Hopewell, Annabel Burton, Chris Lyons, Mary McGregor, Joan Poulson, Mike Lowe, Esther Austin and Chris Wright.


I don’t believe it!

Victor Meldrew

I hated Victor Meldrew’s character in the BBC television series ‘One Foot in the Grave’. His catchphrase ‘I don’t believe it’ was rather annoying. However, with the benefit of advancing years, I find myself thinking precisely that when I see some of the nonsense going on in the world today.

My long-suffering wife, after yet another ‘I don’t believe it’ rant, suggested that I should write a blog, which perhaps would relieve her of some of the earache. So here it is.

Perhaps I should warn the potential reader about some of my interests; this may not be the rant you are looking for.

After a happy childhood, being educated in a very science-oriented school and doing a degree in mathematics, I entered a career in the then relatively early days of computing, which metamorphosed into Information Technology, eventually leading to today’s internet.

It was only over many years that I became aware of the limitations of this scientific upbringing and the technological business environment. I became interested in the personal growth movement, spirituality, green, social and ethical issues, and became more widely read in philosophy and psychology. In the process the limitations of the prevailing politico/economic paradigm became increasingly apparent.

In the early 1990s, around the time of Rio 1992, until 2004, I was involved in creating public lectures in Cheshire and Manchester, England on the theme of Visions of a New Renaissance, because it seemed that a New Renaissance of the human spirit was indeed the order of change that was required.

During this time I became a member of the Scientific and Medical Network in the UK, which has a membership very much in sympathy with where I was coming from. The ‘Mystics and Scientists’ conferences provide an unfailing source of inspiration, as does the Network’s magazine, the ‘Network Review’. I also discovered the Institute of Noetic Sciences in the US, which has a similar but different perspective.

Early in the present century I retired from my IT career and got involved in the growth movement of astrological psychology, aiming and facilitating personal and spiritual growth – becoming a book editor and publisher in this area. More recently, the appearance of grandchildren, currently living in USA, has much enriched our lives.

One of the benefits and curses of the IT revolution has been that we can each increasingly remain aware of much that is going on in the world, while at the same time pursuing our own little lives. The coming of Twitter eventually gave an outlet for some of my frustrations, 140 characters at a time, under the name @greengrandad. This blog gives the opportunity for more considered comment.

This all may give you some idea that my perspective will not always, hopefully, just be a trivial rant. I stand on the shoulders of giants who have influenced me along the way…