Are we insane?

It is difficult to argue with the suggestion that modern human beings are insane, as we trash the environment, poison our own air and water and our own food supplies, send countless species to extinction, indulge in numerous wars, even drive the global climate towards unpredictable extremes. Steve Taylor‘s 2012 book Back to Sanity addresses this issue. Yes we are insane, but we can get back onto a sane track.

Steve suggests that it was not always so, quoting a number of indigenous leaders and their perception of Europeans, who spread the madness across the globe, for example:

“Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings…”

Chief Luther Standing Bear

Steve suggests that “we suffer from a basic psychological disorder that is the source of our dysfunctional behaviour, both as individuals and as a species.” He coins the term ‘humania’ or ‘ego-madness’ to describe the condition – a malfunctioning of the ego. The essential thesis is that humania is a surface condition, and within we always have access to harmony, sanity and connectedness.

The book is in two parts. Part I examines the psychological dissorder and its effects, how humania gives rise to pathological human behaviours. Part II examines how we can practically transcend this psychological discord, and attain a real state of sanity, which is of course a theme of sages across the ages.

Steve is a psychologist, and his practical suggestions are well founded; many of which you will have come across elsewhere, for example: learning the habit of resting in our own mental space without needing distraction, seeking help to resolve past trauma, learning to dis-identify with thoughts, challenging our own negative scripts, practising service and mindfulness, meditation or meditative activity, periods of quiet.

Steve suggests that our only way forward as a species is for enough people to transcend humania; the alternative is too grim to contemplate, but we see the first intimations in today’s increasingly common extreme climate events.

This is one of now-many books on similar themes, a sure indication that people are beginning to change. Will it be fast enough? Who knows, but that is no reason not to try.

Steve’s book provides good diagnosis and guidance on the most pressing issue of our times.

If we don’t love the Earth

If we don’t love the earth and nature, what future do we human beings have? We are of the earth, an integral part of it. If we don’t love it we will not look after it, and it will not sustain us. This is evidently the track we are on. With every species extinction a little of each of us dies. With every increase in global temperature the future of our descendants becomes more precarious, even less likely to complete what we have come to consider a normal life span.

Historically every civilisation has failed due to loss of soil fertility and climate change. So our global civilisation has perhaps the most difficult task humanity has ever faced. Yet it is so easy, because it is about love, for the earth, for our grandchildren and their children on through the generations. And love is free.

The peculiarity of modernity is that we have placed nature at arms length – ‘the environment’ – and treat her as an economic resource through land ownership, mining, and so on. You cannot love an economic resource; love of money is said to be the root of all evil.

We need to love the earth again, not only as individuals but through our institutions. Even with our limited economic mindset through which politics works, we can do it. But we need to every year put back more than we take out. We need the measures in place and the actions to get there. It is evident that even at this 12th hour, the politicians, supposed leaders, of today, are still not doing enough and are paying lip service, with targets ‘for 2050’ rather than tomorrow.

For example, suppose every species extinction led to a global enquiry, followed up by actions to ensure that such things do not become the daily occurrence that they probably already are…

Frogs are increasingly endangered. When we first made our garden pond over 30 years ago it became regularly populated by many frogs, often found hopping around the garden and heard croaking. This year I think we have one. I was tidying up a part of the garden today, a nice damp area with vegetation overflowing. The frog jumped out and sat on the path looking at me. I’ll swear he was saying ‘hey, enough of that, I live here’. Of course I left his home undisturbed after that.

Yes I need to leave even more of the garden in an untidy state for the many creatures that live there. I love the lot of them. How about you?

Inspired by Why Rebel, by Jay Griffiths, a true lover of the earth.

Featured image of frogs spawning in our garden, 2001.

None of this is now

Another great poem from Steve Taylor this week, reminding us that all the fears, guilt, imaginations, projections, bitterness… are inventions of our minds; when only what is happening here and now is of importance.

None of this is now

None of this is now:
your fears about the future
your guilt and bitterness about the past.

None of this is now: 
the obstacles that seem to lie ahead 
and the failures that seem to stretch behind.

Only this is now:
your moment-to-moment experience
of the world and of your being in the world
and of the other beings who share your world.

And only the now is real. 
An unreal past can’t hurt you 
as a shadow can’t burn the ground. 
An unreal future can’t hurt you 
as a reflection can’t break the still surface of a lake.

Only your mind can hurt you
when it wanders away from now
and loses itself in restless thoughts
of unreal times and places. 

Spiritual science

Can science and spirituality be reconciled? Is there a way of looking at things that brings them into alignment? Of course, the answer is ‘yes’. In his book Spiritual Science, published 2018, Steve Taylor gives a convincing answer. His subtitle is ‘why science needs spirituality to make sense of the world’. Steve gives the reasons and, from my perspective, comprehensively demolishes the arguments for the recently dominant paradigms of materialism and scientism.

Steve looks at the origins of materialism. Science originally developed alongside religion through pioneers such as Descartes, Kepler and Newton. They were not seen as incompatible. it was around the second half of the 19C that Darwin’s theory of evolution came to put into question whether the biblical stories could actually be true; there came a theory that religion was not necessary to explain the world. TH Huxley was a leading proponent of what became the materialistic viewpoint. The inner content of experience and consciousness itself were mysterious elided. After the world wars further discredited religions, materialism gradually took hold, and there came about a new faith that materialism could explain everything. As Steve points out this has denigrated the experience of the spiritual/religious life, and indeed has become a new religion. The result has become increasingly clear as humanity in the large degrades the natural world, and even imperils its own existence.

Steve then goes on to ask the simple question ‘What if the primary reality of the universe is not matter? What if there is another quality, which is so fundamental that it actually pervades matter, and matter is actually a manifestation of it? What if this othe quality also pervades living beings, and all non-living things, so that they are always interconnected?’ Of course, this sort of idea has been adopted by many cultures in history, and is similar to the perspective of the ageless wisdom propagated by Helena Blavatsky. Steve refers back to the ancient Greek philosophy, to the world’s religions, to indigenous cultures, all of whihc had similar viewpoints. It is the modern materialism that is the aberration.

Steve’s panspiritism, and the similar panpsychism, have much greater explanatory power than materialism, which tends to reject the numerous phenomena that it cannot explain, not least the question of consciousness itself, which tends to be ‘explained away’ from the materialist viewpoint (the ‘hard problem’). In the panspiritist vew, consciousness exists everywhere and in everything, and the brain acts as some sort of receiver which channels it. And of course this view allows for the possibility of ‘spiritual experiences’, which are well understood and documented.

Steve goes on to explore the correlates between mind, brain and body, near-death and awakening (spiritual) experiences, psychic phenomena, an alternative view of evolution, the puzzle of altruism, and the problems of quantum physics, which has long been known to be inconsistent with simple materialism. Finally he outlines key tenets of panspiritism and the significance of the expansion of consciousness in the evolution of our universe. This is what it’s all about!

Steve’s book is a genuine tour de force, expressed in language that is not deeply technical. Well worth reading.

Where you stand

I imagine that there is always a wonderful sunset in progress somewhere on earth; whether you see it is just a question of where you stand – a metaphor for the inner spiritual world that lies always within and is accessible with the right inner stance, or so we are told by countless mystics and sages.

The process of seeing the setting sun is, for me, in itself a spiritual experience, bringing me closer to that inner world. So the chance to stand on these Devon cliffs at the recent full moon, as the sun went down, was a privilege indeed. My trusty Panasonic ZX200 superzoom made a fair interpretation of the true glory of the colours, here presented in time sequence.

I was watching out for the green flash as the sun disappeared, but it was not to be on this occasion.

Meanwhile, behind me the unusually large April supermoon was coming up fast, a reminder that these two lights are inseparable and interdependent, as are mind and feelings, which they represent in astrology.

Diaphaneity: Unfolding the Wings of Perception

Another great post by Scott Preston which draws together many different but related threads in the study of our two modes of consciousness.

The ideas of Jean Gebser, William Blake, Carlos Castaneda, Iain McGilchrist, Buddhism, Christian mysticism are woven together and related. All are clearly describing the same reality with different terminologies. And what a wonderful title word: diaphaneity.

The Chrysalis

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” — William Blake

“Purify your eyes, and see the pure world. Your life will fill with radiant forms.” — Rumi

“The mystery, or the secret, of the sorcerers’ explanation is that it deals with unfolding the wings of perception. The nagual by itself is of no use, it has to be tempered by the tonal. The sorcerers’ secret in using the nagual is in our perception.” — don Juan to Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power.

In his book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser describes the new (integral) consciousness as being chiefly characterised by “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. The citations above are other attestations to the fundamental reality of the “diaphainon

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Everything Comes from your Depths

From time to time I include on this blog a poem by Steve Taylor from his latest newsletter. This one reminds us about the source of what is really important, rather than what is on the surface – listening to the intuition, as opposed to the instant reaction of emotions or monkey mind…

Everything Comes from your Depths

Nothing real or valuable 
comes from the surface of your mind –
only the most trivial thoughts,
the most mundane impressions
and the most selfish desires.   

Everything real and valuable 
comes from the depths of your being –
the intuitions that guide your life 
as surely as a compass
the creative flow that carries you 
to places you never knew existed 
the inspiration that lifts you 
to peaks you never knew you could reach
the insights that are shared with you
like whispered secrets from a stranger.  

So let your the mind be soft and clear 
free of assumptions and beliefs 
and of dense swirling mists of thought 
so that there is no barrier
between you and your mysterious soul
and so that the endless riches of your depths
keep rising to your surface.

Beyond the Res Cogitans

I love this post from Scott Preston with a great title. It draws together ancient philosophical/ spiritual/ religious ideas and more modern thinking to suggest the direction that human consciousness is moving in, letting go of Monkey Mind and coming into presence.

And there’s a great poem by Rumi.

The Chrysalis

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified it for you.”

It is often very difficult for Westerners, especially, to understand the meaning of this parable. Generations of conditioning has inculcated the belief that the res cogitans is fundamental to who and what we are — that is “the thinking thing”. “I think, therefore I am”, pronounced Descartes, and divided being into incommensurate domains of the res cogitans and the res extensa — the subject which thinks and the objective realm that it thinks about, the realm of extension, of space and motion. Cogito ergo sum — I am because I think.

This formula (called “metaphysical dualism”) has generated all sorts of problems for the modern mind, which are not…

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Mystical scientists

The greatest scientists are also mystics. They recognise that their science is just producing mathematical models of the real world, and there is always a mystery beyond that. The model is a map, not the territory.

In one of his early books Quantum Questions (1984), American philosopher Ken Wilber collated mystical writings of some of the main physicists who created the 20th century revolution in physics, including relativity and quantum theory. This effectively shows that those pioneers were, each in their own way, also mystics.

I recently got hold of a secondhand copy of the book to check it out. These are the scientific mystics included:

  • Werner Heisenberg, who gave his name to the famous ‘uncertainty principle’
  • Erwin Schrödinger, who developed wave mechanics
  • Albert Einstein, famous for his special and general relativity and contributions in quantum theory and Brownian movement
  • Prince Louise de Broglie, who developed the theory of matter waves
  • James Jeans, who made numerous contributions to the theory of gases, electromagnetism, the evolution of stars and galaxies…
  • Max Planck, father of quantum theory
  • Wolfgang Pauli, whose numerous contributions included the ‘exclusion principle’ and forecasting the existence of the neutrino
  • Arthur Eddington, leading exponent of relativity theory, who led the expedition leading to its first ‘proof’

As Wilber points out, they were following in the tradition of predecessors such as Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton.

All these great scientists recognised the philosophical nature of the work they were doing, and what was not within its scope. It’s a great shame that modern practioners of the strange faith of scientism and materialism did not have that same recognition and came to reject any concept of mysticism or spirituality.

Is the book worth reading? Only if it’s of particular interest for you. But it’s good to know of its existence!

Featured image shows attendees at the famous 1927 Solvay Conference, including
Front Row: Planck (2), Einstein (5),
Middle Row: de Broglie (7),
Back Row: Schrödinger (6), Pauli (8), Heisenberg (9).

by Benjamin Couprie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some Thoughts on Stillness

In this post Andrew reminds us of the value of stillness, the clear mind, the insight into our own inner being. This is how we avoid the constant distraction of the modern world and its insistent demands on our thoughts and attention.

A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

All of men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone

Blaise Pascal

Many of us will do just about anything to avoid a state of boredom. Alone in an empty room staring into the ceiling and doing nothing but examining our thoughts seems dreadful. Faced with this situation we quickly turn to our mobile phones scrolling aimlessly, browse the internet or watch television.

Any distraction will suffice to avoid boredom.

We pride ourselves on outward achievement, on constantly having something to do. Consequently, being busy has become a status symbol in our culture. It demonstrates to others that you are important and have achieved some level of success.

However, not all cultures think of this matter with the same perspective. Eastern philosophies emphasize the importance of introspection and stillness. The practice of meditation asks us to sit alone with the contents of our mind…

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The Fall

Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of the fall, when Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise after an incident with a serpent and a piece of fruit. I remember it from Sunday School at the local Methodist Chapel. Why did our ancestors place so much emphasis on this story? It comes in Genesis 2, in verse 8, just after the creation of heaven and earth.

And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man…

God creates Adam and then Eve and by the end of Chapter 4 (verse 23), because Eve partook of the fruit of a forbidden tree (it was clearly the woman’s fault):

…the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth…

This was obviously highly significant to the men (well they probably were of that gender) who set down the Old Testament. Why? Well, Steve Taylor’s book The Fall has an answer to this question, not only for the scribes of that era, but also for ourselves and future human beings.

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this book – first published in 2005 and highly recommended by many reviewers. I guess I sort of thought I knew the story, but it was not with the wonderful vision encompassed by this book. Steve is a psychologist, so his story is imbued with a deep understanding of human psychology, but he has also clearly researched and understood many disciplines to produce a work of this scope. This is a history of the fall and a vision of our potential return to paradise.

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Hope reprise

I make no apology for reblogging this quote from the Vaclav Havel, the much loved last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic. I believe it speaks particularly to the difficult times we face, worldwide. It is through hope that we will chart a way through.

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world.
Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.
Hope is not a prognostication.
It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is.
Hope definitely is not the same thing as optimism.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Amen.

 

New Renaissance vision – 25 years on

I recently came across this short unpublished article I wrote towards the end of 1996, reflecting on The Knutsford Lectures 1993-1996 on Visions of a New Renaissance, previously described in this post. It was an ambitious attempt to capture the spirit and outline of the needed New Renaissance, inspired by what the 19 individual speakers had said. The limitations of my perspective and the lack of suitable outlets meant the article was never published.

Discovering this piece led me to consider, what has changed in nearly 25 years. Was the outlined vision valid? Are we any nearer to it? Here’s my brief assessment, against the categories in the Emerging Vision section of the above paper i.e.:

  • Sustainable ecology.
  • Ethical behaviour and social responsibility
  • Local economy and community
  • Appropriate scale and human scale
  • Open science
  • Soul and spirit
  • Love, compassion, nonviolence
  • Holistic views
  • Living philosophy
  • Imagination, inspiration, arts

I have to say that, despite some encouraging features, it seems as if we are further away from a New Renaissance than we were 25 years ago. Consider just three points:

  1. Dominating everything else, the failure to effectively act on environmental sustainability and climate change for 25 years has led us into an increasingly perilous situation. We, particularly governments and moneymakers, have failed the test of ‘acting as if future generations matter’. On the other hand, far more individual people are acting as if they do; the pendulum is moving.
  2. Behind this is the dead weight of materialism, mechanism and reductionism, continuing to dominate science, governance and economics, stifling the emergence of soul, spirit, love, compassion, true values.
  3. The conflict between large scale and human scale is still heavily over-balanced in favour of the mega-projects, big government, industrial-scale farming and against human communities, particularly indigenous, and local solutions. Human inequalities increase as a result of an economic/governmental system that systematically increases them.

It does not have to be thus. We are creating the new world day by day, in our thoughts and resulting actions. The New Renaissance is a spur to our forward thinking. Take at look at SciMed‘s current New Renaissance initiative!

And I have to be encouraged by the direction taken by international organisations, and particularly the forthcoming Davos Agenda, plus this year’s schedule of global conferences. Covid-19 appears to have catalysed the understanding that the current ‘system’ no longer works, and a new direction is necessary for the whole of humanity, based on working with nature, inclusion and social justice, and trust between nations. A reason for hope!

What is Philosophy for?

Mary Midgley was 99 when this book was published. This was also the year she died. What was so important as to keep this English philosopher active to such a great age? She had seen generations of academics come and go, and observed the follies of many thinkers in varying disciplines, who even denigrated the purpose of philosophy itself. She’d probably fought many battles. And now she had the clarity to write in a small volume what was the essence of the need for philosophy, in the process pointing out its wide range of applicability and the limitations of its critics. This is a wonderful, clear and refreshing book, remarkable for one of such advanced years.

So what is philosophy for? Midgley has a simple answer, in the spirit of a whole line of philosophers since the time of Socrates: “it is surely the effort to examine our life as a whole, to make sense of it, to locate its big confusions and resolve its big conflicts.” She goes on to ask why people need to study philosophy at all: “because it explains the relations between different ways of thinking”, suggesting that new developments in thought largely come from seeing across the disciplines, rather than from following tracks within them.

Midgley lived through the times when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and academia in the UK was required to become more ‘relevant’. Many traditional philosophy departments were forced to close and what were left focused on the business of ‘research’. Her attitude to such research is well expressed: “…I don’t do any, because I’m certainly not organizing any static mining operation of this kind. I suppose that instead I try to follow the argument (as Plato said) wherever it runs, and I may finally catch it in a territory quite far from the one where it started.”

Why did she write the book?

What makes me write books is usually exasperation, and this time it was a rather general exasperation against the whole reductive, scientistic, mechanistic, fantasy-ridden creed which still constantly distorts the world-view of our age.

This gives a good clue as to the content. I will pick out a few areas where Midgley’s views are far from the mainstream, but largely accord with the ideas you have read in this blog and elsewhere on the needs for a New Renaissance.

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Ethics reduced to economics?

Over the years I’ve listened to many of BBC Radio 4’s short talks entitled Thought for the Day. I always found one of the most profound speakers to be Jonathan Sacks, then Chief Rabbi, who died recently. I am indebted to David Lorimer’s New Renaissance Newsletter, published by SciMed, for bringing to my attention the significant speech given by Sacks in his 2016 Acceptance Address for the Templeton Prize. The following extracts key points related to our current Western predicament. It could almost be his manifesto for a New Renaissance. Or you could just read the original at the above link.

“We have forgotten one of the most important lessons to have emerged from the wars of religion in 16/17C and the new birth of freedom that followed. A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.

At some point the West abandoned this belief. When I went to Cambridge in the late 60s, the philosophy course was then called Moral Sciences, meaning that just like the natural sciences, morality was objective, real, part of the external world. I soon discovered, though, that almost no one believed this anymore. Morality was no more than the expression of emotion, or subjective feeling, or private intuition, or autonomous choice. It was, within limits, whatever I chose it to be. In fact there was nothing left to study but the meaning of words. To me this seemed less like civilization than the breakdown of a civilization.

It took me years to work out what had happened. Morality had been split in two and outsourced to other institutions. There were moral choices and there were the consequences of our moral choices. Morality itself was outsourced to the market. The market gives us choices, and morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire. The result is that we find it increasingly hard to understand why there might be things we want to do, can afford to do, and have a legal right to do, that nonetheless we should not do because they are unjust or dishonourable or disloyal or demeaning: in a word, unethical. Ethics was reduced to economics.

The consequences of our choices were outsourced to the state. Bad choices lead to bad outcomes: failed relationships, neglected children, depressive illness, wasted lives. But the government would deal with it. Forget about marriage as a sacred bond between husband and wife. Forget about the need of children for a loving and secure human environment. Forget about the need for communities to give us support in times of need. Welfare was outsourced to the state. As for conscience, that once played so large a part in the moral life, that could be outsourced to regulatory bodies. So having reduced moral choice to economics, we transferred the consequences of our choices to politics.

It seemed to work, at least for a generation or two. But by now problems have arisen that can’t be solved by the market or the state alone. To mention just a few: The structural unemployment that follows outsourcing. The further unemployment that will come when artificial intelligence increasingly replaces human judgment and skill. Artificially low interest rates that encourage borrowing and debt and discourage saving and investment. Wildly inflated CEO pay. The lowering of living standards, first of the working class, then of the middle class. The insecurity of employment. The inability of young families to afford a home. The collapse of marriage, leading to intractable problems of child poverty and depression. The collapse of birthrates throughout Europe, leading to unprecedented levels of immigration, and the systemic failure to integrate some of these groups. The loss of family, community and identity, that once gave us the strength to survive unstable times…

Why have they proved insoluble? First, because they are global, and governments are only national. Second, because they are long term while the market and liberal democratic politics are short term. Third, because they depend on changing habits of behaviour, which neither the market nor the liberal democratic state are mandated to do. Above all, though, because they can’t be solved by the market and the state alone. You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away.

When you do, you raise expectations that cannot be met. And when, inevitably, they are not met, society becomes freighted with disappointment, anger, fear, resentment and blame. People start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism. The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was. The far left seeks a utopian future that will never be. Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror. Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace.

Two historical phenomena have long fascinated me. One is the strange fact that, having lagged behind China for a thousand years, the West overtook it in 17C, creating science, industry, technology, the free market and the free society. The second is the no less strange fact that Jews and Judaism survived for two thousand years after the destruction of the Second Temple, having lost everything on which their existence was predicated in the Bible: their land, their home, their freedom, their Temple, their kings, their prophets and priests.

The explanation in both cases, is the same. It is the precise opposite of outsourcing: namely the internalization of what had once been external. Wherever in the world Jews prayed, there was the Temple. Every prayer was a sacrifice, every Jew a priest, and every community a fragment of Jerusalem. Something similar happened in those strands of Islam that interpreted jihad not as a physical war on the battlefield but as a spiritual struggle within the soul.

A parallel phenomenon occurred in Christianity after the Reformation, especially in the Calvinism that in 16/17C transformed Holland, Scotland, England of the Revolution and America of the Pilgrim Fathers. It was this to which Max Weber famously attributed the spirit of capitalism. The external authority of the Church was replaced by the internal voice of conscience. This made possible the widely distributed networks of trust on which the smooth functioning of the market depends. We are so used to contrasting the material and the spiritual that we sometimes forget that the word credit comes from the Latin credo, I believe, and confidence, that requisite of investment and economic growth, comes from fidentia meaning faith or trust.

What emerged in Judaism and post-Reformation Christianity was the rarest of character-types: the inner-directed personality. Most societies, for most of history, have been either tradition-directed or other-directed. People do what they do, either because that is how they have always been done, or because that’s what other people do.

Inner-directed types are different. They become pioneers, innovators, survivors. They have an internalized navigation system, so aren’t fazed by uncharted territory. They have a strong sense of duty to others. They try to have secure marriages. They hand on their values to their children. They belong to strong communities. They take daring but carefully calculated risks. When they fail, they have rapid recovery times.

They have discipline. They enjoy tough challenges and hard work. They play it long. They are more interested in sustainability than quick profits. They know they have to be responsible to customers, employees and shareholders, as well as to the wider public, because only thus will they survive in the long run. They don’t do foolish things like creative accounting, subprime mortgages, and falsified emissions data, because they know you can’t fake it forever. They don’t consume the present at the cost of the future, because they have a sense of responsibility for the future. They have the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct. They do all this because they have an inner moral voice. Some call it conscience. Some call it the voice of God.

Cultures like that stay young. They defeat the entropy, the loss of energy, that has spelled the decline and fall of every other empire and superpower in history. But the West has let it go. It’s externalized what it once internalized. It has outsourced responsibility. It’s reduced ethics to economics and politics. Which means we are dependent on the market and the state, forces we can do little to control. One day our descendants will look back and ask, How did the West lose what once made it great?

Every observer of the grand sweep of history has said essentially the same thing: civilizations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being. It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West. Sure signs are: falling birthrate, moral decay, growing inequalities, loss of trust in social institutions, self-indulgence of the rich, hopelessness of the poor, unintegrated minorities, failure to make sacrifices for the sake of the future, loss of faith in old beliefs and no new vision to take their place. These danger signals are flashing now.

There is an alternative: to become inner-directed again. This means recovering the moral dimension that links our welfare to the welfare of others, making us collectively responsible for the common good. It means recovering the spiritual dimension that helps us tell the difference between the value of things and their price. We are more than consumers and voters; our dignity transcends what we earn and own. It means remembering that what’s important is not just satisfying our desires but also knowing which desires to satisfy. It means restraining ourselves in the present so that our children may have a viable future. It means reclaiming collective memory and identity so that society becomes less of a hotel and more of a home. It means learning that there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away. 

We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future. If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.”

Featured image of Sacks by cooperniall via Wikimedia Commons

New humanity rising

Do you sometimes wonder at the larger number of do-gooding organisations in the world? How come there are so many, many people willing to dedicate part of their lives to improving the lot of others and our connection with nature. Their name is legion.

Of course, many of us despair at the dark forces of personality and greed that apparently lead many major governments and businesses. But behind this there are so many forces moving in a more enlightened direction, and changing the nature of political debate, slowly but surely.

I believe that we see here the symptoms of genuine progress of humanity, away from the strong attraction of charismatic and fear-driven personality/ego forces, towards a deeper and genuine connection with, for want of a better phrase, spiritual values such as truth, beauty, goodness, compassion. Humanity is evolving, not least because of the demands being placed on us as a result of recent materialistic blindness,

I was much struck by the words of Simon Marlow in the recent Arcane School full moon talk for the sign of Sagittarius:

“Let us be clear in our assertion of the reality that over the course of history humanity has displayed a real trajectory of spiritual progress and development. This view causes not a few eyebrows to be raised, especially these days, when there is so much apparent evidence to the contrary. The conventional scientific and sociological view is that humanity has not really changed at all for thousands of years; that the great civilisations are but superficial veneers which temporarily paper over the permanently present and serious cracks or flaws in the character of humanity; that humanity is in fact fatally flawed. All apparent progress is only notional, to use Stephen J Gould’s striking phrase.

If we just existed as the form, as separate selfish personalities, as forever warring nations and competing power blocs, I think we would be quite justified in holding this view. But the point is we are not just personalities. The personality is, if you like, only the tip of the iceberg, the visible bit. Deeper than that, perhaps hidden to many but always present, are far more extensive, holistic and loving dimensions of our being. These dimensions are now demanding a widespread recognition. And did we but know it, the very flaws and deficiencies within humanity are forcing us all to become discoverers of these dimensions of conscious living that lie hidden within us all. And the guarantee of their existence is their revelation in the lives of the increasing number of spiritual giants and geniuses who have emerged from the womb of humanity over time.

We do not perhaps hold sufficiently in our minds the reality that it is our recognitionof these problems that is so encouraging. The fact is that millions of people all over the world are facing up to this reality and are now working and serving to heal, to remedy injustice, to resolve the urgent environmental and climate problems, to hold new images of beauty before the eyes of everyone, to penetrate ever more deeply into the mysteries of the unknown, and to attain to new heights of achievement in every single field of human activity without exception.”

Full Moon Talk Sagittarius, November 2020, London,  Simon Marlow

Humanity is rising to new heights of being, to more conscious living. Each of us has a part to play…

Featured image shows hidden dimensions of an iceberg in Svalbard, its underwater surface structures.
from Andreas Weith, via Wikimedia Commons

Making the Human Race Whole

Steve Taylor writes some wonderful poems that really strike a chord. This one is from his latest newsletter, and his latest book The Clear Light. It brings the universal down to the personal.

Making the Human Race Whole

Make as many connections as you can 
so that this broken world can become whole again.  

It’s your responsibility 
to radiate benevolence to everyone you meet
to be reckless with your friendliness
and surprise strangers with your openness 
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to turn suspicion to trust, hostility to sympathy 
to expose the absurdity of prejudice
to return hatred with implacable good will
until your enemies have no choice but to love you
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to free yourself from bitterness
and harness the healing power of forgiveness
to repair connections and re-establish bonds 
that were broken by resentment years ago
on behalf of the whole human race.  

It’s your responsibility 
to make as many connections as you can
to open up channels of empathy 
through which compassion can flow 
until there are so many connections
across so many different networks
that finally, like the cells of a body, 
billions of human beings will fuse together, 
sensing their common sources 
and their common core.  

Then a new identity will emerge, an overriding oneness,
a human race that is truly whole, at last.

Psychology and Astrology Models

Two of the major themes in this blog have been

  1. the interconnectedness of all things and the implications of that for the modern world, and
  2. the need for development and growth of the individual psyche, from both psychological and spiritual perspectives.

These themes come together in a subject called astrological psychology, which I will briefly consider by describing their basic models of the human being.

Psychosynthesis

Psychosynthesis is a transpersonal or spiritual psychology, which considers not only the personality or ego, but the higher spiritual faculties. Psychosynthesis was developed by Italian psychoanalyst Roberto Assagioli, a contemporary of Carl Jung. Both built on the work of Freud and developed psychologies with a spiritual dimension.

Assagioli’s view of human nature is encapsulated in his ‘Egg model’. The psychological ego lies within the dotted egg shape, in its conscious and unconscious guises. The transpersonal (spiritual or higher) self lies at the top and just outside the egg itself. The boundary of the egg is dotted, to illustrate the permeable nature of this relationship, i.e. that this higher self can be connected with.

It is easy to see that the stronger the ego becomes, the more materialistic the person becomes, the less she is open to the higher self, the less permeable is the shell of the egg. In the extreme case the habitual ego is effectively encased within a hard shell. The possibility of higher connection has all but disappeared. It is not difficult to identify individuals in the world where this is apparently the case. Their name is legion.

For most of us the shell is permeable, but the layer of habit is quite strong. Some effort and perseverance is required to connect to our higher faculties. This is where the addition of astrology can help.

Astrology

Now consider the fact that all is interconnected. We are each part of the one whole, which includes the heavens. Not surprising then, that the configuration of the heavens at the moment we are born tells us something about ourselves. The connection is brought alive by astrology.

Swiss astrologer/psychologist Bruno Huber studied this connection while working with Assagioli, and eventually came up with a workable synthesis of the two disciplines. He identified correlations between the psychology of the individual and the astrological chart of their birth time, in the process creating an entirely new form of birth chart, which is beyond the scope of this brief article. His system was termed astrological psychology.

Huber’s Amphora (simplified)

Huber developed his model of the Amphora, which takes Assagioli’s Egg and extends it into an astrological model of the psyche.

The Amphora relates the Egg to astrology, and shows a way upward towards our spiritual nature. The ego lies, as before, within the Egg, reflected by the personality planets [Sun, Moon, Saturn – glyphs in red] supported by the tool planets [Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter – lower white glyphs]. The Egg has been opened out at the top, where lie the top three transpersonal planets – the lowest, Uranus is the planet which helps ‘break through’ the shell of the ego, the middle one Neptune represents the universal love at the ‘neck’ of the Amphora, through which we must pass before the spiritual transformation with Pluto at the top.

Of course this is a symbolic representation, whose meaning in the context of any given individual and their birth chart can be teased out by the seasoned astrological psychologist.

Astrological Psychology

This is just a taste of the rich astrological psychology that was developed by Bruno Huber with his wife Louise. The fascinating story of how this came about and the enormous dedication and effort of these two remarkable human beings is told in the recently published biography Piercing the Eggshell, edited by myself and Joyce Hopewell.

Featured image shows Roberto Assagioli and Bruno Huber.
Amphora diagram is an extract from the cover of Piercing the Eggshell.

Which Jesus?

Stories of the origins of Christianity and the myths of Jesus are an ongoing fascination.

There are two competing visions of Jesus, well articulated in this post from Medium (limited free access).

There is the Jesus of Faith, which was created by the Roman Church when it became an institution linked to political power through the Emperor Constantine. Personal salvation comes through faith.

Then there is the Jesus of Wisdom, understood by many early Christians, suppressed as heretics by Church dogma, leading to inquisitions and crusades. This Jesus was rediscovered through the Gospel of Thomas, found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, probably of earlier origin than the canonical gospels. Personal revelation comes through seeking within. This ‘gnostic’ Jesus shows the spiritual possibilities of a Christianity that was and could have been.Read More »

Reincarnation

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of reincarnation, despite its been scoffed at by much mainstream thought. At first this came from the attraction to Eastern religions, particularly Buddhist and Hindhu. But science has been catching up, and in this article (limited access via Medium) Deepak Chopra gives a nice summary of where things are, sprinkled with his own imagination.

He quotes Jim Tucker’s summary of research that shows that a significant percentage of children, up to the age of six, who have credibly reported experience of previous lives, and where that has been checked out. “There has been no serious questioning of the validity of this research.”

To cut a short story even shorter, Chopra summarises a plausible extension of current science:

What Nature presents, from the level of subatomic particles to the level of DNA, is an endless recycling. Just as physics tells us matter and energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed, the same is thought to apply to information and, going a step further, to consciousness. Everything in Nature is about endless transformation, and in the cosmic recycling bin, ingredients are not simply jumbled and rejumbled like balls in a Bingo cage.

Instead, as viewed in human perception, Nature exhibits evolution through three linked processes: memory, creativity, and imagination. Memory keeps the past intact, allowing older forms to contribute to new ones. Creativity allows for novelty so that recycling isn’t mere repetition of the same forms over and over. Imagination allows for invisible possibilities to take shape, either in the mind or the physical world.

If everything in Nature is recycling under the influence of memory, creativity, and imagination, it seems very likely that human consciousness participates in the same recycling. Or to put it another way, if human consciousness doesn’t recycle/reincarnate, we’d be outside a process that includes everything else in the universe but us. Is that really probable?

So maybe reincarnation is just cosmic recycling of consciousness. Nice thought.

Featured image is summary from Jim Tucker’s article linked above.
Thanks to SciMed‘s New Renaissance Newsletter for bringing this to my attention.