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Welcome!

John Daniels photoWelcome to my thoughtstream on the topic of creative change. I appreciate your visit and hope you’ll stay a while.

Tracts of Revolution explores the dynamics of human creativity as it swirls in our cells, pulses through our bodies, connects us to each other, and constructs the magnificent panoply of world cultures. You will find two distinct currents to this thoughtstream that may interest you.

“Conversations” are blog posts reflecting on the creative works of authors and artists of our present day and recent past. These creators communicated their visions of reality and the human future through words and other art-forms, partly to share them with the rest of us, but also because they finally couldn’t resist the force that seized and inspired them. I name that force “the creative spirit,” and am convinced that it inhabits all of us – while only a relatively few of us are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to “go with the flow.”

I have a lot to say about spirituality and religion, but this shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that I consider the creative spirit especially religious or “spiritual” in a more narrowly religious sense. The authors I bring into conversation are both religious and nonreligious, believers and atheists, metaphysically-minded psychonauts and down-to-earth humanists. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what ideological camp you inhabit, what country you call home, what language you speak, which way you’re oriented, or whether you are charming or abrasive. You and I are creators, and it’s time we take responsibility for this incredible power with which the universe has endowed our species.

For a more practical and therapeutic approach to creativity, check out my blog Braintracts. Over the past 30 years I have developed a life-change program that helps individuals take creative control of their lives and step more intentionally into the worlds they really want to inhabit. This approach is brain-based and solution-focused, pulling from the current research of neuroscience and the best practices in human empowerment (counseling and coaching).

The Medieval art/science of metallurgy investigated the molecular secrets of changing natural ores into metals and other alloys. The process was mysterious and the research traditions of those early scientists often took on the shroud of an almost gnostic mysticism. Mentallurgy is my attempt to remove the shroud of secrecy from the question of how the power of attention is transformed into the attitudes, beliefs, moods and drives behind human behavior. If you don’t particularly like the world you presently inhabit, then create a different one! Mentallurgy can show you how. Click over to www.braintracts.wordpress.com

Being Human

Our health, happiness, and fulfillment as human beings are based in, and therefore dependent on, how deeply we understand ourselves. By that I mean something more than what we think of ourselves, or what general theory of human nature we happen to hold.

Understanding is by definition a deep (“under”) position (“standing”) that accommodates a full or complete view of something – not a mere glimpse or even just an angle, but what in psychology is called a gestalt, a spontaneous intuition of the whole thing.

What I’ve been working with all these years is just such a spontaneous intuition of being human. Not what it means to be human or where humans fit within the great taxonomy of living things, but what the human experience is in essence, beneath all our genetic variations, cultural backgrounds, time periods, personality traits, and life conditions.

Rather than conceiving of it in terms of some foundational substance or basic “stuff” that all of us are made of, however, I have found it much more useful to regard being human (or human be-ing) in terms of the long arc of consciousness on its journey through evolutionary time.

Whereas anthropological science seeks to unearth our nature in the distant past, and supernatural religion insists that being human begins and ends in unearthly realms, I think the German philosopher of Existentialism, Martin Heidegger, was correct to observe that a genuine understanding of ourselves has only one place to start: right where we are (Dasein) as we wake up to the question of our life’s meaning, purpose, and destiny.

As we read in the 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy,

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself …”

In the middle of our life might refer to the developmental transition of midlife, but more likely what Dante had in mind was this “existential moment” where each of us comes to the more or less shocking realization that we are on our own (to pick up with Dante again) “in a dark wood where the straight way [is] lost.”

Even if our tribe has successfully enveloped us inside its moral conscience – referring not to the Romantic notion of an individual’s innate sense of right and wrong, but rather to the system of agreements and common assumptions that defines (or enframes: what I call the “moral frame“) what its members accept as “right behavior” and a “good person” – our existential moment can throw all of that into question.

The “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, “Where am I going?” and “What really matters?” questions break open all our social securities and invite us to reset our orientation in life. This is the middle of our life where we have an opportunity to really make it our own.

We got into this position of standing in our own separate center of self-conscious identity by a process of individuation, and it’s here, as we come to ourselves amid the tangled branches of a “dark wood,” that the whole arc of our life might be grasped as a single gestalt.

The above diagram is my best rendering of that gestalt, and it illustrates the wonderful irony that such a “whole picture” of being human requires us to first find ourselves out of the picture.

In a sense, it’s similar to the way that separating ourselves from Earth and standing on the Moon afforded us a position from which we could grasp the magnificent gestalt of our planet for the first time.

Personal consciousness, the offspring of tribal consciousness, gradually differentiated itself out of the herd sympathies of our group and gave us a way of participating in the society of individuals. Differentiation and participation, then, mark the critical thresholds of our individuation – the lower threshold (differentiation) serving to establish our identity as distinct from our body (in the sense that “I have a body”), and the upper threshold providing for the possibility of meaningful interpersonal relationships.

When our individuation is healthy and successful, ego consciousness can be fully present in our body (the experience of embodiment), as well as fully capable of going beyond itself (the experience of transcendence) for the sake of, and in service to, a higher wholeness.

From here we can understand ourselves as grounded in a present mystery (by our body and its visceral intelligence), on a journey of personal self-discovery (as a developing ego), all the while advancing farther into more inclusive harmonies and deeper into communion with being itself (through the spiritual intelligence of our soul).

This, then, is the long arc of consciousness alluded to earlier. The observational distance needed for a spontaneous intuition (gestalt) and true understanding of being human is made possible by the delusion of our separate self, whose function, developmentally speaking, is to provide consciousness a point from which it can drop into the ground of being (embodiment) and leap into the web of life (transcendence).

By virtue of our delusional separation, we are in a place where we can come to ourselves, take creative authority in the construction of meaning (our world), and live our lives with intention (Dante’s “straight way”).

There’s a chance, though – even a fairly high probability – that our journey of individuation didn’t go all that smoothly. For any number of reasons, our ego’s differentiation from the body was more traumatic than it might have been, perhaps complicated by abuse or a morally repressive tribal conscience. The result was that our body is not a place where we feel grounded. Its chronic anxiety, locked-up frustration, and exhausted depression is not for us a refuge of quiet solitude and inner peace.

Outwardly the situation is no better. Instead of a secure center of social identity, personal agency, and relational freedom, our insecurity motivates us into neurotic attachment and codependent entanglements. Unable to “come to ourselves,” we end up in submission to whomever and whatever promises – or we hope will provide – a safe identity to hide inside.

Whether it is a political party, a religious denomination, or some more radical and sectarian cult that holds our loyalty, we find that we cannot even think for ourselves or make our own decisions outside its control.

Too many are under the spell of an authoritarian idol or absolutist ideology, ready to kill and die on its command, or at least willing to put our one precious life on hold for the promise of a better one later on – after the revolution, or in heaven when it’s all over.

This alienated condition of somatic and relational dissociation is where a large number of us are presently stuck. We can’t even come to ourselves enough to realize that we are in a “dark wood,” and that our “straight way” is lost to us until we decide to commit ourselves to living authentically – on purpose – and for the sake of what truly matters.

Breakpoint for Humanity

The concept of community is widely misunderstood and frequently gets misapplied to types of human groupings such as assemblies, crowds, neighborhoods, or regional populations. These others are based on a quantitative function of individuals gathered or grouped together, and might be distinguished by their specific conditions of location, setting, or occasion.

Community, on the other hand, is a qualitative phenomenon where individuals are connected to each other and united in a transcendental state of communal consciousness, mutual regard, and the harmony of wills.

Putting individuals together or enclosing them inside a boundary does not thereby make them a community. Something has to happen – a transformation in their way of being together, of how they relate to one another, in each individual’s sense of and committment to participating in a higher wholeness, in the transpersonal unity of life.

The theoretical model of cultural progress and human evolution that informs this blog sees humanity on a path leading ultimately to the fulfillment of our deeper nature, in the realization of genuine community. Similar to Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of creation’s “Omega Point,” but without his religious-metaphysical assumptions, this model invites us to contemplate humanity’s evolutionary ideal – the epigenetic code deep inside us that’s moving (or seeking to move) our species toward the full actualization of our nature as human beings.

Needless to say, we’re not there yet, although we can certainly identify pockets in human society where signs of spiritual awakening and genuine community are evident. Nevertheless, just now vast populations of humans seem to be sliding backwards into a less civilized, more selfish and antagonistic attitude in their engagement with the world around them.

If we can’t find our way through this battlefield of races, nations, and ideologies, it’s possible we might drive ourselves to extinction.

The beliefs and behavior of a growing number are becoming increasingly irrational, confused, angry, and violent. With our trust in journalism, science, and education profoundly eroded in recent years, the general feeling is that we are caught in a whirlwind with no steady ground under our feet or clear vantage point on what’s happening.

Lacking the sense of a way through, we wonder if this is where it’s all going to end.

This is why it’s all the more important to find a lens that can help us see our current predicament in a larger context. With such a lens, I propose that much of the disorientation and upheaval we are experiencing right now can be understood as the inherently unstable conditions of transformative change.

By definition, transformation is a process characterized by a phase transition between two relatively stable states or forms. This transitional phase can be “deeply chaotic,” having left behind something familiar and predictable, but still offshore from what is yet unknown.

If humanity is in the midst of such a transformative (i.e., evolutionary) process of change, and I believe we are, then we might stand a better chance of making meaningful progress if the two shores (forms, states, or stages) are better understood.

Humans began their evolutionary journey in a “herd” state of consciousness that can also be called tribal. In this relatively stable state, the individual is not yet self-conscious – that is to say, he is not yet aware of himself as an individual, as a basic indivisible unit. His consciousness is, at it were, buried like a seed in the maternal ground of his tribe which provides for his nourishment, protection, and emotional security.

These benefits of tribal existence will continue to operate on the emerging self-conscious individual, as “lures” back into its more primitive – originally preconscious and later subconscious – mode of being.

Our epigenetic code as a species – or what I prefer to call the “human ideal,” exactly like Aristotle’s entelechy or developmental aim – did not let us stay in this buried state of herd consciousness. Inevitably individuals began to step out from the tribe; or, if the primitive myths of this period can be interpreted as psycho-evolutionary records of human transformation, then the experience was more like a falling-out or eviction from a paradisal state of existence (the metaphorical Garden of Eden).

The process of becoming an individual, called individuation, involves a gradual centering of consciousness in the self, with the goal (that inner aim again) of taking more and more control over one’s own behavior, choices, and commitments in life. This position of autonomy, literally of “self-control” (auto+nomos), is a necessary step in the formation of ego strength. Ideally – and once again speaking in evolutionary terms – the centered and autonomous individual is capable of responding to the world intentionally, out of ethical consideration and with creative freedom.

My diagram illustrates this progress into individual autonomy, ego strength, and personal responsibility, by an arrow culminating at a point where the individual is finally free to “go beyond” (or transcend) himself in the experience of community. Such transcendence does not require him to renounce or negate himself for the sake of the group, which would effectively nullify his centered self-control of autonomy. Instead it affirms his individuality as it empowers him to connect with others, expand his world horizons, and contribute to the greater wellbeing.

This higher state of consciousness is properly communal in the way it envisions, honors, and adds value to the transpersonal unity of life. Here individuals are not blended into the community, but celebrated and relied on for their unique talents, aspirations and creative effort. In their shared commitment to dialogue, they co-construct a world that is big enough to include everyone.

The diversity of individuals is not a threat but a stimulant for the generosity and goodwill essential to promoting harmony. Occasional tensions and conflicts are reconciled (upwards) in healthy compromise, literally a “promise together,” rather than resolved (downwards) by unilateral dominance and discipline.

Those last few paragraphs are my best description of what I mean by genuine community, the inner aim and ultimate goal of human evolution. It is, and will be, what secures a creative and prosperous future for our species on this planet – or on any planet we might one day colonize.

The other path, one that leads to misery and mutual destruction, fails to reach the point of the individual’s autonomy and his transpersonal leap into community. Instead of achieving a position of centered self-control and social responsibility, this break-off and collapse (rather than expansion) of consciousness happens as a consquence of neurotic insecurity, of his overwhelming feeling of existential exposure and social alienation.

To the degree that his tribe is rigidly authoritarian yet incompetent in the practices of mindful parenting, holistic education, and the politics of community formation, the individual will tend to seek social approval over self-actualization, willingly sacrificing his own human fulfillment on the altar of herd security. Rather than going beyond himself for the sake of genuine community, he submits himself to the thought-control (i.e., orthodoxy), lifeless idols, and soul-stifling refuge of his tribe.

And so, here we are. As we look out on the global situation today, it becomes clear that so many of us are struggling but falling short of our own self-control and creative freedom, lacking a center from which we might engage others and the world around us in a rational and responsible way, one that is spiritually relevant to this critical breakpoint for humanity.

Bringing Up a Racist

If you really want to raise your child to be a racist, referring to someone who regards skin colors and ethnicities other than one’s own as inferior, untrustworthy, and in more extreme cases even subhuman, then it will help to know something about how such beliefs get established. It won’t work to sit your child down with a list of propositions about “those others” and have them write out the lines – “All purple people are bad.” “All purple people are bad.” – until they come to believe.

I’m using belief here in distinction from “faith,” “knowledge,” “understanding,” and “wisdom,” in acknowledgement of its subjective bias.

Beliefs, that is to say, are judgments anchored not in objective facts or even very much in logical reasoning, but rather in our emotional commitment to their truth, of their rendering in language the way things really are, once were, or surely one day will be. A belief is skewed in favor of the ego (the personality-controlled mind) that holds them, if only for the sense of certainty it provides, and for the deeper and underyling security such certainty affords.

It’s our Western cognitive bias that would have you believe that the explicit teaching of racist beliefs to your child is the best way to ensure your desired outcome – that your child grows up to be the same bigoted racist you are. This head-heavy, logo-centric assumption has been driving Western education, philosophy, science, religion, and psychology for hundreds of years, operating by its own unquestioned belief that learning is a top-down affair.

All the while, perceptive parents and teachers have observed that youngsters learn more by imprinting and imitation (watching adults and doing what they do), than by listening and following instructions that come down from above.

So, quite contrary to our Western cultural bias, my advice to parents wanting to bring up little racists who might themselves some day strive passionately (even violently) against people of different skin color and ethnicity, is to start not with their minds but with their bodies.

To clarify what I mean, let’s picture the evolution of belief as a vertical continuum that is anchored in the ground of “behavior” and reaches up into the sky of a “worldview.”

As racism is always just one component of a larger worldview, the common mistake is thinking that the real work must be up there, in the explicit judgments, propositional logic, broad generalizations, and dogmatic convictions of what you believe as a racist parent.

But as already stated, this is not how it’s actually accomplished.

The real work must begin with behavior, for the simple reason that the mind aligns with what the body is up to – coming up with justifications, excuses, and likely stories that make sense of how it feels, what it’s doing, or what’s been done.

It’s not even necessary, therefore, to begin by telling your child what to believe (e.g., that “purple people are bad”). All you need to do is take their hand and steer them along a path of behavior that avoids all encounters with purple people. The earlier in their development you can do this the better, since any inadvertent and unsupervised encounter with an actual purple person will likely elicit your child’s natural interest, human empathy, and social engagement – and this can take some time to repeal and replace with the bigotry you are wanting to anchor in.

Be sure to be consistent with this behavioral “steering” of your child, careful to walk quickly to the other side of the street, for instance, when you see purple people up ahead. Don’t spend any time on instruction during this phase, recalling that your principal objective here is not really to teach anything, just to habituate a way of behaving that will provide your child’s mind with the routine body movements and corresponding nervous states upon which it will gradually construct its worldview.

The simple association of a quick 90-degree turn with the sight of purple people up ahead will get anchored into your child’s nervous system, prompting them with the appropriate subconscious directive in future encounters.

What you want from this operant conditioning of your child’s behavior is to anchor in place a set of action codes, or autonomic directives, that conspire together in prompting them to act without thinking. This subconscious process is a system of underlying bio-behavioral mechanisms that support the attitudes that will energize and orient your child’s mental appraisal of his or her world.

As we’re using the term, an attitude is an emotional position the mind takes with respect to its circumstances, or to specific conditions or objects embedded in these circumstances.

The subconsciously generated reaction of hesitation, fear, and vigilance that your child feels as their body makes its programmed detour around the purple people is properly considered an attitude which the youngster is taking with respect to those “bad people” up ahead. As you can see, the important progress you are making has to do with the gradual formation in consciousness of a proto-belief – not yet a formal proposition or doctrine, but rather a physiological reaction and “emotional position” that will serve as the subjective foundation of racist bigotry.

At this point it is helpful to affirm your child’s avoidant behavior, by saying something like, “That’s smart of you to cross to the other side of the street, because you can never know what those purple people might do to you. It’s better to be safe than sorry.” It’s not necessary for you to launch into a long racist diatribe of supremacist orthodoxy, since the “reason” for your child’s avoidant behavior is already anchored in their body and behavior.

It would be much more effective for you to ask your child to justify their behavior to you, asking why they are acting in such an intelligent, careful, and responsible way.

As their mind composes the reasons, stories, and broader theories that justify an attitude of suspicion and antagonism toward this or that purple person, it will steadily clarify into a perspective on purple people in general. From there, belief will broaden out into a philosophy of purpleness and all its negative connotations, eventually getting assimilated into a conceptual lens for viewing reality as a whole. This racist worldview is your ultimate goal as a diligent parent and teacher.

Having reached this point, the bigotry of racism is fully enclosed by convictions from which your child’s mind will likely never break free. Congratulations on a job well done.

Coming Together

Everybody is asking for my grand unified theory of everything. Well, actually no one is asking. Hell, hardly anyone reads this blog, to be honest. But I keep polishing my lens and clarifying a theory that brings everything inside a single frame. That’s the supreme triadic principle of wisdom after all: (1) All is one, (2) We’re all in this together, and (3) We need to wake up to the truth before it’s too late.

The risk of ignoring it is that you or I may die without ever having lived. On the larger scale, our species could pull the whole web of life on Earth down into extinction with our foolishness, stupidity, and neurotic consumerism.

So, whether or not you are one of my handful of readers interested in such things, I’m going to lay the big picture out once again, as clearly as I’m able. Perhaps someone else, with more time than what I have left, can pick it up and put on the finishing touches.

I find it helpful to orient our picture around the centerpoint of ego consciousness – exactly where you and I, standing on our own individual centers of self-conscious awareness, are engaged in this meditation. To have arrived at this point of ego consciousness, each of us had to come into ourselves by a process of differentiation. Underneath and prior to self-awareness, consciousness was (and still is, as we will see) immersed in a profound and ineffable communion with reality.

The experience here is of an underlying, essential, deeper oneness which cannot be objectively known because it is not (nor can ever be) an object of awareness. Traditions of mystical spirituality are fond of using the metaphor of Ground in speaking of this deeper, essential oneness of reality – careful to retract what they say about it out of respect for its nature as lying below the reach of our words and thoughts.

This depth dimension of our existence (yours and mine) is the domain of soul in contemplative solitude. I’m being careful not to say your soul or my soul in order to avoid the common misunderstanding of it as somehow belonging to us, like property or a piece of ourselves. Soul simply refers to our inner life, the deeper reaches of grounded awareness, mindful presence, and mystical insight (or intuition).

So even though ego consciousness had to be differentiated out of this essential oneness of communion, the soul continues to dwell in its grounding mystery.

It wasn’t enough, however, just to differentiate out of oneness. A second process, individuation, had to gradually organize consciousness around its own proper center by forming an ego – our individual capacity for self-control, self-awareness, and self-will, all critical powers of an established identity. All of this was predicated on, as well as a symptom of, the separation of consciousness from its essential communion with reality, into the remote workspace of our unique personalities.

In world mythology, this developmental journey of ego consciousness out of the Ground (differentiation) and into its own centered existence (individuation) is represented in the hero’s separation from [his] maternal origins of home and an ongoing struggle to save [himself] from falling back into its generative (though from the hero’s perspective, identity-dissolving) abyss.

Mystical spirituality, with its skillful practice of releasing all attachments of ego-identity and dissolving into the deeper oneness of being-itself, is therefore following back down along an ancient path charted by the mythological imagination.

So here we are, back at the orienting center of the big picture, where you and I stand in our separate centers of self-conscious ego identity. The whole aim of our individuation was to bring us to a point where we are in full possession of ourselves and ready to be in conscious relationship with others and the world around us. This is the process of participation, whereby individuals relate to each other out of their separate centers in order to make connections, form bonds, and create community.

By definition, participation is about taking part in some larger system of interactions, to be a part of something greater than yourself without getting lost inside it. This relational path is contingent upon our individual ego identities not being denied and thrown aside, but rather embraced and surpassed (transcended) in the interest of contributing to the harmony of differences. Far above the underlying, essential, and deeper oneness of reality (as Ground), our experience is of an overarching, integral, higher wholeness named Universe.

It’s important to recognize this term, universe, as referring to something more than a mere arrangement (or cosmos) of existing things. Literally the “turning as/into one,” Universe refers to any order of integral wholeness, from the elementary to the intergalactic, where a system interacts and evolves holistically – that is to say, as a whole. We could justifiably refer to your living body as a universe, to your whole self as a universe, to your life in community as a universe, to the larger web of life on Earth as a universe, as we already refer to our Earth in the Milky Way among all the galaxies as the universe.

In using this term, cosmological science is invoking a very spiritual notion, of the All-as-One in which we live and move and have our being.

Just as you and I (in our separate ego identities) are free to release-and-dissolve into the experience of deeper oneness (i.e., Ground), so we might otherwise choose to connect-and-transcend our separate egos for an experience of higher wholeness (i.e., Universe). This is the realm of spirit, of our breathing (Latin spiritus) in and out and all together as a community of individuals, both human and other-than-human, across the whole web of life and beyond.

An understanding of our place within the larger universes of life awakens in us an ethical intention to live with respect, compassion, responsibility and goodwill towards all.

I don’t want to bog this post down with a cautionary note, so I’ll be quick to mention that these deeper and higher experiences are available to us only in the degree that our egos are not tangled up in neurotic attachments, dogmatic convictions, or the futile ambition to cheat mortality and save ourselves. That very ambition for everlasting life is what makes many true believers into spiritual captives of their religions, chained to the wall of some orthodoxy and perpetually “not far from the kindom of spirit” – to paraphrase a warning from Jesus (Mark 12:34).

Viewing these two paths – the descending-apophatic and ineffable way of mystical insight (the via negativa), and the ascending-kataphatic and dialogical way of ethical intention (the via positiva) – as complementary principles informing our big picture or “theory of everything” is what keeps me excited and engaged in this work. Honestly, the meditative exercise of contemplating and identifying its golden threads of timeless wisdom is deeply satisfying in itself.

If I can find a few sympathetic readers, so much the better.

Arriving at Last in the Kindom of Spirit

Depending on whether you query conventional religion about the way of salvation, or ask your question of the Sophia Perennis (the transcultural tradition of spiritual wisdom), you’re likely to get very different answers. Religion will speak in dogmatic terms of what you need to believe and what you need to do in order to qualify yourself for the salvation you’re seeking. Joining a local “chapter” (church, temple, mosque, or ashram) will be strongly encouraged, since belonging to and surrounding yourself with like-minded folks offers good protection against backsliding.

The wisdom tradition, on the other hand, will respond differently to your question. Before the conversation goes too far, it will want to know what you think salvation is and why you think you need it. You may find you’re chasing after or looking for something that really isn’t relevant – or even real. Like that old saw about a ladder against the wrong wall, you don’t want to reach the top only to realize that your true longings are elsewhere.

Paradoxically the wisdom teachings will challenge you to see that looking for salvation (or wanting to “get saved”) is your deeper problem.

Do this instead – or rather, stop chasing and simply be present to your life, just as it is. Your problem is rooted in the difficulty of remaining for any significant length of time completely in this place, right where you are. So stop the chasing, drop the pursuit, release your craving for something else (the false promises of retail marketing and bad religion), and let yourself just relax into being, here and now. A few deep and slow breaths will let the tension slide away, as you hold a soft gaze in front of you or gently close your eyes.

It won’t be long before you become aware that this is all there is, and that you presently dwell at the center of all things. This is known as solitude, and it really has nothing to do with being by yourself somewhere in a remote cabin or monastery – although it can happen there as well. The key thing, the absolutely essential thing, is that you are fully present in centered awareness wherever you happen to be. It’s not yesterday or tomorrow, over there or somewhere else.

The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart named it the “Eternal Now”: not everlasting but timeless, the moment where time breaks open to being-itself and this is all there is.

Another interesting paradox is how, in this deep centered space of solitude, you are simultaneously one with all things. The Sophia Perennis names this fact-of-facts communion, referring to the undifferentiated oneness in which you and everything else are presently grounded. The deeper into yourself consciousness is able to descend, the more you see that the grounding mystery of your existence gives rise to all existence, and that everything – including, of course, you in your solitude – is rooted in this same ground.

This is where Sophia Perennis and conventional religion are most different, perhaps, in their very different perspectives on that in you which makes you most uniquely you: your ego. As your executive center of personality management, ego (Latin for “I”) is what actually generates the delusion of your separate existence – with you here and everything else flung out and away from you as “not me.”

If that earlier exercise of dropping into deeper solitude was especially challenging for you, your hang-up was likely here, in the insecurity that inevitably – and to some extent for everyone – comes along with the prize of becoming a unique “somebody.”

Your ego requires this separate workspace to exist, and yet the separation is what provokes its insecure feelings of anxiety, exposure, and alienation. Much of conventional religion is organized around the project of reducing this (what is called) existential anxiety, by giving you something to hope for and hang onto. Salvation, according to this system, is about saving you (i.e., your egoic self) from what threatens your security: pain, illness, decrepitude, death, your body (because it will die), and the sucking drain of time.

Conventional religion is intolerant of any notion suggesting that getting out is not the answer, and that dropping deeper in is. And yet, this is indeed the fundamental message of the wisdom teachings. The delusion of a separate identity (i.e., your ego) doesn’t need to be saved, but rather released and left “up here” at the shimmering surface of illusion, as consciousness drops into deeper registers of present awareness, solitude, and communion.

Those obsessed with saving the ego typically cannot comprehend why anyone should go deeper into “the problem” they’re needing to escape, and for this reason conventional religion has a long history of condemning, excommunicating, persecuting, and killing Wisdom’s children (aka mystics).

Once you have awakened to the fact of oneness, released your ego and dropped into the grounding mystery of solitude-in-communion, the true way of salvation opens itself to you. A “peace that surpasses understanding,” not merely a non-anxious presence of mind but a profound sense of inner calm and wellbeing, flows from a quiet spring deep within your soul. As this “water of eternal life” rises in you, it fills you with an uncontainable joy, which just as irresistibly flows out from you to others in gestures, expressions, and demonstrations of love.

Once again we can contrast the different attitudes of the Sophia Perennis and conventional religion, now with respect to the motivation for loving others.

Conventional religion tries to put you under the command of some divine law (“Thou shalt love your neighbor …”) or the urgency of obedience for the sake of some future reward (“… if you want to live forever in heaven someday.”). Here love needs a reason, an ultimatum, or incentive of some kind. Religion recognizes that there is little hope for society if members can’t get along and care for each other, but it also knows that self-interested egos require some pressure – both external and internal – to extend or sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.

But when your love is the outflow of a joy which is sourced from a wellspring of a peace deep, deep in the solitude of your oneness with everything, it is spontaneous, generous, and indiscriminate in its generosity, for there is no self-interest to persuade or separation to overcome. You know that you and the other are mere manifestations of the same grounding mystery, participants together in the transpersonal unity of life.

This is the kindom of spirit, where the deeper oneness of communion finds expression through the diverse fellowship of beings, resolving at last in a great harmony of “peace on Earth.” Religion says you have to wait and hope for it. Wisdom says it’s already here, if you have eyes to see it.

Whitewashed

Just now, conservative and mostly Republican legislators are advancing bills into law that will prohibit the teaching of “critical race theory” (CRT) in our public schools. Basically the theory says that racism – the prejudices, antagonism, inequality, and violence between white and black races in America – is not merely an “episode” of our history, but embedded in the political ideology, cultural institutions, economic structures, and legal system of America today.

Those seeking to block critical race theory from the public school curriculum accuse it of throwing America as a nation under the gloss of racism, of making all white people into white supremacists.

Surely there are many white folks who value diversity and want to include black people in American life – but that’s really the point.

White people are in this position of deciding whether or not to include black people precisely because they are the privileged majority, the ones by whom and for whom the grand system of American society was built. The fact that they built it upon the backs of African slaves is therefore, according to critical race theory, not a merely historical note. Those assumptions and biases were baked right into the white American way of life.

Anti-CRT legislators are only the political face of a much deeper and broader mindset in America today, one that has become entranced by superficial images and brand marketing, steadily losing its ability to think critically and reflectively about reality. As a consequence of our intellectual seduction and down-dumbing, we no longer have the vocabulary and conceptual categories for picking through the misrepresentations and “fake news” of the day in order to apprehend the complex reality beyond our veils.

Reality is, in fact, not “black and white” but ambiguous, and without the critical-reflective tools to help us grasp the paradoxes of our American experience and the human condition, we inevitably fall into (and fall for) a conflict-oriented binary logic of either-or.

According to this mindset, the grayscale reality of American society cannot be transcended as “black with white,” but must be resolved into “black against white” – preferably “white without black.” Importantly, that it cannot be transcended does not speak to a limitation of reality itself, but exposes a dangerously diminished capacity of our minds.


Another place I see this downward resolution of ambiguity (or complexity) into the dualism of either-or is in religion. As the belief system oriented on the objective existence of god, theism is trying to restrain our spiritual progress into a new system where god is assimilated and freshly incarnated in lives of generosity, compassion, and goodwill. Religious conservatives are misrepresenting this emerging spirituality of post-theism as simple atheism: godless, selfish, heretical, and immoral.

If they are forced to put post-theism either on the side of traditional theism or that of secular atheism, average believers from whom the conceptual tools of critical theology have been intentionally withheld will have no choice but to reject it out of hand. With well-developed tools, on the other hand, they might appreciate how post-theism includes and transcends important elements of both traditional theism and secular atheism, without being reducible to either.

I brought this brief account of post-theism into the discussion of critical race theory and American education for two reasons. First, race and religion are two of the dominant threads or themes that have shaped American history and character, and we shouldn’t be surprised to encounter a conservative resistance on both fronts as our inherited assumptions start breaking against a complex reality.

American race relations and religious identities are presently in the throes of deep (radical: at the roots) transformation, and those of us who hold a vision for a New Reality of spiritual awakening and genuine community need to keep its focus on this higher aim.

As we recover and sharpen our critical tools, it will be important for us to expose the systemic, institutional, and ideological prejudices that currently have us locked into an either-or debate, in both American courts and American churches.

The second reason I wanted to briefly include some remarks on religion along with these thoughts on the legislative efforts underway to “whitewash” American public education, is based in how both of these thresholds of creative change provide an opportunity for us to better understand – and more responsibly manage – what only recently has come to be acknowledged as the “construction of meaning.”

Constructivism regards meaning as something our minds assign to reality, as they construct the perspectives, philosophies, and worldviews that orient and guide us through life.

Although it sounds as if we about to slide into a hopeless nihilism, the idea that reality (the really real, being-itself) is a mystery outside our minds and beyond words – essentially ineffable, indescribably perfect, and perfectly meaningless – can be powerfully liberating. The spiritual wisdom teachings have insisted on the illusory nature of meaning for many centuries, but it’s only been in the last hundred years or so that more of us have come to appreciate the creative role our mind plays in making meaning and constructing our world.

Meaning isn’t “out there” as people once believed, but originates “in here” and is projected onto and out into reality.

For reality – any reality – to mean something, our mind must first get it in focus and place a frame around it. This frame determines what will be included (i.e., everything inside the frame) and what will be excluded, or more accurately ignored. Once the frame is set, a filter is imposed that will screen out all irrelevant data and allow through only what matters. With these “construction materials” now in hand, the mind proceeds to fit it all together, fixing the joints and finishing the edges into something meaningful – a product and reflection of the mind itself.

Now, of course, this project of making meaning isn’t all that innocent. Merely selecting the portion of reality to enframe amounts to a tacit invalidation of what we choose not to include. The filter we use is itself comprised of predilections, preferences, and prejudgments, for the most part energized by largely preconscious drives of self-interest and tribal identity. Put simply, the meaning we make and the worlds we create carry our natural and cultural biases.

This is what is meant by “systemic racism”: in the case of American society, a world-construct and way of life that reflect the values and favor the interests of white people, who first conspired together in its creation and have since accepted its definition as the way things are and should continue to be.

We need critical race theory, as well as what might be called critical religion theory, to equip us with the critical tools for deconstructing any part of our “American world” that excludes, exploits, oppresses, or debases other human beings – of whatever color, class, character, or creed. We can no longer be excused for our inability to dig into those embedded and baked-in forms of racism which continue to shape our consciousness and compel our behavior.

Critical race theory is giving us the tools and vocabulary we need for constructing a better and bigger world, for everyone. What we need now is the courage to change the things we can.

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

When I was a young child and didn’t possess a clear sense of myself or the objective existence of the world around me, Your reality was something I couldn’t conceptualize but clearly felt in the provident support and loving care of my mother and father. Though imperfect, to some sufficient degree they bestowed on me – and awakened in me – an assurance that I was in good hands. I was able to relax into being and open my awareness in wonder to the imaginarium of life.

It wasn’t long before my parents and other taller powers began talking about you, as “someone” up above, who was watching over me. I was taught how to say prayers to you – to thank you for caring and giving me what I needed, to ask for your help in times of need, to implore your understanding and forgiveness of my frequent mistakes, or just to praise you for being so awesome.

Even though I was counseled to listen for what You would have to say, I never heard any voice coming from above me – except, of course, for the voices of my taller powers. Later I learned that I should listen with my heart for a clear feeling of insight, relief from my guilt, or the certain prompting of what I should do next.

In church I studied the sacramental furniture and sacred symbols, the glowing candles and colorful banners, the Bible on the pulpit and the cross on the wall. I could see these with my eyes, though much of their meaning still eluded me. But I never saw You. Whether You were up high above the church building among the clouds looking down, or hiding in the sanctuary and looking out from behind the choir screen, I couldn’t find the kindly gentleman in flowing robes whose portrait hung in my imagination.

I kept at it for years: going to church, joining the fellowship, saying my prayers, offering my worship, and trying to be good during the week. Gradually I realized that this idea I had of You, the portrait that hung in my imagination, was lacking in verisimilitude (a fancy word I picked up in school): it was really nothing like You – or rather, You were nothing like what I imagined You to be.

Yes, that’s right, others agreed. God is invisible and has no form. But He is paying attention, so be careful.

Well then, WHO is paying attention? If You aren’t as I imagine, then what are You – or are You, even? For quite some time – another decade at least – I continued going to church (and became a pastor!), joining the fellowship, saying my prayers, offering my worship, and trying to be a “good Christian,” all the while directing my attention to someone (or something) that wasn’t up there, behind that, or possibly anywhere at all.

For all I knew, You didn’t exist, but I kept up the routine anyway.

Thankfully, by some grace of my upbringing and formation, this disillusionment of mine was less a devastating loss than a liberating revelation.

Along the way, my suspicions had been growing: that my religion is a production, that its star performer lives only in the sacred stories and active imaginations of devotees, and that its real work is not in representing You or in managing what I should believe about You. Instead, its real work – its essential task and design intention – is to awaken in me a spirit of faith and wonder, of freedom and service, of compassion, generosity, and goodwill.

I have further come to see that this spirit is not some ghost floating somewhere above me or haunting the silent sanctuary behind locked doors. It is rather a creative force flowing – or seeking to flow – through me, out to others and into my world.

It is what reached out to me as a young child in the provident care of my parents. It is what set aglow those holy symbols and sacred stories, even that early portrait of You that was hung in my imagination and later tossed in the closet.

This spirit is not mine, nor is it something else. It is a deep wellspring of inner peace, an irrepressible uprising of pure joy, and the overflowing outreach of boundless love. Like my breath [Latin spiritus], it moves through me but isn’t mine to keep. Breathing in, I am its definition; breathing out, it is my gift.

Nearer the far end of my journey, I now understand that all of this has been preparing me for the responsibility and high calling of personifying Your mystery to someone who is, just now, needing assurance that they are in good hands. Hopefully they, too, will come to know what I have taken so long to learn.

Gratefully and sincerely Yours,

Amen.

Heaven (or Hell) on Earth

Do you know what our problem is – I mean, what our problem really is as a species?

We fall into this delusion of believing that our real problems are outside ourselves, along with the corollary belief that the secret to our happiness and wellbeing is out there, too. And that’s a problem because what’s going on out there and all around us is really a manifestation of what’s inside us.

A lot of us are convinced that our unhappiness and suffering originate out in the world.

Other people, our job situation, our life circumstances – whatever it happens to be, bears the blame for how we feel. It’s almost reflexive, the way we look outside ourselves for the cause of our misery. Which of course also implies that the solution or fix to our problem will necessarily come by way of external changes.

Some pastors and therapists get into their professions by an unrecognized and ultimately damaging motivation of looking for their own happiness in saving or fixing other people whom they see as lost or broken.

To help us see our problem more clearly, the spiritual wisdom tradition makes a useful distinction between “soul” and “spirit.” Avoiding the mistake of many historical religions in defining these in terms of supernatural or metaphysical things (i.e., ghostlike entities), the Sophia Perennis uses them as metaphorical references to the grounding mystery within each of us (soul) and to the relational energy moving like breath or wind among us (spirit).

The depths of soul are accessed by the inward path of quiet reflection, centering contemplation, and mystical communion; while the dynamics of spirit move us into active engagement, transpersonal outreach, and ethical community.

The wisdom teachings further encourage and guide each of us on that inward path, in the cultivation of inner peace. A peaceful soul is a “non-anxious presence” (Edwin Friedman), resting in solitude and full surrender to the provident ground of being. The soul is not nervous and chatty, but silent and calm, since there is nothing (no thing) to talk about. Its grounding mystery eludes all our efforts to pin it down or box it up in words; it is ineffable.

Religion’s favorite nickname for this mystery, “God,” is acknowledged in the most insightful traditions as unutterably beyond name and form.

When we have peace within ourselves, we are intuitively aware that nothing in the world around us is making us feel this way. Being centered and inwardly grounded, we draw from a deep inner wellspring of eternal life – not everlasting but timeless: always Now. Our serenity of soul provides a clear view of the world around us and of the reality beyond, and we fully understand that our wellbeing (along with the happiness it supports) is totally an “inside job.”

When this soul-centered spirituality is translated into our way of being and living in the world, we know that nothing and no one out there needs to be saved or fixed before we can be happy.

A restless soul, on the other hand, is what drives many unhappy people from one relationship to another, from one job to the next, falsely believing that by changing or moving things around they will finally be happy – or at least less miserable. Happy at last, if not a happiness that lasts. In projecting their inner disquiet and spiritual dis-ease upon the world and others around them, they “send out” a spirit of blame, agitation, and violence. They are creating hell on Earth.

I’m not suggesting that the “spirit” they are sending out is some kind of demonic entity or evil ghost, even though popular culture and religions have misread the ancient myths by taking such metaphors literally. Today it is as relevant as ever to speak of our personal influence in the world – our thoughts, words, choices, commitments, actions and reactions – as an out-breath (spiritus) of creative and helpful, or destructive and hurtful, energy, moving outward from us like a rippling wave.

This energy-wave will be beneficial or malevolent, fostering community or causing division, making our world a heaven or hell, as the case may be.

It’s interesting that in most conceptions of heaven, the picture is one of many people gathered in joyous company, whereas in hell everyone is suffering, but each soul is suffering in isolated agony. As mythical visions, these contrasting pictures are not really about the postmortem conditions awaiting us when we die. Instead, they are lenses for helping us understand that what comes out of us is a power for good or evil, one that can draw us together or drive us apart.

They are, in other words, visions of what our life on Earth can be, depending on whether we are cultivating inner peace or projecting our misery into the world.

These days, many of us are looking out on a wasteland of abandoned dreams, broken promises, and rising conflict. Who’s going to save us? How can we change the world and make it better? Are we Waiting for Godot, or just hanging on till the End? It’s easy to pin the blame on some person, some party, some “principality and power” that must be responsible for our suffering.

The truth is that no one is to blame, but each of us is responsible for our own suffering – as also for our own happiness. If the world out there is hell, it’s because we are making it so. The way to heaven on Earth begins as we call back our spirit (thoughts, words, actions) of judgment, descend by that inward path to the wellspring of inner peace and drink deeply of its healing waters, and then send out a new spirit of kindness, empathy, generosity, and goodwill.

It’s been this way for a long time. Yes, it has always been this way.

Meditation on the Snow Cone

In Religion and the Snow Cone Universe (October 2014) I offered this simple image as a way of understanding the relationships among science, spirituality, and religion. The ball of our snow cone, I suggested, can stand for the great cosmic environment arching overhead and surrounding us. This is the realm of scientific research, also called “external reality,” referring to what exists outside of and separate from our mind. Underneath, but really descending inwardly to the grounding mystery of being, the cone itself represents the realm of spirituality. This I call the “inner ground,” the essential source and support of consciousness itself.

And managing the intermediate zone between external reality and the inner ground, I suggested that a main task of religion (from the Latin religare, to connect), at least until very recently, has been to facilitate a dialogue between psyche and cosmos, between our inner experience of being and its outer manifestations. The various transformations and historical development of religion reflect our expanding knowledge of external reality through advances in research technology and theoretical comprehension – as well as an intensified awareness of our own existential depths.

Religion’s relevance – its timely truth – is thus a function of how well it manages this dialogue of spirituality and science.

The unique province of religion is what many of us today recognize as the meaningful world and our lifetime of adventures inside it. Whereas primitive and archaic cultures may have been less self-aware of our human role as myth-makers and storytellers, of how our stories actually construct meaning and the meaningful worlds we inhabit, our recent shift from a modern to a “post-modern” mindset and worldview was activated on this very discovery. The intermediate zone, once managed by religion and its mythology, turns out to be a very active construction zone.

With “organized” religion losing relevance, directing its energies into dogmatic debates with science and spirituality rather than creatively facilitating a contemporary mythological experience for people today, we should be asking (and having some considerable concern over) what is taking its place.

Who is telling the stories, hanging the veils, and constructing the worlds we are living for, dying in, and trying to find our way through?

This intermediate zone (or mitwelt) isn’t going away just because organized religion has abandoned its responsibility for constructing meaning and officiating the rites of passage through a life of purpose. These added dimensions to my snow cone image, of the “quality world” and our individual “hero path,” are now on us to figure out.

This is both good news and bad news. Good because we now have an opportunity to bring science and spirituality back into dialogue again, in a worldview and way of life that hold contemporary relevance. But it’s bad news in that a great majority of us have fallen into erroneous assumptions over the centuries regarding external reality and our own inner ground.


From inside the construction zone of meaning (our quality world), external reality is seen through the lens of mythology – all the stories we use to construct the meaningful world we live in. The ancient mythology of higher cultures once educated their people to look into the sky for the heavenly abode of god, and through the narrative corridor of myth, legend, and apocalypse for a proper understanding of history.

It would take many centuries for us to discriminate between reality as it is (external reality) and our mythological constructs (quality world). Our disillusionment was accelerated by the resistance of institutional religion to the current discoveries and changing cosmology of science. It grew increasingly difficult to adjust the sacred stories – putting heaven outside the observable galaxy, for example, or interpreting a “day” in the Genesis myth of creation as an indefinite period of time – and still keep up with the new scientific understanding.

On top of that, science was rapidly branching off into numerous specializations, each one dissecting and analyzing reality into its more basic elements – meaningless, mindless, and lifeless – until there was no place left for human values. Many gave up on the inherited quality world and accepted this scientific picture of things, of a cosmos empty of ultimate meaning.

What struck terror in the heart of the 17th-century mathematician Blaise Pascal, as he contemplated “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces,” would leave Albert Camus in the 20th only in quiet resignation before a universe “indifferent” to human values and aspirations.

Besides serving as the lens through which premodern societies looked at and interpreted external reality, the quality world of mythology also provided a way to understand our human adventure of identity through time, in what is known as the “hero path.” This path tracks (1) our rise into self-consciousness (often depicted as a “fall”), (2) a venturing-forth from tribal customs and beliefs in search of our own way, (3) a confrontation with and recovery of the parts of ourselves (i.e., our shadow) that we had to deny, dismiss, or actively suppress in order to fit in and feel loved in our early years, and finally (4) leads us back to where we started, but now as a self-conscious, internally reconciled, and fully awakened adult.

Inside this archetypal story-cycle, many more stories were told and ritually enacted to help us address the critical concerns of our journey through life as a child, youth, adult, and elder. At whatever stage or Age in life we happened to be, the topography and symbolism arranged at the surface of those stories served to focus our awareness of the inner ground, of what we are and are evolving to become in our essential nature as a human being.

This grounding mystery was acknowledged as deeper than the personality and its quest for identity, as the true origin of our quality world; the contemplative depths of being itself. Our own life and destiny, along with the life and destiny of everyone and all things, were regarded as manifestations of this ground, thrusting us all into time as participants in the higher wholeness of a provident universe.

Analogous to the way our quality world brings into meaningful focus an external reality beyond our mind, the hero path once facilitated our gradual acquaintance with and full embodiment of the grounding mystery within us.

Along with the disenchantment of our (quality) world and the consequent loss of a meaningful universe, the lack of a coherent mythology and life-directing hero path has led to a popular belief in the soul as nothing less (and little more) than an immortal ego. The inner life of consciousness has been emptied of mystery and made into a metaphysical ghost riding inside our body until it expires (or Jesus comes), at which point it will be freed to live forever in heaven – if we managed to believe and do all the right things, as prescribed by our religion.

In the meantime, we just need to hang on and try to keep from getting dirty.

Sophia Perennis 2.0

If we think of religion as a tree, then we can appreciate how its essential nature is rooted in mystical experience, channels this experience into an organizational structure, and expresses it outwardly in the distinctive virtues of ethical life. In a condition of systemic health, religion serves the vital function of integrating these mystical, institutional, and ethical priorities.

The problem is, religions haven’t been healthy for a long time.

Approaching the eighth century BCE, religions throughout the higher cultures were growing more concerned over maintaining control of their populations, mandating what devotees believed, how they behaved, and where they belonged. Enforcing conformity became a near-preoccupation, with an increasing number of heretics, apostates, and freethinkers persecuted and killed under their regimes.

The standardization of religion had begun, and orthodoxy (“correct opinion” or true belief) came into prominence. As a consequence, many religions were cut off from their life-source and succumbed to disorders of complacency, dogmatism, division, and violence.

This is also when a transformation in culture and religion began, continuing into the second century BCE and comprising what the philosopher Karl Jaspers named the Axial Age, capturing the idea of a “great turning” or revolution in the way many people engaged with life and its deeper reality. Taking up a term coined by G.W. Leibniz in the 17th century and popularizing it for the 20th, Aldous Huxley published an anthology (1945) of stories, teachings, and insights from this “perennial philosophy” (philosophia perennis).

With this ancient yet timeless (perennial) love of wisdom (philo+sophia) reintroduced to popular consciousness, a similar critique of institutional religion as had inspired its founders millenniums earlier provoked a “New Age” in the spiritual adventure.

The perennial philosophy represents a deliberate breaking-through the floor of institutional religion – or, to invoke my earlier image of a tree, an intentional and disciplined descent of the soul’s inner life to its mystical ground of being. As the tradition developed, however, it began to take on features of institutional religion: hierarchies of authority, secret ceremonies, inner circles of initiation and membership, along with an esoteric orthodoxy of its own.

The 20th-century New Age movement was a kind of “thought carnival” in new revelations and strange cults, where anyone feeling bored or oppressed by conventional religion could find excitement and escape.

With traditional religions and mainline denominations in rapid decline these days, as far as their memberships and cultural relevance are concerned, our time is ripe for the transformation of a second Axial Age. The anticipated outcome will not amount to an updated remodeling and fresh face on the same thing as before. Our question is not about how religion today can recover itself and get back to what it once was.

This crisis of change is only a crisis as it concerns the institutional structure of religion, to what ought to be the living and flexible form that makes every religion recognizable (as a tree) yet distinct from others of its kind. Another turn along the axis of transformation demands more than a new reading of ancient texts or a contemporary (psychological) engagement with the great myths of our world cultures.

Insofar as the first Axial Age tended to lose focus and muddled around in otherworldly speculation and esoteric metaphysics, leaving religion essentially unchanged though more defensive and dogmatic than before, today religion needs to truly transform if it has any hope of speaking to our real spiritual and existential concerns.

I should pause here to reissue my running apology for religion and its crucial contribution to the health of culture and to our progress in self-actualization as a species – that is to say, when it is fully aligned and doing its job. If it happens not to be, this is no reason to reject religion outright, apart from all its dysfunctional examples and merely on principle.

In its essential work of linking (religare) the individual to his or her own inner ground, individuals to one another in community, and their community to the larger world as a force for social change, religion is properly regarded as the very substance of culture (Tillich) and not merely one of its passing forms.

Following that definition, it should be clear that the sickness and decline of religion is more likely a cause than a symptom of cultural decay, and that any attempt to surgically remove it will almost certainly result in the death of culture itself. Our challenge, then, is to cultivate the conditions for the flourishing of a mystically grounded, structurally sound, and ethically relevant religion today.

The irony is that many religions and religious believers renounce the very world they are supposed to redeem, and would prefer to escape this life rather than wake up before it’s over.

For this new Axial Age we need a fresh touchstone of awareness. No doubt, we will continue to find inspiration and refreshment in the timeless wisdom of the perennial philosophy, but a contemporary and timely restatement is in order. For my reader’s consideration I offer what might be called Sophia Perennis 2.0 – a deceptively simple image and archetype (a generative form) that can prompt our deeper reflection, guide our creative dialogue, and empower our collaborative efforts as a spiritual community-in-formation.

Instead of beginning our critique with some religion or other outside of us, the important work needs to start with ourselves first, looking closely at the presence or absence, strength or weakness, coherence or confusion of religion (religare) in our own daily life.

Is our life deeply rooted in the grounding mystery of being? Are we able to release our judgments, beliefs, and thoughts – even our identity as “the one who” thinks, believes, and forms judgments? Can we descend contemplatively to that deep space within and be silently present to the mystery of our existence in this moment? Are we willing to relax into being and rest in solitude, surrendering ourselves completely to the Spiritus Vitae (the breath of life) in us?

Are we able to translate that mystical experience of our grounding mystery into constructs of thought, belief, and meaning? Can we keep the trunk, limbs, and branches of our personal life strong yet supple and flexible at the same time? Is our worldview and philosophy of life sensitive to the deeper mystery manifesting in all things? Are we thoughtfully engaged with questions that stretch us to grow and include more of reality in our horizon of concerns? Can we hold our beliefs with an open mind and not become a prisoner to our own convictions?

And finally, as we mindfully cultivate inner peace in the ground of our being and allow it to rise and fill us with the joy of life (joie de vivre), are we willing to pour our joy into the world as love? As surely as a healthy fruit tree will bear good fruit in season, is it even possible for us to hold back our inner peace and pure joy from expression in selfless acts of kindness, generosity, and goodwill? Can we accept creative authority for the positive change we hope to see in the world? (Does the fruit tree hesitate over who is deserving of its cool shade and nourishing produce?)

Inwardly grounded and mindfully aware, what is there to be afraid of? What are we pretending not to know?