Your Life In (Maybe) Five Steps

Just before you got going on this journey of life, you were whole and complete in your essential nature as a human being. Even though it would take a lot of experience and many years for you to really appreciate the dual capacity of your consciousness, in opening outward to the sensory-physical realm around you (through your body, to the Web of Life) and plunging inward to its mystical-intuitive source within (through your soul, to the Ground of Being), already back then you had all the necessary “equipment.”

Now it was just a matter of flipping the switch – or, to use a preferred term from the spiritual wisdom teachings, of “waking up” to the fullness of what you are.

But the journey proved more complicated than simply flipping a switch. It turns out that waking up is disruptive and annoying, particularly if you would rather stay asleep.

It’s important to understand that you didn’t start your journey asleep. Instead, your tribe slipped a sedative into your mother’s milk, and under its hypnotic influence you fell into a trance of believing that your supreme purpose in life is to become somebody. One of the great paradoxes is that waking up to the fullness of what you are in your essential nature requires that you first fall asleep and start dreaming about becoming somebody.

The body-and-soul wholeness of your essential nature was thus divided in two by the wedge of your ego, a conditioned self or “second nature” that your tribe engineered by a process of socialization – also known as domestication, operant conditioning, brainwashing, moral discipline and social instruction. Your ego is where the trance and hallucination of becoming somebody is rooted.

All along the way you were praised, admonished, and advised by your tribe concerning what was necessary for you to fit in, to be “one of us,” and to become somebody.

All of that is what I’m calling the “first step” on your journey in life. The point was to put you asleep and guide you inside the moral frame of a world where you could find security, identity, orientation and meaning. In a way, this process was a lot like being hypnotized by a kind of seductive lure of emotional security (the feeling of safety and belonging), which you took without thinking because in falling asleep you fell under the spell of a separate self – exposed, inadequate, and unable to make it on your own.

Fitting in, however, came at a price. Your tribe accepted parts of you but not others; it expected you to measure up to its templates, standards, and ideals of identity. What didn’t fit had to be kept out of sight, which in psychodynamic terms meant that these unacceptable parts of yourself had to be ‘suppressed’ – if fitting in was what you really wanted, and you did: you needed to fit in.

All these suppressed parts of yourself collected in a corner of your psyche to become your shadow.

To use an analogy from the teaching of Jesus, it was as if you covered the light of your lamp with a bushel basket so no one would see it.

Inside the moral frame of your world, you did your best (but sometimes, honestly, you barely tried) to measure up to those templates, standards, and ideals of identity, so that you could really become somebody. Inevitably, however, you would fall short, prompting judgments from your taller powers and social peers, as well as internal feelings of guilt and shame. Gradually, after many attempts, some success, and numerous failures, you came to settle down into your roles and daily routines.

Measuring up, falling short, and settling down comprise steps two through four of your journey in life.

For a complete picture of your journey, according to the wisdom teachings, one more step is required, but most of us never take it. The reason is in its uncompromising demand that you get over yourself – the very ‘somebody’ you worked so long and hard to become.

Let’s not forget that in becoming somebody (i.e., fitting into the frame), certain aspects of your essential nature had to be disqualified and pushed into a dark corner of your psyche. Over the years you found ways of accommodating this shadow – not reconciling with it and taking back your hidden light, but learning how to get by without the full light of your true self.

You also discovered that by projecting onto others your own internal frustration and self-judgment, you could experience a temporary relief, a welcome distraction, and a sense of moral righteousness.

Getting out of the frame and leaving your world, if not simply for another frame and a slightly different world (known as conversion), means that you will have to confront your shadow. What you have been conditioned to condemn, dismiss, or ignore in yourself must now be consciously redeemed or “bought back,” and the cost will be nothing less than the “death” of your hard-won identity: the somebody you’ve been pretending to be.

A trusting surrender to life as it is (faith), a freedom to live in the present (spontaneity), the creative construction of meaning (imagination), an unquenchable thirst for discovery (curiosity), and a delighted astonishment in the face of mystery (wonder) – all of those ‘powers’ of your essential nature which had to be squeezed out, closed off, and trimmed back to make you fit inside the frame now need to be recovered and reincorporated.

Many just like you have made their departure, only to confront their shadow (metaphorically in its ‘satanic’ aspect as adversary) and lose heart, forced back by their fear into the familiar frame of their constructed world and conditioned self. Having left with an ambition to “break free and find authentic life,” they soon abandon their quest for the security of life in a box.

Don’t let that be your story. It’s the “life of quiet desperation” that Thoreau warned about.

Take back your light. Your shadow is only the disowned powers of your essential nature. It holds your light and is waiting for you (metaphorically in its ‘luciferic’ aspect as light-bearer) on your way to the liberated life.

Life as it is

In his important work The Denial of Death (1973), Ernest Becker made a case for seeing much of Western culture as a series of “immortality projects,” where we have worked collectively to hide from ourselves (deny) the bald fact that one day we will die.

Great and small people alike have invested themselves in projects they hope and believe will outlive them; and, as in the case of religion, in the project of gaining everlasting life in heaven after they “die.”

Some believers prefer to speak of “transitioning” rather than dying, as it permits them to talk around death instead of facing its inevitable reality – as the period at the end of our life sentence.

The problem with our immortality projects, one that Karl Marx saw clearly more than a century earlier, lies in how they divert our focus of attention and care from the way life is, to life as we imagine it could (or even should) be. 2,300 years before Marx, Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha) had the same insight. The “immortality project” of Hindu religion held forth the promise of an individual’s elevation through numerous lifetimes of proper piety to a final liberation (moksha) of their undying self.

All of this concern over abstract metaphysics and progressive reincarnations, in Siddhārtha’s opinion, distracted devotees from the real existential task at hand, of finding liberation in this life from the wheel of suffering.

Although I’m not intending this post as a study of Buddhist teaching, one critical distinction is worth carrying forward here, which is that, according to the Buddha’s “life is suffering” doctrine (his first Noble Truth), there are certain facts about life as it is that cannot be ignored without consequence. Indeed, our attempts at ignoring them are what turn these facts into suffering – into devastating assaults on our nervous state, emotional composure, mental equanimity, and the very meaning of life itself.

It’s our refusal (or willful ignórance) to face, work with, and accept life as it is that makes us suffer.

Life as it is includes pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death – ending in our own. It was his observations of such facts that drove Siddhārtha from his palace home in search of liberation. His royal lifestyle had been one immortality project that apparently could not protect him from the facts of life, despite his father’s best efforts at keeping him inside the palace compound. From there he joined another immortality project, this one not of self-indulgent luxury but self-denying austerity, with monks who believed that by starving and punishing the body they could free their true self.

After some time, he left their company and came to the revelation of his “middle way” while meditating under the canopy of a Bo tree.

Although we should certainly herald the rise of individual self-consciousness as an evolutionary watershed in human history, it must be said that a lot of suffering came in its wake. Being conscious of ourselves means that we are also (or will be very soon) aware of the pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death that are unavoidable. Life as it is brings along all kinds of experiences that may tempt us at times to jump onboard with one immortality project or another, with some guarantee that things don’t have to be this way, that we can have life without these problems – if only in a life after this one.

Let’s admit it: We don’t want to suffer. We would rather have a life where pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death are simply sponged away and we can go on living problem-free forever.

And if our immortality project grants us assurance by the conviction that life’s final period is only a comma leading to the better life we imagine, then what’s the harm in that? Doesn’t our belief regarding a perfect life in heaven after we die help us bear our suffering in the meantime? If we really believe that death is merely a “transition” to something infinitely better, then our inevitable “end” is no big deal, therapeutically speaking, right?

Before we answer that question, let’s identify the various ways we “deny death,” in Becker’s terms, or otherwise refuse to engage with life as it is. We can flat-out deny what we find unacceptable and simply refuse to acknowledge its reality. We can also try to defend ourselves against it happening to us. Beyond that, we can work hard to avoid or dodge life as it is. Another tactic is to defer such problems to a later time – just not now, maybe tomorrow, and hopefully never. And finally, we can plan our escape from life as it is on the departure narrative of some heaven-bound religion.

Going deeper still, we should also inquire into what motivates all these maneuvers away from life as it is and hopefully closer to life as we imagine it should be.

Obviously, our creative imagination makes it all possible, and in some cases the life we imagine does help us to see and appreciate the longer views, larger contexts, and more nuanced textures of our experience, guiding our way through life as it is with wisdom, faith, and compassion. Holding such ideals in our imagination can keep us from falling hopelessly into our pain, illness, loss, decrepitude and death.

Still, beneath our creative imagination and serving as a principal “energy inlet” of its inspiration is our nervous system. Becker believed that one thing all human nervous systems have in common is at least a chronic twinge of insecurity, following very naturally in the wake of our emerging self-consciousness.

Stepping into our own center entails a separation from what is “not me,” and it’s here that we become aware of our exposure and vulnerability. We are all, in some degree, insecure, both in fact and feeling; and to pacify our feeling of insecurity we attach ourselves emotionally to whatever (or whomever) we hope will make us feel better – if not blissfully calm, then at least a little less anxious.

This is where Becker’s immortality projects come into play: By denying death and transferring our focus of attention and care to an imagined everlasting life somewhere else, or by identifying ourselves with something that will outlast us, our insecurity over life as it is can be assuaged – simply because death doesn’t really matter, it isn’t real. And if death doesn’t matter (because it isn’t real; it’s only a “transition”), then maybe we don’t have to face our pain, illness, loss, and decrepitude either, since the locus of value and concern has been projected out and away from life as it is.

But in our ambition to have less of life as it is – and we should make the point that this life is also our arena for experiencing inner peace, abundant joy, genuine love, and amazing grace – then we will end up losing our chance at a full life, of being fully alive.

To paraphrase Jesus: If we seek to save our life (from pain, illness, loss, decrepitude, and death) we will lose (miss out on) what makes life most precious and worth-the-while.

The Progress of Religion

My returning reader and blog follower probably has a good handle on why I keep coming back to the topic of religion. But if this is your first visit, you may well wonder why I would mount any kind of apology for religion, in a time when it happens to be a source of a lot of our social conflicts, personal suffering, and fixation on things that aren’t even real.

Can’t we just be done with religion, now that we know better?

True enough, we’d be much better off without the backwards thinking and baptized bigotry that have leeched into many forms of religion in our day. Even if I were to argue that superstitious belief and a self-righteous moralism are not inherent to a proper definition of religion, the fact remains that these are prevalent today – just as they have been for many centuries.

But simply to throw religion itself under a single categorical judgment and presume we can move on without it is dangerously short-sighted.

The diagram above provides a simple framework that can help us recover a critical appreciation of religion and its place in the longer view of human evolution. My basic working definition of religion as a driving force in human transformation proposes that the advancement towards what we can call our fulfillment as a species is not something that merely happens on its own, as it were.

Instead, it depends on the facilitation provided by a system of interlinked practices, beliefs, aspirations, and commitments – a functioning religare.

From this basic definition we should predict that the dysfunction and breakdown of religion – where it falls out of alignment with its deeper design intention – will result in the arrest of human progress and a potential foreclosure on our future as a species. If “salvation” literally refers to the process of being made whole or coming to fulfillment, then it feels warranted to say that there is no human salvation outside of or without healthy religion.

I’m not advocating here for any particular name-brand religion, but only for “an interlinked system of practices, beliefs, aspirations, and commitments” that can effectively facilitate our human progress.

My diagram identifies the four major stages of consciousness, to be understood not only as distinct “chapters” in the temporal evolution of consciousness but also as distinct “platforms” on which it engages with reality.

  • Primal consciousness is centered in our body, in its animal instincts, biorhythms, and metabolic urgencies.
  • Tribal consciousness is centered in our social group and its moral frame, where we learn how to fit in and behave ourselves.
  • Personal consciousness is centered in our identity as an actor (ego) of roles, with a subjective life all our own.
  • Communal consciousness is centered in the transpersonal realm of genuine community and higher wholeness.

Historically speaking, we can understand these four stages of consciousness as projecting the path of human cultural development over many millenniums, but also of our own individual development through a single lifetime. Each of us has “made it” to some stage and are preparing for the next – or perhaps we are stuck here for some reason.

Broad cross-sectional cultural studies suggest that a large number of us are currently in a transition of existential exile, lost and disoriented in a phase between a secure group membership (tribal stage) and our own creative authority (personal stage).

Lacking a sense of belonging, but for the most part still deficient in personal agency, we are like dazed spectators watching the world fall apart around us.

Already we should be able to see how what I’m calling healthy religion effectively facilitates human progress: in providing for a centered stability at each stage, and by offering guidance and support through each transitional phase between stages.

In fact, it is in these disruptive and disorienting phases that religion can make its most important contribution. I will go so far as to say that religion’s interlinked system of practices, beliefs, aspirations, and commitments has the design intention of supporting us through these developmental and evolutionary phases – rather than helping us find a permanent home in whatever stage we happen to be.

For that reason I have placed each major type of religion in my diagram at the critical phase-transition where its principal contribution to human progress is made.

Thus, animistic religion facilitated human progress from an original embeddedness in the natural realm, supporting us in our transition from primal to tribal consciousness. It’s important to remember that progressing from one stage to another doesn’t mean that the earlier stage is left behind in some archaic past. Instead it continues to provide a distinct mental location for consciousness to engage with reality.

In moving into the social realm of tribal and personal consciousness, in other words, we don’t leave our body behind – even though some forms of religion conjure up fantasies of doing precisely that, in their departure narratives of life after death.

It’s in the cultural space between tribal and personal consciousness that theistic religion does its work, prescribing and enforcing the moral frame of society, but also inspiring our gradual individuation as free and responsible agents (or actors). As I explore in other posts, theism itself can be analyzed into its early (ritual magic), high (orthodox belief), and late (ethical virtue) forms.

When it does its job well, theistic religion will instill in us a devotion to expressing and living out the divine virtues of patience, compassion, mercy, benevolence, and forgiveness – qualities that were earlier believed to belong uniquely to the deity and betowed on us in our formation as believers.

Post-theistic religion intends to facilitate our further progress toward fulfillment in the transpersonal (“beyond the personal”) realm. The accent of late theism on ethical virtue is now transferred from the deity (the idea of god as represented in myth, art, and theology) into our own awakened self-understanding as makers of meaning, world creators, and visionaries of optional futures.

As the name implies, post-theistic religion picks up our evolution after – or on the other side of – god (post-theos). It is not at all interested in debating (either affirming or denying) the objective existence of god, which only amounts to a needless metaphysical distraction from the real work and deeper truth of religion anyway.

Communal consciousness is participatory and consilient, where we surmount and leap beyond tribal affiliations and individual identities into the spirit of genuine community, properly conceived as the “breath” (the etymological root of spirit) that animates us, connects us, flows through us, and unites us together.

We need healthy religion to realize the full potential of our nature as human beings. If we don’t give attention to fixing what’s broken but merely toss it aside in the interest of lightening our load, the final ascent of our spiritual journey might remain forever out of reach.

Becoming Aware

To call something an “illusion” commonly assumes that it was somehow designed to deceive or mislead us into believing what isn’t true. To believe an illusion is to live in delusion, and no one wants that. What we want is the pure and simple meaning of things, without any spin or labels or partisan agendas.

The problem is that meaning itself is a spin, a narrative tapestry that our mind weaves together and drapes over the present mystery of reality.

The ultimate reality of things always stands just on the other side of our veils, essentially transcendent to whatever we may think it is or believe about it. Our veils of meaning are more or less transparent – but never completely transparent – to the present mystery of reality, separating us to some degree from the way things really are. This separation creates the necessary distance our mind needs in order to label, define, classify, and assign signficance to what’s there.

All the time and moment by moment, we are immersed in experience – in “the experience of being alive,” which Joseph Campbell insisted is ultimately what we are all, each of us, looking for. Not meaning, at least not at our core. Meaning is what we spin around our experience and the mystery of being alive, serving as context to a mystery too deep for words. By speaking of it metaphorically – as ground, source, womb, or spirit (literally the breath of life) – we can carry allusions and reminders of this ineffable experience into our construction of the world.

When we were infants and before language began to structure and organize our thoughts, the experience of being alive was all we knew, although our knowledge was intuitive and not schematic as it would increasingly become. Very soon, however, we began to construct meaning by hearing stories and telling our own. As we weaved together multiple storylines and all those veils fell into place, our world took shape. Questions of meaning and the quest for meaning soon became our preoccupation.

That’s what we mean in calling our world a “construction,” referring to a sophisticated arrangement of veils that works as a theater-in-the-round or a stained-glass cathedral, closing us inside and making life meaningful.

Storylines are illusions in the way they build assumptions and generate expectations, conjuring up the sense of a past and future. (In reality, which is always and only here-and-now, the past and future do not exist.) As the progression threshold upon which the significant action takes place, the true present of every story is where the storyline opens downward and inward by the “optic nerve” of our creative imagination and engages with our experience in the moment.

In the moving images on its veil, a story pulls consciousness out of the eternal now (i.e., the ever-present) and onto its horizontal timeline. To be so taken up into a storyline’s construction of meaning, however, we must leave the grounding mystery of our present experience. We might call this trick of good storytelling “narrative rapture”: the sensation of being taken up into the imaginal realm of story.

This paradoxical up-and-down and back-and-forth movement of consciousness between mystery and meaning, ground and world, present experience and temporal storylines reveals the topography of our spiritual adventure as human beings.

We can appreciate the great myths of religion as cultural storylines that once provided our ancestors with vast cosmic and legendary illusions (and allusions) of meaning by which they could orient their lives in time. In its function of “linking back” (Latin religare) this complex of stories (i.e., its mythology) to the present mystery of reality, religion historically was responsible for maintaining a narrative superstructure of meaning for entire societies and generations of people.

In ritual settings they recited stories, observed and handled sacred symbols that linked them to mythic time, and thereby were able to participate in both local and larger spheres of meaning while remaining grounded in (or mindfully coming back to) the present mystery of reality. They could time travel to the Beginning or End of history, to the founding events of their race and tribe, into the celestial heavens or nether regions of Earth – always coming back at the close of a ritual ceremony to their life together, somewhere at the center of it all.

The process of becoming aware, of not just becoming conscious but waking up to the deeper reality and higher significance of our lives, requires an ability to both play along the complicated storylines of life’s meaning and periodically drop back down into the grounding mystery of being.

In all of this it is essential to remember our way back to the present moment, for it is only here that we can touch reality and fully engage with the experience of being alive. As long as we remain properly grounded and centered, our veils of meaning can make life meaningful without trapping us in illusion. (I would argue that much of religion today is so trapped, due not only to a loss of presence and a failure of imagination, but even more to a mistaken and tragic insistence on the literal truth of its stories.)

The particular skills, techniques, and practices for grounding and centering ourselves in the present mystery are an integral part of the wisdom tradition that flows through yet transcends our diverse cultural zones. From time to time our veils need to be pulled aside for us to realize where we really are, that reality is indescribably perfect and perfectly meaningless, just as it is.

Your Hero Path

The design intention of our sacred stories goes far beyond explaining the universe and our place in it. Even if for so long this intention was not self-conscious, in the sense that our first storytellers did not sit down with a plan to map reality and chart the human journey through life, the product of their creative effort provided us with precisely that.

As Joseph Campbell argued, mythology arises out of the human creative imagination like the sticky thread and web-pattern emerge from the spider’s deeper nature. It would take humans thousands of years to consciously realize and begin to really understand what we had done.

It’s necessary to make a distinction between human evolution and personal development. The first term places our species within the larger context of our planet and the history of life, while the second focuses in on a fairly late stage in that longer history, from the “moment” when we became conscious of ourselves as individuals – separate, unique, exposed, and existentially on our own.

It is with this rise of our self-conscious existence as individuals that our troubles as a species officially began.

In my diagram, a purple zig-zagging arrow traces the general path of human evolution: out of the primal consciousness of animal instinct, and into the tribal consciousness of membership identity; from there into the personal consciousness of an individual ego, and finally up into the communal consciousness of spiritual wisdom, with its outstanding virtues of compassion, enlightenment, harmony, and wellbeing.

Only a few of us have completed the course from primal to communal consciousness, for reasons we’ll explore below.

Situated inside this larger evolutionary frame is another, more meandering route, but still with a clear progression of its own, known as the Hero Path. It begins inside the second womb of tribal consciousness, in what I call the “moral frame” of traditional rules and values defining what is meant by right action and a good person. Those who abide by these rules and values of conventional morality are recognized and rewarded as insiders, whereas deviants are disciplined, punished and, if necessary, excommunicated, or even in some cases executed.

The moral frame of any tribe consists of a set of instructions for bringing the behavior and beliefs of its members into conformity with its social order. Should an individual break the moral code, a prescribed penalty will likely follow. But even if the individual is not formally found out, at the very least it is expected that he or she will suffer the subjective pain of a guilty conscience. By such measures, individuals are kept in line and securely inside the tribal fold.

Some of those moral injunctions, particularly of the “Thou shalt not” variety, are intended by the tribe to close down or at least keep off-stage certain impulses and inclinations of our animal nature that would obviously conflict with its definitions of proper conduct and character (i.e., its moral frame). These can range from aggressive impulses that could upset the social order; to talents, interests, and traits that do not align with tribal gender norms and role assignments.

Whatever is not allowed on stage, whether privately discouraged or publicly condemned, ends up supressed in the personality as our shadow. Its mere existence means that we are divided within ourselves, with one part playing outward for the recognition and approval of our audience, and the other pushed down (“suppressed”), tied up, and kept out of view.

Tragically, our shadow withholds a portion of our natural light, of the human spirit within us. In Christianity, this shadow principle is personified in the figure of Lucifer, whose name literally means “light-bearer,” the one who holds (back) our light.

A good part of what is called the Hero Path entails our individual quest for the captured light or imprisoned spirit of our authentic self. Until it can be uncovered and reintegrated with our personality, our “dark side” will continue to stoke anxiety, steal our joy, undermine our health, and sabotage our relationships.

So much human agony and social conflict is the consequence of individuals and groups projecting their shadow onto others and the world around them. The Hero Path provides us with the guidance we need to find our way through.

The basic narrative plot is simple and straightforward and consists of four essential phases: (1) a departure from our tribe’s moral frame, in search of our own “individuative-reflective” (James Fowler) philosophy of life; (2) a confrontation with the shadow, manifesting our insecurities, fears, shame and self-doubt; (3) the successful reintegration of this hidden light by a process of atonement and being restored to psychic wholeness; and finally (4) our breakthrough to the transpersonal experience of a liberated life in genuine community.

There are two critical places on the Hero Path where we can lose our way. At the very beginning, when the moral frame is no longer able to contain and control the longings of our spirit, our tribe might try to foreclose on our waking aspirations with accusations of heresy, betrayal, and a failure of faith.

For many, this doubled-down tactic of authoritarian control actually works to pull us back under the covers of membership, as the predicted loss of security among our fellowship of believers is just too high a cost for the promise of fulfillment.

If our departure is successful, then the second complication comes with our need to confront the shadow and recover our spiritual light – all that bound energy of animal faith, spontaneity, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and wonder we had to push down and out of the way for the social acceptance we needed in childhood.

For many Christians, the paradoxical identity of Lucifer as one who is against us (in his aspect as adversary or Satan) and who at the same time is holding the light we had forsaken but now need to recover in order to become whole again, is impossible to reconcile with popular portrayals of the devil as one who has nothing to give us but temptation, torment, and trouble.

Obeying the moral command to refuse and renounce the devil, believers end up rejecting (all over again) the gift of their own forsaken light.

When our once-captive light is at last recovered and the division within ourselves is healed, the at-one-ment of our whole self is ready to break through and finally leave behind the limiting beliefs and compensatory attachments that had kept our life small and safe, but spiritually stifling. Now in the wide-open space of a boundless presence, we can enjoy our creative participation in the higher wholeness of genuine community.

Joy Overflowing

“Seek first the kingdom of god …” – Luke 12:31

“The kingdom of god is within you.” – Luke 17:21

The above wisdom sayings of Jesus are part of a deeper synoptic tradition, which according to scholars derived in part from an early collection of teachings called the Quelle (“source”) gospel, or “Q” for short. Although its existence is hypothetical, Q gets us even closer to the historical Jesus than the four canonical gospels, as they are more intent on constructing the situations and timeline of Jesus’ life, whereas his teachings were earlier still and are likely more true to who he was and what he was all about.

At any rate, I’m not intending this post to be about Jesus or the Bible, but rather about this particular bit of truth-telling from his essential message.

From very early on in life we are taught that we are empty inside. We might not be given this instruction in so many words, but the belief somehow gets planted in us.

Even if our parents were mindful and provident in helping us appreciate that we are perfect – or at least good enough – just as we are, we eventually had to venture outside into society where the Great Machine of consumer marketing incessantly pumps out the message of our emptiness, deficiency, inadequacy, and competitive disadvantage among our neighbors and cohorts.

We are not happy – yet: That’s the takeaway we carry with us in pursuit of what will make us happy. But because we have also been brainwashed into believing that our emptiness is more like an appetite to satisfy than a bucket to be filled, nothing can ever satisfy us for very long and our “happiness” is always gone too soon.

Maybe some more of this, a larger dose of that, an updated version (“New and Improved”) of what worked once upon a time (but not really), or a different brand of the same disappointing product, occupation, spouse, or religion – maybe that will be the answer, the key to happiness we’re looking for.

The teaching of wisdom advises us to stop looking for happiness out there, even to stop looking for happiness altogether.

Happiness is not, in fact, something we can find. No shiny new possession, fancy house, late-model car, or sexy partner will make us happy. Granted, these things might bring a flash or brief season of pleasure and excitement, but the “happiness” they might bring will not last. Paraphrasing the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “This is not the happiness you’re looking for.”

Jesus’ metaphor of the “kingdom of god” was his reference to a New World and way of life where we all love each other, where each of us is filled with a joy sourced from a wellspring deep within ourselves. Indeed, it is this internally generated joy that inspires and empowers us to love each other – even our enemy, according to Jesus. Instead of looking for love (“in all the wrong places,” as the song lyrics go), we share our love with others and the world around us.

We don’t need to go find love, but rather we take it with us on the journey of life.

So there’s the first radical insight of the Sophia Perennis – the perennial tradition of wisdom teachings that predates and transcends all the name-brand religions: Joy, as essentially different from the marketing illusion of happiness, is not derived from or found in anything outside us, even in another person. Should we be lucky to find another person to love, but we bring with us an expectation that he or she will finally make us happy, the love will eventually exhaust itself and our happiness will fade.

The reason, once again, is because real love is the outflow of joy, not its source.

For the source of joy we turn to a second insight of wisdom, which is that the kingdom of god is within us. If love is the outflow of a joy that gushes up from deeper inside us, then peace is its wellspring.

By this is meant much more than a calm and relaxed nervous state. True enough, a genuine inner peace will typically induce an experience of neurophysical composure, emotional balance, and mental clarity. But the Great Machine has tricked us into believing that simply by manipulating these symptoms of inner peace we can come to possess it.

This is yet another classic example from Western medicine where treating the symptom is presumed to address its underlying (and likely systemic) cause. We may feel better for a time, but vibrant health and wellness elude us, and we might actually be worse off farther along.

Lots of behavioral, sensory, and chemical interventions can help us relax and release the strain of everyday life. They do indeed help us feel better for the most part, but their effect is relatively short-lived. In the case of chemical interventions, whether legal, illegal, over-the-counter, or by a doctor’s prescription, we tend to need increasing amounts for the desired effect, which runs the risk of dependency, addiction, and even death.

But society (including conventional religion) has so successfully pitched our expectations outside ourselves for what will save us, that it’s nearly impossible to break free from the spell.

Here’s the truth as Wisdom sees it. We will not find lasting joy if we go looking for it in love, for love is the outflow of joy and not its wellspring. For that we must go deeper into ourselves – so deep in fact that the very sense we have of ourselves as lacking something, needing something, missing something, and looking for something is surrendered on our descent of the grounding mystery within.

As the inner wellspring of joy, this peace (as we can read in many sacred writings) “surpasses all understanding” – simply because true inner peace is found in a place where no words or even thoughts can reach, where it isn’t taken into our possession as much as our ego dissolves and we become one with it.

The paradox is that we are trying to describe something that is indescribable, to put words on an experience which is effable, utterly beyond words. Nevertheless, from deep within ourselves, in the very ground of our being, the busy retail marketplace of the Great Machine is seen-through for all its deception and futility. What we’ve been looking for has been right here, inside us, all along.

An illuminating story from the canonical Gospel According to John (4:5-14) brings it all together for us.

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Ecospirituality and a New Humanity

For anything to emerge into existence and evolve over time, it needs to differentiate from the preconditions of its “womb” environment as well as from others around it. The magnificent proliferation and diversity of life on Earth has advanced not only by forming new connections and relationships, but also by this process of “differencing” or separating individuals out of the undifferentiated state of communion that precedes each new arrival.

Now, that’s a rather complicated idea, so we should take the necessary time to clarify what it means. At the largest, cosmological, level we are saying that the universe itself, regarded as a vast interconnected system, was only possible by a 14-billion-year process of matter differentiating from energy, life from matter, mind from life, ego from mind, and the mystical “I am” from the personal ego.

Without separation, in other words, there would be no relationships – no connections, no symbian partnerships, no communities, no ecosystems, no universe.

In the human story, three major separations have driven our evolutionary progress as a species. Each separation introduced what I’ll call a creative polarity, which served as a kind of progression threshold for new possibilities and innovations. The differentiation of individuals out of a primordial communion and apart from each other makes possible new relationships, interactive complexity, and optional futures.

But it also leaves the situation open to risk – particularly in our human story – for alienation, antagonism, conflict, catastrophic wars, and final extinction.

For this destructive element to take hold and drive the process instead, a creative polarity must collapse into a pernicious division, where the energy that would otherwise have been used to advance evolution now breaks it down, as differentiation descends into chaos. As I will show – but, of course, this is not news – the pernicious divisions in human evolution have brought us to the very brink of a massive catastrophe.

There may still be time for us to avert disaster, if we can only learn (or learn again) how to see ourselves in the bigger picture and start (or start again) by living with the long view in mind.

In this post we will review the major separations that have facilitated our higher human evolution over many millenniums, picking up this question each time: What, if anything, can we still do as creative agents in the process?

“Human” and “Nature” – The Ecological Threshold

Our human story formally began with the invention of various types of technical power, also known by the general category of tools. When they stopped ducking in caves and started building their own shelter against the elements; when they discovered fire and brought it into their homes; when they learned how to raise barriers to keep themselves safe from predators, our human ancestors were taking control of the climate (if only inside their huts) and differentiating themselves from the “wild” nature around them.

By such means of technical power, human culture was created.

With the proliferation of new technologies, as well as with new layers of technology, we humans have separated ourselves from nature to the extent that many today live entirely inside artificial spaces of social life.

We travel from space to space enclosed in “self-moving” spaces (automobiles), walking on pavement, taking escalators or elevators in buildings to hallways that lead to more climate-controlled, carpeted, cushioned, technologically equipped spaces where we might sit for hours working on or staring into something that is about as far away from wild nature as you can get.

Once upon a time, we were reverent, considerate, and deeply respectful of nature in all her providence and horror. We worshipped her and her many aspects for thousands of years, which gradually fell off in frequency and enthusiasm the more involved with our artificial world we became. Mostly male deities – of weapons and war, of law and order, of industry and resources, of cosmic engineering – replaced her, as their specialties were increasingly more relevant to the concerns of our everyday life.

We dig, cut, and carve into nature for the raw materials we need to maintain and expand our artificial environment – along with our customary lifestyle – or are we prisoners? By-products, waste, and other toxic leftovers are dumped into the soil, atmosphere, rivers and oceans. As a consequence of our ideology and behavior, Earth’s global mean temperature is increasing, ice shelves are melting, oceans are warming and rising, weather events are growing more extreme, the ground is becoming arid and sterile, and our planet is entering a new age of mass extinctions.

“Other” and “Self” – The Interpersonal Threshold

The differentiation of human cultural life from the natural environment set the stage for a specifically social polarity, as individual self-consciousness began to separate into its own centered existence. What’s called individuation is really just another name for differentiation, as it follows the unique pathway of our emergence as a self-conscious ego. As we separate into our center, others are coming into focus as different from us, presumably centered in their personal identities.

In this way, the human collective began to differentiate into persons, and their interactions became distinctly interpersonal: between ego-centered individuals playing their social roles on the social stages of everyday life.

The terms person and personal are taken from theater, referring to the mask (Latin persona) that an actor would “speak through” in portraying a character on stage. In using such a term we are acknowledging just how much of social life is caught up in and defined by role-plays, with each person pretending to be somebody with a name, title, position, and a very fictional (literally “made up”) identity.

The separation between persons, which is necessary and essential to their interactions as persons, is also a gap where many assumptions, misunderstandings, suspicions, and prejudices can metastacize. Instead of mutual love, a retributive reflex starts to take over, as we grow more certain that the other is taking (or about to take) advantage of us, has betrayed (or likely will betray) our trust, and needs to be punished (or repent and reform) before we are willing to trust them again.

The back-and-forth of this retributive reflex – first one and then the other feeling the need to get even, but without any mutually satisfying settlement finally being reached – has a long history in our species. It will likely be the cause of our mutually assured destruction on some future Last Day.

“Body” and “Soul” – The Psychosomatic Threshold

The individuated self prepared the way for one final differentiation, between an extroverted orientation of mind through our body and outward to the physical environment; and an introverted orientation to the ground of consciousness within and the stirrings of our soul. With its deep roots in the grounding mystery, our soul perceives by intuition the profound nature of existence – what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive” – and translates it into dance, song, art, metaphor and myth. And by its participation in the vast web of life, our body carries a sensual awareness of belonging to, communicating with, and sharing in the biosphere of Earth.

As a consequence of our deeper abruptions with nature and others, however, a feeling of exposure and loneliness generates anxiety in our body. This in turn brings on complications of restlessness, distraction or obsession, disorders, dysfunctions, and psychosomatic diseases of various sorts. Along with the fact that the body is mortal and eventually dies, this common condition may have inspired the departure narratives that became such a dominant feature of many religions.

By equating ego and soul, and then detaching this now-immortal personality from the body for deliverance to paradise, the pernicious division of body and soul compelled an even more aggressive dissociation from our physical life on Earth and all concerns for the wellbeing of our planet.

If we still have a chance, we can make work of repairing this pernicious division of body and soul, recovering a deep reverence and sacred responsibility for their creative polarity. In releasing the anxiety from our body, we will find our way again to inner peace, where we can relax into being and be fully present to our lives. No longer having to fight with others for what we believe is ours or what they owe us, this deep inner peace of soul will empower us to forgive our enemy and build genuine community, loving our neighbor as our (very) self.

And as we attune empathically to each other and to the larger community of life, our way of being on the earth will be devoted to the principles of stewardship, sustainability, inclusion, harmony, and universal wellbeing.

Let us hasten the day.

Dangerous Passage

There is a dangerous passage in human development, where the individual must traverse a kind of psychic wilderness on his or her way to becoming an adult. Not all of us make the journey successfully. For any number of reasons, the challenge of separating ourselves from Mother (and all she represents archetypally) proves too much, and we end up caught in a sucking whirlpool of insecurity.

Even now as grown-ups we continue to cling to our blankets and pacifiers, although by now these go by other, more sophisticated, names.

Our journey out of childhood requires more than the passage of time, however. Along the way we will have to learn how to rely increasingly on ourselves for comfort, assurance, and recovery from distress. The infantile state of emotional attachment to Mother – and all her surrogates, substitutes, and symbols – is where we find security in those early years. With the gradual formation of an executive center of identity, subjectivity, and self-control (ego), our personality achieves integrity and we are able psychologically to stand on our own.

In the symbolism of world mythologies, Mother represents not only the maternal caregiver who may have given birth to us, but the material ground of existence as well, connoted by the prefix “mat” (also in matter), meaning “mother” or “source.” By extension She also included the body, mother Earth, and the whole provident universe (Big Mama). “Nature” has its roots, as well, in Mother’s power of giving birth (from nāt) to all living things.

Even in early cultures where Mother in all Her forms and manifestations was worshipped, it was recognized that every human being as Her child needed at some point to separate and become an adult.

Among the higher civilizations, this progress of development into an ever more individuated and ego-centered mode of consciousness was registered in myth by the featured character of a hero whose journey involves (1) leaving the security of home, (2) entering an often perilous gauntlet of trials and dangers; securing some victory, award, or lucky find; and then (3) returning home to the community with the prize of his or her efforts. The general purpose of this vision quest was to come back as an adult – not just older but more mature, ready to take up his or her rational commitment to society.

My diagram illustrates the Hero’s Journey from emotional attachment to rational commitment, from home to society, from existential security to ethical agency, from Mother to Father. As the critical bridge and crossover figure in this mythic narrative, the hero needs to find his or her center (integrity) and begin to include others in an enlarged self-understanding. (See my meditation on the meaning of “Love your neighbor as yourself” in Empathy and Human Salvation.)

Unless this happens – and it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that it will happen – the perilous passage to adulthood cannot succeed.

What often happens instead is that we fall into that sucking whirlpool of insecurity, which, as I suggest in the post referenced above, has been in competition with empathy over the millenniums for the final destiny of our species. As life gradually removes us from the archetypal object of our emotional attachment (i.e., Mother), our insecurity over that loss can pitch us into a spinning vortex of neurotic attachment, where we grab hold of whatever we expect to calm us down and make us happy – which nothing can, or nothing outside ourselves.

In the West especially, individual development beyond emotional attachment has been particularly perilous. Our neurotic insecurity has estranged us from Mother in all Her forms and manifestations: from our bodies, nature, planet Earth, and the universe. We even twisted our religions away from their age-old aspirations of healing, wholeness, fulfillment, and wellbeing, to a very anxious fixation on subjecting nature, escaping the body, and leaving this world for an imagined paradise some place else.

It’s no wonder that so much of our life is not deeply savored but hastily consumed, not honored but ignored, not appreciated for its sacred worth but used up and cast aside on our way to what’s next.

When our journey has gone well for the most part and we are committed to the Four Disciplines of being present (security), staying centered (integrity), making room for others (empathy), and getting focused in creative purpose (agency), consciousness aligns vertically and resolves into a highly coherent state.

We now have access, by a mystical and inward path, to a deeper oneness, into the contemplative depths of soul and its release of faith to the grounding mystery of Being. Having become somebody, secure (enough) and centered in who we are, the prospect of letting go and dropping into communion is not terrifying – as it would be if we were anxiously attached; in fact, it wouldn’t even be possible – but profoundly liberating.

Worries and concerns, ambitions and beliefs, along with all the identity contracts that define us “up here,” are surrendered for a deep inner peace.

And the deeper we drop into communion, this same vertical axis of super-coherent consciousness (what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”) opens out at the top, so to speak, by an ethical, outward path to higher wholeness, into the transpersonal realm of spirit and wisdom and genuine community. Having become somebody, we are finally capable of getting over ourselves.

As I explore in Empathy and Human Salvation, descending to deeper centers within awakens us to larger horizons of empathy and inclusion. Conceivably our ethical agency (i.e., loving our neighbor as our self) might inspire us to live with the whole universe in mind.

Our journey in life from the emotional attachment of childhood, through the dangerous passage of ego formation, and eventually into the rational commitment of adulthood is not an “elective” in the curriculum of human development. We don’t have a choice over whether or not to embark on this journey, but our choices all along the way will determine whether or not the journey reaches fulfillment – in the liberated life.

Making Community Work

Most of my blog posts on the topic of community make a case for seeing it as a social organism, as something that emerges, grows, flourishes, and dies, just like other living things. I typically focus my reflections on how not to interfere with or undermine its organic process, suggesting that we see ourselves more as gardeners than engineers – optimizing the conditions for its spontaneous formation, rather than bending and bolting its frame together according to some prescribed assembly instructions.

I do come closer to an “engineering” model of community in proposing a method of dialogue that can help partners find common ground and work cooperatively for solutions that matter to (and include) everyone involved. The fact is, community doesn’t just happen – despite my reference above to its “spontaneous formation.” There are things we must do, both in preparation and all along the way, for the work of community to be truly successful.

So maybe that’s where we can pick up the thread again, in making an essential distinction between the “work of community” as (1) what can be accomplished by partners working together in community, and (2) the more organic-spiritual process by which community itself comes into being. In the four-part Dialogue series and this present post, I clarify the inner workings of community, focusing specifically on the disciplines to which partners must commit themselves in order for it to be effective.

My diagram identifies four critical disciplines that partners need to practice in their work together. “Ego” (Latin for “I”) represents you or me as we engage with this process, while “other” is another person – a committee or team member, spouse or life partner, or anyone with whom we are in relationship.

My assumption is that the work before us is purposeful, perhaps something we have been given to accomplish, rather than merely “getting along.” We might be members of a task force of some kind, with the understanding that our work group will be disbanded once our assignment is completed. Or maybe our community is perennial and organized less formally, meaning that we will continue to exist even after we have concluded our work on a project.

In any case, what do you (or I) need to be committed to, in a disciplined way, to ensure as much as possible that our work together will be successful? I’ll name them the Four Disciplines for making community work.

Discipline One: “Be Present” (the Practice of Grounding)

It should be obvious that if we are not fully present to each other and to the work before us, we are not likely to make meaningful progress. As with everything else in life, 80% of success is just showing up – where “just” is not to suggest that this discipline is trivial and easy. It definitely isn’t.

Both external and internal forces frequently conspire to take us away from the here-and-now, which is the only touchpoint we have with reality. Other life concerns, environmental distractions, normal daydreaming, low energy, mental fogginess, disinterest in the work itself, doubts about our own abilities, echos and after-images of an earlier incident, or second thoughts about others at the table – these are only a sampling of forces that might pull our attention away from “here” and out of “now.”

A proven practice for helping us be present (or come back again) is using our breath as a tether back to our body. Whereas our mind is busy traveling though time and space, our body is always right where we are. By turning attention to our breath – feeling the air pass through our nostrils, feeling our abdomen expand and relax, gathering our intention with the in-breath and releasing distractions with the out-breath – we can ground ourselves again in mindful awareness.

Discipline Two: “Stay Centered” (the Practice of Integrity)

Most relationship problems are complications of the fact that one or both partners are not properly centered in themselves. A “centered” personality is neurotically stable, emotionally balanced, self-managed, and capable of responding thoughtfully to others. When we are not centered – perhaps due to situational stress, physical exhaustion, or to the chronic consequences of early life trauma – it is difficult to connect meaningfully with others or be productive in our work.

This practice of integrity includes more than staying true to our moral values, however. As a principle of psychology and personality theory, it refers to the “virtue” of ego strength, of being in possession of a self-conscious center of awareness, intention, agency, and control. Practicing the discipline of staying centered can be as simple as reminding ourselves that no one is here to do the work for us, and that we “have what it takes” to meet the situation at hand or find the assistance and resources we need.

Discipline Three: “Make Room” (the Practice of Accommodation)

Perhaps the greatest challenge of community, as well as the greatest threat to its potential, is the inability (or unwillingness) of partners to make room for their differences – and this can range from differences in temperament, background, worldview, beliefs, moral values, race, class, gender, or age. Their inability (or unwillingness) to allow and “make room” for – literally to accommodate – what’s different in/about each other will inevitably sterilize the soil where community might otherwise take root.

In my experience, the most ineffective teams and failed communities had at least one partner who couldn’t (or was unwilling to) accept the differences that others brought to the table. They were convicted in their belief that absolute agreement on all the “important” factors was necessary for the work of community to proceed. As a consequence of their stated or unspoken exclusions, others did not feel accepted for who they were and what they brought to the table, and the promise of community was cut off.

Discipline Four: “Get Focused” (the Practice of Attunement)

When an orchestra assembles for a performance, one of the first things they do is calibrate their instruments to the same tone (worldwide this is the ‘A’ note: 440 hertz). This makes sure that every player is set on the same scale and their instruments will be in harmony. Obviously, the performance itself will not consist in the strings, horns, and woodwinds playing an ‘A’ note from start to finish. The purpose of their initial attunement is to ensure that when they do begin their performance, all the sounds are complementary and harmonious.

In the work of community it is essential for everyone at the table to focus themselves on the objective or purpose of their work. Not just at the beginning but all along the way, partners need to attune themselves to their reason for coming together. One of the services of a good leader is to invite members periodically to refresh their understanding of and commitment to the higher purpose in their work. Inspiring a shared vision, again and again, ensures that all partners are tuning their instruments to the same “tone” – to the same creative intention and ultimate goal.

The way to a healthy and productive community is no mystery, even though community itself is not something we can engineer or assemble. By practicing the Four Disciplines of Being Present, Staying Centered, Making Room, and Getting Focused, partners can nurture the conditions for its emergence. As they learn how to work together, their way of being together grows increasingly more unified and transformative – becoming a spiritual community.

Empathy and Human Salvation

It’s easy to blame Donald Trump for the fracture of American society along the faultlines of race, wealth, politics, and religion. But we all know that those faultlines were already there before he brazenly sucked the soul out of the Republican party and exploited social media to seduce millions more into his “Make America Great Again” (aka “What’s in it for me?”) campaign.

Truth is, with the rise of insecurity around the planet, in our nation, and in our own neighborhoods and households, we had been primed for someone just like him to rise up and set us off.

I’ve come to see our human destiny as the contest between two forces, insecurity and empathy. Since our beginnings, and in every cultural corner of the world, these two forces have been steering us along a zig-zagging path through history: sending us into wars, or beckoning us into peace; driving our insatiable appetite for more, or finding contentment in what we have; causing us to contract and become smaller, or opening us up to larger and more inclusive identities.

The much-heralded ascent of individualism in the modern age, with its revolutionary values of freedom, autonomy, agency, and self-responsible authority, came at the expense of a lost sense of communion with and belonging to something larger than ourselves. The price paid was one of security. As our individuation advanced toward “enlightenment,” the shadow of insecurity lengthened behind us.

Gaining our separate self left us feeling exposed, isolated, and lonely – which only compelled an intensified self-obsession in our desperate search for happiness.

Insecurity motivates us to contract and withdraw inside smaller identities, where we hope to take control and manage the threats to our ever-shrinking world. We have convinced ourselves that only by pulling in our affections, putting up our defenses, and closing off more of reality will we stand a chance. And to the degree that insecurity has taken the upper hand, our capacity for empathy has been squeezed out of play.

It doesn’t even occur to us that letting down our guard and opening up to larger horizons might actually restore our lost sense of security. We emotionally reason to ourselves that including more of reality will just expose us to greater risk, taking us in the exact opposite direction we need to go.

But this is indeed the key teaching of our perennial wisdom traditions: The “way of salvation” – referring quite literally to the liberation, healing, wholeness, harmony, and wellbeing we long for as humans – is only found as we can find it in ourselves to love and care about others.

The well-known verse from the Jewish Torah (Leviticus 19:18), “Love your neighbor as yourself,” has been interpreted in different ways. A narrower interpretation might be translated as, “Just as you love yourself, so you should also love others,” while the more generous reading counsels us to “Love as your very self the one who is nearby” – in your neighborhood, as it were.

Of course, this leaves open the question of what is meant by a “neighborhood,” where we and our neighbor presumably live. Does it refer primarily to a residential area containing houses or apartments in close proximity to each other? I will offer a more psychological and ‘existentialist’ definition: Our “neighborhood” is the horizon which we establish as circumference to the center we use in identifying ourselves. In other words, what we identify “as” determines the boundary containing all others who are like us in this specific way.

We naturally identify “with” those who resemble us and who share the same traits that are essential to our own self-identification (“as”).

I’ll go even farther to suggest that “naturally identifying with” a neighbor is a useful definition of what is meant by empathy. The degree in which we are grounded and properly centered in ourselves, intimately familiar with “what it’s like to be me,” to an exact corresponding degree we will resonate with the experience of others whom we recognize as essentially like us.

Our self-understanding, therefore, translates directly into a deep understanding of others, as a kind of spontaneous-intuitive knowing of what they are going through, what they long for, and how they feel.

Evolutionary theory considers all of existence – every atom, rock, cloud, plant, fish, bird, and human being – as manifestions of a single creative process, all together “turning as one”: our universe. The physical matter of our bodies is derived from stardust. We carry the same life-force that animates all living things on Earth. The consciousness that opens our minds to the complexity around us involves us also in a great community of sentient beings.

And the individual ego – that leading indicator of human evolution and lonely exile in search of a lost security – has given us each an ability to see and understand ourselves, in a paradoxically self-conscious way, somehow, somewhere in the immensity of all of this.

It should be clear by now just how we ended up where we are: removed from nature, divided from each other, and at odds with ourselves. In our desperate bid for security, we cut ourselves off from what we found threatening, until all that’s left is the smallest identity we can manage (but still we can’t).

We finally extricated ourselves from the 14-billion-year evolutionary process so that we can kill and die for some party, sect, or idol. When we identify ourselves “as” something so small, very few others, if any, remain for us to identify “with.”

Just before our species passes into extinction, the light of human empathy will go out for the last time.

But let’s hold on for some good news.

It has been proven, again and again, that as individuals are willing to drop into deeper centers of identity, their horizons expand in proportion. Their world enlarges and more “neighbors” are included, activating a correspondingly deep understanding – a love of, care for, and generosity toward those whose essential nature they share.

When our center is so deep and our horizon so large that nothing is exluded from the sense we have of ourselves and the neighbors we care about, humanity will find salvation – at last.

And, to wax biblical for a moment, on that day Earth will rejoice to have us back in the community of Life.