A year ago, I wrote this post (it originally appeared on my website) this in the spacious stillness of Thanksgiving weekend. My life had been moving at high speed, but over that holiday break an opening appeared. The phone barely rang, and a sense of deep peace naturally blossomed. My heart was overflowing with spontaneous gratitude (or as Brother David Steindl-Rast so beautifully puts it, “great-full-ness”.)
I was (and am) grateful for many things—family and friends, my spiritual friends and communities, some inspiring creative projects, amazing partners, and my growing, vibrant communities of integral evolutionary spirituality and service. I was (and am) especially grateful for the opportunity to serve humankind, and our current intensifying wild ride through what is certainly a kind of evolutionary whitewater rafting.
In the time since I wrote this post, many projects have been born, and you’re now a part of one of the largest and most important of them. As of this writing the Beyond Awakening community numbers almost 34,000. I feel very similarly to how I did a year ago — simultaneously feeling great sobriety and hope, while taking an increasingly strong stand for a healthy human adaptive response to our current challenges. I want to share this writing with you now, in the spirit of the wide-ranging and deep conversations that are unfolding in the series.
The day I wrote this post, I had breakfast with a dear friend. We had been discussing our world’s multiple simultaneous emergencies (overpopulation, climate change, culture wars, and the new emerging design vulnerabilities of a single globalized human life-support system).
Optimism vs. Pessimism About Humanity’s Prospects
We considered how attitudes tend to polarize. Many extreme postmodernists feel very pessimistic. Their words are haunted by a quality of dread, a sense of impending calamity. They seem depressed, or even possessed by an overwrought sense of guilt, shame, and foreboding.
And we considered how some of our Integral friends, reacting to the self-fulfilling prophetic defeatism of postmodern anxiety and doubt, have attempted to opt radically for optimism. Since history and evolution are always developmentally progressing forward towards greater depth, complexity, and consciousness, they have installed optimism as an article of faith, perhaps even at the cost of going into denial of the likelihood of the global human economy being tested by some “500-year flood” type events—disastrous systemic shocks and large-scale socioeconomic dislocations.
The Core Existential Question
I told my friend that what I think haunts this discussion is a core existential question: Are we inspired or discouraged by an uncertain, treacherous human future? Can we use our fear productively? The prospect of a new dark age, of a “Mad Max” descent into warrior consciousness, or of human extinction is so terrifying as to be mind-altering. We don’t want this for our grandchildren. Can we tolerate that possibility, and even be drawn to heroism by its potential eventuality? Is it worth working for evolution even if there’s a significant likelihood of evolutionary regression?
For me, this all goes back to a stark confrontation I engaged in 2002-2003. For years I’ve pondered the koan of how to respond to this amazingly “interesting time” on planet Earth. During those years, I researched and wrote a book manuscript (one actively being updated and re-edited now) whose working title is The Terrible Truth and the Wonderful Secret: Answering the Call of Our Evolutionary Emergency. I looked closely at all the futuristic projections, whether they were inspiring, alarming, or depressing. I made it a practice to transcend my tendency to go into denial about what upset me. I felt like I was “putting my eyeballs in a vice” and forcing myself to look at all the potentials I found most upsetting.
And at the end of the process, I realized that human knowledge was too incomplete, and my expertise was insufficient. The bottom line was that even though the world is out of balance, we just didn’t know—and couldn’t know—how bad (or good) things really are. We don’t know how severe or sudden climate change will be. We don’t know how much sea levels will rise. We don’t know how disruptive the transition will be from our unsustainable global financial, food, and transportation systems to sustainable ones. We cannot and will not be able to know how much disruption, pain, loss, and degradation are in store for us—or not. Essentially, we don’t know enough to be pessimistic. Even optimism is essentially a choice, not a well-founded conclusion.
An Unconditional Commitment
We don’t have to be caught in the dilemma of having to figure all this out, though. We don’t have to handicap this unknowable high-stakes evolutionary horse-race. We can cut through all the mind chatter by asking a deeper and more essential question:
Can I find in myself a no-matter-what commitment? Under the worst-case scenario, can I nevertheless find inspiration to meet each new day with passion, resourcefulness, and self-transcending integrity? If, in my lifetime, beyond my control, no matter what I do, evolutionary history is doomed to pass some awful point of no return resulting in grim outcomes, will I still have a basis for going on? Can I, no matter what, find the spring in my step and the twinkle in my eye to come alive fully, to do whatever I can? And can I do it nobly, in service of something far greater than myself?
Can I make my evolutionary contribution, even if it seems tiny by comparison with the scale of deep time and a global 6.8 billion? Can I do whatever I can to further the emergence of a new humanity that could have turned the corner? Can I be inspired to do what little I can to bring forward the gestation of that embryonic next, even more sapient, homo sapien?
Can I bring care, compassion, and consciousness into life just for the sake of doing so? Am I willing to invest my heart in evolutionary creativity without a guaranteed return? Can I find it exciting to help the human flower come an iota more fully into bloom even if it might be destined to wilt?
Finding a “Yes”
I struggled with these issues for a couple of years, working to grapple them to the mat. And, pinned, I found my answer. It was, and is—yes.
And that yes makes all the difference.
So that’s what I offer you here. A meditation: can you find your “yes”? Can you choose (again and again, every day, for the rest of your life) to live on the basis of an unconditional inspiration?
If you can, you’ll step over a threshold into a different level of evolutionary responsibility and leadership. There’s a community building out here on the skinny branches. This is a transformational community, a powerful agreement, an amazing fellowship of Evolutionaries. It’s my experience that we seem to be in the process of summoning something miraculous into being.
This “agreement” is certainly a work-in-progress. As those of you have been listening regularly to the Beyond Awakening dialogs are well aware, many of the key components of such an agreement are already widely-held among the many remarkable teachers I’ve spoken with, and yet there’s obviously no full universal consensus yet. But a new set of cultural values and worldviews seem to be coalescing. This new cultural phenomenon emerges out of this clear choice, this existential “yes.” This affirmation is an open invitation. Once accepted, this opportunity changes us. Maybe it changes everything.
Are you called to participate?