In the twenty-first century, industrial civilization is crumbling around us, and we are compelled to notice that a number of Enlightenment assumptions no longer apply or at the very least, have outlived their utility in a world unraveling. One of these is the notion that the universe is rational and orderly. The word that perhaps best describes the current era is chaos. So does this mean that reason is dead, and chaos reigns? Does it mean that we must choose which of the two is actually true, despite what our instincts tell us?
Since the Enlightenment, mystical knowledge has been minimized, even demeaned in the West as “unscientific.” Only knowledge gained intellectually through the scientific method was deemed valid by Enlightenment thinkers. However, Andrew Harvey argues that one likely outcome of the current collapse of industrial civilization and its glorification of the intellect is that yet another marriage, that of the rational with the sacred, is in process. Mystics and scientists need one another, he asserts, declaring that “It is time that Westerners realize that mystics are scientists of their domain.”
In a time of decline, demise, unraveling and what is very likely to be the collapse of industrial civilization and the paradigm on which it rests, it is crucial, in my opinion, to grasp and nourish the opposite of descent by attending to all that may facilitate an ascent to a rebirth of humanity. Descent, in fact, is only one half of the story of civilization that is now playing out its last act. From the ashes of that collapsed paradigm, another will emerge, and our work in current time is to forge a framework with which it can be constructed—a skeleton of sanity, sagacity, creativity, compassion, and vision to be enfleshed on the bare bones of what we modestly call “preparation,” knowing that today’s preparation is tomorrow’s next culture.
When a story nears its end it goes through death throes, an exaggerated semblance of life. So today we see domination, conquest, violence, and separation take on absurd extremes that hold a mirror up to what was once hidden and diffuse.
Those of us who have been following the unfolding global crisis – the converging, interlocked “wicked problems” of energy, the environment, economics and social justice – have become intimately familiar with the painful progression through the Five Stages of Grief described by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.
As I spoke to the Sisters about the collapse of industrial civilization as a rite of passage for humanity—as a spiritual and emotional practice which we must begin now and continue going forward, they were overwhelmingly receptive. In fact, I was inundated with their resonance and gratitude. Of all the audiences to whom I have presented my work on the topic of collapse in the past five years, this one displayed the most unequivocal comprehension of any.
I recently attended a ceremony at the Tamera village in Portugal in which the officiant invoked “the healing of money.” Immediately a vivid image popped into my head of a man, vast and muscular, bound to the earth with stakes and tethers, straining with every atom of his strength to free himself and rise up. Finally, in a desperate, colossal effort, he bursts free and, standing tall, lets out a triumphant roar before striding purposefully off. I knew immediately that the man represented the divine masculine and his bonds were made of money.
The decision to embark on this rite of passage won’t be an easy one. Most people in the developed world have no interest in changing anything about their lives or their worldviews, and are often oblivious that anything’s amiss to begin with. They’re not remotely interested in asking the hard questions that might shed light on a path forward. Even those of us who are open to the rite struggle to take that first step. We’re scared. I’m scared. But we can’t allow this fear to rule our lives, to constrain our lives. A rite of passage isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to introduce us to our edges and the void that lies beyond. I can’t pretend to know precisely what each of these stages of our impending rite of passage will look like, how people in different regions will muddle through, but I trust it’ll be powerful, enlightening and, at the very least, interesting. Perhaps more interesting than we’d prefer. But then we live in interesting times, so go figure.
The human soul may tolerate a “consumer society” in order to survive current circumstances and make a living, but the soul has come to life not simply to consume, but to give its inner gifts. Each soul secretly desires to be part of something greater, something “larger than life,” for we each harbor within ourselves a larger life and greater sense of self. This otherness within is now mostly imagined as something outside oneself. Thus, all the campaigns that promise liberation, be they political or spiritual, be they base advertising or high-energy motivational programs.
On one level, we are only frail beings trying to survive in a rapidly changing, often fearful world; on another level we are nascent geniuses trying to contribute meaning, intelligence and beauty to the world around us.