I have to confess that I find politics fascinating, even if very painful at times like these, facing as we do another five years of Conservative rule. I remain though optimistic that eventually our politics will move onto a different, more conscious and compassionate plane. I do think that our societies consciousness is slowly increasing, we are gradually getting more sophisticated in terms of being able to hold greater complexity and see more clearly. There are major changes happening, even if at times some seem to be in a negative direction.
Whatever your reaction to the election result though, there can be no denying that politics brings together philosophy, psychology and economics in a way that is truly challenging to get one’s head around. Implicit, and running through the core of it all is the question of spirituality, or to put it in other words, the question of, what is our ultimate meaning?
The world is living with the consequences of having largely killed off religious spirituality. Modernism’s long triumph has meant the dismissal of any meaning other than an overly narrow scientific materialism with its goal of economic growth. It has disconnected us from the wisdom of our bodies and our hearts, let alone the wisdom that can only emerge from the integration of our head, heart and body working together.
It seems though that our climate crisis is turbo-charging the re-awakening of the heart and the body that was already well underway, and which is in many ways, wonderful. I worry though that part of this movement is somewhat regressive, with aspects of “New Age” approaches (e.g. see “Time of the Sixth Sun”) being at risk of undoing some of the essential and hard fought gains in consciousness that Modernism made in establishing the value of rationality and objectivity. I agree with Ken Wilber that our path of development is to “transcend and include”, as he eloquently put it. Transcending and discarding is not developmental, every “stage of consciousness” is a building block on which further development depends. The “Modern” stage needs to include the previous “Mythic” and “Magical” stages, not discard them, just as the rediscovery of these stages needs to not discard the “Modern”.
Our healing, growth and development are very rational and logical processes. How we function, how all the consequences of trauma (in its widest sense) work in us, is perfectly understandable. Our functioning is largely mechanical and automatic and follows logical and understandable patterns of cause and effect. Out motivations are mostly consequential, and the psychological truth of our self can be seen and understood. Whilst it can all seem complicated and mysterious, there is no magic involved. When we heal trauma, we change.
The real miracle is that we can become aware of, and understand, ourselves. There is “magic” in how we are made for growth and development, and in our ability to recognise “Truth”. Indeed, Life itself is a profound mystery, as death reveals, but these mysteries are in addition to common sense, they do not devalue or dismiss rationality or verifiable truth.
Scientific materialism created an economics that took as its central philosophical premise, a stupidly narrow version of human nature. It assumed that we are selfish, greedy materialistic creatures for whom free markets provide the ideal way of distributing resources. Politics, deeply influenced by the vested interests of those who became wealthy and powerful through those very mechanisms, pushed for the laisse faire version of “free market Capitalism”. This included its own deflective emphasis on a false notion of “personal responsibility”, which is actually blame. “If the system is not working for you, it is your fault!”
Our response to the chaos created by top down “power orientated” socialism in the sixties and seventies enabled this Neo-Liberal worldview to achieve dominance, not just here in the UK, but globally as well. Keynesian economics seemed to fail in response to the “Oil shocks” and inflation of the time. Now, and since the 2008 financial crisis, it is clear that Neo-Liberalism has also failed, with the rise in poverty, inequality and hopelessness.
So we obviously need a new economics. Kate Raworth’s “doughnut economics” is an example of the different thinking we need. It includes an understanding that being a human is much more about meaning and purpose than our obsessive wish for material “stuff”. (After all our materialistic “obsession” is simply a projection of our underlying need for a deeper level of satisfaction and meaning we have lost touch with.)
Emerging into prominence in both the USA, with Sanders, and in UK with McDonnell, is a fascinating macroeconomic theory called “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT). It argues that our historical Neo-Liberal moralistic authoritarian economic model is no longer adequate or useful. (To me, Neo-Liberal economics is based on the idea of original sin, that we have to be forced into being “good”, through control and power-over). It uses the old “householder” analogy which says that, “we have to pay our way”, that we cannot continue to run deficits. MMT argues that we can continue to run deficits, provided that we control inflation, which we can do through taxes the regulating of the amount of money in the economy.
I am far from an expert on this, so I can only guess at its real-world usefulness, but it does seem to open up the false constraints and fear-based straightjackets of conventional economic thinking. It does strongly imply that our decade of “Austerity” was pointless and another example of false doctrine imposing misery on millions. Many right-wing economists, and those with wealth and power hate the concepts of MMT, and I can see how it undermines their blinkered beliefs associated with their own trauma-based values and sense of how the world “should” work.
Philosophy / Spirituality
A new economics obviously needs a new philosophical base, and this can be provided by this relatively new psycho-spiritual approach that understands how our development towards realising our extraordinary potential can most directly proceed through the combined processes of “Growing Up” and “Waking Up” (again, terms from Ken Wilber). “Growing Up” is the process of our maturing, of taking responsibility for ourselves, of healing ourselves through self-knowledge, through self-forgiveness and self-compassion, self-enquiry and ruthless self-honesty. “Waking Up” is about realising our deeper “Non-Dual” nature, realising that we are not separate from the Consciousness, Love and Energy of the universe. Our Consciousness is the universe becoming aware of itself, our Love is the universe loving itself, our body’s sensation and energy is the universe sensing itself. Any connection we make to this Non-Dual dimension of life touches us profoundly, it energises and renews us. This level of life is always available within the depth of “here and now”, it is the great paradox that it often takes a lifetime to find it! The ancient Chinese “Ten Ox herding pictures” are a wonderful, symbolic, illustration of this process of “Waking Up”.
The training in self-observation required for “Growing Up”, is just the preparation we need to be able to make progress in “Waking Up”. Our ability to dis-identify with our ego with its dazzling, seductive and compulsive cornucopia of distractions, is an essential skill that usually needs our attention for decades. This “skill” is about learning to “remember our selves” and insert a gap between ourselves and our experience where we can see and face our experience. When we combine the psychological knowledge we have gained over the last century with the “Waking Up” that has been the aim of all the great spiritual traditions for millennia, it creates this “Psycho-Spiritual” approach which is both practical and experiential, and which has been emerging over the last sixty years or so. It does not need an established spiritual tradition to work, it is a broad path that does not need belief or any “magic”, even though what is being connected to is undoubtably a profound and undefinable mystery. We can find our way without being attached to a “Guru” because giving away our power and self-responsibility is as much a hindrance as a help.
We make this spiritual connection through; our head with its intellect, its awareness, understanding and Consciousness, through our heart’s ability to heal and expand into Love, and through our body’s amazing ability to embody and ground all our experience. Connecting to this spiritual “something”, is always through the doorway of the “here and now”, and it is what reveals our sense of ultimate value and meaning. Once we see that human development is towards this possibility, everything else can fall into place, our philosophy, our economics, our politics can all be re-orientated towards serving this end. Towards facilitating the development of the profound human freedom and bliss that happens as we somehow manage to transcend our ego. This shift is into living increasingly in the here and now is towards embodying this Non-Dual level of reality. Realising our non-separateness opens the door to the other being me, to compassion and a celebration of our interconnectedness.
This is all a far cry from facilitating the purchasing of a shiny new TV or pair of trainers, which seems to be the goal laid out by our current economics/philosophy/politics.
Re-structuring society in line with this understanding, and the compassion that flows from it, means changing the way that money and power are distributed. Obviously, we need to care for those in need better than we have been doing. But more fundamentally it means pushing government spending and power down to as local a level as possible in order to re-invigorate, renew and energise local communities. There is a desperate need to give purpose and meaning back to local communities, be they the resource deprived ones blighted by poverty, or “soul” deprived ones blighted by wealth. We need to move away from, on the one hand, the materialistic, “nuclear”, lonely and isolated existence many of us now inhabit, and on the other hand away from “them or us” narrow identifications which come from tribalism, and which excludes and alienates “others”.
We are still suffering from authoritarianism’s millennial long trauma shadow, from tribal, feudal, monarchist or centralist controlled societies of whatever sort. We have internalised the defeatedness, victimness, de-powered-ness and infantilization to such an extent, that many who live in poverty still vote for presidents and governments that they know will make them worse off. At least they are felt as safe, familiar and known, corresponding as they do to their trauma induced reactionary values. Someone who has not been loved, often refuses love because it would be too painful to accept it. We either withdraw with self-blame or look for “another” to project our hurt, anger and blame onto, or both of course.
We need our current top-down, “command and control”, blame based way of organising society to change. This means giving space for people, communities, organisations and institutions to grow and develop. This is about facilitating the awareness of our developmental potential, about making the aim of human existence increasingly clear, that the priority is to facilitate our development towards consciousness and freedom. It means generally facilitating increasing self-responsibility as the creative solution on both the personal and community levels. It means that the responsibility for supporting those in need needs to be passed down to as local a level as possible. This is something that George Monbiot, John Harris and others at the Guardian have been articulating well of late, how a significant part of the solution is about supporting, and seeding with long term funding, local communities to empower themselves through “bottom up” change. They both tell of the many amazing projects that are being tried and experimented with right now. To quote Monbiot (Guardian 18th Dec) “I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process: radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.”
The most urgent situation facing us all though is climate change. Many recent scientific reports explain how we have, already crossed several “tipping points”, and the risk is that triggering others may be leading to runaway self-reinforcing effects. Sea levels are going to rise, desertification, floods and fire will all cause increasing suffering, the mass extinction is ongoing. We have not done nearly enough in time to avoid the world moving into a very difficult future. It seems we are long past hoping for a painless way out. That we can longer avoid untold hardship, destruction and misery, is, to me, very tough to digest. It is as though we are waking up with a gut-wrenching pit in the stomach feeling, realising the awful reality that we cannot undo the terrible thing we have done.
On the individual level, working with people gives me enormous hope, our ability to change is amazing. Awareness and love are such fantastically powerful forces. The question is how to spread this change with sufficient speed? What we need is some enormous global bush fire of Consciousness and Love, to overwhelm all the powerfully resistant, regressive and trauma filled negative forces? Perhaps this is happening … but it seems, too slowly. Realistically we are left with the mitigation of disaster, the possibility that the unfolding path towards a runaway apocalyptic outcome can be turned onto one that brings us back onto some reparative and sustainable trajectory.
Julian Cribb (Guardian 29th Nov) gave a powerful portrayal of how far gone the situation already is, and the terrifying scale of the level of disaster already inexorably unfolding. Given the enormous scale of planetary processes and the time lags involved, what has been set in motion cannot be stopped for decades. Dramatic change now could hopefully halt the deterioration and start the repair, but that is way down the road.
How do we keep our hearts open and loving, our awareness expanding, our bodies sensitive, in the face of this? Our natural reaction to threat and guilt is to tense and close and defend, as our fight, flight, freeze trauma responses get triggered. There is another interesting report in the Guardian (Sheldon Solomon 23rd Nov) on research which shows how people exposed to the idea of their death display much more reactionary, selfish, projective and aggressive reactions as they look to find scapegoats for their anxiety. It explores how Trump and authoritarian leaders play on this process. By deduction, this points to the real political and social risks that flow from the unfolding disaster of climate chaos.
My reaction to all this is naturally to question what life means, to question my underlying knowledge of the Goodness of Life. I know that people are fundamentally good, and it is obvious that Nature is Good. Yet I also know how hard it is for people to change, many would rather destroy themselves (or the planet) than face their pain and take responsibility for themselves. I am surely guilty of having been (necessarily) obsessed with my own insecurity and so more absent than I would have liked from fighting to save the planet.
In the greater scheme of things, if humans cease to exist, I expect that some other form of self-conscious life will again arise on this planet to fulfil the Universes’ need to become aware of itself. On a planetary scale there is plenty of time. Even in the very worst-case scenario where human activity causes the Earth to become lifeless like Mars, the process of evolution towards self-consciousness is surely taking place on innumerable planets, in solar systems and galaxies all across the Universe.
But this brings me back to what our purpose is. As I understand, sense and feel it, it is to become self-conscious through transcending (and including) our ego. Self-conscious not in the narrow meaning of that phrase, but in the sense, as above, of realising through self-knowledge and insight, our non-separateness, of embodying Non-Duality and living in the deeper reality of the here and now. This “self-awareness” includes opening to the Love which is always there beyond our ego’s insecurity, and to the Energy and sensation of our physical existence. When I re-member and re-connect to this, whatever happens … happens. Perhaps my best contribution to the common good is to continue transforming myself in this direction. This doesn’t mean being passive, it means working with Love and Presence to heal what can be healed, both inner and outer. What else is there to do that is as meaningful?
As ever, our healing process involves opening to and accepting our pain, hurt, fear or distress. When we do, we are freer, our hearts can heal and open, fear dissolves. Accepting the horror of present and future climate disaster is very tough, the pain of pristine forests being burnt, the pollution, the damage to the seas, the ongoing mass extinction, let alone all the human suffering, is unbearably heart-breaking. Yet it is our responsibility to bear it as much as we can, this is our creative response, to bear it with the Love of grief, grounded within our resonating bodies. The last thing the world needs is more fear and panic, or denial.
I feel the grief as a constant weight, its presence becomes obvious when, as often happens, I perceive a glimmer of hope and tears start. Yet I also know that whenever this “grief” lands on top of someone’s already unprocessed personal grief, of whatever sort, it is so difficult to accept or process. We can only do our best, attend to our hearts as best we can, and what unfolds … will be. It seems we are at the point where we can longer avoid or deny this unfolding disaster. We need to digest, make sense of, and start integrating this grief, which in turn needs us to continue opening and repairing our hearts.
May this coming decade of the 2020’s, unfold us all in this direction.
With best wishes