Destiny of Species by Means of Natural Progression
(with apologies to Charles Darwin)
As physical individuals we start out at ease in the world as infants, helplessly embedded in a personal world that is defined by the immersive attachment to our parents. Then starting around the age of six or so we begin the long process of moving outwards into the world. We strengthen our physical and mental skills, expand our knowledge and become more competent at changing the world around us. This mid-life period is often marked by growing materialism.
At some point, usually around the age of 50 and 60, we begin to turn inward again. We seek to regain the sense of intrinsic worth and connectedness we recall dimly from infancy – a feeling of belonging that we put aside in the struggle to shape our lives in the outer world. As we reflect on our lives we may find that in the course of our struggle we have damaged our environment – especially our relationships with friends and family – damage that may need to be repaired as part of our journey.
As spiritual beings, we also start out feeling at one with everything – immersed in the oceanic experience (or non-experience) of the infant. We gradually discover that we are separate from our mothers, and out of that more or less traumatic realization grows the ego. As our interface to and protection from the outer world, the ego becomes determined to control all that chaotic stuff “out there”. The ego becomes so good at control that many (most?) people never transition to the third stage of spiritual adulthood.
The third stage is the return to the immersive oneness, but this time with full consciousness rather than the infant’s undeveloped awareness. As we travel this new path, we may find that in our previous unconscious state we have done spiritual damage to ourselves and the world around us. The damage may have been caused by our unawareness or even rejection of the sense of the sacred. In order to continue on the path we must try to repair that damage.
It’s pretty clear that the drivers of spiritual development are similar to the drivers of our physical development.
As a species we began our development as hunter-gatherers, foraging nomads of various sorts. During this time we were more or less immersed in nature – a part of it rather than apart from it. Our connecting practices as families and communities mirrored this fundamental connection to the natural world, enabling our survival even though we were still a relatively unskilled, un-knowledgeable species.
At some point in our distant past, we began to develop greater self-awareness, whether though simple learning or the gradual evolution of our neo-cortex. As we became self-aware, we gradually realized that we were separate from nature – in much the same way that we recognize our separateness from our mothers as infants. Out of this perception of separateness grew a new understanding of ourselves not just as participants in the world but as agents of influence and change.
As our knowledge and competence grew we shifted from simply moving through the world to actively shaping it to our desires. Through our invention of agriculture, then technology, then money, we developed tools to leverage our impact on the world, each other and ourselves. This period started about 10,000 years ago, and has lasted until today. It has been marked by a steady growth in materialism, a fear-driven need to control our environment, and a pervasive, growing sense of alienation, disconnection and unsatisfied desire.
That period is now being brought to a close by the converging pressures of our own growth. We are running into limits on the world’s resources, the destruction of much of the environment, and psychosocial stresses due to the complexity of the civilization we had to develop to support our continuing growth.
As this chapter in our species' history closes, there are many signs that another is now beginning. In many ways humanity resembles a voracious all-consuming caterpillar that has finally reached its maximum size and is preparing to pupate. Just like a caterpillar, pools of "imaginal cells" are appearing spontaneously in the body of humanity, carrying messages of imminent change. As the time of change draws closer, more and more imaginal cells appear, and the process seems to accelerate. In this metaphor, those imaginal cells are the awakening ones all over the world. They are us.
If the metaphor holds, human civilization may shortly enter its chrysalis phase. For us, like the caterpillar, this may be a time of autolysis – of self-digestion – in which the body of our civilization is reduced to its most basic elements, in preparation for its reconstitution as a butterfly. To many people, especially those who remain stuck in the materialist “early adulthood” phase of spiritual development, this time will feel like dissolution, collapse, anarchy, the living death. The imaginal cells, on the other hand, will know differently. As well as mourning the loss of what has been, they will also celebrate the transformation.
In preparation for the transition, in order to make it possible, we must address the damage our species has done to its home. We must try, each in our own way, to mend the physical and spiritual wounds we have inflicted on our sacred world. To the extent that we can do this, the passage of our species into the next phase of its existence will be eased.
What colour of butterfly will emerge from this miracle of metamorphosis? The caterpillar cannot know. It has no need to know. The caterpillar just needs to move in alignment with the call of the universe and its own nature.
Destiny will take care of itself.
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