Friday, August 27, 2010

Envisioning the New Human

When I created this blog it was with the intention of exploring how to live simply and sustainably, but more than that I wanted to explore who we might become as we made these outer changes. Our outer and inner worlds give us the illusion of being separate phenomenon. We think what exists beyond our skin is wholly Other and what is contained within it is this thing we call the Self. But really these two worlds are one, and changes to one of these worlds creates changes in the other. We’ve been in a phase of our evolution where it was necessary to harbor this illusion of separateness—but it’s a phase I believe we are about to leave behind.

In our earliest days (perhaps even before we could technically be called humans) we were unconscious beings, primally fused with the surrounding environment. There was no sense of self yet, just a fluid merging with all that was. Then as we developed tools and language and began to separate out from the environmental matrix, we began to develop a sense of self, of discreteness. We became conscious. It was a gradual process taking hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of years. Over time the sense of self became more and more defined, more self-reflecting, and more isolated. An internal world developed, something which could symbolically represent what was out there, or even grossly distort it. We began to think we were just these isolated dots of awareness, forgetting our true (huge) Identity. Everything that wasn't the self--this isolated dot--was Other. And we needed to create these false dichotomies in order to become conscious.

If one essay helped shaped my thinking more than any other, it was Jung's "Answer to Job". The gist of the essay was that God needed us in order to become conscious of Himself. When God existed alone he couldn't know Himself, as there were no points of reference. He created a physical universe so there could be Self and Other, so parts of Himself (including us) could look at other parts of Himself and compare and contrast and therefore wake up and become aware. It was a radical new way of thinking for me when I first read it (as a teenager), at a time when I was just starting to break away from traditional Christian thought. It seemed almost sacrilegious to speak of God as needing us. Nowadays couching the creative force or life force in such Christian terms doesn't really speak to me, yet it still helps me to envision the process--the evolution of consciousness. When we were unconscious we were essentially God--we were one with the whole universe, but we just couldn't know it. We lived it--that was all. Then we became conscious and separate--believing God was somewhere else and something Other. One day (hopefully soon) we will consciously fuse back with that fuller identity--becoming God aware of Himself.

The shorthand I like to use for our evolutionary trajectory is: from Unconscious Union to Conscious But Separate to Conscious Union. We can break it down further if we want. For instance, Jean Gebser saw five distinct phases in our evolution: Archaic, Magical, Mythical, Mental, Integral. The first phase, the Archaic, represents what I call our Unconscious Union while the last phase, the Integral, represents the Conscious Union we're evolving towards. The three middle phases represent distinct steps in our Conscious But Separate phase.

In the Magical phase we had only a very rudimentary sense of self. Language was developing, blossoming organically out of our interactions with nature. We had barely started to separate from nature and at this point words were magical and potent. We couldn't know that eventually words would alienate us from nature--at this point words still had the power to fuse us with the natural world. Also in this phase there was no individual ego and no differentiated sense of space or time.

In the Mythical phase we became tool-makers, language became more developed, and we began creating mythologies--stories to explain the natural world which now was something outside of ourselves. As self separated from nature and ego began to crystallize we developed a sense of space. A conception of linear time wouldn't appear until we entered the Mental phase.

In the Mental phase we completed our separation from nature and perfected abstraction. Causality could now exist because of our linear concept of time. The sciences were born and with them the Age of Reason. Ego reached its full development and nature became something entirely Other.

And that is where we now stand, as separate from nature as we possibly could be and facing all the horrible consequences which that entails--but finally, at long last, we are awake. We've achieved full consciousness--and our fullest sense of alienation from the more-than-human world.

And now we stand on the cusp of a new paradigm. What will that look like? How will it feel to be that new human? How will we perceive the world? How will we interact with it? Gebser saw the next phase, the Integral, as one that would include all previous phases but would be non-temporal and non-linear. He believed we were moving towards a global type of awareness that would be relational in nature--more about the connections and relationships between things over time rather than focused on the things themselves. And while the previous three phases have been about trying to create meaning (through magical thinking, religious mythologies, and scientific reason) the next phase won’t involve all of this explaining. Rather it will be about experiencing the living, embodied meaning of things and relationships. As we begin to fuse back with the natural world, there will be less and less need to explain and our lives will become more a form of performance art. Our actions will harmoniously arise as expressions of what wants to manifest—the earth (or the universe or God) expressing itself through us.

All of this becomes difficult to express in words. Words after all are products of our Conscious But Separate phase. They create Subject and Object as tools to help us See. But in the next phase—one of reintegration—they will lose much of their significance. Language will be important, but speech not so much. And it will be the language of being, the language of life as improv.

What I want to do in upcoming posts is try to express how this new paradigm is beginning to birth itself in me—a challenging thing to attempt with words! But I find myself more and more slipping into this new way of seeing and being, and the beauty of it so overwhelms me I feel the need to attempt to share what I’m experiencing. I don’t even know if it’s possible, but I feel like I’m finally getting at what this blog is meant to be about. Who might we become? <--I’m becoming that! Now how do I express it?

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