May/June 2005 Featured Stories
Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and in surpassing
if all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.
- Simone de Beauvoir
Humanity is about to move into a stage of initiationa period of stress and testing in which we will be challenged to discover ourselves as a single family with responsibilities to one another, the Earth, and future generations. Although the challenges we face may seem to be evidence of humanitys failures, reaching this stage is actually an expression of our great success over the past 35,000 years. I believe that the apparent crises we face are, in reality, part of our initiation into a new relationship with one another and the Earth, a fusion of our unique capabilities with those of nature. The rapidly approaching initiation represents a time of birtha stressful but entirely natural process.
When we began our journey of awakening roughly 35,000 years ago, we had only an indistinct sense of ourselves and a strong but largely unconscious feeling of connection with nature. Over the millennia, we have acquired a strong sense of ourselves, but at the cost of separating ourselves from nature. Looking ahead, we have the opportunity to reconnect consciously with nature and the larger human family. Our challenge is to return to where we started, but with a new level of insight, compassion, and creativity. T.S. Eliot foretold of this return when he wrote, "And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
The accompanying illustration portrays humanity at the turning point from separation to reconnection with nature. Please note that there is no negative implication in the downward direction of the first arrow, whose purpose is simply to show that we pulled away from nature. We shall soon enter a period of initiation, in which we see that we have a choice of connecting consciously with nature and the universe. Making the transition from separation to integration, without losing the scientific understanding and technical sophistication we have gained, is perhaps the most important evolutionary turn that humanity will ever have to accomplish.
William D. Ruckelshaus, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency, describes the uniqueness of our evolutionary challenge:
Can we move nations and people in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a modification of society comparable in scale to only two other changes: the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries. Those revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and largely unconscious. This one will have to be a fully conscious operation . . . . If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique in humanitys stay on the Earth.
What would motivate us to attempt such an undertaking? I believe it will take both the push of environmental necessity and the pull of evolutionary opportunity for humanity to attempt to overcome 35,000 years of progressive separation from nature and discover how to live in conscious harmony with one another and the Earth. Like adolescents pressing to find the limits of their parents authority, we are pushing up against the limits of nature, as though seeking to discover just how much abuse our planet will tolerate. But we face much more than physical problems; we face equally great challenges in our own consciousness and character.
The historic path of development is being confronted, not only with an environmental wall, but by an even more formidable evolutionary wall. It would be useful to distinguish here between the two:
In seeing the initiation that awaits us, it is clear that we have come to a great choice-point in our journey. Although human beings have been faced with challenges throughout history, we have never before been confronted with a challenge to our entire planet and species. Our time is unique in one crucial respect: the circle has closedthere is nowhere to escape. For the first time in our history, the entire human population is confronted with a common predicament whose solution will require us to work together.
It is vital that we look beyond the possibility of a destructive evolutionary crash to the possibility of an evolutionary bounce. I believe that in the coming decades, there is the distinct possibility that we may surpass ourselves and evolve to a level of maturity that we could not attain without confronting these trials that I am calling "initiation." How might an evolutionary bounce look? I see it as a leap forward in our collective maturity to build a life together that would be harmonious in three ways. It would be:
There are two compelling reasons for making this evolutionary turn. First, it is eminently desirable and will lead to a higher quality of life for all. Second, it is necessary if we are to avoid creating a planet that is hotter, hungrier, poorer, and more polluted, diseased, and biologically impoverished than it already is.
This article has been adapted from Duane Elgins book Promise Ahead, which sets forth the historical case for humanitys evolutionary passage from adolescence to maturity and also the compelling reasons for what he considers to be "humanitys promising future". (See the full text of the article, including the authors footnotes at: www.gbenetwork.com/growingup.htm)
Global Brain Conference: Duane Elgin is one of four keynote consultants, together with Peter Russell, David Spangler, Donna Zajonc, to be featured at the interactive Global Brain Conference, "Piecing Together a Better World: Networking Our Global Brain," to be held at the Portland Convention Center on September 24, 2005. The purpose of the conference is to discern and embrace collaborative approaches for human and planetary well-being, global peace, and environmental integrity.
In order both to get the most out of the conference and to contribute most effectively to it, readers are invited to attend one of the many pre-conference briefings being held throughout the Pacific Northwest, from Vancouver, B.C. to Ashland, OR. Briefing times and locations are at www.gbenetwork.com/briefings.htm.