Is the earth alive? This question could not be more significant, suggests Charles Eisenstein, as it may not only explain why our culture has gone so far in devastating the environment, but it may also point the way to how we can save the planet from today's converging crises.
You have no doubt already heard of Charles Eisenstein, the author and speaker who focuses on such wide-ranging themes as consciousness, civilisation, human cultural evolution and de-growth economics. Charles shot to fame as a social and spiritual philosopher with a unique perspective among the Occupy protesters in late 2011, at which time his viral short films and online essays captured widespread attention and in some way reflected the yearning for change that was sweeping across the world. Since then, his public speaking engagements and workshops have grown in popularity throughout North America and Europe, as signalled in the pages of videos and musings on his work on Youtube.
In recent weeks Charles has conducted a speaking tour in cities throughout Norway, Scotland and England to discuss the ideas in his new book, titled The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Tell us is Possible. Drawing on the themes of his previous two books, The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics, this shorter and more accessible work gives an overview of the "transition between worlds" that he believes we are all going through, both psychologically and on a systemic level. The invisible belief systems and ideologies that sustained our civilisation are now falling apart, he writes, and we are being forced to awaken to a "new story" about who we are, about the purpose of life, and about the sacredness of life on earth and our true nature as human beings.
At a talk held at The Gaia Foundation in Hampstead, London, Charles focused on a question that seems to cut to the heart of his thesis: why many people in modern society find the idea of a living planet to be naïve, fuzzy-headed, over-emotional or even irrational. Why don't environmentalists generally speak to the love of our planet, he asked, and why does the idea of a living, intelligent and purposeful universe tend to produce such strong and often negative reactions from people? The question could not be more significant, his talk suggested, as it may not only explain why our culture has gone so far in devastating the environment, but it may also point the way to how we can save the planet from today's converging crises. Furthermore, he suggested that if we can tap into the motivations that make a person an environmentalist, then we may know how to inspire others to protect the planet and change society for the better, as well as deepen the commitment of those who already identify as progressives and change-makers.
Here are a few summary notes from the rest of his talk:
- So is the earth really alive? This depends on your definition of life, as if you identify with scientific orthodoxy - i.e. the Newtonian worldview of a mechanistic universe - then you are likely to find the notion of a living planet anathema, despite there being no evidence to prove that the Earth does not have intelligence and selfhood. Yet even the greatest cynics or sceptics have a secret desire to be convinced that this is indeed correct, said Charles, because we all once believed as children in the magical, enchanted quality of nature as a living being - and we all carry an internal wound since this childhood knowing was painfully crushed. Indigenous people also share this intuitive knowing that the earth is alive, which forbids most traditional cultures from ruthlessly exploiting the natural world.
- The true destiny of science is to humble us before the mysteries of the universe, but we are still hanging on to the ‘old story' that believes everything can be explained through modern science and reductive reasoning. It is our blind adherence to a rational, evidence-based analysis of all situations that often serves to cut us off from an animating spirit of reverence and love of our planet. This is the true motivation we need to be in touch with in order to feel more, care more and do more to save our planet. Appealing to fear and self-interest will not be enough, and may reinforce the belief that the planet has no value beyond its utility; hence love for the Earth as a sacred being is the most effective basis for collective action.
- The new story we are being born into is emerging out of the present convergence of crises, and is in fact an ancient story also. It is the understanding that we are not separate beings in an impersonal universe, but we are all interconnected. Everything we do affects everything that is.
- Unfortunately, the present economic system enforces separation, and if it is a contest of force then those with the greatest power will win - i.e. the multinational corporations exploiting natural resources, the military industrial complex, autocratic governments and so on. The old and dominant worldview, which is based on money, makes it seem as if you as an individual cannot make much difference, unless your actions are big and powerful. But from the perspective of the new worldview, or the ‘Age of Reunion' as Charles also calls it, nothing that any one person can do is of more importance than any other person. There is no reason why anyone should deny that felt sense of significance in doing what they love, and what their heart calls them to do in service. Hence we need a revolution of our ‘means', and not only our ‘ends'.
- The upshot of all this, said Charles, is that "our personal actions have cosmic significance", and we need to trust that. When we take on the new and ancient story, we realise that we are all powerful beings. It doesn't mean those smaller acts of service that our heart calls us to do, such as caring for our elderly neighbours or working in a soup kitchen, are a substitute for political action; rather, both need to come from the same place. We are not separate individuals in a universe of ‘other', so even the smallest actions can "strengthen the field" of the new worldview. If we do exist on a living planet with purpose, then that purpose includes ourselves. But there are immense obstacles to realising this personal and collective purpose; our civilisation still encourages the old ideology that cuts us off from intimate connection with the rest of life, while the structures and institutions of our present society mitigate against peacefulness and sharing. In particular, our children are not taught how to discover their gifts and use them in service.
- The enigmatic closing message of the talk was that our destiny, for humanity as a whole, is to "return to all tribes of Earth and give of our gifts in service". And in order to do that, we first need to learn how to listen to the needs of the planet. That may be through technology and scientific measurements, such as levels of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, but it will also include the non-measurable, such as our intuitive precognition of what the Earth needs to be repaired and healed. We already know where we want to go, but none of our present-day ‘maps' can tell us how to get there; hence great listening is needed, as well as many miracles.
The first chapter of his new book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, published by North Atlantic Books, is available at Reality Sandwich.
Photo credit: Horia Varlan, flickr creative commons