[In March I was invited to do a Pecha Kucha talk on “character development.” The format is 20 slides for 20 seconds each, with a speech to accompany and narrate. I have expanded the text for clarity below.]

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end; what can be loved in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.” – Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche

What if I told you that much of the chaos we see happening in the world today was not a random occurrence, but rather symptomatic of a larger, less tangible issue confronting humanity as a whole? What if I told you that this issue is none other than the deficiency of our consciousness and the myopia of the ‘singular vision’ – or as William Blake calls it “Newtons Sleep?” In order to understand the crux of our present situation, we must first look at how consciousness and perspectivity have developed.

Jean Gebser, kulturphilosopher, linguist and poet has a novel look at the evolution – or in his terminology, the mutations of consciousness throughout history in his monumental 1949 work “The Ever-Present Origin”. Whereas his contemporaries focused solely on the material, biological, and Darwinian fundamentals of evolution, Gebser looked at it through the perspectives of the cultural and linguistic imprints of the western mind, and the mutations from unperspectival, magical, zero-dimensional consciousness to perspectival, linear and three-dimensional consciousness. Fundamentally, in Gebsers vision, the formative structures of consciousness are not accessible at all to the waking, rational mind and are permeated with meaning and magic, whereas the the more historically recent development of perspectivity has delineated the conception of the individual self through the distinction of subject and object. Gebser argues that this mental-rational consciousness structure has gone beyond its capacity and become inept at adequately dealing with the present state of humankind and its relation to the world. He thus proposes ‘diaphaneity,’ or the transparency of consciousness, through which all forms of consciousness, both latent and active, can integrate into a more complete awareness.

Gebser also believed that consciousness had an innate drive towards integrality and wholeness – so far as to affirm that matter is an epiphenomenon or extension of consciousness, opposed to the popular discourse asserting that consciousness is a mere a byproduct of material processes. Following this idea, it is natural to see how his vision for the transformation of consciousness is not linear, but in fact encompassing of all modes and levels in a conscious effort of making present and transparent the ultimate reality of the mind and its origins. Necessarily,  to not only perceive but also embody this integrality requires of plurality of perspectives and dimensions that go both before and beyond the limits of the ratio-centric mind. As Gebser’s contemporary Sri Auribindo says in The Synthesis of Yoga, “An integral consciousness with a multiform dynamic experience is essential for the complete transformation of our nature.”’ This could easily both apply to the individual and the collective, as we shall see.

 

Birth of the Modern Mind

Richard Tarnas, author and Professor of Consciousness, Cosmology and Depth Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies thinks that one of the most defining developments in our history was the Copernican Revolution, when it was discovered that the earth was not, in fact, the centre of the universe, and the heliocentric model of our solar-system was established – at first dethroning ourselves from the fixed centre of the universe, to the slow realization that in the cosmic scheme of things, our planet – and place within it – is truly insignificant. This early scientific revolution gave impetus and exaltation to human reason to truly observe and measure all things, as Galileo has succinctly stated “Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.” This thousands-year quest to understand the nature of what is real had finally come to fruition in the development of modern physics. We see the consequences of this decentralized observer come to exactitude in the Cartesian philosophy of subject/object or mind/body dualism, where the individual selfhood is separate from cosmos, rather than in primal unity with it.

It was thus prophesied in W.B. Yeats poem ‘The Second Coming‘ –

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

This differentiation of subject and object – most specifically, the differentiation of the individual and nature, is the fundamental difference between the modern mind and the primal mind, which is undivided and in unity with with the world-soul, permeated with magic and meaning. With the perspectivalization of consciousness, our ability to quantify and isolate objects became the explicit means of discerning reality, an instrument of precision, through which the detached observer could strip away the fantasy of myth, religion, and magic to understand the empirically objective reality as it appeared. In time, our ability to decode the natural world seemed to become absolute, overthrowing and invalidating other means of experiencing or discovering knowledge, truth, and reality. However, despite a waning era, our accomplishments in these periods must not be decried, from world changing advances in technology, medicine, humanities, and especially the autonomy and empowerment of the individual.

This long term paradigm of scientific advance and the discovery of the individual established the modern cosmological order and defined the modern self. In time, despite our greatest efforts and overwhelming human advancements, the consequences have become plain: The cost of human autonomy has been paid for by the experience of human alienation. (Tarnas.) Now, in the late modern era, we experience the full effects of this dissociation of human from cosmos in our society. Through our mechanizations and the procedural disenchantment of the cosmos, with the scrupulous ability to atomize and categorize, we have lost touch with our cultural practices of meaning-making and purpose-fulfilling. The individual to the modern self is an object divided from the natural world, a stranger to itself, and has consequentially cleft itself from its vital centre of being. This is as Nietzsche had so famously proclaimed that “god is dead,” which would follow with “200 years of darkness,” akin to the Kali Yuga, or spiritual dark age of Hinduism.

M.C. Escher – Rind

We see the malignant effects of this nearly everywhere in our society. An increase in mental health issues and systems incapable of supporting those in need. A failure of both public and private institutions to adapt to the constantly fluctuating needs and and demands of social and cultural developments. Leaders and politicians poorly educated, misinformed, driven by avarice, ignorance, and vote appeals. Environmental destabilization and the global unrest therefrom. Corporate exploitation and control over peoples, governments, economies. Obsession with the superficiality of entertainment and identity posturing it encourages. It is without much imagination that it can be said such issues stem from deficiencies in consciousness and limited, outmoded perspectives which have gone beyond observing reality – to creating a systemic cage in which all reality is confined.  In a cosmos devoid of meaning or purpose, the individual detached from tradition, community, and initiation is a lost speck of dust among an infinity of cold, uncaring stars.

Beyond the Garden

 

In the eloquent words of William Blake,

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ the narrow chinks of his cavern.”

There is no return to the golden age, no return to the garden. Our requirement, then, is not the linear progression of what will supersede the mental-rational constraints, nor a regression to atavistic paradigms of spiritual and intellectual history, but rather a making transparent of consciousness in a living matrix of all modes and perspectives: A cleansing of perception that opens the way for all potentials to thrive. This transparency of consciousness allows for the active engagement and integration of imagination, knowledge, wisdom, the rich cultural heritage of the world of myth, ritual, and magic while giving depth and purpose to the scientific and technological inquiries implicit in our human development. In this, both traditional wisdom and scientific progress can exist in tandem – indeed, can cross pollinate and nourish new forms of thought, imagination, myth, art, technology and meaning.

Negligence on our part simply will not due. To make anything worthwhile of the future of the world, we must each endeavour individually towards our own internal resolutions, for it is through such valiant actions that the world may heal. However, as a famous red witch has proclaimed ad infinatum, “the night is dark and full of terrors.” This process – this dark night of the soul in Catholicism, or the process of nigredo, or blackening in alchemy, is truly akin to suffering a great death, desolation, and decomposition – be it of life or of faith. However, the confronting and, most importantly, integrating of this shadow is a process which Carl Jung has so brilliantly expressed as a prime necessity to the development of self. It is only from the fertile soil of our own darkness that we can truly grow beyond the confines of our once limited awareness, into a new way of being that is not bound to our own suffering.

Time and time again have heard people ask where we went astray, what is fundamentally ‘wrong’ with this dark age of love and progress we live in. There is a vanguard of thinkers that paint not only a clear picture of the historical precedent and development of our present psycho-cosmic state, but also envision a remedy to the ailments of our times: A living, embodied awareness that, from all angles, appears as it truly is: transparent, divine, and living the truth that it imparts to the reality it creates.