Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Arrow of Evolution

The grand procession of human evolution has delivered us to a pivotal moment—a crisis that contains both creative and destructive potential. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. At the height of any evolutionary crisis, the two pathways appear side by side and illustrate the contrast between traditional traits that no longer work and new ways of being that can carry the species forward.

For years now we have become increasingly aware of what doesn’t work. A consensus has formed, at least among those committed to honest appraisal, that “we can’t go on like this much longer.” The consequences of a million misguided choices have converged in our time to make that abundantly—and depressingly—clear.

It has been much harder to look past the frightening scenarios of impending collapse and see what we stand to gain on the other side. If we know what traits can’t cross over this evolutionary boundary—a domineering and rapacious relationship with the earth, for instance—then what will replace them? What does a more evolved human look like?

We sense that the answer doesn’t lie in more or “better” technology, or any “upgrade” to the existing machinery of western civilization. The rational mind may not want to accept this, but in our deeper selves, we know: What comes next must be radically new. It must not simply ensure our basic survival, but also deliver what we have longed for and sought after through all the millennia of our history: Freedom. Belonging. The peace that comes from knowing who we are—and living in harmony with our true nature.

We know there is far more to being human than we’ve ever allowed ourselves to be. We feel in our bones that our present devotion to the pursuit of profit, property, power and privilege is an absurdity, that we are meant for and capable of so much more. So much more.

The poet Rumi put it like this:

You sit here for days saying
This is strange business.

You’re the strange business.
You have the energy of the sun in you,
but you keep knotting it up
at the base of your spine.

You’re some weird kind of gold
that wants to stay melted in the furnace,
so you won’t have to become coins.

Say ONE in your lonesome house.
Loving all the rest is hiding
inside a lie.

Here’s the point: This truly “weird” way of living—hiding inside the lie that we are small and helpless victims in an indifferent world—is already headed for the evolutionary scrap heap.  This is the trait—this alienation from our authentic identity and sacred source—that cannot enter the future we have collectively created. We will either grow into our true potential this time, or we will perish.

As Rumi suggests, what has held us back until now is not fate, or the whims of capricious gods, or any backroom cabal of conspirators. The guard towers of this prison are manned by nothing other than our own thoughts and beliefs. Your thoughts and beliefs. Day in and day out they reinforce your decision to “stay melted in the furnace,” rather than take responsibility for the truth: There is no world but the one you make.

If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s because wise men and women from every mystical tradition throughout time have been saying the same thing. Yes, these ideas inevitably lead us back to the realm of spirit, and to the thousand marvelous names we have for Mystery. It's a dimension we've tried to ignore in modern times, a fact which has only served to deepen our confusion. Happily, that wisdom is as available and inviting as ever.

Lately, however, the conversation has been joined by a new chorus of voices: scientists at the leading edge of exploration into the fundamental nature of reality. Turns out there is no “stuff” in our stuff, no tangible BBs at the bottom of the pyramid of existence. Our universe is a unitary field of intelligent and infinitely creative potential surging with energy. We participate in turning possibility into particular reality all the time—through the content and quality of our thoughts and beliefs in each present moment.

This marvelous capacity for aligning with universal wisdom in consciously choosing what we think and believe—as a means of reshaping ourselves and the world for a radically different future—is where the arrow of human evolution presently points. It is the essential characteristic of the new humanity currently emerging. It isn’t a short or an easy road, but it is the one we are destined to walk.

Next week I will discuss why harnessing the power of your thoughts has nothing at all to do with dreaming up a new Mercedes in the driveway—and why the evolution of conscious creative awareness is also a genuine revolution in the making.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Activist Rooster

Mr. Bernard

Four years ago last Valentine’s Day, my wife and I became backyard chicken wranglers. On a chilly Saturday morning, we acted on faith that spring was actually coming and bought four barely-out-of-the-egg hens at Denver Urban Homesteading’s weekly market. I had grown up helping to tend my family’s small herd of white leghorns, so I knew it didn’t take an advanced degree to succeed—and I had experienced first-hand the payoff we stood to receive in fresh eggs every day.

Never mind that we live in a typical urban neighborhood with ordinances prohibiting backyard “livestock” of any kind. That was not going to stop us. No one will ever know they’re here anyway, we thought, our own silent uprising against Really Dumb Rules. Take that, Monsanto!

There was just one problem (which fellow chicken wranglers have probably caught on to by now, nodding and chuckling): Our little cotton ball herd of baby chicks was only mostly hens. Three out of four isn’t bad, but that last 25 percent was all rooster. So much for stealth mode.

Now, the woman who sold the chicks guaranteed hens, so we could have traded him in. But that just seemed wrong, somehow. Sexist, certainly. Besides, it was a 50-mile round trip to her farm on the prairie—hardly in keeping with our goal of more sustainable, responsible living. And speaking of sustainability, wasn’t a rooster a necessary part of the equation if we wanted continued returns on our investment?

So, our daughter christened him “Mr. Bernard” and we gave him full citizenship. (Let the court records show that he has done his part to contribute several more cotton balls to the community since his reprieve.)

But there is no denying he is a noisy and aggressive little cuss. Once he really found his voice and his machismo, Issa and I expected to be met at the door every morning by S.W.A.T. or a mob of people with pitch forks. We decided to head that off at the pass by taking our most radical action yet: talking to the neighbors and listening to their thoughts. In essence we said, “We’d like to keep this guy around, but if that is intolerable to you then we’ll settle for a potluck BBQ instead. You bring potato salad.”

The vote was unanimous: Thumbs up on Mr. Bernard. Some even said they liked the “ambiance” he provided as it reminded them of their rural childhood. One man threatened to buy a replacement rooster himself if we got rid of the bird. Granted, not all neighbors will be as accommodating as ours, and the experiment might turn out differently on your block.

But I wonder what the outcome might have been here had we erected a stockade of “private property rights” and “you’re-not-the-boss-of-me” defensiveness. It might have cost us a rooster to offer the neighbors a say-so. But what we stood to gain—a small step in the direction of genuine community—was far more valuable. The relatively trivial conversation about roosters planted the seed of an idea in our neck of the woods that will surely come in handy as the current rearrangement of modern life picks up speed: We are in this together.

Here’s the part that’s most important to our collective conversation about the need for a jailbreak and how to go about it: Busting out of the faulty beliefs and habitual thinking that imprison us does not always involve storming the obvious strongholds of power, injustice, inequality and oppression. That’s our goal, sure, and we will get there.

But sometimes the jailbreak is about facing our small fears, escaping the daily ruts that hijack our potential to be free, confronting little pockets of injustice and oppression with courage and grace, building solutions out of whatever is at hand. In fact, true crisis is never “global” even when it gets its own theme music on the nightly news. Real trouble will always present itself right in your time zone and challenge your beliefs—and the structures you’ve built to reinforce them—at point blank range. 

Can we just agree from the beginning that there are no small or trivial freedoms? Every declaration of independence from old choices and worn out ways of being is equally powerful and profitable in making a new world.

We have long since stopped cringing every time Mr. Bernard reads the rooster riot act to the world. (By now, the neighbors have all had a taste of fresh eggs.) And this morning we heard a sound in the distance that brought a big smile to our faces: Somebody else in the neighborhood has a new rooster.

(For readers with a taste for poetry I invite you to visit Words in the Wind, where I post a new original poem every day.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

What If?

As I walked up the hill this morning to work a few hours in my family’s half-acre urban farm, my head was sore from a stampede of news: Syria in the crosshairs of the White House; economies swaying precariously like ten-foot stacks of Jenga blocks ready to fall; the open wound at Fukushima; the deepening trauma of unemployment around the country, and so on.

When I arrived, I tried to discuss the latest with the green beans and winter squashes. They just politely changed the subject.

“Here, have some food,” they said. “It will make you feel better.”

And you know, it did. By the time I came down to take up writing this post I was ready to focus on the really important parts of the conversation. No doubt, we have pressing matters on our collective agenda, but it is nice to know the eggplants can show us how to keep a level head.

The Jailbreak Journals is dedicated to discussing three very big ideas:

--We are not free people (sorry);
--We are our own jailers (via stubborn attachment to mistaken thoughts and beliefs about the “way things are and must be”);
--There is a way out, and it’s past time to get serious about finding it.

We are in desperate, urgent need of a jailbreak. The economic, environmental, social, geopolitical, psychological and emotional consequences of remaining behind bars—consequences that in more prosperous times were easier to compartmentalize and contain—have now converged to create one giant tipping point we can no longer ignore, as much as we’d like to.

Bottom line: Our brand of civilization is on very, very thin ice.

There is a palpable sense of this reality in our society now. Everywhere you look you’ll find people in a state of strained fatigue and volatility, even as they cling to the illusion that everything is fine. In the opening chapters of Fellowship of the Ring Bilbo Baggins has lived an unnaturally long life, supported by dark magic in the form of a “ring of power” he found in Golem’s cave. When the cost of that unwitting alliance begins to catch up with him, he describes it to Gandalf as the feeling of being “butter scraped over too much bread.” Go into any Wal-Mart in the land and you will recognize that metaphor in almost everyone you meet.

That’s because we are under a spell too—a ring of assumptions about ourselves and the world that have appeared to grant us magical power over the limitations our ancestors lived under for millennia. As Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael, we’ve assumed that falling in a homemade cardboard airplane is the same thing as flying (just because it happens to take a long time to hit the ground). The airplane itself is made of assumptions—and we’ve believed them for so long that we’ve lost the ability to even see them, much less question them meaningfully.

If we are honest, we know perfectly well that we are long overdue for a radical change in our living arrangements, even at the cost of letting go of some things we presently think we can’t live without. The truth is, history is likely to demand that we hand them over anyway, so we might as well cooperate voluntarily.

Which begs the questions: How? What now? These are the threads I propose that we pull on together in The Jailbreak Journals.

To begin, we must acknowledge that, just because we catch on that we are all in this self-imposed jail together doesn’t mean we agree about how to plan an escape. Even among people who have started waking up to the awareness that something is deeply wrong with the world as we’ve made it, there are strong magnetic poles pulling us in one direction or another.

At one end are those who think it is time to lock and load and do what oppressed people have always done: find somebody to blame and make them pay. At the opposite extreme are people who are devoted to fixing what is broken from within, using the traditional tools of civil discourse and participatory politics. Both camps have reason on their side and offer compelling arguments—and both are equally doomed to miss the true opportunity now before us.

That’s because both approaches leave the walls and the guard towers and the barbed wire of habitual thinking and belief untouched. It’s as if the inmates down at the penitentiary have chosen teams on the basketball court in the sad belief that the winners get to go home and everything will go back to the way it was before their incarceration. 

Let’s be clear: There is a time for direct action, though I will always prefer the way of non-violent non-cooperation to throwing rocks and breaking things. And there is a time to influence history in committee meetings and well-crafted legislation. The jailbreak I advocate will empower both, and everything in between.

But the conversation we’ve begun in The Jailbreak Journals is not another argument over who gets to sit behind the steering wheel of our “flying machine” society—and how best to get it away from the people presently driving like drunken lunatics. Our purpose is to question the very concepts that led us to build the contraption in the first place.

For instance, what if our ideas about the nature of reality are in need of an upgrade? What if the mess we have made is not just a matter of mismanagement, but is a reflection of deeply held misguided beliefs about the world that will always give us the same misshapen results until we learn to think something new? What if we still don’t understand the power that resides in a single human being who has decided to be free?

What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had believed that black people were hopelessly broken and powerless, victims of unassailable racism in America? Would we know his name today? Yes, he actively and courageously marched and he organized—but it was his belief in a better way, in a better human, black and white, that led him to stand up and say, “I have a dream…”

What dreams are still unspoken because we have not yet dared to believe they are possible and within reach? What quantum leaps might we take if we do?
Let’s find out! Let’s break out of the prison we’ve built of thoughts and beliefs that can no longer hold us.

I invite you to add your voice to the conversation.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Welcome to the (R)evolution

by Alan Wartes

JAILBREAK! It’s a good bet that if you were to shout that at the top of your lungs in the exercise yard of the nearest penitentiary, you would instantly have the undivided attention of every inmate within earshot—and all of the guards, for that matter. You wouldn’t have to stop and explain what you meant by the word, because everyone on the inside is well aware of three important facts:

1. They are in jail.
2. They would really like to break out.
3. They know where the exits are.

In other words, people who know they are inmates are already tuned to the frequency of freedom and poised to leap when an opportunity comes along. But what would happen if you did the same thing at the food court in the mall? In your office building on Monday morning? At church next Sunday?

First, you’d certainly get a lot of blank stares. Then, after a moment, the shocked silence would give way to a kind of sarcastic amusement. Check out the nut job. How did he get in here? She really should take her medication.

The point is, it’s nearly impossible to inspire a jailbreak among people who a) aren’t aware of their imprisonment; b) don’t believe it is possible to live any other way; and c) wouldn’t know which way to run in any case.

This assessment isn’t meant to be condescending. The fact is, it applies to nearly everyone—and describes an engineered ignorance and a conditioned ambivalence. Like ordinary prisoners, we are all under the influence of a thousand “corrective” forces each and every day designed to mask the truth.

And it works—sort of.

True, we might be among those who would mindlessly scoff at someone shouting jailbreak at a Fourth of July parade, but deep down we know something is not right. For most of my life I have experienced the sensation of being caught in an elusive trap I can’t quite see. I feel it most clearly in moments of fear, defensiveness, anger, lack, guilt and hopelessness. In times of stillness and silence I can almost see past the bars on the windows and smell the fresh air of the free world beyond. In this, I am certain I’m not alone. 

And it is nothing new. People have felt this way forever.

The Persian poet Hafiz wrote:

There is an invisible sun we long to see. The closer
you get to the present, the brighter and more
real it will become, even at midnight.

To the poor slaves of this world with their
eyes chained to coins and unforgiving, the
wondrousness of the firmament can cease to lift
your head and impact your manners.

What wing would not become depressed within
a snare, if that wing still has some spirit in it,
and all your instincts want to taste that
stratosphere above the known?

“Open the door or die. Unlock the cage or die,”
my master would say to me, when I was young.

(version by Daniel Ladinsky)

This deep hunger to be free is why stories of hope, connection, forgiveness, liberation and unconditional love are so powerful. These are messages carried on the breeze that offer proof of a better world out there. They stir the heartsick suspicion that this other place—this other way of being—is our true home.

And so it is! We are all free and rightful citizens of an abundant and joyful existence. A whole new way of living is ours for the imagining and the taking. There is no power able to stand between you and this fact.

Except for one: Your own thoughts and beliefs.

As you may have guessed already, these are your true jailers. These are the walls and the steel doors and guard towers and the men with rifles who patrol them. You and I are inmates in our own minds. While some others certainly exploit this fact and coerce us to stay put for reasons of their own, there is no force on earth capable of keeping us there—but us.

How do we imprison ourselves? In complex ways that boil down to a stubborn refusal to see three simple truths:

1. We are made to be free—and are free the moment we decide to be.
2. There is a new and excellent world waiting on the other side of that decision.
3. The exits are located everywhere. Anywhere. Pick one and go.

Until we see and believe these things, we are destined to die in captivity—because we will never venture to open the door. I, for one, am tired of the prison yard. Who is with me?

And we haven’t got a moment to lose. This jailbreak is the only way through the evolutionary crisis humanity has now entered. Our deeply flawed and constraining belief systems have led us to a moment of tremendous challenge—but even greater opportunity.

Gut-wrenching work and possibly scary times lie ahead. But if we find the courage to see differently, think differently, live differently—to unchain our eyes from “coins and unforgiving”—then nothing can stop us.

Welcome to the (r)evolution. Let’s get started.