T H E C H A L L E N G E
The world in which we find ourselves -- that upon which we immodestly confer the term reality -- is not our natural milieu. This is a man-made contrivance earnestly designed to further our survival. It is based upon values and purposes conservatively grounded in what has worked in the past and been judged to have survival value for both the society and the individual. We have used a variety of terms to refer to this world or reality, such as worldview, framework, metaphysics, the German Weltanschauung, as well as Joseph Chilton Pearce's cosmic egg and the more recent paradigm. I shall use the simple term worldview, meaning the underlying assumptions, vocabulary and framework upon which we base our thinking, feeling, and behavior in our life.
The world that we trustingly view as our reality is actually much more like a methodically induced trance in which we had little choice. (See Socrates' classic Allegory of the Cave in Plato's Republic for one of the earliest and most cogent dramatizations of this very point.) To begin with in our individual lives, we have little choice in regard to the content and acquisition of a worldview. We are born into a society which has its unique, generalized, yet particularized worldview called its culture, which the society has developed to insure both its own and its members' survival.
Although culture is dynamic and changing over time, it can appear quite static when viewed in the short-term, rather like a freeze-frame view. The society and its culture do change on the basis of what is discovered to be most valuable for its survival at any given time and under any given conditions. However, there is a highly conservative tendency that operates in a society, its members, and its culture. The society/culture can be viewed as an organism of great bulk that is quite single-minded, rather like a dinosaur. Its single-mindedness with regard to survival gives it a small brain, considering its bulk. Consequently, as conditions change, it will exhibit inertia in its tendency to respond in the old "tried and true" ways that may be wholly inappropriate to the new situation.
A very recent example of the foregoing is our society's response to what it perceived as a "drug problem" to which it reacted quite unimaginatively with a "war on drugs," nearly identically to the failed earlier "prohibition" policy on liquor and with very similar results. (For an encouraging contrast, unequalled in its virtue, consider our nation's post-World War II Marshall Plan, compared to the customary pillaging, subjugation, and vengefulness of previous war victors.) Thus, societies and individuals, with fairly rare exceptions, tend to react to new challenges as though they were the old, familiar ones. It's easy to see why any society/culture, viewed in the short-term, exhibits inconsistencies and contradictions that can manifest in so many ways ranging from the humorous to the destructive.
Now, let us turn our attention to how the individual acquires the culture and interactively, through experience, molds it into his/her worldview. This process is referred to by cultural anthropologists as enculturation, and it is every society's primary function. Enculturation is basically a conditioning and reinforcing process, including the sanctions employed to enforce it; it is the means through which each individual can learn to survive in that society. Enculturation is accomplished by a variety of agencies of the society, beginning with the mother or mother-surrogate and expanding to the whole family, however constituted. This is continued by other agencies such as the neighborhood, peers, school, employer, social, religious, military, and political organizations, as well as other sub-societies, such as clubs and various associations. Every society employs such agencies or their counterparts and uses sanctions of varying severity to condition and reinforce the enculturation in its individual members. (For those who wish a more detailed inquiry into the foregoing, consult any basic text in cultural anthropology and in the psychology of learning, two fields whose elements will be assumed to be familiar to the reader; this will help to keep this work from unnecessarily becoming a tome.)
Central to the enculturation-process is the conveying to the individual of the primacy and importance of that society's single-mindedness, namely, that survival comes first. Although obviously true -- that is, if one does not survive, nothing else is possible -- both the society and the individual tend to conclude that survival is the whole point of living; as we shall see, that is clearly not the case. This is an understandable, but perilous, error. In other words, to recognize something such as survival as necessary does not mean it is also sufficient; it is human mental laziness or ignorance that construes the necessary as also sufficient.
Here it would be well to look at survival more closely. At the first, most basic level is subsistence-survival, which means satisfying the elemental needs or drives, such as those involving hunger, thirst, touch, sex, and shelter/protection. At this level may also appear some learned technologies and strategies, inflowing from the next level, such as using the spear, drawing water from a well, cooking, tracking, trapping, and hunting parties, for example. Beyond subsistence-survival, at the next level, is what I call successful-survival, which entails the continued and assured satisfying of the elemental needs, as well as the many conditioned or enculturated desires that are based on or arise out of the elemental needs or the means developed to satisfy them. The enculturation-process and larger societies are well under way at this second level.
Successful-survival probably arose with the emergence of our earliest continuing cooperative efforts, such as the clan and the tribe (out of successful hunting and gathering parties), together with the later development of agriculture and the plow. In time, successful techniques for satisfying the elemental needs, along with various magical rituals (magic being a primitive and noteworthy precursor of and an attempt at conceiving of causality), came to be transferred from member to member, including offspring. These became conditioned as desires based upon satisfying the elemental needs, and then desires based upon these successes developed into what I call derivative desires. And this process of derivative desires continues down to this day to the point where it is difficult to discern from which more basic need or prior desire a current desire is derived.
For example, fashion and the desire to be fashionable arise rather indirectly out of both of the elemental needs to be clothed for shelter/protection and to attract a sex-partner. However, these elemental needs almost cease to be recognizable in today's fashion industry which seems to be based more on derivative desires for display, aesthetics, and conspicuous consumption, not to mention envy and greed. The fashion industry is integrated into our economy which is a market system originally devised to assure the continued satisfying of elemental needs. This example illustrates how satisfying elemental needs, their derivative desires, and subsequent derivative desires can generate whole institutions such as the market system and the fashion industry.
Thus, successful-survival goes beyond, while also subsuming, subsistence-survival, evolving to satisfying conditioned desires that can be traced back to the elemental needs and their derivative desires. The elemental needs are still operating but practically cease to be recognizable after having been incorporated into subsequent derivative desires.
In the transition from the subsistence-survival level to the successful-survival level, a unique evolutionary transformation occurred in human beings which probably coincided with another unique development, namely language-acquisition ability, the prerequisite to structured, intentional thought. The very attempt by a human being to assure continued survival assumes the sense of continuity of that being, which requires the ability to conceive of something or an entity that survives and continues. Thus arose the sense of self or ego, namely that which continues beyond the immediate now. Of course, conceptualizing a continuing self or ego requires language and thought, and that is why I think these two developments in human evolution emerged practically simultaneously in the transition of our species from subsistence-survival to successful-survival.
With the emergence of language and mind and a sense of self, there also arose the sense of not-self (beyond the strictly biological sense) and consequently the need for identity. The need then emerged for cooperation to assure continued survival more effectively. It's quite probable that the warning cry, oft-cited as the precursor to language, was more likely the precursor to the intentional cooperation so necessary to the development of society from the hunting and gathering group to the clan and family grouping, to the tribe, and to the nation-state of more recent civilizations.
The transition from subsistence-survival to the phase of continuing, assured, successful-survival is based upon the attainment of a height in human cooperation, a common language, which is much more than words or utterances, spoken or even written. A language entails and is based upon a shared world or reality -- a worldview, however individualized it may be from person to person.
Along with a common language, a successful society also develops shared technologies, such as gathering, mining, hunting, and farming. Religious techniques and devices, as well as steam engines, assembly lines, and computers, for example, are among the various techniques and implements employed and believed to assure continued survival for that society and its members. As an aid to memory and for the purposes of enculturation, these technologies become institutionalized and ritualized, as in schools, churches, temples, factories, and offices. This reflects a very human harmonizing/aesthetic impetus that emerges and eventuates into morality, religion, poetry, history, philosophy, and all the arts. On a large enough and continuing scale, this is what we call civilization, which we consider the summit of human achievement. Except, increasingly we continue to see evidence all about us that we have so far to go.
Such shortcomings have resulted in two seemingly opposing tendencies in regard to prescriptions we should follow to attain whatever Promised Land is being proffered and urged upon us. One would have us revert to or embrace some former reliable way, golden age, or magical religion. The other would have us march forward to a "brave new world" based on the latest "socio-spiritual psychology." In either case the way to which we are exhorted is a corporate way based primarily on a group allegiance. Of course, this is quite understandable since the corporate way is the way that has always worked for successful-survival and has led to civilization. What we fail to see are the limits of this corporate or group way.
As important and necessary as successful-survival has been for humanity, certain values and derivatives flow from it that become the very impediments to our continued evolution and unfoldment of who we really are. As we will learn more fully later, each of us is here to discover and explore our Areté (ah'-ra-tay), which is the difficult-to-translate ancient Greek term for our unique, individual fullness or excellence. Our failure in attaining this can be traced directly to the very habits, skills, and achievements that empower us for successful-survival but that paradoxically can also work as impediments to our going beyond successful-survival to what I shall be calling the Life of Fullness. In other words, our coveted strengths at one level come to be our weaknesses at the next level, becoming the stumbling blocks to our evolving fullness. If this theme seems familiar, it certainly is; we can trace it back to those remarkable ancient Greeks who gave us the form of the Tragedy. Unlike the modern degenerative meanings and uses of this term, the essence of Greek tragedy involved a protagonist whose downfall proceeded with karmic inevitability due to a flaw based on what were considered to be strengths or outstanding, heroic qualities. Those early Greeks most perceptively called that flaw hubris, which is best translated as overweening pride. Is this not our own modern human condition? Both as a society and thus, derivatively, as individuals, we have developed, have available, and take great pride in the technologies, institutions, and other skills and resources that should, we imagine, lead to a Golden Age; but we find ourselves hopelessly inept at achieving it. Has this not even been the perennial theme of so much of our serious literature, both fiction and nonfiction? The greater our efforts, both individually and societally, to achieve this Golden Age or fulfillment, the greater does our failure manifest by achieving more nearly the opposite or some degeneracy of what we intended. Examples of this abound in our society: welfare, various social programs, unemployment and workers compensation, foreign aid, political and tax reform, or the allocating of more money to schools, minorities, prisons, and medical care. Of course, people can see this phenomenon working in their own individual lives just as clearly. What else is this but the Tragic Life?
Our Areté, or fullness, cannot be approached using the entirely inappropriate lower-order successful-survival categories and skills. Although we need these skills and abilities for our continuing, assured survival, we need also to become aware of the extent to which they are impediments to the Life of Fullness. This awareness must precede the "going beyond" or Transcendence which is necessary to our evolutionary destiny. Otherwise, we are doomed to the limiting pridefulness of the Tragic Life, which becomes our lot when we cannot see beyond successful-survival and its derivative values and manifestations.
This Tragic Life is at the heart of the continuing, nearly universal appeal of our myriad fear- and hope-based magical religions. (As we shall soon see, fear and hope conditioning arise out of and are fundamental to the enculturation-process, as well as being the twin foundations of religions.) The Tragic Life makes understandable the widespread belief in so many religious dogmas, especially, for example, original sin. When we cannot go beyond successful-survival, we are tempted - individually and collectively - to believe the fault is constitutional, that is, a birth defect of enormous and universal extent. (Whether such is believed literally or figuratively makes little difference in its effects.) That this belief also aids the purpose of social control is not lost on those who govern and thus virtually insures its pervasive incorporation into the enculturation-process. As we shall see later, our only and enormous sin originates in the enculturation, and it is by the most sloppy, lazy, or expedient thinking that it can be considered original in the sense of innate.
In such a manner do people conclude that this is a problem to be understood and resolved by simply projecting an evil nature within. A somewhat opposite approach is taken by many other peoples and their religions. Instead of seeing an evil nature within, at or before birth, they project the problem outward and after birth. In this schema, the errors and evil acts of a people accumulate in the world to the point of great imbalance, so a great collective world-renewal effort or ceremony is required, usually with a sacrifice of some kind or the creation of a scapegoat. (The roots of war-waging may even be found in such a view.) Thus the slate is wiped clean and the world is back in balance. In the first schema, the individual is required to confess and atone and thus to wipe the slate clean. In both schemas, the solution is always temporary and must be repeated continuingly, thus conferring great power on those in control, whether secular or sacerdotal.
Although religion evolved as a manifestation of successful-survival and thus is not capable of taking the individual beyond it to the Life of Fullness, religion continues to be confused with the spiritual, namely that grander realm or dimension which transcends successful-survival. The evolution of religions has been well-documented by various scholars, especially by cultural anthropologists and historians, showing the roots of religions in quite rudimentary masculine forms (e.g. the use of certain animal parts in rituals, as well as phallic symbols) in our earliest hunting and gathering stage and then, by contrast, virtually flowering (e.g. the earth-mother and fertility rites) during our subsequent agricultural phase, a considerable leap in our species' efforts at assuring continued survival.
Agriculture made possible the more stable and increasingly territorial society with all of the institutions that soon developed to insure that stability and territoriality; especially the legal, religious, and military establishments that both coerced individuals to conform and gave them the identity and sense of belonging so necessary to any corporate effort. It was during this stage that so many of our widespread current "world" religions erupted, often attributed to great teachers, supposedly based on their lives, but actually organized and developed upon the subsequent legends and caricatures that are the hallmarks of human communication through time. Such legends and caricatures are always selected to insure the hegemony of those in power at the time (e.g. Constantine and the bishops of the Council of Nicaea). Fortunately for the survival of these religions, reformations did occur at transition points of challenges and rapidly changing conditions.
In the Religious Era or consciousness, religion serves the survival function of binding people together who view themselves as separate from one another, thus serving the societal needs for cohesion, stability, and control. In the Post-religious Era or consciousness, as we shall see later, religion is transcended by those mutants, so very few at first, who become aware of the spiritual truth of our Oneness.
The term religion has its roots in the Latin religio, meaning "to bind together," a binding which can be seen as necessary only if the elements, the people, to be bound are first conceived of as separate from one another. Such a concept of separateness arises from the sense of self and the consequent sense of not-self that developed during the transition from subsistence-survival to successful-survival we discussed earlier. As we will see later, there is an impetus within us that seeks an ultimate union. We shall also see that such a union continually eludes us when it is attempted within the Life of Survival mode, the mode in which religion functions and flourishes and where it offers us religio or the illusory binding together of apparently separate selves to one another and to God, thus serving as a counterfeit substitute for our impetus to an ultimate union.
This sense of separateness pervades the entirety of our existence in the world and has become the foundation of our worldview since the rise of what we call civilization. It is also the seed of the destruction of that civilization. Over the last three to four millennia, many wise men and women, sages, prophets, and teachers have tried to call attention to this disaster-in-the-making and to the need for an inward reform, a change of worldview. This can be seen as a new order of warning cry at the societal level. The warning cries, uttered by these spiritual sentinels (e.g. Gautama, Socrates, Jesus), are steeped in their respective cultures. They bear the stamp of time and place peculiar to their societies, employing the vocabulary and categories of those cultures. They also point beyond such limits to a spiritual realm that transcends the narrow contemporary focus of the Life of Survival, however it may be expressed in that society and time. What is sad and tragic is the reaction to such warning cries by both individuals and societies. Almost invariably, these warning cries are interpreted as threats to the dominant religion or society or some other aspect of the Life of Survival.
Well-meaning but misguided followers and so-called disciples who have misunderstood soon begin the process of developing legends and caricatures of the spiritual sentinels that are then incorporated into that society's subsequent Life of Survival-based religions. And the cycle -- the appearance of these sentinels and the subsequent perverting of the inner meaning of these warning cries -- continues unabated down through the centuries, even to this day.
Occasionally, however, individuals will become aware of these warning cries and make some attempt to respond. Such a response requires, as we shall see, the great courage to leap beyond the limits of the Life of Survival mode which has brought them to the awareness of the Tragic Life, the inevitable outcome of a life based solely on the criteria and worldview of successful-survival.
Nevertheless, as we discussed earlier, successful-survival is necessary, though not sufficient, for our continuing evolution toward the Life of Fullness. The journey that is the Life of Survival must be accomplished first, and successfully. Attaining that is what I shall call the First Journey. Then, such individuals must consider themselves successful survivors in that society. For this, there are no so-called "objective" criteria, such as wealth, title, or status. One may be a millionaire, a professional, or a craftsperson, have raised a splendid family, be a fine artist, or be otherwise accomplished and thus consider oneself a successful survivor. But we also know that many such "achieving" persons do not see themselves as successful survivors.
Why must this First Journey be accomplished successfully? The main reason is that there is a Second Journey which is the adventure toward our Areté and which requires the strength and confidence derived from seeing oneself as successful on the First Journey. Neither strength nor confidence can be taught; they are by-products of the experience of successful-survival. That is the initial requirement for a candidate for the Second Journey, and there are others.
The second requirement is more difficult to characterize. Simply put, one must have made various attempts at finding the meaning of life or spiritual fulfillment or developing one's human potential only to be thwarted eventually by discovering the limits of whatever approach or way is being followed. These attempts have to be made not just for their own sake but for what they reveal as prompting them. And this prompting or impetus I call the Yearning. You will note that the Yearning is not here followed by a preposition and an object, for there is no object, nor can there be, for it in our experience. (For those of you with an academically philosophical bent, its realm is ontological.) Although the Yearning is innate and like a brilliance, our awareness of it becomes dimmer as we grow up (i.e. become enculturated). This is not the result of some dark conspiracy by society; it is well-intentioned and inevitable. You see, as we become enculturated, and since society and the enculturation-process are competent only in what matters to our Life of Survival, the Yearning is completely ignored, because it has no survival value.
The Yearning is of our very nature. It is our awareness of it that dims, not the Yearning itself. There is a wonderful analogy for this. The Yearning is like a brilliant circle of light within us with which we are born. Each day of enculturation is like adding a layer of gauze over that circle of light. By the time we are adults, what started out as brilliant has become so obscured. In fact, when most people look within, all they come to see resembles a black hole.
Although our awareness of the Yearning dims, it is still there, generally unable to break through the grid of our enculturated worldview, which has no categories or vocabulary for its expression. However, on rare unguarded occasions, the Yearning does break through that grid to our consciousness as the equivalent of a whisper or a glimpse. For those who would like to explore this process in greater detail, I can think of no better characterization than that of Joseph Chilton Pearce in his book The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, a modern landmark in the spiritual literature. For Pearce, the enculturated worldview is our Cosmic Egg, and he deftly explores how our awareness of the "crack" comes about and what its consequences for us can be.
Thus, this Yearning beckons us in our search for meaning, spiritual fulfillment, or whatever we may call this Second Journey. What we perceive as glimpses associated with it are assurances that there is another realm or dimension to explore. However, the value of these glimpses is not in recapturing them; it's what they assure us of that is of value. (Many cults, fads, and other dead-ends have been founded on such glimpses and the subsequent attempts at their recapture.)
The third requirement is the sequel to the second. Prompted by the Yearning, we search "lo here, lo there" almost endlessly, assured by our glimpses that there is another realm in which we have our real being. Alas, we do not find it, and for a very simple reason. The way into the Second Journey cannot be found using the principles, concepts, vocabulary, and approaches we have mastered in becoming successful survivors. But these are all we have at that point. Hence, such searches are doomed.
The great majority of these searchers give up this quest, although they do not usually see it that way. What often happens is that they settle for a predigested counterfeit of the Second Journey, which is not a journey but really a comfortable resting place where there are others in the same boat, and this takes on all of the aspects of what has come to be called "the lifeboat experience." (More on this later.)
A very small minority does not give in to this expedient way. They will not settle for any counterfeit. Yet the search nevertheless seems doomed. This is most discouraging, and although these individuals will, from time to time, have had bottoming-out experiences occasioned by some loss or disappointment of a hoped-for goal or expectation, these are nothing compared to the ultimate bottoming-out experience. This is the direct result of their discovering the limits of the ways of searching based on the application of successful-survival skills and concepts. The repeated discoveries of these limits, and the consequent bottoming-out in each case, lead to an awareness of their despair. This is the third prerequisite for starting the Second Journey.
The next requirement is simple but by no means easy. This awareness of our despair and its determinants, together with our prior assurance that there is another realm or dimension to be explored, should lead to a dramatic 180-degree turn. This would be a turn away from our exclusive reliance upon a clearly bankrupt process and toward an unknown realm. This is a very difficult move and is accomplished only rarely. I could get fancy here and describe this difficulty psychologically, but it is succinctly summed up in that old Jamaican expression: "we stick to the evil we know." Here, the evil we know consists of successful-for-survival conditionings that we must come to realize are inappropriate for the Second Journey. So, the fourth requirement entails the will to turn away from this reliance upon the bankrupt known and toward the unknown realm in the spirit of an explorer.
This turning toward the unknown realm requires great courage, because what is being attempted here is nothing less than Transcendence, which we will explore more fully later but which means, briefly, going beyond the limits of what we know or can do. Doing this puts us right in what I call No-man's-land, because we have left Man's-land, that is, the familiar, controllable world that we have built up and relied upon throughout our First Journey. In No-man's-land there are no equivalents of sign-posts, familiar landmarks, or reference points, and that is fearsome to us. Many have entered this transitional realm without guidance only to suffer the direst consequences: either madness or suicide. An example of each that comes to mind is philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and poet Sylvia Plath, both of whom persistently attempted to go unguided beyond their enculturated tether.
This No-man's-land must be entered and traversed, and that requires the aid of a guide. What is a guide in any endeavor? Quite simply, it is someone who has been there and is willing to show others. But why is a guide necessary? Remember that here we are leaving Man's-land where we have been conditioned to seek the familiar, the predictable or the controllable. However, the unfamiliar, unpredictable, or uncontrollable is tolerated ever so briefly in our lives. Yet, these are pervasive features of No-man's-land, which does not submit to our initial, automatic efforts to make it familiar and controllable. Herein lies a seemingly inescapable dilemma. Our initial, automatic attempts to make No-man's-land familiar and controllable simply land us back in Man's-land. But not making these attempts soon becomes intolerable, and unguided persistence in this manner leads eventually, even if protractedly, to madness or suicide. Are we doomed? No, this is why the guide is so necessary. There is no way to make No-man's-land familiar and controllable, but the guide can help one learn what is needed there: Learning to live moment-by-moment in this realm whose substance and process will neither become familiar in the usual sense nor be controllable.
That is the challenge of this journey into the realm of our Yearning. This is a two-fold challenge. First, we must become familiar with our inner ecology in order to discover the source and ways that pollute us internally. This will be the task of the first half of this book. Second, we need to explore the process of correcting that pollution which so hinders our taking the Second Journey. And that will be presented in the second half of the book.
We are destined for this process of evolution in consciousness. However, this is a unique challenge, in that it must be chosen by individual will. The choice is ours once we become aware of the Yearning. Ignoring the Yearning leads only to the easy, wasteful life of ennui that we see all around us, most pitifully in the elderly who have waited too long. The simple, generative, adventurous way of this challenge is to embark on the Second Journey.
This book is for beginners---that is, for those who are truly ready to begin a journey---and the foregoing has been an attempt to provide a simple overview of the prerequisites to, as well as some basic features of, the transformational Second Journey. This is a unique journey in an unaccustomed dimension, often referred to as spiritual, the inward way, or the way of the mystic. You will soon see that the mystic is actually the most practical person alive. Do not be misled by any preconceptions: this is not a retreat or a way out. It is the way in -- to a reality that reveals the conventional view of reality as the barrier or stumbling block it can be in this realm of our evolving higher consciousness.