Many of us live in amazing times full of knowledge, science, technology and material wealth.
No other generation in the past has ever experienced this richness.
And thanks to the development of industrialization and electronic communication, I can comfortably sit in my home and write to millions of you sharing my thoughts and experiences.
But, as I’ve previously written, most of us live in a form of spiritual poverty that is unmatched in history. Our routines keep us completely indoors; we move from our homes, to our cars, and our offices, and then back again, maybe with stops in the gym or the mall along the way. Our Earth is buried by asphalt and our city lights hide the stars and planets.
Our mass communication mediums of radio, television, film and newspaper are driven by a corporate commercial philosophy that is based on profit instead of wisdom, growth, and the thirst for truth. Because of this, most of us end up pursuing our own material self-interest, and begin to feel a growing sense of loneliness and meaninglessness as we form cogs in this immense social machine. Ironically, many of us revel in the proud feeling of being the “freest” and most “civilized” people in history, all while witnessing the global depletion of our natural resources and ecological destruction.
We are expanding outwardly at unprecedented speed at the expense of our inner impoverishment, confusion and alienation from the world around us.
A Mini History of Our Evolution as a Society
Apart from the moment when humans became self-aware, the two biggest changes that occurred in our collective evolution included our development of agriculture and our Industrial Age.
Prior to agriculture we all participated in self-sufficient communities with equal roles and skills in which the strongest values were those of cooperation, caring and sharing. We were deeply connected to nature; Pachamama, and we were much more aware of the interrelation between us and existence. When we developed agriculture, we suddenly became increasingly “walled off” from the wilderness as we started to possess it as “ours” and defend it against others trying to possess it.
Thanks to agriculture it was possible for our population to grow at unprecedented rates, giving rise to the labor division, different fields of specialized knowledge and hierarchies of wealth and power. Hunters started becoming soldiers and shamans became religious law-imposing priests who payed much less importance in the individual experience of “god” and much more importance in the political and religious knowledge that was passed on.
Then came Industrialization, which was the result of the Liberalist political philosophy movement that encouraged freedom of the self-interested individual from religion, traditions, and arbitrary government. With this came the great scientific, religious and commercial revolutions, but with this change also came an even greater form of disconnection from nature and other human beings. The moment we began seeing our identities as separate from nature, self-interest was born.
With Industrialization came the individual philosophy of contributing towards the “common good” of society by pursuing self-interest through the avenues of money and egotistical social status. Nature became a source of profit rather than of an extension of our own existence. With the Industrial Age arose the view that we are completely separate from everything else, and this world view was reinforced by science where values such as “love” and “wisdom” that are impossible to be measured don’t exist as they are subjective absolutes.
It isn’t hard to see how the values of Industrial Capitalism can so easily destroy our ecosystems. Such destruction can only be compared to the havoc caused by the gigantic asteroid that collided with our earth sixty five million years ago.
These days, many of us realize that Liberalism and industrialization have created such great ruination of our planet that we are beginning to turn the opposite direction, the direction of de-growth and devolution; the return to our old ways of life.
Exploring Our Desire to “Devolve”
Although many perceive the life of our tribal ancestors as a constant state of “war against everyone” and struggle for survival, under reasonable circumstances it was far from that. Much of our ancestor’s energy was spent toward a spiritual communal life of leisure.
These days, although our minds are still a part of nature, we continue thinking that our eyes are the windows between nature and who we think we are. While to us nature has become a potential source of production, wealth, and a shortcut to our desires for freedom, comfort and power, nature to our ancestors was the closest source to the divine mystery of creation.
For us to be whole and complete as humans, beginning to respect nature again is essential. Learning to respect nature means turning our desires to dominate our surroundings out of fear into wanting to create harmony with it out of love.
It’s easy to see how we have lost our harmony with the world around us. We have replaced sitting in front of a fire with our friends and family, with sitting in front of the TV often by ourselves. We have replaced sharing our wisdom and experiences with others, with finding out the latest celebrity gossip or highest rated atrocities on the news. Our trees are now our shopping centers, our stars are now our building lights, our direct experience with the cosmos is now replaced by intellectual information and digital reconstructions.
Our lives are increasingly becoming artificial indoor worlds. We are bombarded with information, comfort and entertainment to the point of over-stimulation and epidemics of ADD, obesity and diabetes. Ironically thanks to science we are now aware of our nature deficiency but sadly we’ve over-developed to the point that there is little accessible wilderness left. Now, it is only through technology and science that we can find a way to free ourselves.
While many environmental romantics depict our ancestors as “noble savages,” this is also far from the truth. Some of these early hunters were partly responsible for destroying animals through over-harvesting and over-hunting. And while many of us believe that devolution, or going back to our old hunter-gatherer ways of living, is the ideal, these societies were far from being perfect Utopias as most practiced warfare of some kind and were vulnerable to issues such as preventable illness, disease, as well as fear, greed and selfishness.
But although devolution is not the answer, there is still much to learn from these ancient ways of living. They valued courage, generosity and compassion and lived in an intimate relationship with the wilderness by realizing their interrelationship with it.
Involution as a Way Forward
Evolution brought us to the necessary point of personal freedom where we could make choices that were free from religious, cultural and political ties. In perceiving ourselves separate from existence, we chose the path of short-sighted self-interest through competitive individualism rather than a more long-sighted choice that benefits the whole planet in its altruism, generosity, responsibility and love for life.
Science could only teach us about measurable truths. But what about anything beyond the material world like morality or the “greater good”? And what about the collective development of the soul? This is beyond the realm of intellectual knowledge and information, this exists in the realm of wisdom; wisdom that was once passed down from the elders of our communities through mythological stories and personal experiences.
Unless we begin cultivating wisdom we will eventually find ourselves in a tricky position, one in which our economies will begin to fail, our political systems will fall into crisis, and our environments will continue to be ravaged. But developing wisdom can’t be externally imposed on us by religions and governments; it must first begin as a personal choice, a spiritual thirst within us.
As we have already seen, neither evolution nor devolution is the answer to the fulfillment of our lives and the nourishing of our planet. Neither path has proven to grant us wholeness, or what we truly need to thrive at an individual and collective scale. We desperately need a path of balance. This is where Involution; or the inner process of growth, comes into play. Involution is a core process of inner work.
The only way we can be certain that our path is one of wisdom is by ensuring that it is one of balance; not evolution, not devolution, but a combination of both the inner and outer, the mind and the heart, civilization and the wilderness. This path of balance is an integral part of Involution.
So right now, take a moment to reflect on which path you are taking in life. Are you taking one of evolution that focuses on materialism, science and the mind? Are you taking one of devolution that focuses on returning back to what we once where? Or are you walking a path of balance that focuses on merging the new with the old and the old with the new? How will your current choices impact future generations and the quality of your own life?
In the end, reconnecting humanity with nature and with a larger sense of “Self” should be the foundation on which we build a new social system. In my experience, one of the most valuable ways of doing this is through modern Shamanism, which merges the intellectual with the experiential, providing a new kind of wisdom and understanding for us as a collective. Shamanism is one of the best ways of expanding our consciousness and bridging the gap between the city and the wild.
The positive health benefits of spending time in nature are well-known in medicine, and the spiritual benefits are much greater. If we ever hope to create wholeness in our lives and those of others, we can start by balancing our industrialized world with the natural world. This can be done by creating more gardens around our cities which will immediately attract more birds and insects and the healing effect that comes with them. Making time to go in nature walks or going camping alone or with our friends or families is an excellent way of creating more wholeness as well.
The process of creating industrial and ecological harmony is an essential aspect of our journey of Involution. When we develop a sensitivity to nature, we also grow at a deeper level of self-knowledge, wholeness and health. The truth is that our physical surroundings severely influence our collective unconscious evolution. We cannot know ourselves without also knowing our environment and how it influences who we are.