This is the second in an on-going series of essays about a deep cultural change happening in our society. To review the other entries, please access “What is Dying?” in the Categories menu on the left sidebar.
I feel that, deep within the core of how we perceive and understand ourselves, and our role on this planet, something is unravelling and coming to its natural end. This way of perceiving and understanding has been with us for thousands of years, motivating the progress and migration of our society for millennia. Its dying time began centuries ago and it may yet outlast me. Still, I believe my primary responsibility as a spiritual practitioner is to tend to its death, serving as a witness to it and learning a language that can testify to the experience in an honourable and honest way.
In the world, not of it
Whether or not it has an active presence in our personal lives, as a creation story, The Garden has informed our civilization about the life worth living for thousands of years.
Whether you consider yourself spiritual, religious or secular, it is fundamentally important to understand that the God of modern western civilization is not, and never has been, from here. We are not from here either. We were put here, by the God that made us and everything. – So the story goes.
The humans carrying the story of The Garden didn’t live there. They lived here. Humanity began in a place that is “not here” and the people who passed on the story are the decedents of those who had been exiled. But as their creation story tells them, they knew that, in their expulsion from The Garden, they were sent into the world to make their living by way of agriculture and cultivation. Humanity, at the heart of this culture, claims dominion over the world whilst believing itself to be from some place “not here.”
In the story, The God of The Garden enshrined within humans the power to name and claim all this world contains. Those who carried and passed on this story had a need to distinguish their way of life from one where they were obligated and subject to nature. In their story was reflected the power to bend nature to their intentions.
Rather than weaving us into this place, the spiritual teachings of our culture, teach us how to unbind our true selves from this world. Paired with secular and material priorities, this way of perceiving and understanding ourselves, and our role on this planet, morphed into systems of human power, supremacy and fulfillment. Nothing of this world need define or limit us. Even the limits of the world. We have the ingenuity and ability to bend it to our intentions. Personally and as a civilization, we are limited only by our imagination and our attitude. As has always been the case, our technology speaks to our capacity to achieve anything we can envision. Nothing is impossible. We just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. The best of our philosophies will tell us to love and care for this place as if it were our true home and yet we are consistently reminded that what makes us truly ourselves is our ability to transcend and control it.
How can we truly honour or know a place if we perceive it to exist primarily as the stage for our spiritual awakening, personal fulfillment or manifest destiny?
You may think this an argument for the dying time of this creation story and the religions based on it (as well as the many modern spiritual-but-not-religous philosophies that may not even recognize its influence). This is not that.
This is a testimony to the history and defining force of this way of knowing life, perceiving ourselves and understanding our relationship to the planet. This is a way of witnessing the dying of that influence. Not in terms of religion or spirituality, but in terms of the culture we continue to engender generation after generation.
Approximately 7.5 billion humans occupy this planet (and we are an occupying force). For everyone to live a lifestyle typical in the modern western world, it would require the resources of several Earths, leaving absolutely nothing left for non-human life. A relatively small percentage of the worlds population (our society) uses the vast majority of its resources.
Our understanding of ourselves and our role on the planet tells us that the secret to balance in this situation lies in faith, innovation or some combination thereof. I have seen footage of a US lawmaker, attest with absolute certainty that God put the oil in the ground for humanity’s use and if we run out, God will create more for us. I have seen non-religious spiritual teachers espouse with equally deep conviction that humanity is an an expression of the divine consciousness that created the universe. Therefore, we carry within us the capacity to tap into unlimited abundance and if we run out of natural resources in one area we will be inspired either to the discovery of a new source or the invention of new technology that renders the old source redundant. I’ve seen scientists and lay people proclaim that with proper research and development our way of life need not change so much, but instead be supported through the invention and use of different technology.
Our story of dominion over and freedom on this planet continues to drive our way of perceiving and understanding. It is based in the belief that we are not from here. It is dying and its okay to say so. In fact, it’s necessary.
I don’t know how to transition from the way of perceiving and understanding ourselves, and our role on the planet, that we know into one that teaches us we are from here. But I know that I am called to witness the dying of the old story. To speak of it and wonder about other ways of knowing. I am called to sit by the deathbed of our way of being with the planet and with each other and to listen to it until I can faithfully recount its truth. Cry with it. Mourn, sing, praise and share with it. To speak honestly about the meaningless suffering brought forward by its hunger to realize its fullest expression. To speak honestly about the need for it to let go now, to stop fighting and grasping for more. Its time has come.