When you listen to the news, something inside of you probably wonders what in the heck is going on. Some part of you may even be afraid of how the conflict around the world seems to be escalating. Israelis and Palestinians both seem to believe that their position is right and the other’s is wrong and, when we look at history, we see that there’s never a good resolution to this kind of war. Then there’s all that is happening in the Muslim world—Iraqi people at war with one another, terrorism acting like a virus that we have no antidote for, and women and children being kidnapped, raped, and killed in Africa.
My heart aches with all of the suffering, but it doesn’t break, because at some deep level, I trust what is going on. I don’t like it, but I do trust it. How can that possibly be?
Allow me to invite you into a new perspective—one that responds to what is happening rather than reacts in fear, anger, and hopelessness. I’ve been able to develop this trust through the work of evolutionary philosopher and physicist Brian Swimme, Ph.D., a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He and ecotheologian Thomas Berry, Ph.D., showed how life is a constantly evolving process, always growing, always changing. In their 1992 book The Universe Story (published by Harper San Francisco), they made a list of some of the major shifts in evolution that have unfolded on this planet and then revealed how, as one era passes away and a new one is born, chaos always emerges.
We are in one of those shifts in eras, from the Cenozoic era to the Ecozoic. And the winds of change are fiercely blowing. The old that is dying is the unconscious world of attack versus defend, good versus bad, right versus wrong that has created so much heartache on this planet. The new is being born through conscious human beings—people who know that beneath all of the differences in gender, race, religion, and so on, we are all the same.
Conscious human beings live from the aware heart rather than the reactive mind. Their actions unite rather than divide; they listen rather than criticize; they connect rather than disconnect; they heal rather than destroy.
An apt metaphor for this is the butterfly story told by evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris, Ph.D. The caterpillar is one of the most destructive beings on this planet, she explains, able to devour a whole tree branch in record time. Eventually the creature weaves a cocoon around itself and, within that structure, fulfills its destiny to dissolve into formless goo. Out of that goo begins to emerge the first cells of the butterfly. These new cells are called imaginal cells and the goo (the old) tries to destroy them! Because of this threat, the new cells gather together into groups, and in that support, the butterfly is born.
This is humankind’s story, as well. The caterpillar and its self-absorbed destruction represent the old way. The caterpillar is necessary in the creation of the butterfly, but a time comes when it has to die for the butterfly to be born. The butterfly, which represents the new way, is the opposite of the caterpillar. It doesn’t destroy life—it serves life by pollinating flowers. The butterfly can also fly far and wide, so its view is much broader than the caterpillar’s. The promise is that as we grow into our butterflyness, we too can have a view that includes everything.
If you look closely, you will see this shift of perception showing up in movies, blogs, talk shows, chat rooms, advertising, and discussions among small groups of people all over the planet. The shift is all about the amazing intelligence of our heart-minds waking up. It is all about growing out of the reactive mind and discovering how to intelligently respond to the healing crises that is unfolding on our planet. It is about discovering that we are all in this together, floating on a tiny, blue-green planet that is dancing through vast oceans of space. And, as we move beyond the addiction to reaction that we have been living in, it is all about knowing that so much more unites us than divides us.
You may feel helpless to make a difference in this healing if, like most of us, you cannot go to Africa to help the starving children—or if you can’t sit down with people in conflict to invite them to see things from the other person’s perspective, whether it is the terrorists or your co-workers and family members. But what you can do is realize what Einstein was offering us when he said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. We only create more problems.”
What will heal our beleaguered planet is a shift of perception, and the core of that shift is the understanding that all of the conflicts in the world, whether they are playing out on the world’s stage or happening right in the middle of your own life, come from minds that are still caught in the old paradigm of attack versus defend, good versus bad, right versus wrong. And that includes you. At some level, all of the greed, fear, envy, anger, resistance, guilt, loneliness, despair, and shame that are a part of the reactive mind live inside of you, too!
This shift takes a willingness to be honest. Think about a time when somebody said something that caused a strong reaction inside of you, and you will recognize the reactive mind. This is not anything to be ashamed of, because we have all been caught in unconscious reaction. This is just a phase of evolution we are passing through. But now more and more of us are discovering how to see our reactive mind without judging it, and even how to bring it tenderness and mercy so it can calm down and the aware heart can get a word in edgewise!
If this calls to you, give yourself the gift every day of at least a few minutes where you bring your attention out of thinking about life and actually experience it. You may sit and ride the waves of your breath, noticing the actual sensations of breath as they move through your body. Or drink your morning tea and truly experience it—its warmth, its smell, its flavor, and so on. Or make your shower a time to really notice the many different sensations while showering—the sound, the warmth, the coolness, the moisture. Don’t be dismayed by how many times your attention goes back to thinking about life. You have been conditioned to experience life as a thought for most of the time you’ve been alive. But every time you bring your attention back to the present and the actual living experience of life, you will strengthen the muscle of your attention, the kind of attention that can see and unhook from your reactive mind.
Take a moment to see your life from a broader perspective. Recognize that you are an essential part of what is evolving on this planet and know that you can become a part of the healing that is happening. And as you heal the war inside of you, our planet will be healed, as well.