There is no shortage of ideas, inventions, and technological advances focused on alleviating the environmental and social crises we are increasingly being asked to address. It would be nice to believe that technology, legislation, and lifestyle choices are both the cause, and the answer, to these problems, and that if we implement enough action in the right direction, and employ enough grit and determination, we just might be able to move off the environmentally unsustainable, socially unjust track we’re on.
A Widespread Crisis of Consciousness
In this compelling video series, two visionaries – Duane Elgin, author of many books including “Voluntary Simplicity;” and Peter Russell, also an author whose work focuses on consciousness and spiritual awakening – explore the idea that real change won’t happen if we merely implement fixes in external world. If we are to realize genuine and abiding change we must, at bottom, address what they see as a widespread crisis of consciousness. It is spiritual crisis, internal crisis, that forms the root of our global problems. External fixes address only the symptoms of this crisis because behind the many of the world's problems lies human psychology.
To provide an analogy of the situation as he sees it now, Russell tells a parable about a man who has lost his house key. He is searching outside his house when his neighbor comes by and offers to help. Together they search the ground without success. Finally, the neighbor asks the first man where he lost his key. The first man replies that he lost it somewhere inside his house, but he is searching outside for it because there is more light by which to see. Russell says he thinks we are doing the same thing. The key we have lost is an inner key, but we are looking in the wrong place to find it. “We think if we can just get the outer world right, then we’ll be okay.”
In reality, until we change our inner values and beliefs, the problems we attempt to fix will arise again and again. The true solution to a just, vibrant, healthy world is human spiritual and cultural transformation, starting with attention to our own inner development.
Waking Up to Heart and Soul Values
Rather than using just our heads to think our way out of environmental degradation and inequality, we must wake up our hearts, our souls, to a new ethos where we no longer believe the multiple ads that create “an artificial sense of lack,” where we no longer think that what we own disproportionately determines how we feel, and where we stop focusing so much of our lives on acquisition of material things.
Elgin and Russell point out that, after a certain point, more income, more material wealth, does not translate into more happiness. Scientists have found that enduring happiness arises out of our connection with nature, our inner growth, our sense that we are contributing to something larger than ourselves, and having nourishing relationships with others – things that aren’t material commodities.
But where does one begin to work on this inner transformation? Russell talks about “natural mind;” a state where we stop clinging to how we want things to be, and just let our minds relax and let go of the endless cycle of dis-ease. This aligns with mindfulness practice, where one rests the mind, and allows things to be exactly as they are in the moment, even as one can also acknowledge there is a larger situation that needs our attention. Making time to create inner spaciousness lets us align, breathe, reflect. We can step out, even just for moment, from the self-perpetuating cycle of worry, desire, fear. Do this enough and slowly, organically, we begin to tap into an inner knowing that we are often too busy to notice. The seeds of spiritual transformation are watered.
As Elgin and Russell observe, we have deeper, larger capacities as human beings that are inherent to us, and that we can re-awaken to. Human beings have great potential to do good and to cause destruction. But I agree with Russell when he states that we are inherently compassionate and altruistic beings. We see this in the positive changes that are already occurring. Multitudes of people are waking up. As both Elgin and Russell note, “We are collectively rediscovering universal wisdom.” Here at The Pachamama Alliance, we endeavor to Awaken the Dreamer so that we can all rediscover our inner wisdom that will allow a new ethos to emerge. Won't you please join us?
Below are some sources for secular mindfulness practice exercises, and general information on the benefits of mindfulness: