Keynote for AAP Midwest Conference – April 6, 2002

(Written while living in Heartwood Cohousing in southwest Colorado)

Thank you for inviting me to share with you today what is in my heart and mind. These days I spend a lot of time in the woods that surround my home, thinking, journaling, trying to open to the wisdom of the ecosphere to guide my response to all that is happening in the world today.  It is a privilege to have your ears for this piece of time to share some of what I see and how I think we might respond.

I’ll begin with a quotation from Christopher Fry’s A Sleep of Prisoners. Incidentally, I first heard this quotation at psychosynthesis conference in Toronto in 1983, when Peter Russell used it to end his talk on “The Global Brain.”

The human heart can go to the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes.
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us ‘til we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake?

Just last week I received a message via e-mail from one of the action alert services I subscribe to. Let me read you the first couple of paragraphs:

Bordered by the beautiful Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is home to dozens of bird species, hundreds of thousands of pronghorn antelope and mule deer, twelve thousand elk, and at least fifteen other sensitive species, including the white-tailed prairie dog. Set in a unique landscape of craggy mountains, rolling hills, and sweeping plains, the region has a rich Native American history and strong connections to the local rural and agricultural communities.

The Bush administration is now considering a proposal to drill more than 50,000 coalbed gas wells and 3,000 oil wells in the Powder River Basin. The proposed plan (the largest natural gas project ever considered by the federal government) would lead to the construction of 17,000 miles of new roads and 20,000 miles of pipelines across 200,000 acres of sensitive, and largely undeveloped, agricultural land. Most of the 1.5 trillion gallons of contaminated water produced by the drilling would be intentionally dumped or leaked, untreated, into the ground, eventually making its way into streams and rivers.

I’ve never been to the Powder River Basin, and probably never will go there. But I am appalled that anyone would even consider putting 50,000 gas wells and 3000 oil wells on 200,000 acres of pristine land–that’s one gas well every 4 acres! You could not walk half a mile without encountering 2 or 3 or more of these scars on the landscape.

I know what they are like. Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico have become virtual gas well colonies, with wells placed as often as every 166 acres. Many gas fields have more than one well drilled into them, to extract the resource faster. Each pad takes up at least 1-1/2 acres of land, stripped of all trees, bushes and even grasses. They use enormous amounts of water to drill, and often leak methane gas and other toxins into the ground water. Drilling is very noisy, and often requires burning off released gases, sending flames leaping into the sky at odd hours of the day and night, making a thunderous roar like a jet engine. After drilling, loud jack pumps often have to be used to get the gas flowing, sometimes for years. The gas well already on the property of my cohousing community sometimes (fortunately not often) sounds like Darth Vadar when we walk by, the sound echoing off the neighboring mesas—and the gas company is drilling another well on our land this spring.

The environmental effects of gas wells are significant––and natural gas is supposedly one of the cleanest fuels available to us today. We use it in our own home, so how can we complain? But 50,000 new wells in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming? The mind boggles.

Similarly, the current Administration wants to drill for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge–proposes to desecrate and destroy one of the few remaining wildernesses in America, to yield a modicum of oil: about six months supply, according to some experts, or less than 2% of the nation’s current usage. We could save twice that much, and more, by simply instituting some conservation measures. But that doesn’t make anyone rich–and drilling does.

And there’s more. Our unelected President, having bombed an already devastated country further back towards the Stone Age, is currently searching for his next target, having declared a good portion of the world as part of “the axis of evil.” United States of America is hated and feared by a large part of the world’s population, even while we are emulated and imitated in the worst ways. Like a parent who beats a weeping child, saying “I’ll give you something to cry about,” our government seems to say to much of the suffering Third World, “I’ll give you something to hate us about.”

Meanwhile we Americans live in an economy unabashedly dependent on people going into debt to buy stuff they don’t need, stuff which pollutes land, air and water in its production and disposal. Many of us came through large metropolitan airports on our way here, where we were assaulted on all sides by messages on TV screens and billboards, telling us what to eat, what to buy, how to live, what to think. Apparently freedom to many means the freedom to choose among 15 brands of breakfast cereal, and the freedom of American-based multinational corporations to exploit natural resources and impoverished people around the world in order to return profits to their stockholders and pay obscene salaries to their CEO’s and upper management. Our schools are being molded into tools of the corporate machine to turn out well-trained consumers and workers, sloughing off the rest to do the underpaid grunt work of our society, or worse yet, fill up our prisons.

Insanity. There’s no other word for it. Sadly, there’s no other world for it, either.

Yet most of the American populous seems hypnotized and addicted by advertising and mass media, in nearly complete denial about our perilous situation. Even 9/11 woke us up for only a few weeks, until carefully crafted TV news shows put us back to sleep.

Our technology extends the impact of our choices beyond anything ever experienced before on this planet. We are both the cook who turns up the heat on the stove, and the frog in the pot of water who doesn’t notice the change in temperature–indeed, rather enjoys it–so doesn’t leap out to save itself. By the time the water is nearly boiling, the frog is too weak to jump out.

Post-modern Bodhisattvas

But many people are awake. Many, many people all over the world see what is happening to their land, their air and water, their food supply, their neighborhoods, their neighbors, their own families, their own lives, their consciousness. And they are coming together in gatherings like this, large and small, to confront the reality of today’s world–and find together the wisdom and strength to change. They are post-modern Bodhisattvas who know in their bones that we live in an interconnected web of life, that we cannot save ourselves one by one, that we must all awaken together–or perish together.

These Bodhisattvas, these Shambala Warriors–and look around: your neighbor might be one; you might be one–these Cultural Creatives (as Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson call them) are committed in one way or another to a Great Turning, a revolution transforming the Industrial Growth Society (the one that has gone insane) to a Life Sustaining Society. It is my prayer that psychosynthesis play a part in this Great Turning, as I believe Roberto Assagioli envisioned it would. That potential may have been what first attracted many of us to psychosynthesis.
Let me tell you more about the Great Turning, as Joanna Macy and I describe it in our book, Coming Back to Life. I will incorporate excerpts from the book with comments about the role of psychosynthesis.

The Great Turning

If we look behind the headlines and sensationalist news stories, we can see evidence of this Great Turning all over the world today, unfolding simultaneously in three dimensions, all mutually supportive: 1) actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; 2) analysis of structural causes, and creation of structural alternatives; and 3) a fundamental shift in world view and values. Many of us are engaged in all three dimensions, each of which is necessary to the creation of a sustainable civilization.

I. The first, most visible dimension consists of holding actions in defense of Earth and its beings. These include all the political, legislative, and legal work required to slow down the destruction, such as work to protect specific watersheds and forests and to stop the building of resorts, luxury home developments, dams, and freeways and the drilling of oil wells in wilderness areas. It includes direct action– blockades, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of refusal. This dimension includes work to mitigate the damage to people and environment, such as providing shelter and food to the poor and homeless, planting trees, cleaning up trash, developing and maintaining recycling programs.

Many of us in psychosynthesis work in this dimension, helping people through counseling and social services, patching up some of the victims of our collective insanity–a bit like a MASH unit–perhaps guiding them to a healthier life style. Some work with addicts, prisoners, victims of abuse, and so-called ordinary people working in dysfunctional job situations or living in dysfunctional families.

Moreover, some of us take part in demonstrations and boycotts and other forms of protest, write letters to our government officials, participate in various kinds of activism. My guess is that when we do, we draw upon our psychosynthesis training to remain centered and aware.
Work on this first dimension buys time. It serves to save some lives, and some ecosystems, species, and cultures, as well as some of the gene pool, for the sustainable society to come. It is, however, insufficient to bring that society about.

II. The second dimension of the Great Turning is equally crucial. To free ourselves and our planet from the damage being inflicted by the Industrial Growth Society, we must understand its dynamics. As I indicated earlier, when we take off the blinders, what we see is not a pretty picture. It takes courage and confidence in our own common sense to look at it with realism, to sustain the gaze; the rewards are great when we do. When we see how this global economy system operates, for example, we are less tempted to demonize the politicians and corporate CEOs who are as much in bondage to it as we are. And, for all the apparent might of the Industrial Growth Society, we can also see its fragility – how dependent it is on our participation, and how doomed it is to devour itself.

In this second dimension of the Great Turning, we are not only studying the structural causes of the global crisis; we are also creating alternative institutions. These two efforts go hand in hand. Examples are too numerous to summarize now, but I do want to mention cohousing as one–because I live in a cohousing community. I also believe psychosynthesis can also play a part in this dimension, critiquing the theory and practices in mainstream psychology which pander to the status quo, and supporting more collaborative, cooperative models of human relationship. AAP itself may qualify as an alternative institution, based as it is on collaboration and a vision of a more harmonious world.

III. These nascent institutions cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. Because our institutions always reflect what we truly believe about ourselves, these alternative structures will mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. Therefore, they require a profound shift in our perception of reality – and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening. It is the third, most basic dimension of the Great Turning.

The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift are like the hub of the wheel: they enable its turning. Profoundly generative, they are present now. They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of the essential separateness of the isolated, competitive ego. They arise in breakthroughs in scientific thought, to the new lenses on reality provided by quantum theory, astrophysics, and general living systems theory. We may find ourselves moved by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in our own religions, hearkening to their teachings as to some half-forgotten song that reminds us again that our world is a sacred whole–in which we have a sacred mission.

Now, in our time, these three rivers – anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings – flow together. From the confluence of these rivers we drink. We awaken to what we once knew: we are alive in a living Earth, source of all we are and can achieve. Despite our conditioning by the industrial society of the last two centuries, we want to name, once again, this world as holy.

These insights and experiences are absolutely necessary to free us from the grip of the Industrial Growth Society. They offer us nobler goals and deeper pleasures. They help us redefine our wealth and our worth. The reorganization of our perceptions liberates us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. Taking us beyond the tired old notions of competitive individualism, they bring us home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth. The ingredients and forms of this awakening are many: General living systems theory, Gaia theory, deep ecology, creation spirituality and liberation theology, Engaged Buddhism and similar currents in Hindu, Hasidic, Sufi, Taoist, and shamanic traditions, Ecofeminism, Ecopsychology, the Ecojustice movement, the simple living or voluntary simplicity movement, and of course the transformative capacities of music and art.

Psychosynthesis Contributions

Many of us in this room will no doubt see psychosynthesis as contributing significantly to this third dimension of the Great Turning, awakening us to our deep and essential relatedness, with all the parts of ourselves, and with the larger world. Psychosynthesis has enabled us to see the underlying unity within the beauty of diversity, and to find the synthesis that always lies potential within any set of conflicting opposites. It has helped us loosen our identification with the “skin-encapsulated ego” and identify with the Self as the spiritual source within all living beings. It has guided us towards greater awareness of our motivations, needs, wants, and behavior patterns, and taught us to choose consciously from a center of wisdom, love, and power.

This shift in our sense of who we are and how we relate to the world will be life-saving in the social, economic, and ecological traumas that lie before us. All honest forecasts are for rough weather ahead–indeed we have experienced the beginnings in the last seven months. The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning can save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand. They also help us withstand the temptation to turn on each other, finding scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage. When we know and revere the wholeness of life, we can stay alert and steady. We know there is no private salvation. We join hands to find the ways the world self-heals – and see the chaos as seedbed for the future.

Let me explore one way I believe psychosynthesis can contribute even more fully to the third dimension of the Great Turning. It has to do with the concept of disidentification and self-identification, so central to psychosynthesis thought. Those of us trained way back in the 70’s learned early on the classic Disidentification Exercise–you know: “I have a body and I am not my body.” Since that time, many psychosynthesists have expressed concern about the disassociative direction of this exercise, and have adapted it in one way or another. I think the intention remains the same, however–to help loosen our identification with the separate self, the ego, and to expand our identification to include, ultimately, all of life. In the deep ecology movement, we have a term for this wider identification: we call it the Ecological Self. That term has many reverberating implications. Ecology is the study of relationships among living things and their environment. The Ecological Self, then, is an identification with the largest web of relationship within which we all take our being.

As the Ecological Self, I do not identify as simply an individual person living within a certain cohousing community on a certain acreage in southwestern Colorado. I am so much a part of this community, so much a part of the land itself, and every tree and squirrel living there, that I think of myself less and less as in any way separate. Certainly I cease to think of my survival and well-being as in any way independent from that of my community and the natural world around me.
So rather than practicing disidentification in psychosynthesis, let us practice freeing our identification, widening it, expanding it, so that we always see ourselves as participants in the whole web of life, so that we always see our actions and choices as affecting the welfare of the larger whole–because, of course, they do.

This is not an easy perspective to live within. In today’s global economy, it becomes nigh unto impossible to buy food, clothes, and shoes, move oneself from one place to another, have a job, warm one’s home, do one’s laundry, and so forth, without adversely affecting the environment to some small extent, or without supporting corporations employing sweatshop labor. It is painful to know this. It is agonizing to experience the suffering of other people and other living beings as one’s own. Yet I believe this is what we must do, in order to make the enormous changes required for the Great Turning.

Psychosynthesis has developed powerful methods for guiding people through the dark night of the soul, for confronting and healing horrors in their past–methods such as imagery, inner dialogue, balance and synthesis of opposites, affirmation, transpersonal symbols, meditation, and so on. I believe we can use these tools to help ourselves collectively confront and take responsibility for the horrors of our world. We have learned through personal psychosynthesis work that identification with the Self keeps us from becoming trapped in the pain and helplessness of a partial identification, such as a subpersonality or a particular emotion or thought. Similarly, as we identify with the Ecological Self, we draw upon the Web of Life itself– that infinite Source of Intelligence and Love–to help us through the grief, anger, and fear we experience in the process.

Four essential questions

How then shall we respond, as individuals and as a community? As I ponder this question these days, on my walks in the woods, I return again and again to the four essential psychosynthesis questions: Where am I now in my life? What’s emerging? What might get in the way? What do I need to develop? It seems these questions are as powerful as ever in helping me tune into my inner wisdom, which I believe is the voice of the larger whole. When I truly tune into my deepest Self, I am turning into the Ecological Self, into the interconnected web of life in which we all take our being. For me, it seems almost a prerequisite that I be physically out in nature, preferably sitting under a tree. Other people may be able to tune into this inner/outer place through meditation, or other spiritual practice.

I ask myself these questions–especially the second one, “What is emerging?” and listen for guidance. I ask, “What is emerging and how can I support this emergence?” It seems I need to ask this question on a nearly daily basis, because some new manifestation is always emerging, moment to moment. What was not possible one day, in one set of circumstances, may become possible the next.

It’s hard to hear the inner responses to this query among the cacophony of socially imposed assumptions and demands that have been programmed into my mind. “I need to earn money. How will I pay the mortgage?” Etc. What gets in the way, then, is fear–fear programmed into me by an economic system that wants to keep me working frantically within that system, with no time or energy left to question or promote any real change.

I see no other way for us to proceed, however. I don’t know where else to go for guidance, except within. We can certainly find lots of the information we need from books and other media, from conversations and speeches, but no one has any real expertise in dealing with today’s world, because it is changing so rapidly. We have never been in quite this place before. We have to create novel responses to meet novel situations. I believe the Intelligence of the web of life is sufficient to meet the challenges, if we can but hear its guidance–and follow that guidance, no matter how contrary it seems to conventional expectations.

By the way, I believe strongly that we can do this “tuning in” together—indeed we must. Through conversation and dialogue in groups large and small, we can put our collective heads together–our collective wisdom–and find specific and powerful responses to the daily situations we all face, responses that move the Great Turning to a Life Sustaining Society. May we find our way together.