I mentioned last time that a small group of us here in Bedford NY – Conversations for Action – are exploring a more spiritual approach to sustainability: in one sense, a shift from head to heart; in another sense, a shift from a first order change – changing behaviors that negatively impact our sustainability – to a second order of change – expanding the consciousness that is the foundation of the behavior. As a way of beginning a community conversation on this approach we showed the film The Journey of the Universe – a wonderful presentation of the amazing knowledge of modern science created by two students of Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, a scientist and a historian of religion, respectively – in the local library to about sixty of our neighbors. The film itself was good but it was the conversation afterwards that grabbed our imaginations.
The Journey of the Universe is a story about creativity that unfolds into life that becomes aware and makes decisions. Creativity, it is clear, is not confined to human beings. In fact, we humans come from all of this – the stars are our ancestors – and participate in its process, like every other form of life, as co-creators of the story. We do this in our unique way through the self-reflective consciousness that has evolved in us. I say ‘in us’ to make the point that the consciousness of humans is truly the consciousness of the Universe. Human beings are, in fact, the Universe in a conscious mode. Through my eyes the stars look back at themselves in wonder. However, there is a flaw in our perception and understanding of this consciousness, which is an illusion of separateness that created the further illusion of control and fostered a sense of superiority. I was thinking, as I drove home yesterday, of the way we sometimes behave when we drive our cars – especially if they are big vehicles – as if we were invincible and entitled somehow. It is this combination of illusions that has allowed us to exploit other expressions of the Universe as if they simply belonged to us. Today, in fact, we live in a world that proclaims, promotes and rewards a form of individuality which is the ultimate expression of these illusions. The result has been amazing discoveries, inventions, and achievements but also amazing destruction. Moreover, to judge from recent reflections on the subject, our technologies – particularly our communication technologies – are furthering the illusions of separateness and control: ‘Connection replaces Conversation,’ and ‘Is Facebook making us Lonely’ are two articles I read last week.
In terms of addressing the negative aspect of our growing capacities, the first order of change is seen in the many forms of charity and good works that our culture is good at, including the amazing accomplishments of our first Conversations for Action program in Bedford which resulted in a Climate Action Plan, two Summits, a wonderful implementation structure, and expanding collaboration with other towns in the region. Of course, these are wonderful achievements, but just beneath the surface there is still the nagging concern about whether these efforts are meaningful or enough in the face of the magnitude of the issues we learn more about every day. And while it is perfectly right to say that every individual action makes a difference and we must start where we can and hope that others will join us, we also know that this nagging concern is actually a call to take the conversation to a deeper level. For just as we would not simply continue to address a physical symptom that continued to manifest but would also explore its cause, so too we have to explore the deeper causes of our present problems while continuing to address their impact. The challenge, though, is how to address deep-seated illusions that are cultural as well as individual.
One example of doing so surfaced during the conversation at the library: the various ’12 Step’ type programs. For example, the process of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement is not simply to stop drinking but to change the thinking and feelings that cause the urge to drink. A second important aspect of this approach is the element of support. Addiction is regarded in this approach as an illness that a person has no control over and must therefore seek the support of both a ‘higher power’ and fellow sufferers. ’12 Step’ people often talk of a new consciousness and the new life it brings. In the light of this model, we talked about a simple system of conversations throughout the community that would foster a deepening of consciousness that would address the illusion of separateness and control, etc. while at the same time supporting each other in our efforts to change behaviors that contribute to our present problems.
I’ll continue to explore this approach in future postings but let me conclude here by suggesting that it is related to the understanding of resurrection I discussed recently in a number of ways but specifically in this one: consciousness is not something esoteric or internal or private; rather it determines everything else – how we think and act and live together. Being precedes doing. Who we are shapes what we do. The resurrected consciousness of Jesus transformed his mode of presence in the world. A similarly resurrected consciousness in us would transform our mode of presence in the world in every aspect from the personal to the collective.