Paradigm Lost

The Road

One of the most disturbing scenes that we encounter frequently is not plastered on the television screen or printed in the newspaper; rather it confronts us face to face on some street corner in the form of homeless men, women and even children. While most of us try to avoid such sights, at times they do catch us by surprise. We get the full sensory impact of fellow human beings, cold and hungry, dressed in tattered clothing and perhaps reeking of a foul odor or talking to themselves. This is really an irreconcilable problem that short-circuits our existential sensibilities. Most of us automatically turn away with lightning speed in pity, apathy, powerlessness, fear or denial, and hurry that mental picture out of our heads to focus on more personal business. In that split second though, we usually choose from a variety of ways to help us distance ourselves psychologically from the fundamental anomaly.

If we are verbally approached for some loose change, some of us immediately pull out the "sorry, I don't have any money" script. Some of us rationalize the unfortunate plight of these street people by blaming it on poor choices made in life. They should have known better and not been so lazy. They had a choice to say no to drugs, prostitution, gambling or violence before they were swept away in a downward spiral leading to homelessness. They can go to a shelter and get help. Others may secretly resort to judgments sponsored by inherited religious beliefs without questioning the morality behind them. Or they may take a macro view and blame overpopulation. Still others may feel some kind of guilt or compassion and reach out to help in some way. But how far can that be taken? And how is guilt going to solve any problems? One can hand the poor souls some money or even a sandwich. On rare occasions, some may even offer a hot bath and clean clothes. While the help is certainly appreciated and welcomed in whatever measure possible, what about tomorrow and the day after? What about the countless others on the streets who are not so fortunate as to encounter a helping hand? We tell ourselves that this is a problem of such enormous magnitude that we could never resolve it on an individual level. Whether by luck or divine providence, we look upon such desolate scenes from behind the fortunate side of the economic fence and, out of fear or insecurity, thank the gods for our good fortune. But in quickly turning away from such sights, we admit to the disbelief in our beliefs and quietly acknowledge that these homeless individuals could be us. The fact is they are us. We may not be out in freezing temperatures but in essence, we are suffering from the cold. We may not be lacking any food but in essence, we are utterly starving. We may not be sleeping on cardboard boxes but in essence, we are homeless and destitute. We are living on the edge of a lost paradigm.

I bring up this issue not because of any political or moral or religious convictions but rather because of practical and personal concerns for my own life and sanity. You might say that it is for selfish reasons. In essence I feel the need to rescue my conscience from the same streets where the homeless sleep and to understand the very paradigm that allows such adversity. Our apathy and inability to respond effectively to such disturbing situations as homelessness signal a fundamental recognition of the failure of our worldview. The root of the issue goes much deeper than any social, political, economic or racial imbalance that could potentially be equalized. Our current paradigm, which we recognize as a failure, operates through the objectification of everything in our path, including human beings. Somewhere along the line, we created a split between us and everything that is not us. We sliced the world into pieces and fragments and ignored the underlying, connecting principle that holds up everything. We are like a dog neurotically chasing its own tail. Sure, we've heard all of this separated-from-nature stuff before but now we seem to be at a crossroads and a point of no return. Certainly, there have always been inequalities in societies; but why do such afflictions exist when we arguably have the capacity to feed and house and clothe every human being on this planet? Long ago, before virtually every inch of earth was claimed, registered and taxed, you could go out into the wild, build a small shelter near a water source, plant an open field for food and survive without being accountable to anyone. This is virtually impossible in this day and age where everyone is tagged and tracked in some way. The authorities will find you and expel you from that land either because it is someone else's property or because of "safety" reasons. In some cases, they may even suspect that you are carrying out secretive terrorist activities through your reclusive behavior. But that may be the least of your problems. To a large extent, modern civilization has stifled or altered the processes of nature with ill effects. Rivers have been diverted or polluted. The soil in many areas has been exhausted and plants have become genetically modified. Even animals and insects have become infected by strange diseases or viruses because of human interference. What was once our birthright, namely to live freely on the face of the earth and eat from the fruit of trees and plants growing in the open, wild fields, has been annulled. Regardless of what brought us here (destiny, evolution, immoral behavior, etc), the effects of this split are more evident than ever before. We are now rousing from our sleep to discover our house on fire. With time, we have grown accustomed to patterns and situations, no matter how insane, absurd or oppressive they may be; and we have been fighting vehemently to maintain them. We are creatures of habit with an amazing ability to be hypnotized or seduced. History presents us with several examples of entire cultures that believed in various extreme or deluded ideologies. Arguably, the ideology of today is technology, the brainchild of science. It dictates numerous aspects of our lives including how we live, work, eat and entertain ourselves. While science and technology are very powerful and useful tools that have provided many physical comforts, it is an egregious mistake to let them direct the entire spectrum of being human. The ideology of science, which involves dismemberment, objectification and measurement, cannot be trusted with the myriad of subtle and hidden dynamics of life. It was just a few centuries ago when our construct of reality was built upon a geocentric universe. Who's to say that we are different and not living through some delusion of sorts now? Perhaps science is not the real issue here; rather it is simply the ideological expression of this split between us and our environment. And it is this split that we must explore.

As mentioned, we have an amazing tendency to overlook certain things, especially if they've become fixtures or objects in our familiar landscape. Like a chicken mesmerized by a chalk line, our minds have fallen into habits, like grooves, of which we are not aware. Most of our reactions are often scripted and automatic, as in the case of homelessness. How many of us on our way to work never notice the persistent, beautiful sky and formidable cloud formations that are laid out before us like a tapestry on the horizon? How many magnificent trees that line the boulevards do we simply leave out of our field of vision? We pay more attention to traffic lights and flashing signs and other beeping geometrical objects that continue to reinforce our static and dismembered view of the world. The majority of our experience comes to us through fabricated images or virtual means such as newspapers and television. Such mediums facilitate the objectification of life. They help to distance us from the real experience, which consists of interconnected, living and breathing processes. In fact, most of what is really happening is hidden from us behind an isolated image that we manufacture, market and sell to each other, including our own self-image. What would the world be like if we discovered, not mentally but experientially, that rocks, lakes, rivers, trees, animals, plants, planets, and stars, are living organisms in themselves? What if they are part of a greater, intelligent and sentient network that is hidden from ordinary human consciousness? What if we begin to think of all of these organisms not as things but as YOU? Considering that we cannot even treat certain other human beings humanely, this vision seems to be completely out of reach. But this is not some crazy, touchy-feely, new-age idea. Rather our science and economics, our most recent religions, are conclusively leading us in this direction. We are approaching the precipice of a catastrophe that is quickly revealing the inherent anomaly in our current paradigm and our tendency to objectify everything in our field of experience. And of course, homelessness is just one among numerous symptoms of this lost paradigm.

Consider something as familiar as the sun. In fact, the sun may not be a "thing" at all but a living, breathing being. Only recently, scientists have begun to consider helioseismology, the study of wave oscillations in the sun. Sound propagates very well in the sun because it is, through the eyes of science, a ball of hot gas. It is essentially sounding out like a gong.  We are discovering that there are periodic episodes related to this phenomenon. Gravity waves emanate from the interior of the sun and radiate outward to the surface, causing it to vibrate and generate sound; then they travel back inwardly again. The sun is essentially breathing. Because by definition science is limited to measurements and facts about our physical universe, it cannot truly make qualitative statements regarding what constitutes "breathing" or a sentient being or intelligent life. In other words, science has nothing to do with identifying any whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot claim to recognize poetic resonances or meanings or metaphorical connections in the patterns. Such resonances and perceptions can and do have a huge impact on the way in which a human life is lived. In the eyes of science, the sun oscillates through periodic movements and emits energy waves but it does not "breathe." Science only sees the sun as a dissectible object with certain nameable parts such as the corona, the photosphere and the chromosphere.  Likewise, science breaks down the human body into several parts including the individual organs, epidermis, extremities, etc. But it is unable to definitively point to a physical substance or characteristic or measurement that determines consciousness, life or intelligence. Scientific research has led us to recognize the limits of science as we know it, the very lens through which we view and construct our modern world. Through its own recent discoveries, science is in a sense absolving itself from having been commandeered as the chosen philosophical sword of wisdom with which we have sliced through and dissected the world and ourselves for the last several hundred years.

Because we choose to see the world largely through the lens of science, it is easy for us to ignore or dismiss natural "objects" like our sun as some familiar furniture pieces in our rather cozy, cosmic abode in space. In contrast, many ancient cultures were in awe of the sun and worshipped it as a magnificent, breathing fiery god. They believed that the sun affected their personal, daily lives. Astrology has its roots in such thinking. Indeed, they had an intuition that their lives were dependent on the sun. They did not know about photosynthesis and the scientific processes through which plants and animals are nourished. While we intellectually understand our dependence on our sun, we do not experience it psychologically on a daily basis. We have largely demystified our environment through the abandonment of rituals and the adoption of the philosophy of science. In doing so, we have facilitated our control over nature thereby severing a vital connection between it and us. We have parceled out land into acres and square feet and have drawn invisible, dividing lines around a seamless landscape. We have laid claim on the environment, on plants, animals, trees, water and even the sky. While I am not trying to romanticize or particularly defend the vision of ancient cultures, many did indeed recognize a dimension and a power in nature and in us that we ignore today.  For many of them, nature was not an object to be manipulated and dominated but a YOU with which they could interact and commune. Their rituals and symbols were a way for them to maintain that connection.

Our objectification of life and nature is best exemplified by what modern society claims to be the highest aspirations of the human being, namely art and religion. Aboriginal and "nature" cultures did not necessarily differentiate between nature, everyday life (religion) and art. For them, the landscape around them was a seamless mix of mysterious, living symbols and signs, pregnant with limitless dimensions and meaning. Many even recognized a fundamental, open connection between their waking and dream consciousness; therefore, almost everything evoked meditation or contemplation. The environment for them was art. Of course they did not characterize it as such because there was nothing else. When we began to objectify the world, we began to differentiate art, the so-called sublime and the beautiful, from the ordinary, everyday world. We began to conveniently compartmentalize or categorize. Now we go to our temples to practice our religion and then leave it behind when we go home. We put art in museums and encase it in glass. We go to visit it on "cultural expeditions" and worship it, sometimes secretly, for its extraordinary monetary value. And if we are wealthy enough, we can display it proudly in our homes as an extension of our self-identity. Music has also become confined to concert halls and differentiated and isolated from the natural sound that is all around us. Where in ancient cultures it was shared openly as part of the fabric of the community, music is now owned and registered and licensed. For the majority of us however, art is not something that we consciously encounter in our lives, on the streets and in our homes on a daily basis. The mindset that puts paintings in museums and organizes concerts in big symphony halls is the same as the one that compartmentalizes the impulse of religion. It is that same object-based thinking that has laid waste to the symbols of our own mythologies. Our current religions are built on a divisive, economic model of sorts where penalty, reward, redemption, ransom, indebtedness, forgiveness and condemnation are dolled out to the deserving and the damned.

It is no coincidence that the breakdown of science as the philosophy of our time corresponds with the current recognition of the failure of our social paradigm and the mythological symbols that used to support it. We recognize that our current system cannot take us any further. It is absolutely unsustainable into the future. So where do we go from here? Some are calling for a swift return to the ways of nature and to relearning the wisdom of the ancients. Others are proposing to solve our current predicament through innovation, namely more science and technology. Still others take a purely religious stand and call for repentance and the return to blind obedience to the gods that we have supposedly slain on the altar of our science-powered, divisive, self-centered philosophy. These are some of the more prominent suggested solutions. But, knowing what we know now, are any of these single proposals viable? Going back to an old vision or pushing into the future with an accelerated version of the current one is not the solution. The answer may be found not in any single perspective here but in one that is at once an amalgam and yet transcendent of all of them. If we have learned anything it is that all of these perspectives offer an insight into the nature of the human mind. And the mind may be the key to all of the problems we currently face. I am not calling for the exile of our intellectual powers that have produced science and technology, or for the return to the philosophy of the ancient world that was often driven by superstitions and unknown, mysterious forces, or for the resurrection of the authoritarian gods that ruled over us with fear and desire. Rather, I am suggesting a new vision that recognizes all these perspectives as symbols reflecting our own unfolding consciousness. The ancients gave us reverence and a sense of interconnectedness with our environment. Science and technology gave us tools to advance the quality of human life, albeit often at a heavy cost to our environment. The authoritarian gods gave us much insight into our own shadows, powered by hidden fears and desires. All of these elements tell us that we are multi-dimensional beings who are riddled with mystery. We still know very little about ourselves; but we are learning that, if we are to move forward and prosper, we must recognize or take into account that which we cannot get at through our empirical senses or scientific methods. This mystery, this multi-dimensionality within us, speaks not through words or scientific observation but through rich images and symbols that transcend any analysis and objectification. These images and symbols have always been there in our own mythologies and religions expressing the vast depths of the human psyche; but through our embrace of scientific philosophy, we have desensitized ourselves to their message thereby silencing them for our modern world. We must allow these symbols to work their magic without us being mesmerized by superstition and without withdrawing our sense of reason. This entails trust in the power of a part of us that is inaccessible to our conscious minds. These symbols are a bridge connecting all of the different elements, hidden or otherwise, in the human being. If we can suspend both our religious belief and intellectual disbelief, perhaps we will see the world transformed, a world without such hardships as homelessness. We are at the precipice of a fundamental change that is not external but internal. And where we go from here may not be forward in time but into a dimension that has nothing to do with time. A much larger pattern is coming into view, and in order for it to unfold, perhaps the current paradigm must come to an end. It must fall away like the sheath of a flower before it blooms. This is a vast paradigm shift in the way we think about ourselves, our bodies, about life and death, and about the very nature of perception. As far as we can tell, this is a fundamental change of Mind.

© 2010 The Forbidden Heights

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