Revisioning a Crisis
Meditation involves mindful attention to what arises in our experience. But it also helps us cultivate panoramic awareness that sharpens our ability to make connections and see parallels that were hiding in plain sight.
Consider the following description of the prenatal passage: initially, the maturing embryo floats effortlessly within the maternal amniotic sac, safe and secure within its mother’s womb. By the close of the third trimester, as the fetus is ending its intrauterine life, the uterus begins to violently contract, launching the fetus’ painful process of separation from its home. Through a series of spasmodic contractions, it is ejected through the constricted passageway of the birth canal, and a dramatic life-and-death struggle ensues. This is followed by the shocking miracle of physical birth, the severing of the umbilical cord, and the first gasp of air—initiating the infant into a realm of unimaginable possibilities.
If we regard this scenario intuitively, or with panoramic awareness, we might notice that there’s an uncanny parallel between the entire birth process and that of giving birth to something truly new. First, there’s a period of incubation in response to a challenge, where we gestate divergent ideas and perspectives. Then we struggle with obstacles and limitations, as we try to resolve a problem or make our way through a stuck place. Finally, we reach a critical mass where a breakthrough occurs, and we birth something refreshingly novel.
Could we be undergoing a parallel process of being ejected from the comfort and predictability of our normal everyday world—as we struggle with a loss of hope, alienation and meaninglessness—to make way for the breakthrough of an emerging paradigm? With the COVID global pandemic and climate disruption, the breakdown of political, economic, social, and cultural structures, there seems to be a widespread feeling of loss, grief, and disorientation, as we anticipate the end of our familiar world. But could this be a necessary initiation into a realm of unexpected possibilities, signaling our culture’s next evolutionary leap?
An initiation marks the passage from one state to another, optimally, to a more evolved level of awareness or to an expanded set of capacities and skills. An initiation upsets the status quo, and breaks through a stalemate or impasse by investing an individual or a society with a new worldview. It usually involves a change in role or function, a more expansive self image, and a narrative that ties the fragmented and contradictory pieces of the world into a coherent form, so that we can make sense of it all.
Could our current global situation be a manifestation of a stale paradigm that has exhausted its usefulness and is now creating oppressive conditions and enormous suffering? Author Rick Tarnas states that a paradigm is born when the current one is experienced as constricting and limiting, creating problems that don't admit of solutions. This leads to a crisis when a new paradigm begins to emerge from the ashes of the prevailing one. It breaks through at a timely moment in a culture’s evolution, addressing and eventually resolving what the previous paradigm could not.
The multiple problems confronting us right now are symptoms of a worldview with an underlying set of assumptions that are driving us towards a precipice. Our Western culture has been epitomized by the masculine hero, who, in his quest for independence and freedom, has separated himself from the surrounding natural environment. Historically, in our evolution as a species, this was a necessary development. The masculine Promethean rebel severed our umbilical tie to our unconscious embeddedness within nature to give birth to the self-determining individual. Although necessary as an evolutionary step for our species, the over emphasis of the masculine principle developed into a separation of body from mind, nature from spirit, and men from women. This development lies at the root of our Western culture, and has significantly contributed to the problematic conditions in which we find ourselves. (The masculine and feminine principles are not necessarily gender based, but exist in both men and women.The masculine principle is the capacity for agency or self-direction, while the female principle is the complementary capacity for communion, connection, and nurturance.)
Our mechanized view of the human body with our focus on image rather than depth of feeling, the belief that we should control our spontaneous feelings and dominate whatever is naturally wild and untamed, and our exploitation of nature as a natural resource for economic gain, all have blinded us from recognizing our interdependence with the surrounding natural world, and with all other life forms.
Cultural anthropologist, Riane Eisler, writes about our historical inheritance of a “dominator” cultural model which distorts our natural yearning for connection, intimacy, and love. She states that historically earlier “partnership” oriented societies did not celebrate the power to dominate, but rather the power to nurture. Such partnership societies did not make a distinction between nature and spirituality, or between the sacred and everyday life. Based on the dominator model of social organization, men felt entitled to assume domination over the chaotic powers of the nature, as well as the body of others. We’ve inherited patterns of domination and submission in relationships between parents and children, political leaders and citizens, and between men and women. Culturally this is reflected in the association of masculinity with male aggression, sexual pleasure with domination, and with the suppression of the feminine feelings of caring, compassion and tenderness.
The time is right for a paradigm shift. Patriarchal society champions economic rewards, political power and control in an arena of fierce competition, rather than cultivating cooperation and collaboration. The social structure of the hierarchy typifies this phenomenon, with men occupying the upper echelons of the military, our politics, and corporate multinational companies. Author Fritjof Capra states that the network, which is eco or earth-centered, honors all non-human life, and is the social structure that represents the newly emerging paradigm. From this perspective, we recognize that all living beings are bound together in a network of interdependent, mutually supportive relationships.
Signs of this new paradigm are evidenced by the increasing awareness of the existential threat of climate breakdown, the devastation of our planet’s life support systems, and by a growing intolerance of political and corporate policies of domination and exploitation of the environment. With the growing awareness of nature’s intelligence and its self-organizing, self-correcting capacities, we are witnessing a gradual shift away from the exploitation of nature to one of sustainability, using nature’s own design principles to reimagine the basis of a new civilization. With this alternative perspective, there's a new appreciation of feminine perspectives of the divine.
We are experiencing what appears to be the labor pains of a new paradigm as it struggles to take root in our culture’s soil. This emerging paradigm is challenging us to support the conditions necessary for a sacred marriage between our masculine and feminine principles. Such an integration suggests a deepening intimacy with ourselves, a wiser and more caring relationship with the natural environment, the celebration of diversity between cultures, and the nurturance of all humans as part of a shared single planetary family. The fruition of this sacred marriage would potentially be to recover our connection with our intrinsic wholeness, with a life-affirming ethics, and ultimately with the mystery of life, which includes both creation and destruction.
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