Our times are strange and wondrous—so strange and so wondrous that they far outstrip our comprehension!
Even as we are verging on world-changing breakthroughs in science, technology, consciousness, cooperation, and leadership, we’re also verging on catastrophic breakdowns of our planetary ecology, as well as our cultural cohesion, economic and social order, and, of course, our politics. It is wild, significant, inspiring, and terrifying that this is all happening simultaneously. We are clearly approaching a moment of truth.
We need the guidance of higher wisdom. Fortunately, all of humanity’s highest wisdom traditions are in conversation as never before. And yet the circumstances that have sometimes enabled wisdom to guide the human future seem to be eroding underneath our feet. Our collective nervous system is surging with adrenaline, jolted again and again by breaking news and visions of apocalypse as well as technological utopias and dystopias.
What’s really happening? Where are we headed? Is human civilization really coming apart? Will we all come together as never before? What does that mean for us personally? What can we do? How can we “be the change we want to see in the world”?
In 2016 the average planet-wide surface air and ocean temperatures were the warmest ever recorded for sixteen consecutive months—and extreme weather events continued to increase in size and frequency. At the same time, a backlash against liberal democracy, immigration, and globalization spawned a worldwide political crisis, and our planetary ecology and climate were (to put it mildly) not the dominant popular priorities. Although I feel chilled to the bone by some of what we might be facing, I am also uplifted and inspired to behold our most dramatically positive possibilities. It is becoming a cliché to state that we’re in a race between consciousness and catastrophe. So my focus is not on laying odds. It is on the inner work that can enable us to do the outer work of navigating this time of transition in the best ways possible.
Such a game-changing transformation would be something like what was, in ancient times, symbolized by a precious jewel. Buddhists have called it a “wish-fulfilling gem.” Such a diamond cannot be formed except under titanic pressures. Sudden, dramatic evolutionary progress often takes place under conditions of extreme tension, when pressures require rapid and dramatic adaptation. When new conditions disrupt ecological balance, other crucial environmental factors change, and they force new faculties and behaviors to emerge.
Evolution has shown its ability to find astonishing expressions under the right circumstances. It has always proceeded against overwhelming life-and-death odds, but right now we are in the midst of a collection of interconnected challenges and opportunities of unprecedented scope and intensity. If evolution proceeds in fits and starts, with long periods of relative “equilibrium” punctuated by turbulent periods of rapid evolutionary innovation, those of us alive today are right in the center of the action.
What We Can Do
We know that both the worst and the best in human beings, and our potential for rapid radical change, all emerge in times of crisis. This crisis will require very different tools than anything we’ve relied on in the past to dig ourselves out of holes and harrowing emergencies. This is a new kind of challenge. Technological and scientific breakthroughs will create openings for fundamental change. They will be a necessary part of the path forward, but they are not sufficient. The same is true of the wisdom born of high states of consciousness. And it is true of enlightened organizational practices. Leadership in any of the ways we have understood it until now will be crucial, but it too will not be enough.
What will be required is “whole system change”—a broad transformation of all human civilization. That’s enormous and unprecedented, so of course it will take a while. It implies constant transformation and aliveness, inner and outer. We are called to a robust and dynamic new form of spiritual activism—or activist spirituality—that fuses the “inner work” of personal transformation and awakening with the “outer work” of service, social entrepreneurship, and activism.
In this pivotal moment of truth for our species, a whole wave of radical conversations is inevitable. For these conversations to really make a difference, we must break through our personas and our inauthentic poses. This is a deeper level of discourse than has hitherto seemed thinkable in public—disarming, tender, and authentic. To my knowledge, we have never had such public conversations.
Important conversations will refine practical solutions to our current social, political, economic, and environmental crises. A new, soul-level conversation is called for. It can only occur in a very different state of consciousness. It also requires new, more spacious and holistic and dimensional and nuanced structures of mind. It requires integral consciousness and the integrated intelligence of our whole being—what I call integral heart intelligence (which integrates mental intelligence and a powerful will with intuitive wisdom).
We are going to be drawn out of our comfort zones, but perhaps into something deeper and more real, meaningful, and rewarding. Periods of great adversity often produce exciting and satisfying lives. There is a kind of love possible during times of war or natural disasters, a kind of vivacity and authenticity.
Intimate, candid, catalytic soul conversation can open a doorway out of our collective trance, our conditioned alienation, our collective bad dream. They can provide a solid integral foundation on which we may begin to build together, in the clear, pure words of Charles Eisenstein, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”
From The New Republic of the Heart by Terry Patten, published by North Atlantic Books, © 2018 by Terry Patten. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Terry Patten speaks and consults internationally as a community organizer, philosopher, and teacher. He is the author of A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries.