21 Questions for 2020: #11

#11. How can we practice the art of being more fully human in this time of crisis?

Ben Roberts and the Now What?! team are hosting a global conversation on various aspects of this question March 23 – April 14, 2020, and as my “21 Questions for 2020” series is one of the Now What?! Engagement Streams, it makes sense for me to pose this question to myself and my Transition Times readers now. 

To begin, what does it mean to be “more fully human”? 

Humans have always had a sense of our own potential, both positive and negative. 

We know we are capable of great love, and also great hate. Great creative industry, and great destruction. We can be profoundly empathetic, and also the cruelest of all the animals. We live in the uncomfortable awareness of how these binary oppositions shape our experience, in ways we can’t always control. 

Of late, this sense of polarity has been growing stronger. Could it be that the binary mentality of the computer code is coming to dominate our thinking, leading us to see things in moral absolutes? 

Whatever your political stance, it has become a kneejerk reaction to say, “My position is right, yours is wrong, and never the twain shall meet.”  

But then along comes a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic, and suddenly these political differences are revealed as superficial and even rather ridiculous. 

Coronavirus doesn’t see Democrats and Republicans, white people and people of color; it doesn’t see gender or nationality, class or religious persuasion. It sees humans—its delicious prey. It reminds us how profoundly alike and interconnected we all are—and how fragile we are as individuals and as societies. 

In the recognition of our common frailty lies the potential for becoming more fully human, in ways that will take us beyond the old binary oppositions into what Barbara Marx Hubbard called an era of “conscious evolution.” 

A new hero(ine) leaps into action

For example, let’s take that old bugaboo, masculine vs. feminine. 

The pandemic is pushing us to become more fully human in the typically feminine sense of that term: more fully loving, empathetic, relational, nurturing, and altruistic.

And also more fully human in the more typically masculine sense of the term: more fully active, protective, galvanizing, courageous, and problem-solving.

In this brave new hero’s journey of 2020, the hero cannot be the rugged individual quester of yore, going off to slay a distant dragon. Against the enemy virus, the best weapons are not made of steel, but of gauze. 

Indeed, the metaphor of “war” or “battle” is not really appropriate for our current crisis. We can’t “fight” for our loved ones and our society; we can only “take care” of ourselves and each other.

What a huge shift! It’s as if the virus has done what centuries of feminist activism could not do: effected a merging of the hero and the heroine of our old stories, calling forth the best of what has here-to-fore been deemed “masculine” and “feminine” into a new androgynous type of more fully human being, leaping into action in hospitals and food pantries, in banks and businesses, in homes and shelters across the world. 

At least, this is the potential that is now glimmering into reality.  

Leading from the heart

As Joanna Macy reminded us long ago, being more fully human lies in becoming the prophesied Shambhala warriors, our courage motivated not by aggression but by compassion. 

In a more recent transmission, retired Mt. Holyoke College professor and dean Penny Gill received similar guidance from a voice identifying himself as “Manjushri,” who said that the way to become more fully human in this time of crisis is through the heart, not the mind.  

“The human heart center must open,” Manjushri says in What in the World is Going On? “When we say “heart center” we refer to that seat of consciousness at the center of the human person that is informed both by deep values and a complex understanding of the real world. It is the nexus where knowledge and human feelings are brought together to nourish and direct a richer and more inclusive understanding of people in their community, earth and the universe (73).

What prevents the opening of the human heart, Gill writes, is fear. And this brings us to the “crisis” part of the Now What?! question. 

Overcoming fear by recognizing interconnection

I don’t think any one of us is exempt from feeling the terrible fear of this moment. The gyrations of the stock market reflect our individual and collective panic as we watch the global economy going into free-fall in response to the pandemic. And we are being told that the only way to stop the virus is to stop the production and consumption that has been the hallmark of our western way of life for all of our lifetimes.

Essentially we are being told to go back to a pre-industrial lifestyle for a few weeks or months, but we have lost all the tools and knowledge that our ancestors had of how to live self-sufficiently, simply and locally on the Earth. We cannot be blamed for our fear of this sudden crisis. It’s like being suddenly cast off the mother ship in a little boat with a few supplies and no guarantee of rescue.

What we have not lost is the innate human ability to reach out to one another in compassion. We are instinctively tribal—a term that has gained a pejorative connotation in recent history, but can also be understood in its positive guise as a caring, united community. In the 21st century, we have the potential to understand our tribe in a much larger, more inclusive sense. 

Manjushri, through Penny Gill, invites us to move beyond the fears that divide us into a profound recognition of our interdependence:

“We are looking now on a world built upon fear,” he says. “It is uninhabitable, dysfunctional and teetering on the edge of collapse. The heart-center must be restored to its central function as the source of both compassion and wisdom. The cultural values and practices accumulated around fear must be altered dramatically, before they undermine earthly life itself.” 

Humans must come to see that “the fundamental reality of human life—indeed of earthly life—is interdependence, not solitary individualism and competitiveness. It is the false belief in the latter which gives rise to so much fear, and from fear arises a cascade of dysfunction, conflict, and frankly, stupidity in social and communal human life. The only antidote to this is life from the heart center. That will be possible, one person at a time, as fear is named, deconstructed and disabled” (84). 

Getting past our fears is not going to be easy, and yet I do think this is what is being asked of us as we seek to become more fully human in this time of crisis. 

Now what?!

How to do it? Staying active, in heart-centered projects, seems to be key. A frontline doctor in New York City wrote recently in The New York Times: “Please flatten the curve and stay at home, but please do not go into couch mode. Like everyone, I have moments where imagining the worst possible Covid-19 scenario steals my breath. But cowering in the dark places of our minds doesn’t help. Rather than private panic, we need public-spirited action. Those of us walking into the rooms of Covid-19-positive patients every day need you and your minds, your networks, your creative solutions, and your voices to be fighting for us.”

I have been heartened in recent days to see networks of “caremongerers” springing up in communities across the globe. Even our political leaders, who have seemed so heartless in the past, are responding with greater compassion now—and yes, we can cynically view this as self-interest, but even so it illustrates a dawning awareness that to be more fully human in a time of crisis is to understand our interconnectedness. Together we swim, or together we sink. 

And though I said that our ancestors’ knowledge of how to live self-sufficiently and sustainably has been lost, that is not entirely true. There are those who have been preparing for this moment of crisis for a long time: Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movementFindhorn and the Global Eco-village NetworkSchumacher College, the California Institute of Integral Studies, the permaculturists and the regenerative economists…there is indeed already a large global network of creative thinkers who have been working steadily, cultivating the compassionate, heart-centered wisdom and knowledge that we will need now to become more fully human, in this time of crisis. 

Many of these thinkers will be joining the Now What?! conversations over the next few weeks, and I hope you will too! Our World Wide Web is a wonderful tool of interconnection, as so many of us are discovering as our livelihoods are shifted, without fanfare, into remote online work. 

The art of being more fully human in this time of crisis starts with simply showing up and asking, as Julia Alvarez asked in the poignant essay she contributed to my first anthology, Women Writing Resistance: “How can I help”?

Find out more and register for Now What?! conversations here.  

Opening Our Hearts, Overcoming Fear: Channeling the Wisdom of the Noosphere on Earth Day 2015

Earth Day 2015 is as messy and confusing as any ordinary day in the modern world. Despite the efforts of many concerned, caring people, the violence against people, animals, forests, oceans and the fertile soils of our planet continues unabated, perhaps even picking up steam as population growth, climate destabilization and worsening resource scarcity bear down on pressure points all over the world.

I don’t have to tell you this. You know. So many of us are aware of what’s going on, yet our awareness alone does not seem enough to make any difference. Yes, we sign those petitions online; we give to environmental organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org, we try to “reduce, reuse, recycle,” etc. etc., but we know that individual efforts like this are not big enough to create the fast-moving transformational change our Earth needs now, if she is to remain a hospitable place for us and all the other flora and fauna of our geological period to live.

J. Browdy, listening.

J. Browdy, listening.

During the past year, I have been paying less attention to the mainstream media, with all its constant doom-and-gloom messaging, and more attention to a strong, wise, loving voice that I can “hear” when I am alone out in the middle of an old forest, or on an empty stretch of beach.

Over time I have come to understand this voice as Gaia calling—not to me personally, but Gaia in communication and communion with all life on Earth, me included. It has taken me a while to recognize the depth of this communication, and to realize that it is a two-way avenue…kind of like a wordless exchange that happens not so much in the mind as in the heart, not so much in the realm of thought as in pulses of energy that I am slowly becoming able to receive with more awareness and clarity.

Over time I have become much more aware of, and curious about, the human potential to connect with Gaia on a spiritual, non-material level, following the philosophical lead of a whole host of explorers, including Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jose Arguellas, Mary Daly, Terrance McKenna, Thich Nhat Hanh, Arkan Lushwala, Joanna Macy, Starhawk and so many more.

Many of these wise people have used meditation, trance and/or various kinds of psychoactive agents to help them access what Teilhard de Chardin called “the Noosphere,” a kind of planetary energetic field that all life on Earth participates in, and that humans have the potential to access consciously.

Lately I have been reading books by two women who have tapped into the Noosphere enough to be able to “channel” Teachers from the spiritual realm. I know many of my readers, if I have not lost them already, will stop right there and shake their heads—channeling? Really?

Sharon McErlane

Sharon McErlane

Well, yes, really. What impresses me about these two women, Sharon McErlane and Penny Gill, is their total ordinariness. Both were older women who had been successful in their lives—one a psychologist, the other a professor of political science and dean at Mount Holyoke College for forty years. Like me, they were caring, concerned individuals who were increasingly grief-stricken over the horrors being perpetrated on Gaia by humanity. Like me, they took solace in solitary communion with the natural world, and in writing. And then suddenly, out of the blue, they began to “hear voices,” and these voices turned out to be Teachers from the non-physical realm, from the Noospheric level of the Earthly community.

Penny Gill

Penny Gill

As I read the books that McErlane, Gill and their Teachers produced together, I am struck by the similarity of the messages coming through. McErlane’s Council of Grandmothers and Gill’s Manjushri acknowledge that Earth is in crisis; that we are living in an accelerated time of change and transition; and that the outcome for human beings and all other current life forms on the planet is uncertain. We may be swept away as a new cycle of geological time begins.

But there is also the potential for human beings to learn, through the pressures of the environmental crisis, to steward the Earth rather than destroy her. Sharon McErlane’s Grandmothers urge human beings to try to tap into “net of light” that they say encircles and protects the planet. Gill’s Manjushri also talks in terms of light, describing human consciousness, when it is tapped into the positive, life-enhancing energies of the Noosphere, as points of light challenging the darkness that currently engulfs much of our planet.

In What in the World is Going On? Wisdom Teachings for Our Time, Manjushri and Gill have provided a detailed description of what ails our planet and ourselves, and how to work with our own psychology and our spiritual potential to do the best we can to avert the crisis that looms ever closer. Manjushri sees our time as one of unprecedented possibility, when human beings may be able to make a quantum leap in the evolution of our conscious relationship to the Earth.

Heart Wisdom for our time.

Heart Wisdom for our time.

The key to this is our capacity for love and compassion, as so many sages from the Buddha to Jesus Christ have recognized; and Manjushri says that in order for us to access love, we must overcome our habitual posture of fear. I will quote at length here, but this is a book that cannot be summarized; I strongly urge you to buy a copy and read it slowly once…then start reading it even more slowly again.

Meanwhile, listen to a little of Manjushri now, as channeled by Penny Gill:

“Fear triggers a contraction of mind, heart and body. This is exactly the opposite of what is needed to respond appropriately to the new surges of energy entering the earthly realms. This is a moment when all beings, but especially humans, can open to higher frequencies of energy, which will allow for more complex forms of communication, a richer understanding of personal and species interdependence, and ultimately a great expansion of human consciousness and understanding. New levels of meaningfulness will be accessible.

“All the energetic bodies of a human being must be able to open more, and fear inhibits that. Responding more skillfully to fear is essential for opening the heart-center, and only the heart-center can guide humans to live in ways that will not result in humanity’s self-destruction. Identifying and dissolving fear is the essential work to save human life on the planet, to protect the precious life of the planet, and to continue the cosmos’s great quest for self-conscious Mind. That seems compelling to us. Our task is to guide, support and teach all who are able to take a responsible role in this essential work. It will inaugurate a new level of partnership between the largely invisible Teachers and the embodied students. We will also help you find each other, so you can create networks of people engaged in and committed to this work. It is revolutionary work, which you don’t recognize yet. It will change the fundamental structure of human relationships and alter the need for and functioning of many human institutions” (Gill, 2015, 87-88).

Remember that the Earth and the Cosmos are one and the same, and we humans are just another manifestation of that endlessly circulating energy.  Photo J. Browdy 2014

Remember that the Earth and the Cosmos are one and the same, and we humans are just another manifestation of that endlessly circulating energy. Photo J. Browdy 2014

On Earth Day 2015, I call on us Earthlings to recognize that there is more to our planet than meets the eye—a fact now confirmed by quantum science as well as by our spiritual adepts—and to commit to developing our innate human capacity to function as conscious embodied channels for the cosmic energy/spirit that animates us all. If we can live up to our potential, we may be able to truly, as Arguellas envisioned, make of our planet and ourselves an incredible work of art.

Here is some more encouragement from Manjushri/Gill:

“You see your world crashing in waves of biological, environmental, economic, political and cultural self-destruction. We see that what is emerging is a much more conscious, less dense, and less intense world community. There will be better balance between doing and being. Systems will be able to harmonize with each other. The profound interdependence of all beings and all systems will become the major realization of human consciousness, and this in turn will shape human activities, economic and social organization, and cultural and intellectual life. Whereas modernity is marked by a stunning and thorough exploration of the possibilities of the individual self, the next phase of this eons-long development will be a similarly stunning and thorough exploration of the interdependence of all beings and all systems” (Gill, 53).

This is also the vision that pervades the Fuji Declaration, which has just been released in a beautiful audio narration performed by my friends Amber Chand and Mark Kelso. It resonates with courage, compassion and clarity that we need now above all, on Earth Day and every day. Listen, enjoy and take heart.

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