In Action: Synopsis
The Book, which was recently published by Lantern Books in New
York, has several themes running concurrently. The first is based
on a concept that I refer to as natural harmony: the mutually beneficial
reciprocity woven into the web of living systems that has allowed
life on Earth to endure and evolve over billions of years. Humans
are out of sync with natural harmony.
Our inventive ingenuity, based on scientific materialism, dominates
our collective worldview. It is primarily manifested as consumerism,
which has become the mind set of our current epoch and frequently
creates a sense of isolation and meaninglessness in our lives. Consequently,
we are willing to damage our environment so drastically that we
endanger its health and our very survival.
How we perceive the world, our attitude toward it, is shaping the physical
and biological character of our planet. Our worldview is literally
creating the Earth’s future. Our level of appreciation or
disdain for the Earth’s healthy functioning is determining
the extent of additional global warming, ozone holes and species
extinctions. Although we humans are just as natural as flowers and
other creatures, we are a rapidly evolving and unfinished experiment
of the living, dynamic Earth. If we become too burdensome and go
too far, it is quite capable of sloughing us off for the health
of the whole.
The second theme addresses the potential outcomes, from positive
to disastrous, of our human centered—anthropocentric—arrogance.
What is the prognosis? What means of salvation could potentially
direct us toward a healthy relationship with the Earth and bring
forth a vital future? To address these questions I contend that
the destruction we have perpetrated on the planet is catalyzing
the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. Damage we
are causing is the impetus driving evolutionary change and is itself
evidence of birth pains associated with the delivery of the next
generation of consciousness, which will replace the production-consumption
Our ancestors’ mental acuity was informed, over eons of time,
by relationships necessitated by the hunt, the subtle qualities
that distinguish medicinal from toxic plants, the intellectual focus
needed to develop agriculture and to learn to live together in cities,
the symbolic thought involved in written language and the inventions
of science. Our current evolutionary awakenings are coming from
new insights about our interrelationship with the Earth’s
dynamic systems. In each circumstance it is the pressure of our
human-nature relationship that catalyzes deepened awareness. We
are on the cusp of a new era, born of our excesses.
Our evolution into greater awareness
Our contemporary culture is a confluence of two rivers of energy.
One features the scientific-production-consumption worldview of
the past several hundred years. The other is an emergent stage of
consciousness in which the living planet, Gaia, is the center of
attention. Will we poison our children with nuclear waste and destabilize
life with irresponsible genetic manipulation? Or will we deepen
our understanding of the web of life and act on what we learn?
I propose that the planet’s health and our species’
future depend on a series of individual and society-wide awakenings
based on a more profound understanding of our interrelationship
with all life.
I use the term “liberation pathways” to describe the
many processes that can expand our awareness, heal our wounds, reduce
our fears and, thereby, ally us with natural harmony. Is there time
to complete this process? I don’t know, but that’s what
makes participation in the adventure even more compelling. The personal
transformation parts of the book are structured around a gestalt
that I call “the seven attributes of conscious activism”.
The seven attributes of conscious activism
My definition of conscious activism is engagement in the world
that expresses and reveals our most profound understanding of the
nature of reality. I was discussing these ideas with Ram Dass, a
spiritual teacher, and he offered his own definition: conscious
activism is helping to liberate the compassionate heart of every
These attributes encourage me to be more expanded in my philosophical
outlook, more open-hearted, appreciative, and grateful and, consequently,
more effective in my social change work. The following is a brief
description of each attribute:
Becoming truly nonviolent is a lifelong process that involves refining
the art of kindness, concern and tolerance, even in the midst of
passionate disagreement. It need not be the absence or suppression
of anger or other emotions. It is a behavioral choice we make again
Second: Not Knowing
The mindset I call “not knowing” enables us to put aside
our entrenched ideas and reactive behaviors. Intellect and intuition
become more balanced. It is a place of open mind and heart accompanied
by spontaneity and presence.
This is a means to self-discovery. As we come to understand our
motives, we gain freedom to choose not to succumb to our outmoded,
conditioned response patterns. Through self-inquiry we expand our
personal imagination, experience the transpersonal realm and develop
inner wisdom and resolve—the wellspring of a healthier society.
On a planetary level Eros is the cosmic attractor that acts as connector
of all things large and small. On a personal level it is the archetypal
energy of loving connection that is inherent in all beings and represents
loving-kindness through interrelationship and appreciation. Love
and beauty are more than ethereal qualities. They are essential
elements of natural harmony. We humans have been given the ability
to appreciate their integrity, and these sensibilities can help
us resolve the problems we have created. When we love something,
we want to help it thrive. Thus, Eros is engaged concern that results
from recognition and appreciation of interrelationship.
Fifth: No Enemy
I may disagree and be disgusted by someone’s actions. But
it is not helpful to detest the person, or to make an enemy out
of someone with whom I differ. Just putting aside fear and hatred
is revolutionary behavior that can change society.
Sixth: Vision, Free of Reaction
Activism without vision could more accurately be called re-activism.
Active opposition often adds more energy to the very things that
we oppose, whereas, providing new alternatives can attract others
away from the old system. Vision in the present is essential for
creating a healthier future.
Attachment to goals often leads to disappointment and burnout because
we are losing ground. But the other side of grief is joy and both
are part of a heightened sensibility and concern for others. When
I stay focused on the beauty in my life and grounded in gratitude,
I am more joyful and thus more effective in my efforts to create
Underlying well-being and hope
The underlying well-being comes from the recognition that to live
in appreciation of the interrelationship discussed here is the most
fulfilling way to be alive. I and all the people profiled have discovered
this in our own life experiences. This is a type of “waking
up” that provides centering and an alternative to the everyday
drama and consternation, promoted by the production-consumption
ethic of our society, that most of us deal with our entire lives.
The 13th century Zen philosopher, Dogen, said, “Enlightenment
is intimacy with all things”, meaning that the more we are
able to deeply connect the more profound our experience of life.
This is a common thread in the comments of the people whose life
examples I use in describing the seven attributes. Their stories
ground the philosophy in very personal ways and provide guidance
to the reader.
“Hopeful” is a good word, but I’m not optimistic.
We’re in a real mess, which has become the challenge of our
human epoch. Our fore-parents had different challenges to face.
Ours requires human consciousness to make a rapid shift unlike any
that has come before. Can we pull it off in time? I don’t
know, but it seems to me that participating in the adventure to
do so is the most exciting way to spend one’s “hour
upon the stage”. All the pieces are in place, the wisdom is
at hand, to turn the wheel of human destiny away from consumption
and toward appreciation for all life. It just requires enough of
us to recognize that living in intimacy is mutually beneficial for
everything—and in the process we’ll discover that spending
one’s life this way is about as much fun as one can have.