For November Author of the Month at www.grahamhancock.com we would like to welcome author/researcher Daniel Pinchbeck. Daniel is the author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. He is the editorial director of Reality Sandwich and Evolver.net. This month the Forum offers a sampling of Daniel's written work for your consideration and discussion on the message boards. We look forward to a fascinating and enlightening back and forth.
While exploring shamanism and non-ordinary states, I discovered the power of intention. According to the artist Ian Lungold, who lectured brilliantly about the Mayan Calendar before his untimely death a few years ago, the Maya believe that your intention is as essential to your ability to navigate reality as your position in time and space. If you don't know your intention, or if you are operating with the wrong intentions, you are always lost, and can only get more dissolute.
This idea becomes exquisitely clear during psychedelic journeys, when your state of mind gets intensified and projected kaleidoscopically all around you. As our contemporary world becomes more and more psychedelic, we are receiving harsh lessons in the power of intention, on a vast scale. Over the last decades, the international financial elite manipulated the markets to create obscene rewards for themselves at the expense of poor and middle class people across the world. Using devious derivatives, cunning CDOS, and other trickery, they siphoned off ever-larger portions of the surplus value created by the producers of real goods and services, contriving a debt-based economy that had to fall apart. Their own greed – such a meager, dull intent – has now blown up in their faces, annihilating, in slow motion, the corrupt system built to serve them.
Opportunities such as this one don't come along very often, and should be seized once they appear. When the edifice of mainstream society suddenly collapses, as is happening now, it is a fantastic time for artists, visionaries, mad scientists, and seers to step forward and present a well-defined alternative. What is required, in my opinion, is not some moderate proposal or incremental change, but a complete shift in values and goals, making a polar reversal of our society's basic paradigm. If our consumer-based, materialism-driven model of society is dissolving, what can we offer in its place? Why not begin with the most elevated intentions? Why not offer the most imaginatively fabulous systemic redesign?
The fall of capitalism and the crisis of the biosphere could induce mass despair and misery, or they could impel the creative adaptation and conscious evolution of the human species. We could attain a new level of wisdom and build a compassionate global society, in which resources are shared equitably while we devote ourselves to protecting threatened species and repairing damaged ecosystems. Considering the lightning-like speed of global communication and new social technologies, this change could happen with extraordinary speed.
To a very great extent, the possibilities that we choose to realize in the future will be a result of our individual and collective intention. For instance, if we maintain a Puritanical belief that work is somehow good in and of itself, then we will keep striving to create a society of full employment, even if those jobs become "green collar." A more radical viewpoint perceives most labor as something that could become essentially voluntary in the future. The proper use of technology could allow us to transition to a post-scarcity leisure society, where the global populace spends their time growing food, building community, making art, making love, learning new skills, and deepening their self-development through spiritual disciplines such as yoga, tantra, shamanism, and meditation.
One common perspective is that the West and Islam are engaged in an intractable conflict of civilizations, where the hatred and terrorism can only get worse. Another viewpoint could envision the Judeo-Christian culture of the West finding common ground and reconciling with the esoteric core, the metaphysical purity, of the Islamic faith. It seems – to me anyway – that we could find solutions to all of the seemingly intractable problems of our time once we are ready to apply a different mindset to them. As Einstein and others have noted, we don't solve problems through the type of thinking that created them, but dissolve them, when we reach a different level of consciousness.
We became so mired in our all-too-human world that we lost touch with the other, elder forms of sentience all around us. Along with delegates to the UN, perhaps we could train cadres of diplomats to negotiate with the vegetal, fungal, and microbial entities that sustain life on earth? The mycologist Paul Stamets proposes we create a symbiosis with mushrooms to detoxify eco-systems and improve human health. The herbalist Morgan Brent believes psycho-active flora like ayahuasca and peyote are "teacher plants," sentient emissaries from super-intelligent nature, trying to help the human species find its niche in the greater community of life. When we pull back to study the hapless and shameful activity of our species across the earth, these ideas do not seem very farfetched.
In fact, the breakdown of our financial system has not altered the amount of tangible resources available on our planet. Rather than trying to rejigger an unjust debt-based system that artificially maintains inequitiy and scarcity, we could make a new start. We could develop a different intention for what we are supposed to be doing together on this swiftly tilting planet, and institute new social and economic infrastructures to support that intent.
From Ego to We Go
When I was in my twenties, literature was my ruling passion, and my heroes were writers like Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller. I longed to emulate the passionate intensity of their prose, and the "negative capability" which infused their characters with recognizable life. When I passed through the crucible of my own transformational process, I lost interest in novels and discovered a new pantheon of intellectual heroes. These days, I find the same level of electrical engagement that I used to find in novels in the works of thinkers whose central theme is the evolution and possible extension of human consciousness. This varied group is made up of mystics, physicists, philosophers, cosmologists and paleontologists – the roster includes Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Edward Edinger, Jean Gebser, Teilhard de Chardin, F David Peat, Sri Aurobindo and Gerald Heard.
For me personally, most contemporary fiction, like most current film, has an increasingly retrograde quality. In their efforts to make their audience identify with a particular drama or trauma or relationship saga, these products seem almost nostalgic. We live in a culture that continually seeks to entertain or at least distract us with an endless spew of personal narratives, whether paraded on lowbrow talk shows or parsed in literary novels. If you step outside of the cultural framing, you suddenly become aware of the mechanism that keeps us addicted to the spectacle – and, above all, hooked on ego. Our entire culture is dedicated to inciting and then placating the desires and fears of the individual ego – what the media critic Thomas De Zengotita calls "the flattered self."
Although they use different language to define it, the various theorists on the evolution of the psyche all agree that the crux of our current crisis requires that we transcend the ego. They suggest that the stage of material progress and scientific discovery we attained in recent centuries is not the end of human development, but the launching pad for another stage in our growth. However, this next stage differs from previous phases in one essential way – it requires a "mutation in consciousness" that can only be self-willed and self-directed. According to this paradigm, it is as if physical evolution has done billions of years of work on our behalf, to get us to this point. Right now, it is our choice whether we would like to go forward, or fall by the wayside like untold millions of other species, who over-adapted to one set of conditions, and could not recreate themselves as their environment changed.
In his influential book, Pain, Sex and Time, the British polymath Gerald Heard defined three stages in human evolution – physical, technical and psychical. "The first is unconscious – blind; the second is conscious, unreflective, aware of its need but not of itself, of how, not why; the third is interconscious, reflective, knowing not merely how to satisfy its needs but what they mean and the Whole means," wrote Heard, who believed we were on the cusp of switching from the technical to the psychical level of development. As we enter the psychic phase, we shift "from indirect to direct expansion of understanding, at this point man's own self-consciousness decides and can alone decide whether he will mutate, and the mutation is instantaneous." Originally published in 1939, Heard's book has just been reprinted in the US; it was James Dean's favorite work, and inspired Huston Smith to turn to religious studies.
Despite its antique provenance, Pain, Sex and Time remains "new news" for our time. Heard viewed the immense capacity of human beings to experience pain and suffering, and the extraordinary excess of our sexual drive compared to our actual reproductive needs, as signs of a tremendous surplus of evolutionary energy that can be repurposed for the extension and intensification of consciousness, if we so choose. "Modern man's incessant sexuality is not bestial: rather it is a psychic hemorrhage," Heard wrote. "He bleeds himself constantly because he fears mental apoplexy if he can find no way of releasing his huge store of nervous energy." Heard foresaw the necessity of a new form of self-discipline, a training in concentrating psychic energy to develop extra-sensory perception, as the proper way to channel the excess of nervous hypertension that would otherwise lead to our destruction. He thought that we would either evolve into a "supraindividual" condition, or the uncontrolled energies would force us back into "preindividuated" identifications, leading to nationalist wars and totalitarian fervors, and species burn-out.
A sign I saw at last year's Burning Man put it succinctly: "From Ego to We Go." As the climate changes and our environment deteriorates, we are being subjected to tremendous evolutionary pressures that could push us beyond individuation, into a deeply collaborative mindset and a new threshold of psychic awareness. Seventy years after Heard's manifesto, whether or not we want to evolve as a species remains an open question. But the choice is in our hands.
Enlightenment Reason or Occult Conspiracy?
What holds our world together is not only the laws of physics, but language, myth and story. Our narratives create the framework in which our actions and our intentions have meaning, or at least some kind of order. It is very hard for us to live without any coherence at all. It may even be impossible, as our minds immediately begin to weave together some type of fable to support whatever it is we find ourselves doing.
Lately, I find myself switching back and forth between divergent models or myths of reality and seeking to integrate them. One of them is the story of progress and reason, the inheritance of the secular and scientific Enlightenment. The progressive believes that a flawed society can be improved by rational policy and political pressure. The world can be made better for more people, inequities reduced and healthcare guaranteed. Although he has been strategic in his pronouncements, Barack Obama seems the model of a progressive reformer, promoting the type of sensible policies that led to the New Deal and the Great Society.
The other mythic structure that entices me is occult and conspiratorial. According to this story, there is a hidden agenda beneath the façade of chaotic events. This agenda is orchestrated by "them," that group of elite cabals and secret societies, an amalgam of Free Masons, Vatican priests, the descendents of the Nazi scientists brought to the U.S. after World War Two, and so on. To approach this concealed dimension of world affairs, to separate accurate insights from disinformation, is extremely difficult, and perhaps impossible. The quest involves long reading lists of small-press and self-published tomes and many hours on YouTube, watching lectures presented by anxious men in drab conferences. From such unreliable sources, one learns that much alien technology has already been recovered and reverse-engineered, that a New World Order of total social control is being orchestrated, that the Ark of the Covenant is a torsion field generator perhaps hidden in the Pentagon, that shapeshifting reptilians are controlling everything, and other tidbits.
Personally, I don't reject the possibility that there is an occult element in global affairs, a distorting factor that makes true understanding difficult to achieve. During my shamanic work, I encountered spiritual and demonic forces, appearing as visions and voices, but also causing effects that seemed to cross the barrier between the psychic and the physical. According to shamanic traditions, spirits operate across the entire field of our world. Rather than a fine-tuned conspiracy of elite cabals, the true story might be far more muddled, with various factions holding pieces of a puzzle, mired in outmoded rituals and incoherent beliefs, lacking shamanic skills. Many of those involved in these cabals may suffer from guilt and fear the consequences if their shadowy actions are revealed to the public.
Out on the esoteric edge of the cultural imagination, one finds an increasing convergence of thought-streams. The works of Steven Greer, David Wilcock and Richard Hoagland, as well as Nassim Haramein's DVD set, Crossing the Event Horizon (available at theresonanceproject.org) all suggest that, beyond a certain threshold, technological advances may be linked not just to technical knowledge but to our level of consciousness, requiring higher awareness as well as purified intentions in order to function. As Haramein theorizes, the Ark of the Covenant might have been an actual device preserved from antediluvian civilizations, capable of generating extraordinary amounts of energy – enough to open a passage through the Red Sea – but requiring an initiate on the level of Moses to operate it without causing mayhem. Many of these thinkers offer intriguing scenarios in which alchemical or extraterrestrial possibilities could manifest in tangible forms.
Can someone pursue Enlightenment ideals while simultaneously exploring occult conspiracies? If we avoid becoming obsessive or dismissive, it seems possible to hold contrasting myths or models of reality in our minds at the same time. We can study the Mayan Calendar, extraterrestrials and Gnostic cosmology while fighting for social and environmental justice, campaigning for political reform and so on. Whether or not our corrupt system can be changed, we could learn a great deal by joining any valiant effort made in that direction.
For Enlightenment thinkers, the sun symbolized the clear light of reason they adored. The clear light of reason may stream from the sun, but, as the French philosopher Georges Bataille noted, if you turn your gaze upward to look at its source, you find yourself blinded. Those who stare at the sun for too long may go insane. The source of reason in itself produces unreason, blindness and madness. Reason appears to have an innate contradiction at its center. Reason, by itself, may not be enough to get us out of our planetary plight. If spiritual forces operate within our world, then meaningful social change requires, along with political reform, initiatory processes and shamanic practices that could, perhaps, open our minds to new myths of reality.
Building a Scaffold for Social Change
For the most part, the mainstream media and federal government still treat the economic collapse as something that can be fixed, so that economic growth can resume in a few years. Some commentators are beginning to realize that our meltdown represents a deeper and more permanent paradigm shift. The physical environment can no longer withstand the assaults of our industrial culture. We are experiencing a termination of Capitalism as we have known it, a shutdown recently dubbed "The Great Disruption" by Thomas Friedman, in The New York Times. Until recently a leading cheerleader for Neoliberal globalization, Friedman has come to the late realization "that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall." The longer that the general population is allowed to remain in denial about what is happening, the more dire the probable consequences, such as widespread famine, civil unrest, and a disintegration of basic services.
The truth is that we need to make a deep and rapid change in our current social systems and in the underlying models and ideals of our society. It is highly unlikely that those who have been part of the power structure, whether within government or the mainstream media, possess the necessary will, vision, or inspiration to make this happen. Also, when we consider their self-serving support for a delusional model of infinite growth on a finite planet, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, our mainstream pundits and politicos have clearly forfeited any claim to authority, and should never be trusted again.
Many elements of an alternative paradigm, a participatory model in which power is restored to local communities, have been developed over the last decades. In previous columns, I have discussed the "Transition Town" model from the UK as a foundation to help communities move toward resilience and self-reliance. Extraordinary initiatives are presented annually at the Bioneers Conference, and their website maintains an archive of these projects, from bioremediation to complementary currencies, that could be rapidly scaled up if the collective will is mobilized. The nonprofit organization Pro Natura has developed an alfalfa leaf extract that can fulfill a person's annual nutritive needs for a negligible sum – and many other innovators and activists are holding crucial pieces of the new puzzle we need to assemble quickly.
What blocks real efforts at social transformation is the current level of human consciousness. The Italian political philosopher Antonio Negri has noted that the most important form of production in our post-industrial culture is the "production of subjectivity" – our media and education systems have mechanically imprinted a certain level of awareness onto the masses, a passive, consumer consciousness. People have not been encouraged to think or to act for themselves. Now, their very survival may depend upon learning these unfamiliar skills.
Since I comprehended the full depth of the crisis heading our way, I have been working with friends and collaborators to envision and enact solutions. We saw the need for an alternative social network and media that could integrate many aspects of the new paradigm while providing a scaffold for a large-scale process of social transformation. Facebook and MySpace have shown the extraordinary power of social networks to reach an enormous audience, but they have mainly provided a place for people to display and distract themselves in new ways. Most popular social networks are designed to support what media critic Thomas de Zengotita has called the "flattered self," constantly craving attention. The main purpose of these networks is to make a profit for large corporations.
We recently launched Evolver (www.evolver.net), an independent social network, built on open-source software, that is designed to support collaboration between individuals and groups, and to engage people in the process of transforming their own consciousness and their local communities. While we still use many of the standard social networking tools, we have shifted the focus to members' mission and projects. We have also created an internal rating system for members to vote on the initiatives presented by other members, so that the best ideas in every area will rise to the top and gain more attention. We are currently facilitating a network of local groups, across the US and eventually globally, that meet in person every month, and engage in immediate actions to change their world. These groups are called Evolver Spores – you can check Evolver.net to see if there is a Spore in your area, or start your own.
Years ago, Barbara Marx Hubbard wrote, "If the positive innovations connect exponentially before the massive breakdowns reinforce one another, the system can repattern itself to a higher order of consciousness and freedom without the predicted economic, environmental, or social collapse." We are quickly approaching the critical threshold where breakdown or breakthrough becomes inevitable. I don't know if Evolver will reach mass popularity as a tool to bring about this repatterning. Of course, I hope this is the case. In the guise of a for-profit company, we have sought to create something akin to a social utility. At a turbulent time when nobody knows what is going to happen next, it feels good, at least, to have launched something into the world that can help the process of transformation.