With the rise of the Green Movement from a novelty to its present green-washed notion of Sustainability, there appears to be a parallel phenomenon happening at rapid pace. I am referring to an extraordinary growth in a field of human development - the heightened notion of Self, and the pathological inquiry of this metaphoric construct. Take a look at the Google Ngram of "mindfulness" below or "How Yoga Became a $27 Billlion Industry", and you get the idea. Set aside any judgment on the authenticity of yogic practice for a second, and focus on the nascent acceptance of self-awareness. And yes - just the idea of acceptance, not the development thereof.
With our lives converging with multiple cataclysmic forces - senseless war, unnatural "natural" disaster, grotesque greed - we basically hit a collective "oh-crap" moment when we realize there is simply nowhere to hide when crap hits the fan. If human disruption continues, it is only a matter of who dies first, how painful it is, and how you cross the finishing line. All this drive towards socially impactful investment, environmental activism, making a difference in others life - where does it come from? You may be doing this for yourself or your children. Others do it for their community, country or even the world. But let's be real, there is no such thing as a purely selfless act. Unless one reaches the almighty state of Samadhi, our actions are fundamentally based on the ego-centric idea of fear and self-preservation.
If we are not in fight or flight mode, we are most likely operating from another part of the reptilian brain. We do what we do because it makes us feel good. Even if an act compromises your well-being, there lies a belief and subtle feeling that "It feels right. It is the right thing to do". The desire to seek happiness is fundamentally self-ish. Saturated with ideas of following your bliss, defying the norm, this out-reaching self eventually hits a plateau. A plateau of such chronic stress that one is forced to look instead to the boundless realm of inner truth. Suddenly, the observer becomes the observed, a space for self-awareness starts to take shape.
Deconstruction of Ego
I find the growing scale of self-inquiry fascinating and hopeful, especially in this time of darkness. It is as if we did not realize we are blind because we were born blind. At some point we are so inconvenienced by the blindless that we became aware of its existence and start to learn how to see. More often than not, this blindness manifests as intense suffering. I find it to be true that
God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open. ― Hazrat Inayat Khan
One does not need to experience visible, dramatic traumas to break. From unfulfilled expectations, sense of betrayal, emotional attachments to people and things, we create our invisible hell, and live in it until we suffered so much that at one point we literally evict our mind. With self-awareness, there is the opportunity to expand the scale of self. And yes, it remains ego-centric, but in a more boundless way. At this point, it is not about you protecting yourself; it is about you being part of a bigger ecosystem which you are protecting.
We inhabit a physical instrument through which we experience this world, negotiate our identity, fight for self-preservation, our needs and wants, our varying boundaries of self-interests. We start to question if our-selves are so small and fragile that we need to build walls against others. We start to experience the futility of this suffering. My teacher once said, "the degree of one's suffering commensurate with the degree of compassion one can give. Try to see your suffering as a gift." Indeed, there is so much potential. But it takes courage and will to choose hope when one does not feel compassionate.
Only when it's dark enough can you see the stars. - Martin Luther King Jr.
Internet of Things & Systems Thinking
With the maturation of the Internet of Things (IoT), our species quite literally became an "Internet of Thing". The convergence of our communication systems with the environment has enabled us to suffer with the world real-time. Even though we are not able to grasp the full picture of our interconnected-ness, the level of complexity becomes more palpable than ever. Our collective anger, joy, sadness are broadcast live on social media, shared at an unprecedented speed and rawness.
For me, the dissolution of personal privacy, paranoia around surveillance and cyber-security, are expressions of our collective consciousness struggling with its deconstruction of internal boundaries. Think of IoT as a global brain, the world as a giant consciousness, and our ego-self as individual brain cells being impinged upon by the potential threat of annihilation.
Towards a Regenerative Future
Is there any upside to this bleak entangled mess of interconnection? I believe so. The ability to connect to our suffering collectively is a powerful driver for compassion. With philosophical frameworks and movements such as Deep Ecology, Regenerative Development, Permaculture guiding the design of our outer landscape, and the resurgence of non-dualistic spiritual teachings to develop our inner landscape, we are equipped to de-alienate ourselves from the rest of creation, widen our sense of identification, and act for the benefit of the whole. The question is whether or not we could shift our priorities fast enough before the odds are completely against our future. A future not defined as a time after us, but our lifetime in the next two decades.
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ― Albert Einstein