Something is happening to us. Trying to make sense of their awakening experiences, people troll the Internet and discover the idea of “ascension” – the doctrine that humanity is on the verge of a process of spiritualization, a transition to a higher, and less material, dimension. Implicit in the term is the concept of rising above. Rising above what, may we ask? When did rising above become something to aspire to?
The concept has deep roots indeed, as old as civilization (though less old than humanity). When mass agriculture allowed a differentiation of labor, with farmers at the base of a hierarchy and the king at the top, the idea grew that to be working in the dirt was to be lowly, inferior, lesser. Often, the king’s feet were not allowed to touch the ground. He, along with the priests, occupied another realm, removed as much as possible from materiality. Indeed, they were seen as emissaries of the heavens, where the gods were believed to reside.
All of this was original to agricultural civilizations. Hunter-gatherers found their gods everywhere, not just in the sky but in the waters, rocks, mountains, and trees. There was no aspiration to rise above nature, nor to conquer it. That ambition only arose with the domestication of plants and animals. Soon thereafter, the wild realm became something separate from the domestic realm, and natural forces became something threatening, something to be tamed for the good of humanity. The concepts of good and evil arose then too, modeled after a new, oppositional relationship to nature. While the hunter-gatherer understands that each species has a necessary gift to give for the good of the whole, to the farmer, it was the corn that was good and the weed bad; the sheep that was good and the wolf or the locusts bad.
And so was born the ambition to conquer and transcend nature. We conceived of a non-material soul or spirit separate from, and more sacred than, the material body. We elevated the mind over the body, the will over the desires, the conquest of biological drives over their fulfillment. We aspired to rise above our animality, to become creatures of (depending on whether one took a scientific or a religious view) pure reason, or pure spirit. The way to do that was to retreat from the world: to meditate in a cave or monastery, or retreat into a laboratory or study.
Why is rising above a good thing? Why does “superior” mean better and “inferior” mean worse? Why is lowly or base not a compliment? Why do we want to “raise our vibration”? Is a piccolo better than a bassoon?
The mythology of ascension taps into the same ambition as our other attempts to master, control, and transcend nature, whether they be through technological or psychological means. It is quite understandable, looking out at the world today, that one would want to leave the sordid life of materiality behind. That, however, might be more a comment on how we have treated the material world than on materiality itself.
Perhaps what we need is not the transcendence of materiality, but to embrace it more fully. Having made a ruin of Earth, are we then to leave it behind for some spiritual realm of the fifth dimension? That is an example of the very attitude that has enabled us to ruin it to begin with: matter doesn’t matter, it is not sacred. We have certainly treated the planet that way. Today we feel pulled to reconnect with nature, with community, with our emotions, with our physicality.
An evolutionary shift is nigh, but it is not a raising of our vibration into non-materiality. It is a reconnection with and resacralization of the material realm. Our “ascent” to supposed mastery of nature has run its course, generating a multitude of crises that are birthing a transition into a new age: an Age of Reunion. No longer seeing ourselves as separate, our relationship to nature is becoming one of cocreative partnership
Paradoxically, our reunion with nature, materiality, and the flesh might bring on the state of being we associate with ascension after all. For matter is much more than we have made of it; it is much more than a pile of inert, generic building blocks. Every bit of it is alive, sentient; it is spirit manifest, and every body is soul made flesh. All the qualities that we have relegated to a separate spiritual realm exist already, right here, in the world of matter. By returning fully to this world, here and now, we will find ourselves living, paradoxically, in a different world, relating to all beings in a different way, enjoying an unimagined sensitivity of perception. Ascension implies leaving the world behind for a more rarefied realm, but that realm is already here, if only we can lower our vibration.