Hello beautiful British people. It’s good to be here again. The organizers mentioned to me that they probably have never had a talk here with the word “bewilderment” in the title. And I can understand why, because bewilderment is not supposed to be a very good thing in our culture. You’re supposed to know what to do, you’re supposed to have a plan, you’re supposed to understand things. This thought came to me recently as I was reading about some interview with Donald Trump or something like that. And the candidates never say, “I just don’t know the answer to that.” They never say, “I have no idea what to do about that.” That’s not OK. I suppose that when we’re choosing our leaders, ordinarily we would think that we want someone who has a plan and knows what to do about it. Unless our society has reached a place where the usual plans and the usual answers and perhaps even the whole normal approach to problem solving isn’t working. And if as a society we truly don’t know what to do, then a leader who thinks he knows what to do but actually just wants to reenact something from the past isn’t going to be very helpful, and maybe we actually do need somebody who says I don’t know what to do, everything we’ve tried hasn’t worked, and I don’t know what to do and I’m ready to learn. Because I think that our culture really is reaching that place.
Originally when I wrote the title for this talk and the description, the Brexit vote had just happened and I sensed from reading the news that Britain was stunned, and had this moment of bewilderment when the expected trajectory of politics had been abruptly terminated and we’re standing at the brink of the unknown. What’s going to happen now? We don’t know. And very quickly everyone sought to make sense of it and frame it in familiar terms. So those familiar terms, from what I could see, had to do with bigotry and xenophobia, racism, and that was the explanation. A portion of the population has suddenly gone crazy or regressed to some primitive mindset, some kind of uncultivated, uncultured racism that we were supposed to have gotten over a long time ago and this was kind of a throwback to a less enlightened time, and so forth. But I found that framing to be kind of a convenient diversion from that moment of almost panic in the face of the unknown. Because you could ask, where is racism coming from? Why did 51% of the population suddenly become so virulently racist?
The conventional way of problem solving in our civilization depends on finding, usually, a single linear cause for something, and then trying to go to war against that cause. And the cause that’s identified is typically something that is most amenable to the kind of solutions that we already use. I hope that’s not too abstract, but let me give you some concrete examples. Let’s suppose the problem is a recurring ear infection. Well, what’s the cause? The cause is bacteria. What’s the solution? Kill the bacteria. Suppose the problem is terrorism. What’s the cause? Terrorists. What’s the solution? Kill the terrorists. Problem: crime, cause: criminals, solution: kill the criminals. Problem: falling crop yields, reason: weeds, solution, kill the weeds. You can make it personal, too. Problem: my life is falling apart, reason: drinking too much alcohol, solution: stop drinking alcohol. All of these things, I think, are identifying as the cause something that’s actually a symptom of something that’s deeper.
I recently heard Vandana Shiva speaking. She gave a talk in which she mentioned the crisis in Syria and the immigration. When people take it one level deeper – why is immigration happening? – they will often cite the sectarian violence happening in the Middle East that has created conflicts there. But Vandana pointed out that the conflict in Syria arose when neoliberal economic policies and free trade policies were accepted by that country that forced a million people off the land and created food insecurity. So all of a sudden, Christians, Shia, Sunni, Kurds, all of these different ethnic and religious groups that have lived in relative peace for centuries and centuries, all of a sudden started to blame each other, to fight with each other and to generate the conditions that were partially responsible for the conflict going on there. So when we take it down to that level, the solution becomes no longer so obvious. And the ways that we attempt to impose a solution become useless. If the problem are these bad guys……and most of the movies we watch suggest that the problem is a bad guy, an inexplicably evil person or group that is doing bad things, and if you could only stop them, if you could only kill them, which usually is the solution in movies, then things would be fine. Even children’s movies are usually like that, like the Lion King, for example. The problem is a bad lion, and the solution is the utter humiliation and probably…..I don’t know if he ends up getting killed, I’ve not watched it, but most of popular culture feeds into this mentality. And we know what to do. We know what to do, so we’re comfortable with situations that have a bad guy, or a bad germ, or a bad weed, or a bad insect, or a bad part of ourselves. It is convenient, for example, in environmentalist discourse, to blame those evil executives at Monsanto.
I just had a funny interchange with a leading environmentalist and he described having been in an actual seminar with all of the top management at Monsanto. And dang it, if these weren’t the nicest people he’d ever met! Friendly, warm, and truly, sincerely believing that they were doing such good in the world, helping the world feed its hungry people. They believed. That story that these are just bad people was untenable. And when our solutioneering is geared toward destroying evil, finding something to fight against, and the situation doesn’t offer us an easy target, then we don’t know what to do. And that state of bewilderment is good. Because the alternative is to manufacture a target and go to war against them, to project evil onto somebody, say a Monsanto executive, who is in fact doing exactly what you would do if you were a Monsanto executive and if you had the entire history, the entire acculturation of that Monsanto executive. You would do the same thing! So if you get rid of those executives, guess what’s going to happen? You win that fight, which isn’t likely, but you could, maybe, win the fight against the bad people. Then new bad people are going to come occupy those positions. Then it becomes a matter of changing the ground, of altering the contexts that encourage people to do the sort of things that are destroying the planet. And guess what? We don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to do that. Because the context, the matrix of causes that is pushing humanity over the cliff includes everything. And it goes down level after level after level.
You could say, for example, that the behavior of Monsanto executives has to do with the nature of corporations, which are legally required to maximize shareholder interests. But it goes deeper than that, because it’s not just the corporate charter and the legal system that says that, it’s also the economic system. If you are managing your company in a way that doesn’t bring maximum financial return, then you are a ripe target for takeover. Because the merger and acquisitions specialist or the corporate raider say, you know, your company could be generating more income if you only cut down those forests that you own, and if only you bought some industrial trawlers to scrape the ocean of fish, and if you did this, that and the other thing, you could be better. So your company is undervalued, because it’s only reflecting the value of your current operations, which could be a bit more rapacious. So you could say that it’s the whole structure of the economy. And then it comes down to, where does this pressure to maximize return come from? You could trace it back to the psychology of investment, to pension funds, to the way money is created as interest-bearing debt. So maybe the money system is the problem. How do you go to war against that? And even that has a deeper level.
I don’t want to repeat the talk I may have given a few years ago, I don’t remember what it was, the Sacred Economics talk, but the key insight of that book is that the money system is built on a deeper mythology, the mythology of separation that holds us as separate individuals in a world of other, as these bubbles of psychology bouncing around, locked in a prison of flesh, separate from each other, separate from other beings and nature, separate from the world, interacting with it but existentially separate. Humanity, then, also separate from nature. And holding that full beingness exists in humans alone. Maybe to some extent in animals, maybe they’re sort of conscious; plants maybe a rudimentary amount, but not rocks, not oceans or the river or the sun or the moon or the wind. These are just mechanical forces. When you’re in that story, then the treatment of nature as just a bunch of stuff makes sense. The treatment of nature as if it were not sacred being makes sense, if you’re in that story. And so the economic system, the system of technology, money, all of that is aligned with that story. So maybe if you want to find an enemy to fight, that’s the enemy. But how do you fight that? It’s not as easy as killing something or imprisoning something, or building a surveillance system or a wall or a security system to keep it out. Then of course you realize that this story or mythology inhabits ourselves as well. The external structures mirror internal structures.
And we live from that story every day. So what do you do then, who’s the enemy then? And that’s why I think that this moment of bewilderment is a good thing, and a necessary thing, so that we don’t reflexively enact solutions that are based on a delusion. So to take environmentalism again, if the problem really were those bad people in positions of power, then the solution is easy, we know what to do. But if that isn’t the problem, and we pretend that it is, we will never change anything. We have to be in reality if we’re going to change anything. And that stepping into reality – and maybe you’ve had this moment yourselves, maybe not in the political realm, it could even be in the personal realm. When you have this moment of realization that you are in a delusion, and that everything you were doing was part of perpetuating the problem, then there is that moment of I don’t know what to do, there’s that moment of bewilderment. And I call that the fertile ground of bewilderment. Because that unknowing is an empty space that allows new responses to emerge.
That stunned moment after Brexit, I think, is the harbinger of a lot more to come as the futility of our normal responses to crisis becomes apparent. America, I believe, is heading toward a much bigger moment of bewilderment. We should already be there. Just the fact that we have a candidate like Donald Trump……and by the way, Hillary Clinton is not much better. The fact that we have these two candidates already shows that our system is completely dysfunctional. But we still can cling to this veneer of normalcy – at least you still have a choice, you still go to the polls, you still vote, the system is still kind of working. But it’s so fragile, because no one really believes in it any more.
And I personally think that Donald Trump is going to get elected. I can’t think of a very plausible scenario for that to happen. My rational brain says that’s not very likely, but I think he’s going to get elected for reasons of dramatic aesthetics. In other words, if you were writing the screenplay of American history that starts with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and these truly intellectual giants and remarkable people……it starts there and what could be more perfect than ending up with Donald Trump? It’s almost a dramatic necessity for it to happen. And when that happens, really, chaos is going to break loose. There’s going to be massive civil unrest, he’ll be completely ineffective, and the system will fall apart. And who knows what’s going to happen? If Hillary’s elected, she’ll be a much more effective administrator of American empire, neoliberal economics; a more effective servant of Wall Street, of drilling and fracking, and so on and so forth. We might muddle on for a few more years before that happens, but the disintegration of normal could happen any time because it’s so fragile right now. This stuff with Deutsche Bank, for example. At any moment there could be a cascade of financial repercussions. The whole system is hanging by a thread. And it’s impossible, really, to predict when that thread is going to break, but it will break. And it’s not easy to fix it because we don’t have real faith in the system anymore. The core is hollowed out, leaving a very, very fragile shell. The core of real belief and trust in our system has been hollowed out. So when it breaks there’s not going to be a lot of commitment to fixing it and making things back the way that they were. Because no one really wants them the way that they were. No one believes it anymore really, almost no one. Even the elites don’t believe it. They don’t believe their own rhetoric, their own public pronouncements. Someone was telling me…….who’s the guy, Zac Goldsmith, who lost the election for mayor? He was describing the kind of character assassination and so forth, taking things that he said (that may have been repellent) out of context to make them more repellent, this kind of hardball politics, vicious slanders against him. Then he loses, and this guy’s walking with Zac, and the very people who engineered these vicious attacks against him are like “Hey, Zac!”, genuinely happy to see him, because they never believed the things that they were saying. The political culture is completely insincere, and I’m just saying that to point out the fragility of the system.
We need to become comfortable with not knowing. Because when we think we know, and we actually don’t know, we’re going to do the wrong thing. I’m writing a book now on climate, although I hesitate to say it’s about climate, because then everybody thinks they know what I’m writing about and what I’m going to say, which is things are really bad, and we have to cut carbon as soon as possible and as much as possible and then maybe we’ll have a chance, but if you do the numbers and add in the methane and the feedback loops and stuff it’s probably hopeless but we still have this chance so we have to put all of our energy, do or die, right now. Anything that doesn’t contribute to that, then, is kind of a waste of time. I had a conversation with a very influential environmental fundraiser on this, and he said Charles, you’re just going to have to decide if you’re going to be relevant or not. Relevant means joining my all-out campaign to implement a carbon tax. Irrelevant means you do anything else. Because anything else, we’re going to die. If we don’t stop this right now, we’re going to die. If you’re trying to save the whales, if you’re trying to free dolphins from captivity, if you’re trying to restore wetlands somewhere, if you’re trying to free wrongfully convicted men from death row, if you’re trying to house the homeless, any of these causes that probably many people in this room are involved in: irrelevant. Wasting your time. But what I’m learning is that the same reflexive pattern of identifying the most proximate cause and going to war against that is happening in the climate change arena as well. So on one level you could say……I’m not denying that carbon has a greenhouse effect and that it is part of the imbalance that is a planetary disease, really. I’m not denying that, I’m not questioning the science, which is very well established. Although the fact that big science endorses that view, the fact that there is scientific consensus around it, is actually not a plus but a minus in my book, because there’s so many things about which there is scientific consensus that I disagree with. But this is something that, even though there is scientific consensus about, I still do kind of agree with it. But what are greenhouse gases a symptom of? What’s carbon dioxide a symptom of? So the direct response is, problem: climate change, cause: carbon dioxide, solution: stop creating carbon dioxide. Seems pretty simple. But a lot of the things that we’re doing to lower carbon dioxide or lower greenhouse gas levels are actually making things worse. And it’s happening again and again and again. For example, and my friend Deepak will back me up on this, there’s biofuels. So the idea is, if you burn trees, wood, or other biomass instead of fossil fuels, then you’re not going to add carbon to the atmosphere because new ones will grow and reabsorb the carbon that was freed by burning the old ones. Makes sense, right? What aren’t you measuring, though, in that scenario? You’re not measuring the ability of trees and other biomass to sequester carbon underground. When they die and the roots don’t fully decay, it builds the soil. Building the soil means more and more carbon is being sequestered underground. That doesn’t enter, or hasn’t until recently entered the calculations. And it’s very hard to calculate carbon sequestration. I’ve been looking at the research; the numbers different scientists give are wildly divergent, and vary from region to region, from ecosystem to ecosystem, even from microclimate to microclimate. It’s really hard to measure that kind of thing. Another example is big hydro projects that seem to provide a zero-carbon source of energy. But what happens when you actually implement, say, a big hydro dam in India or China? Well, for one thing, you submerge a lot of vegetation which then releases methane, which is twenty or thirty times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But you’re also driving subsistence farmers off the land, who then move into concrete apartment blocks that are built for them to compensate them for the loss of their lands that they’ve been living on for thirty generations or more. And then they join the industrial economy and increase demand for electricity, which ends up getting met by coal-fired power plants. And so when you actually calculate everything, the problem is getting worse.
So what if…..I feel like now almost I’m trying to lay out the entire thesis for my book, and I’m going down a little cul-de-sac here. When we shift our view of earth from a mechanistic understanding that says you make decisions based on quantifiable levels of various inputs that then have a predictable effect that we can model, when you change from that to seeing the planet as a living being, and seeing every species, every biome, every ecosystem as one of its organs, then you understand, without having to make exhaustive measurements, you understand that the health of any being or system on the planet is essential to the health of the whole thing. We made the same mistake with the human body. Before we understood that well how the human body works, we thought that things like tonsils and appendixes were unnecessary, and so they were routinely removed, in an effort to improve the body. But then as we understand the intelligence that’s embodied in human or any living being, we realize that actually these things have an important effect. Ecologists are now learning that, and really coming to terms with the interconnectedness of all things, so that it’s no surprise now, when we see the earth in that way, as a living system, as a highly interconnected, interdependent living system……and I would say a living being. Calling it a living “system” is a way to say I’m not one of those woo-woo people who actually think the planet is alive. I’ll say that it’s a homeostatic system or something like that, but when we actually see earth and everything on it as a living being, then our default attitude toward say, the boreal forests or sea grass – that’s a big one that’s been coming up in my research again and again, sea grass – our default attitude is, I wonder what the importance of this is? I wonder how this is part of Gaian physiology? Whereas today our default attitude is wow, here’s a resource, or here’s an obstacle to building our new port facility or something like that. And so when we approach it with this curiosity – how is this an integral part of Gaian physiology? – then answers start coming. And so in the case of sea grass, and kelp too, even in the CO2 frame, it becomes clear that wow, this is sequestering enormous amounts of carbon and alkalizing the ocean, and it’s been decimated through development and pollution.
So all of a sudden these issues that seemed irrelevant to my friend the mainstream environmental activist, these issues that seemed irrelevant start to take on relevance when you understand that all things are interconnected, not just ecologically but socially as well. Even say, the whales. “Save the whales.” What does that have to do with anything? Well, it turns out whales have this really key function in the circulation of nutrients in the ocean, and that when the whales were decimated around Antarctica, you’d think that the krill that they eat would proliferate. But no, the amount of krill plummets also, because the whales are no longer going to the depths to bring up nutrients. And then they pee and poop on the surface and they feed the plankton that the krill eat. This whole interconnected web gets truncated. And we can extend it to the social realm. What is it that makes us as human beings in this society so desperate to be seen? What makes us hurt so much that we are deaf and numb to the suffering of other beings, and to their livingness, to their consciousness, to their beingness? What are the social implications of that? So we can see that all of these different dimensions of healing are necessary if we’re going to address the problem on a deep level.
So I would say that on the one hand, yeah, this bewilderment, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to do because the logic that we operate in brings us face to face with the futility of being able to deal with the problem on the level it’s presented to us. But on the other hand, we do know what to do. And often what we need to do are precisely those things that seem irrelevant. The heart says yes to them, but the mind says how could that possibly help? How could it possibly help to spend ten years trying to free one orca from captivity? How could it possibly help to spend ten years taking care of one old woman with Alzheimer’s? The things that draw us, our world story does not have a place for them, so they seem impractical, they seem unrealistic or naïve. But when we understand the deep root of the crisis, which is the totality of the story of separation that surrounds us, then we see that yeah, these are actually essential, because they change the foundation of the world-destroying machine.
I recently was speaking to a group and one old man, beautiful old guy, old hippie, said, back in the day in the sixties, it was the age of we’re going to change the system, we’re going to stop the war in Vietnam, we’re going to change the system. Then after that it was the age of don’t try to change the system, we’re going to go back to the land and we’re going to build an alternative system. Then after that it was the age of a big crisis is coming, we have to build resiliency and make this transition. And now, he says, now is the age of kiss your ass good bye. He’s been reading a lot of Guy McPherson and the climate catastrophists, which is very compelling on its own terms. If we really understand how the planet works, then those arguments are almost irrefutable. But I don’t think we understand how this planet works. Anyway, so he said yeah, it’s the age of kiss your ass good bye. So I decided to stop the kind of activism that I was doing and just devote myself to what’s beautiful to me. And I said to him, paradoxically, that is what’s going to save the planet. Because those things are not on the menu of conventional responses that are built on a conventional logic and a conventional theory of change that’s itself actually part of the problem.
Sometimes people wonder why I have so much silence in my speeches. And it’s kind of the same thing. In moments I don’t know what to say, just like in moments we don’t know what to do. And in those moments, do we just kind of habitually reenact the things we know how to do, even if they’re not appropriate to that moment? Or am I just going to blabber on, saying things I already know how to say, even if they’re not quite appropriate to that moment? I feel like that would be insulting to the listener.
So this story of separation that I spoke of is falling apart. The structures built upon it are falling apart. And the story itself is unraveling as well. It’s no longer such an attractive proposition that we’re these separate individuals in a world of other, and no longer does it seem true that we are separate from nature, that we are maybe conditionally dependent on nature but we’re rising above that through technology. That was the old story. Fifty, a hundred years ago, no one in this room would have doubted that our destiny was artificial food, robot servants, space colonies and the transcendence of nature. That was considered (??? 41:40). Today no one – well, maybe there are some who still believe it. The singularity folks, nanotechnology is going to change everything, we’re going to have immortality, etc. etc. There are still people who cling to that. But generally speaking, we’ve become disenchanted with that mythology, simply because it’s not working. So that breakdown is also creating an empty space into which a new story can come. I call it a new and ancient story, because it’s the story that most human beings have held up until very recently. I call it, using Thich Nhat Hanh’s word, the story of interbeing, which says you are not a separate individual, you are the totality of all your relationships. You are a holographic reflection of the entire planet or the entire cosmos. Therefore anything that happens in the world is happening to you; therefore anything that you do has an effect on everything else; therefore nothing you do is irrelevant. We’re in a church here, so I should maybe give the Christian translation of that understanding, which is God sees everything. No action is invisible, no action fails to have an effect. In fact, even when it seems that it has no effect, your dedication to something beautiful to you, to changing the world, to feeding the hungry, to challenging a development project, all of these things that sometimes, maybe usually, are unsuccessful, they are nonetheless having an effect on the world.
I’ll share with you a story from Mark Dubois, he’s an environmental activist in the States. They were trying to save a river from being dammed up. This was a couple of decades ago, in California. They tried everything: legal challenges, petition drives, direct action, occupying the site, everything that they could, getting arrested. And they lost, and the dam was built, and this gorgeous pristine valley was flooded and they lost. And they were so devastated that after that they could not even bear to meet up, because of the painful memory of that failure. However, coincidentally or not, that marked the end of the dam building era in North America. It was as if their total dedication were a kind of prayer, where that which listens, and that which is watching us all the time says, are you serious about this? Are you serious about healing the planet? Really? Show me. Therefore our failures are a kind of a prayer. Not to say that we shouldn’t do everything we can to succeed in our efforts. But even our failures shift the universe in alignment with the intention that we took into it. Often those failures come with a teaching, where we realize, perhaps, that we failed because we were not seeing clearly the situation, or we were not seeing clearly something in ourselves. Perhaps we were creating conflict where there need be no conflict. Sometimes there need be conflict; sometimes there is a time for a fight, a legal fight or some other kind of fight. But as I was describing before, the habit of fighting is so ubiquitous that we apply it even when it’s not time for a fight, creating enemies unnecessarily. So for example, to go back to the Monsanto executives, if we install them in the role of evil person and relate to them as such, they will in our experience have almost no choice but to enact that way. We are going to seem to them like shrill, anger-motivated extremists. Because they themselves know that they are good people. Here’s someone calling me all sorts of names, saying I’m greedy and evil, delusional, immoral, etc. etc. I’m not going to listen to that person, because it’s obviously not true, because you know, I walk my neighbor’s dog when he’s out of town, and I’m a good father, and when my mother was sick I took off work for three weeks and I was by her bedside, and now you’re making me into a monster. No conversation is possible, and I’m going to treat you like an attacker. So that’s just kind of one example of how the story that we hold actually creates the reality that matches the story. Then to take it to the internal level, what psychology or what personal history motivates us to see the world in those terms? So that’s why one of the things that isn’t irrelevant is the inner world, to become more clear in our understanding of ourselves as we also become more clear in our understanding of the world, so that we can operate in reality and not in delusion.
Obviously I could say a lot more, but I think I’ll finish with a story, and then I’ll open it up to questions. So, once upon a time there was a man who was lost in a deep underground maze that goes for miles and miles of corridors and stairways and up and down and spirals and circles. He had gone into that maze with some good reason. Maybe it was to find a treasure, or slay a monster. But whatever that reason was, he’s forgotten it by now and he knows that he’s supposed to get out. He must get out, because the maze is getting hotter and hotter and more and more suffocating, and he knows that if he doesn’t get out soon he’s going to die in there. So he’s frantically racing around and not getting anywhere, because he keeps hitting dead ends and turns back and goes another way and then finds himself back at his starting point in the center of the maze and then he runs again and tries another plan, another strategy and the same thing happens, back in the center again and again and again and he’s getting tired. And a voice says to him, you’re totally confused, you’re totally lost, you’re not getting anywhere, you’d better just stop. Just give it up for a minute. And the other voices in his head say no, you cannot give it up even for a minute, because that’s one minute less to get out and you’re going to die in here, and you better run faster, and here’s a new plan. So, OK, he runs even faster, and guess what, again he ends up back in the center of the maze. And this time he’s so exhausted, he’s at the end of his resources and he has no choice but to collapse right back where he started, after all this effort he has gotten nowhere. And he’s despondent. And there he is, time ticks by and this turmoil of thoughts quiets down and he begins to reflect on his racing around. And he realizes a few things. He realizes that there is actually a structure and a logic to this maze that he was running too fast to really notice. He realizes that his own responses had a structure and a pattern too. Perhaps every time after he hit a dead end and turned right, then the next time he would turn left (there’s a political metaphor for you). He realizes also that there were small dark passageways and secret doors that he had been in too much of a hurry to really notice or to really explore. And as his breath quiets down and his heartbeat quiets down, he realizes one more thing: that there is a sound that has always been there, but he was too loud to really hear it. But it’s always been there, and it’s a kind of musical, beautiful musical sound that has almost no source, it’s coming from everywhere and it’s very quiet, but it’s there. And now he’s rested a little bit, and he begins now to walk, guided by his understanding of the logic of the part of the maze that has trapped him. He begins to walk, no longer repeating the same dead ends, now taking those dark passageways and those secret doors, taking the time to go down those. And he walks slowly, because he knows if he runs too fast he’s going to fall back into his old habits. And now he’s reaching new territory, where his understanding of the logic of the maze no longer serves him, and so he faces again moments of unknown. He reaches an intersection: do I go left or do I go right? Do I go up or do I go down? What do I do, how do I make that decision? So what he does, is he listens again for that sound and he takes the passageway from which the sound comes the most clearly. That’s the way I will go. Even though that seems to be turning backwards. Then eventually, yes, I’m glad I took this way, I’m glad I listened to that sound, even though it seemed nonsensical. Then eventually he reaches a final passageway where there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and he emerges into the sunlight, into this world that he vaguely remembered must exist, and he finds the source of the sound, which is his lover, who has been singing to him all this time.
At that virtual moment of bewilderment, that’s all we have to guide us. I don’t know what the song is for you, but I think we can all hear it. We have a memory of a past and future time where we’re not stuck in this maze, this suffocating maze. So I would like to encourage you to trust that feeling. These ordeals such as humanity is going through right now are not set up to be impossible. They’re only set up to seem impossible at certain moments, just like native coming of age ordeals, or many life ordeals that (??? 55:35) There’s a moment where it seems hopeless. There’s that moment of darkness and despair, where it seems like it’s never going to change and I don’t know how to change it and I don’t know what to do and I can’t get out of this. It’s like the world is closing in on you, and you just give up. And it’s not a prescription for surrender and letting go; that leads to fake surrender. It’s: I just don’t know what to do. Help me. And that is the collapse of the story and the entry into the space between stories where the new things can happen, and where we are privy to a matrix of cause and effect beyond what we knew that proves to us that the old force-based causality – because in the old story change happens by exerting force – physical force, financial force, military force, pharmaceutical force. But in this state we realize that that account of how to change the world is woefully inefficient, and sometimes we experience being held by a larger causality, a larger intelligence. Synchronicities happen, and things that we do bear fruit in unexpected ways, we receive help from unexpected sources, and we no longer feel separate from the universe outside of ourselves.
So that’s our little preview of what’s coming, not only for many of us individually but for our society. I’m ready for questions and comments.
Audience member: Just thinking about what responses we can make to the terrible happenings in Syria. It’s probably easy for us all to pray for or to send love to refugees and people in Aleppo. I’m just wondering if actually we should be sending them to the war leaders and Assad and defense ministers and arms dealers. Might that be more useful, or both?
Charles: A friend of mine once had an audience with the Dalai Lama. In fact he was invited to the Dalai Lama’s house for lunch with the group that he had been leading on a trip in India. And one of the women asked the Dalai Lama, is it a good idea to pray for peace? Is that what we should be doing? And the Dalai Lama said praying for peace is wonderful, but if that’s all you do, you’re wasting your time. You have to actually live the prayer, too. This isn’t really what you were asking, but I’ll get to it. I see prayers for peace, sending love to somebody for example, I see that as a way to prepare yourself and offer yourself for action. So be careful if you do that, because then whoever’s listening to that prayer (footnote: I want to return to this “whoever” part; it’s important) is going to say great! You’re willing to do something about this. I will give you an opportunity. And an opportunity will arise to act on that love that you’re sending. And you may not actually run into a defense minister on the street, but if you’re sending love to the defense ministers or the warlords or the people in the drone control rooms, because yes, they need that just as much as the victims do – if you’re doing that, then you will have some kind of opportunity to confront the proxy for them in your own life. You will have the opportunity to confront somebody you had judged as a perpetrator, and you’ll have an opportunity to actually enact that love you’d been sending. So these prayers – part of the old story is dualism, that has this material realm and a spiritual realm, and what happens in the spiritual realm, that’s spiritual, and what happens in the material realm, that’s practical. But other cultures that were prior to the mythology of separation that we live in understood that words have potency, and prayers especially have potency because there’s always something listening. And that which is listening – in a materialist world, who could be listening? It could be another human being, and that’s it. Because animals don’t understand language, plants don’t really have consciousness in the old story, the sun doesn’t have ears, neither does the moon. So in the materialist story the only option besides human listening is this extra-material being called God. But in a new story, or an ancient story that doesn’t arrogate qualities of self to human beings alone, that doesn’t say human beings are the only full and complete selves, but that grants subjectivity, intelligence, awareness, consciousness, desire, etc. etc. to other beings in full measure. Not to say that their intelligence is the same as our intelligence, but they are not lower on the ladder of being. Animals are not lower on the ladder of being and subjectivity, they’re not more dull as experiencers, and neither are plants. There’s amazing research coming up on soil intelligence, plant intelligence, plant communication, mycorrhizal intelligence and so forth. And neither is water, even, a lesser degree of being. Nothing is. We’re surrounded by beings who are listening all the time, and who are transmitting our intentions out into the universe. Then it’s no longer irrational and no longer conditional on a supernatural being for us to believe that our words have potency, because something is always watching us. And this was known even in England not that long ago. David Whyte was telling me – he wasn’t telling me, I heard David Whyte the poet speaking and he was describing his visit to a very traditional fisherman in the Hebrides or something, someone who really clung to the old ways. And this man, every morning getting out of bed, there was a song for that. Opening the blinds to let the sun in, there was a prayer for that. Cutting the first piece of bread of the day, there was a prayer for that. Every time you exit the door, there’s a little song for that. For getting into the boat, for casting the net, for every little…..because you’re surrounded by sentient beings. That is one of the deep forms of revolution that we need to go into in order to survive on this planet. Because when we treat the earth as a pile of stuff, of instruments of our own utility, then we’re only going to value it insofar as it’s valuable to us. And that is not enough, because our understanding of how it’s valuable to us is deficient. Because we don’t understand how this planet works. It’s like this. I’m sorry I’m taking all the time for one question. But imagine if I said, hey guys, I’ve got a three year old son, and you know, it’s such a pain to take care of him, and it’s expensive, and why should I do it? Why should I even do that? And you say, well Charles, if you don’t do it, if you don’t at least feed him, you’re going to get arrested for child neglect and go to jail. And if you don’t take good care of him then he’s not going to love you and he’s not going to take care of you in your old age. And I say yeah, you’re right, I better take care of him. Is that going to result in a healthy person? And there’s already a problem if I have to ask you that question, right? Yet that is a lot of the environmental discourse. Why should we care about biodiversity? Because of the medicines that might result from these species. Why should we care about carbon? Because something bad will happen to us if we don’t do it. It’s all this instrumental, utilitarian logic. And that is not enough to (???1:07:05) When we speak from that place and we speak to that place, this fearful place, this self-interested place, what we’re going to motivate is more of looking out for myself. We’re saying I know you, you just care about yourself and your children, but you don’t care about other beings. We’re creating a story that, like I was saying before, invites people into that state of being, into that role. So basically I’m saying we’ve got to fall in love with this planet.
Audience member: It seems like you’re describing a lot of systems that are accelerating in a destructive direction, towards collapse. What’s your view also on the ongoing trends that seem to be going more towards interbeing? So for example, in this country and maybe around the world, less and less crime, less and less violence, more tolerance of gay people and immigrants, women are treated better. Over the centuries things are moving more towards interbeing in that way. So do you think there are two currents maybe, one where things are collapsing because they’re heading towards separation, and there’s also this kind of ongoing thing that maybe we don’t even know how it’s happening or if anyone’s making it happen, but it’s happening anyway.
Charles: Yeah. So for one thing, yes, the accelerating tide of separation is mostly on the surface. Things are getting worse and worse and worse on the surface level, but underneath, I’ve noticed that people are generally kinder to each other than they were twenty years ago. When I go to cities, maybe it’s just me, but the level of interaction seems to be getting more respectful. I don’t know if I’m imagining that. Bullying is on a steep decline. I had this conversation with my sons. One son’s twenty now, but a few years ago I watched The Breakfast Club with him. Have you seen that film? It was an American film that was popular in the eighties that is about high school, basically. In high school it was just normal to have these different cliques, and kids getting beat up and bullied. It was just part of the air that we breathed. Bullying. And Jimi, my son, said yeah, we just don’t have that. When I was in school, to be a popular kid you had to basically dominate and insult and degrade other kids. Popular kids were the ones who did that, by and large. But Jimi says if you do that now, you’re going to be ostracized. You might see a lot of stuff on cyberbullying, but the fact that that’s even news, that people are even outraged about that, is a really positive sign. And like you’re saying, violent crime is going down. In America of course we have all of these police killings of unarmed black men. Actually we’re also leaders in killings of white men too, but way more black men. We’re number one in even white on white gun violence. USA! Anyway, the fact that it’s even coming out onto the surface into public awareness…..it’s not that there’s more killings, there’s more awareness about them. So I agree with you, I think that the new story is really gathering strength in the margins and under the surface. At the surface level there’s still more drilling, more fracking, more bombing, more drilling, more neoliberal economics, the coup in Brazil, etc. etc. But the core is changing. The other thing I’ll say about that is interbeing is the truth. You can only suppress it at great and growing effort, temporarily, until you become exhausted. It’s like a parking lot covered in cement. If you don’t constantly maintain it in a state of ugliness, then beauty will erupt. Dandelions will come up, it’ll crack, and in fifty years it’ll be beautiful. And we are getting exhausted now at maintaining an ugly world
Audience Member: The story of doubt, of not knowing you talk about strikes me as very countercultural on a personal level. If we are educated within a Western education system, either here or elsewhere in the world, we are brought up to always know the answer, and if you don’t know the answer, you are stupid, and stupid people are made to stand in the corner. And so there’s something about listening, as you were talking about, to one’s own story that says I am prepared to be foolish, I am prepared to be stupid. And maybe then, therefore, listening to what you were saying, part of that new story is owning our own stupidity in the face of what appears to be wisdom, but which is actually just a retelling of a story that no longer works.
Charles: Yeah. That’s well said. Thank you.
Audience member: I just wanted to know what you think about the levels of fear going up here in London. Much more armed police, every museum is controlled going in. Even here in the Royal Academy when I ask them what are you looking for, they don’t know what they’re looking for in the bags but they’re searching anyway. I say to them are you looking for water, knives, bombs, and they’re like we’re just looking. So there’s this idea that we should all be afraid, but nobody knows what we’re really afraid of. And I just want to know, how do you counteract in a city of ten million people where if you ask somebody, they say we have to be afraid in this environment; the environment is fear-based and I just don’t know how to counteract that without challenging (??? 1:15:25)
Charles: Thank you for that question. Yeah. I mean it’s coming to the point where to enter any building, you have to go through security. The subtext is “be afraid”. Fear is baked into the cake of the old story. Insecurity is baked into the cake, because you are essentially at war with the universe. For starters you’re at war with other human beings, each of whom is seeking to maximize their rational self-interest; you’re at war with the rest of life, all of which is seeking to maximize its own reproductive self-interest at your expense. Nature in the old story is this all-out competition, life or death competition. And you’re also kind of at war with the process of entropy in the universe, where your well-being comes from how well you can insulate yourself from and dominate these arbitrary natural forces that have no intelligence or order or movement toward organization or beauty in and of themselves, that again, don’t have the qualities of self, they’re just this random mechanism. So fear is built in. As the story dissolves, we desperately try to maintain it. Or it desperately tries to maintain itself. Because a story is a being, actually. It’s not just animals and plants and humans and the sun and rivers that are beings. Stories are beings too, and they go through a life cycle. And you may notice this in your own life. If there’s a story, a relationship perhaps, or a job, or a way of being in the world that’s not working anymore, you might cling to it all the more desperately and all the more blindly, and deny it. This larger cultural story of separation is doing the same thing. Therefore it’s creating these rituals of fear. That security line is a ritual, in every sense of the word. It’s kind of like a humiliation ritual. You get searched, you go through a machine, a button is pressed; it’s a ritual that is designed to propagate fear. So as to what to do about it, I don’t think that meeting that worldview with intellectual force is going to do that much. What you have to do is to give people an experience that contradicts the world of fear. And that could be generosity, compassion, deep listening. You’ll know what to do. Even on a personal level, anything you do that doesn’t fit into the story of separation, any interaction that you have, any bit of humor that you bring to somebody, any bit of humanity that you bring to this soulless, transactional relationship, that is a disruptive act, that is a political act, even. When you recognize that this whole world-destroying machine is built on the story of separation, then anything we do to disrupt the story of separation is a political act, and an environmental act. And I’m not saying only work on that level, but also don’t minimize that level, don’t call that irrelevant. It’s very relevant. It changes the ground on which our society is built. Yeah, so that’s one thing you can do. Because the more people have an experience of connection, of intimacy, of love, of acceptance, the more ridiculous those rituals seem. When I’m at the airport I always make some sort of joke. My goal is to make it seem ridiculous, to make it seem kind of obsolete. So humor is another good way to do that. On a personal level, it’s almost a cliché, but bringing more love into the world. And also on a community level, also through what you devote your life energy toward. If it doesn’t fit into the story of separation, if it’s dedicated to bringing beauty, love compassion…..this is not news to anybody, right? But I guess the reason I’m saying it is to illuminate the political dimension of it. And maybe that’s what the song is. To listen to what is beautiful, to what calls to your heart. Maybe that’s the organ that listens to the song, that guides you to do things that the mind, which is still lost in the maze, may not recognize as relevant, but which is actually our path to that more beautiful world that we remember and recognize and carry with us. Thank you, everybody.