We left off saying how our self-interest is at the heart of the problem as it causes the environmental crisis. Yet, on the flip-side of the self-interest coin lies the solution. Self-interest is inherent and ensures that we take care of our biological selves, finding adequate food, water and shelter, and avoiding life-threatening situations. To avoid suffering and return to a state of inner well-being is our most fundamental self-interest – the true bottom line against which we measure all our actions.
We are rather like Nasrudhin, the “wise-fool” of Sufi tales, who has lost his key somewhere in his house. But he is searching for it out in the street “because,” he says, “there is more light outside.” We too look for the key to fulfillment in an illusory world around because that is the world we know best. We know how to change that world which is predicated on gathering possessions, making people and things behave the way we want and satisfying our ego through the material world but there seems to be “much less light inside” so we shun looking from within for answers. This is why we consume so much more than we physically need. Most of what we consume we consume in the belief that it will make us happier. If only we had enough, we tell ourselves, we would be happy. We have become addicted to the material world like a person with a chemical addiction, we want to feel good inside. So we gather for ourselves whatever we believe will make us feel better. But because no ‘thing’ can ever satisfy that inner need, the ‘high’ soon wears off, and we go off in search of another ‘fix’. This addiction to things is one of the prime reasons we resist the very changes that we most need to make if we are to create a sustainable civilization.
Peter Russell says, “this is another reason our economic system has become so wedded to growth. We believe that material prosperity equates with inner peace. This may be true for a person who lacks the basics to survive, but the majority of people in developed nations who have far surpassed attaining the basics seem to know when to stop consuming. Our mindset revolves around the idea “If only I had more wealth or opportunities I would be happier,” yet craving only leads to more craving. Our fear of transforming this mindset arises because the resulting mindset does not pursue the same experiences and does so with a different orientation of consciousness. In the ‘get more’ mind-set, we are dogs chasing a stick and arriving is not an option. Our only freedom of choice in this mindset exists as the freedom to choose between one brand and another, one job or another. Meaningful work and a meaningful life have been severed from our supposed needs of survival within our system.
It no longer works for the individual, as Wendel Berry makes clear in his book, The Unsettling of America:
An American is probably the most unhappy citizen in the history of the world. . . . He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had be been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage. He does not know what he would do if he lost his job, if the economy failed, if the utility companies failed, if the police went on strike, if the truckers went on strike, if his wife left him, if his children ran away, if he should be found to be incurably ill. And for these anxieties, of course, he consults certified experts who, in turn, consult certified experts about their anxieties.
Our system does not work for the planet as a whole. Our unsustainable consciousness about our western way of live is the first thing that’s going to have to undergo a rapid change. It leads to short-term needs that are intrinsically incompatible with the long-term needs of future generations. Changing our behaviors is not enough; we have to reorient the mode of consciousness that underlies them.
Accomplishing this consciousness shift appears to be a herculean effort but once a threshold level is crossed in understanding, real change will happen. Catalyzing the momentum for this shift will be our way of accelerating the natural process of maturation. The wisdom we need for this maturation has been the goal of all the great spiritual traditions. They have each uniquely been trying to help us move beyond our material attachments; to find within ourselves the peace of mind that we eternally seek; and to nourish the wisdom we each carry in our hearts so that it may become the basis of our words and more importantly our actions.
Peter Russell suggests that we need the psychological equivalent of the Apollo Project for human consciousness expansion. Kennedy set the challenge of getting to the moon in ten years. The resources were there, the knowledge was being gained, the technology had to be developed. Dedication to the mission brought fruition, and nine years later the first human being was standing on the moon. For Russell, “The new frontier we now urgently need to master is not outer space but inner space.” In this case, the monetary resources are there, considering all of the trillions spent each year defending ourselves against each others greed and jealousy. The knowledge is being gained. Seeds of it are to be found in the great spiritual teachings, in many philosophies, in various psychotherapies, and in the emerging fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. The real need is a dedicated research and development effort to explore how we can most easily release our minds from this materialist mindset and move into a more mature mode of functioning. The technology on how to expedite this more mature mode of consciousness will be the subject of future posts.
Rubbing our eyes and seeing our authentic self without the materialistic conditioning is just not something we have applied ourselves to. The payoffs from shifting from the ego-centric view to a more sustainable mode would be priceless! With less attachment to material goods we now believe our so important, the worth we place on relationships, personal health and spiritual endeavors increases. Inner-development is not an isolated solution but it is the underlying root cause that should be addressed rather than preoccupying ourselves with short-term fixes for the symptoms of the global crisis. The road ahead is one of miraculous self-discovery that will only serve to unite humankind into a larger self. Embrace the changing tides that cause this to arise! As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Enlightenment for a wave, is the moment the wave realizes it is water.” When humanity has the same collective revelation, there will be an enduring peace.
The happy trails are traveled together!