Sunday, October 25, 2009

Evolve or Die

Probably the two most spiritually influential books for me over the last few years have been Ken Wilbur's A THEORY OF EVERYTHING and Edwin Friedman's A FAILURE OF NERVE. These books have given words to feelings I have had. They also took me further than I could go on my own.

These books are quite different, but they have a common thread: They both base their hypotheses on evolutionary theories. Their assumption is that creation is going SOMEWHERE. Wilbur uses spiral dynamics as well as his 4-quadrant approach to get this across. Friedman uses evidence from how our survival instincts have caused us to bond together (or remain separate and distinct) only when it is useful on an evolutionary level.

At Brittian's suggestion (and by the persuasion of Krista Tippet's SPEAKING OF FAITH podcast), I am reading Eckhart Tolle's A NEW EARTH. I am really only into the first chapter, but I already vibe with a good deal of his assumptions about how the world works and where we find ourselves.

His theory is also based on the idea that humanity is at a crucial moment of evolution. And it is, again for me, very compelling. He primarily seems to be pointing toward a more inner type of evolution (inner in both a personal and communal sense...the two "interior quadrants" Wilbur would say). Perhaps he'll broaden this to a larger internal-external, 4-quadrant approach by the end of the book, we'll see.

Brittian and I had a short conversation via text yesterday about this idea of "Evolve or Die!" which is a sort of slogan that you tend to hear in some of the more progressive/liberal/environmentalist circles. Tolle points to the idea that (as many evolutionary theorists would agree with) we came from the water. At some point along the way, some creature climbed out of the water...and slowly, over the course of a good deal of time, land-based animals began to appear. But the fact that Brittian brought up is that we still have fish and reptiles (that never became birds) and other "lower species" as I've heard them called.

And I wonder what this means regarding the greater global consciousness. Must we all evolve? Wilbur offers a comforting (for me) way to look at this...through spiral dynamics...which while moving on a sort of linear path, it doesn't assume hierarchy, but rather a holarchy. But what would it mean if most of the leading edge of "progression" in this world was to happen in the West? Brittian and I both had a sort of visceral response in opposition to that idea...for why would WE be the ones? We, the people of violence, massacre, atom bombs, etc?

Truly a good many of us have felt a good deal of guilt about our place as privileged, white, American, European, whatever equals powerful people. We have been ashamed, questioned our assumptions about identity, reframed historic figures to speak out against us (as some sort of penance), and generally felt lower than humble.

But then I thought of Mandela's oft-quoted comment, "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure." And I think that we are afraid that WE REALLY ARE THE ONES. It seems arrogant, ridiculous, and downright awful. After all, hasn't this mentality been the thing that has fueled the likes of Manifest Destiny?

But perhaps we (certainly me) have thrown the baby out with the bathwater a few too many times. And this is where Friedman was helpful for me. Getting over our desire to do everything "right" and instead aiming for the good...for a fucking decision at all! I mean, how many of us are stuck, wondering, weighing the options, waiting for some ridiculous notion of external confirmation (how many times have I groaned while hearing, "I'm waiting for God to show me what to do."). Bogus! We have failed to listen to our own selves, to believe in ourselves.

"Your playing small does not serve the world," says Mandela. And perhaps he's right.

I think we stand in a great moment in history. And perhaps I'm wrong. But I do think that we have this opportunity ahead of us. And perhaps this opportunity is not available to all people in all cultures at all times (something that in the past would have discouraged me from thinking some of these thoughts). But perhaps it is available to some of us.

What do we do with that? I'm gonna read on with Tolle and see what he has to say.


Unknown said...

Looking forward to your thoughts on Tolle as you get farther in. It has been a pivotal book for both me and Shaun in our take on life ... happy reading!

kristi said...

just being totally honest. why am i afraid to even read this? i have another friend who has "left Christianity" and has embraced this book completely and wholeheartedly. and i guess since i've been feeling on the precipice of falling off the edge of everything i believe, i have such fear that exploring these things will confuse me. or, more frankly, that they will make more sense.

and i really want to make room in my soul for Jesus. not in the traditional way, but in a new, fresh way.

anyway, i appreciated reading this.

oh, and yes on the waiting around for God to tell us what to do. i feel like we have wasted so many moments waiting for that to happen...

BNB said...

If you read Graves or Kegan, you begin to understand that this urge to evolve is about the need to cope with greater and greater complexity.

The evolutionary jump starts in the west, this time, because western society is now the most complex. Japan, China and India are only slightly behind and may find that some of their traditional roots serve them better than parts of our western heritage are serving us.

Unfortunately, China has not skipped western mistakes. Her cities are polluted with industrial waste and crowded with traffic jams, looking like our old industrial cities of a century ago. China, like America, will end up wasting precious resources cleaning up the mess created by unwise industrialization.

It's probably an indication of how hard it is for any people in any culture to get a massive transformation right as it first starts to evolve. There is no roadmap to follow. We won't always be right. However, if we do nothing, we can stop worrying about evolution as we join the dinosaurs.

Jon said...

Eckhart's two bestsellers are paragons of mystical literature. IMHO, The Power of Now is superior, emphasining the practice of meditation, and the nature of the enlightened mind. I've got a review at my website: The Power of Now. The genius of A New Earth is that it's a bit more "entry level", and focuses on the societal aspects of awakening.

I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Jon said...

@Kristi, your friend's decision to "leave Christianity" was their own, and needn't be yours. As for myself, I've found that there's a big difference between "leaving Christianity" which I have done to a large extent, and leaving Christ, which I will never do.

Sigrun said...

I bought the book today.
Not sure why your post made me do it, but I resonate with your obscure thoughts at times ;)