Guest Article: Philip Franses – Personal Pathways to Meaning

Transition Consciousness

Simon writes: I am pleased this week to introduce a guest article from Philip Franses, the Editor–in–Chief of the Holistic Science Journal and lecturer in complexity and Holistic Science at Schumacher College.

Holistic Science JournalThe journal, of which four editions are published each year, is founded on the following three pillars:

Firstly, the journal encourages reports of encountering the living qualities of a given phenomenon. In the practice of Goethe’s science the careful cultivation of our direct sensory perceptions combine with our intuitive capacity for spontaneously apprehending the intrinsic wholeness and deep inner meaning that lies hidden at the heart of things. This exploration brings with it a profound ethical concern for the welfare of what we are studying.

The second pillar of the journal is giving the philosophical perspective to a systems approach to science. From the evidence of mathematical models of the relationships amongst the components of the…

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TOWARDS AN ECOLOGY OF LIFE + MIND

Dear Friends,

you are warmly invited to join us at the symposium TOWARDS AN ECOLOGY OF LIFE AND MIND in Berlin in February 2015!

Together with wonderful speakers and workshop leaders such as Dr. Ha Vinh Tho, Dr. Kai Romhardt, Prof. Dr. Otto Scharmer, Prof. Dr. Tania Singer et al. we will explore the following question in a multidimensional manner:

What characterizes the basic changes and conflicts of our present times, and how do we create an ‘Ecology of Life and Mind’ that enables us to respond to them in a sustainable way?

Please register online by the 20th of January:
http://goo.gl/forms/u6yVYuC1bT

You can download the leaflet with detailed information here:
https://drive.google.com/…/0B3TNu29_mgqGMmRGNC1KYmtHSHc/view

For any further questions, please contact us via ecology.life.mind@gmail.com.

Looking forward to meeting you,

The TELM Team

The Sacred Masculine

In the age of Aquarius, with the rise of Gaia and the Feminine, there is a risk that the Masculine is being dangerously overlooked, not just overlooked, but actively persecuted. It is well documented that when a society goes through trauma or change it is the men who fall apart as they are the ones that loose their traditional roles. In these communities male suicide shoots up as does drug and alcohol misuse, domestic violence and rape. They are acting out their pain. In a society that is changing rapidly rough there are around 1.6million registered alcoholics in the UK and nearly 3 million registered drug addicts (registered = tip of the iceberg) And according to a major children’s charity a quarter of all women will be physically, or sexually assaulted by the time they are 16. Sounds to me that it is not just the Feminine that needs to be emancipated, nurtured and celebrated – we need to reassess and honour the role of the masculine. I hear every day how sacred the Feminine is, but precious little is offered to us males about the beauty and sacredness of our Masculinity. This is a natural result of the largely accepted view that unfettered Masculine power has run rife in our culture for hundreds of years and through it the repression of the Feminine that has brought us to the brink of annihilation. The feminine must and is being bought back into our Consciousness, but what of the Masculine? We are teaching our young that men have messed everything up. That we are the greed of Wall Street and the aggression of war the rapists of Mother Earth. How will that affect our young warriors today? I have always lived and learnt with young men with power and passion, beautiful inquisitive minds and bright warrior souls who were chained and repressed by a system that not only didn’t understand us, but didn’t even try. Who actively sought to crush us and then persecute us for acting out our pain. Then we become a problem to medicated, incarcerated, demonised, or just left to rot. The problem isn’t boys, or men, it is our society. In our ancestral cultures, young men were guided by the warriors, the healers, the storytellers and wise men of their communities. From them they learnt the practical and emotional skills needed for healthy and productive life in the community. Even just a generation ago in Yorkshire and Wales young boys in the coal mines would be apprenticed to older men of the village to work with and learn from. Where are the guides and role models for young men today? The obvious and seemingly most accessible seem to be in the media. The football stars, rap stars, politicians and a whole host of grown up boys acting out their dangerously seductive shallow fantasies of greed, selfishness and arrogance pervert the perception of what it means to be a man and to be powerful in modern society. So where are the true role models? The Heroes, the wise men? The teachers? Where do we find our warrior guides today? It turns out they are under our very noses. You can’t recognise them by the feathers in their headdress, their number of warrior rings, or how many notches they have on their bow (usually) But they are legion and here are just a couple I can think of in my immediate surroundings: The other evening I listened to a talk from Drew Dillinger. He is a handsome, rugged muscular American, with a deep voice and the classic American drawl of many an action film, or western. Very definitely a “guy” He talked, told stories of connection and action and performed some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever heard. He is a man of action, an activist that was knee deep in the occupy movement, fighting for his tribe. A warrior for the times and a beautiful voice of connection to the beauty wonder and sacredness of life. A couple of months ago another warrior of his times Adam Bucko visited the college. Another attractive, powerful, very cool looking guy with a tower of dreaded hair and casual grace. Like Drew he was involved in the Occupy Movement Again he spoke with reverence and beauty about the Earth, spirituality, the pain of being human, of lost souls of activism and of the redemption of faith in the beauty of our connections to each other and to something more than each other. A spiritual warrior and teacher for our times. Now I have started, I can think of many, but the one I shall end with is my ex boss, friend, mentor and the most influential man of the last few years of my life. He is definitely my Han Solo archetype, solid, confident and can always win the ladies over with a few cheeky words and a smile, but totally loyal, and no matter what, destined to do the right thing. The kind of guy that would definitely fly back to save your ass in a star fight. He to is a warrior of his tribe, working for many years to uphold and encourage compassion, selflessness and justice in the world. In his work I have seen him lead by example and guide, protect and impart wisdom to many young men just as the men of native and ancient cultures, helping them find their powers as men and as warriors of their tribe. I was sat with him a few weeks ago, trying to explain as much as you can explain to someone who hasn’t been to Schumacher what is going on here. And in his usual, casual manner he leaned towards me and said “Look. When are you gonna stop looking up to all these guys that right all these books and write your own book? I’m not interested in what you think about all those f**kers changing the world I wanna know when your going to do it.” As usual, it’s a good point. And so, prompted by my warrior guide I shall include myself: I feel the same pain and confusion in men all around me. I have struggled with cowardice, I have done wrong and I have hurt others and have been so wounded I thought I would never recover. But, mainly unnoticed by me, through these years I have been tested in battle and won many times, I have fought to protect my tribe I am a storyteller, a healer, a teacher. I do lead by example and I know I have influenced, guided and protected many people, just like the Braves I admire and look to. I am a warrior for my tribe and just like the other warriors, the best thing is I am just a guy, as normal as unsure and as lost as the rest of us. So maybe the secret to protecting and nurturing the beautiful, raw power of the Masculine is for us men to look to ourselves with the same love and respect we show to our heroes. To understand we are all teachers, healers warriors and poets and to continue to just be the men that we are. And to know that this is the most daring feat of bravery we could ever perform. So here’s to the Masculine – to the Warriors.

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photos: ©Zack Embree 2014

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Christopher Noble

Shamanic and scientific perspectives on a world in crisis.

Abstract:

In this paper I offer some insights into New Age ‘tribal’ consciousness – as reportage rather than academic analysis and at a time when anthropology is beginning to integrate the insights of the few academics who have entered the shamanic realms that underpin the tribal world. In terms of the concepts and theories of anthropology I make it as an embedded rapporteur, but in truth I belong to the tribes. There I have a role as a dance shaman. My work with shamanic practitioners also includes insights from my basic training in yoga tantra. These trainings and initiations overlay several decades of work on environmental issues, with academic training in ecological sciences and practical training in international law and governance. I have no doubt that humanity faces a global ecological crisis, and equally no doubt that modern science, econometric decision making and the current social structures do not have the solutions that will provide resilience in the times ahead. My work has been less a ‘counterculture’, more simply an attempt at recovering lost forms of a sustainable environmental and social consciousness.

Introduction

As  a brief student of social anthropology I learned that its realm encompassed a spectrum leaning toward scientific methodology at one end  and something approaching the poetic at the other, where the former sought to ‘explain’ cultural phenomena the latter more to interpret. After a watching period trying to decide how valuable the discipline could be for environmental work, I offered the Institute in which I studied the observation that a third pole existed but could only be seen if anthropologists looked at themselves with the same critical faculty they looked at other ‘tribes’ – anthropology had its  rituals of field work, presentation of papers, critiques and defence of positions and  above all it seemed, a need  to develop theory that related as much to its own status as to the science it espoused (1). At that time, sociological studies of scientists at work had barely begun and I have sadly had little time to explore what has been done since (2).

I supposed then that the scientific pole represented the professional and academic anthropologists’ role within the culture that supported them financially, but I could find nothing on how anthropologists saw themselves as an influence, in particular on how their casting of theory might affect a broader politic.  I saw anthropology as metaphorically striving for the Merlin position in relation to the ‘King’ of modern government and political economy– and it is a strange feeling, three decades later during what the shaman’s world calls the ‘end-times’ to observe that a banker not a sociologist occupied that key position and not only bearing the name Mervyn King, but naming his redemption strategy the ‘Merlin’ project!

At the time of my studies, Claude Levi-Strauss was the most successful caster of theoretical spells – at least in book sales, and Durkheim the ancestral model. However, I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that modern academics might feel they were explaining the world, but I could not see much evidence of them changing it. After many years since of environmental policy work at all levels – from small communities, through government and up to the UN, I have seen very little to convince me otherwise. The discipline certainly sharpened my own awareness of what was happening around me – particularly on a linguistic and symbolic level, but if social anthropology has changed the world more directly, I have not observed it. This is in rather stark contrast to the competition from ‘ecologists’ – who were then also flirting with political theory and who now occupy key positions within the financial world and the UN in particular. And all this despite a rather small power base in political institutions (3).

Ecologists occupying the soothsayer’s position

Much of the success of the ‘green’ movement was laid down in the anti-nuclear campaigns of the 1970s, consolidated in the 80s by action on pollutants, and then from the 1990s, through the energy and climate debate. Riding on this wave of concern, ‘ecologists’ now sit on the bridge with the captains of industry and finance, and on the back of the climate campaign, at all levels of governance (4).

Currently, there are proposals that would see trillions of dollars flowing to eco-finance and development committees within the IMF and UN system – with minimal elected oversight, and engendering a great deal of political opposition to what is seen by adherents of liberalised and deregulated markets as movement toward a command and control economy.

What tends to be missed by those engaged on either side of the political divide is the role of the hidden technocrat – mostly scientific professionals who also represent an obvious but seldom articulated agenda of the science institutions. Whatever cultural values those institutions might unconsciously project, one common agenda is to further their own standing and increase their funding. There will always be an argument for more research, rarely an argument that science has a limited methodology – and one that does not have a good track record on complex environmental issues.

And further, the current economic debate between ‘greens’ and ‘free-marketeers’ is still almost entirely within the technocratic paradigm. ‘Community’ values – particularly indigenous community, hardly feature in any of their development proposals (5).

Way back in the nuclear-alternatives debate on energy policy and appropriate technology in the 1970s, when the nuclear side seemed to be losing public support, a team of Dutch social psychologists, under contract to the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned the Agency that the expansion of nuclear power could ‘undermine the very creativity of youth’. They also chided the IAEA in its expectation that providing more factual information would ameliorate  the opposition – they reported that people could be divided into two types in the way they evaluated information, those whose main focus for evaluation of ‘progress’  was ‘community oriented’ and those for whom it was ‘technological’. There was a division of internal and external values and it was roughly equal throughout the general population. Those leaning toward evaluating human progress in terms of the quality of community relations tended to reject the nuclear option (6).

It took some effort to discover these reports, which the IAEA had buried, and I tried at several points in the policy process to use this information – for example, in 1977, acting as an intervener for national NGOs during the Windscale Inquiry on the impact of spent-fuel reprocessing – an essential component of the fuel cycle for plutonium-fuelled reactors (7). The Inquiry inspector simply stated that he could make no use of the information in relation to government energy policy. Again, in 1985, not as a litigant, but as an assessor on a government commission into nuclear waste dumping at sea, I sought to convince the other scientists on the panel that sociological evidence on the ‘meaning’ of the ocean environment, for example to Spanish fishermen, was as important as apparently scientific radiation dose calculations (8).

In both these circumstances I learned that the policy process found it difficult to encompass what my opponents regarded as ‘soft science’ (no ‘hard’ facts). The scientific world view dominated the psyche at all levels of policy making, with little appreciation of its limitations, and certainly, of past errors in scientific assessment and prediction. It was clear to me that the technocratic value system identified in the Dutch work operated throughout the bureaucratic environment in national government, the EU and the UN, and to the detriment of more internal community values.

Staying within the science paradigm

However, in terms of my work direction, I abandoned social sciences in favour of a hard-edged scientific and legal critique, though I continued to observe the gulf in value systems and more particularly, its disposition in relation to the structures of power and decision making. Nevertheless, my brief training under the linguistic anthropologist, Edwin Ardener, had left me with a watchful eye for symbol, metaphor and the structures of power.

I observed how relatively easy it was for technocrats to control the regulatory process with regard to the risks they themselves deemed worthwhile – by emphasising the factual ‘science’ and demoting the sociological and psychological impacts to the realm of subjectivity and emotion. For example, an average person might find any level of contamination by man-made radiation unacceptable – no matter what the ‘scientific’ assessment of risk, but to the bureaucrat there would always be a scientifically definable level of low but ‘acceptable’ risk (9). And whilst it was the case that some prominent sociologists of science warned about such technocratic definitions of risk with regard to comparability, locus-of-control and the disposition of benefits in relation to acceptability, they were largely ignored (10).

I could add many similar examples from my later work in nature conservation – where scientific values have predominated over the popular, and where professional assessments have decreed the course of action without the least reflection of how those assessments contain hidden values as well as strategies that ensure a future role for the professionals concerned (11). For example, reduced management or intervention in rewilding programmes can lead (certainly not always) to a readily quantifiable ‘loss’ of biodiversity, whilst the benefits are not so easily quantifiable in terms of common values relating to beauty, wildness, scale, abundance and the dominance of natural processes (12).Managers in key positions to influence policy are hardly likely to support a policy that recommends less management!

That environmental science has hidden values – from pollution and risk control to conservation strategies, is hardly acknowledged in the policy processes of decision making. And likewise hardly within the working practices of scientists – for example, social, political and even gender influences in the construction of hypotheses and the resources devoted to exploring them.

 

In my recent work on a re-assessment of climate change theory, I limited any reference to sociological and psychological analysis, again in order to prevail within the dominant paradigm -the predictive models are open to serious criticism with a large literature on their uncertainty that is not reflected in policy documents. I had not bargained however on a complete refusal of those defending UN, government and NGO policy positions based on this science to engage in rational scientific argument! A clear vested interest had developed around the model predictions.

In former debates and legal battles over models and computer predictions – for example, with regard to nuclear accidents and aerial releases, or the dispersal of toxic substances in the oceans, there had always been an open scientific discussion, but the contrary evidence was collected and funded by powerful environmental groups and political pressure existed at all levels that would support the critiques. In the climate debate, the political ‘opposition’ that would support independent non-governmental  analysis is primarily representative of economic and industrial interests, interests that would normally be allied with the science institutions. Thus, despite much propaganda to the contrary the small number of science critics finds little financial support. Doubtless some industry or foundation funding exists for numerous think-tanks attempting to influence policy – but most critics of substance are unfunded.

There remain some interesting linguistic and psychological observations that beg for a social anthropological inquiry – for example, the models almost entirely fail to incorporate natural cycles (13). Indeed some climate scientists refuse to acknowledge such cycles even exist – much to the consternation of the community of paleo-ecologists! Most model-builders are mathematically trained physicists with little experience of the world outside of their virtual realities – and to qualify as a cycle, phenomena have to be regular, even exact, and hence predictable. All climate cycles are inexact, often irregular in their period, replete with chaotic elements and not predictable within the confines of the timescales of modelling.

When I turn my attention to my former environmental allies who now insist that man-made pollution is wholly responsible for potentially catastrophic global warming, I note that they use the same class of fear tactics that our former opponents used in the nuclear debate. They also resort to the same class of apparently predictive but unverifiable  computer models that the nuclear industry relied upon. They form the same kind of alliances with industrial and banking organisations. And they denigrate their opposition as emotionally or politically motivated and unscientific.

Despite anthropology’s apparent lack of impact on any of these environmental issues, I feel an allegiance to the discipline and remain hopeful of its potential. But I want to speak now not as a scientist (I still hold a professional practice as a conservation ecologist), nor as an environmental activist – but as a ‘member’ of an invisible culture – that of the modern ‘urban tribal’. Throughout my scientific and political work, I have maintained a foot in this other camp. The two are related and bound to each other by the same ecological crisis that prompted my environmental work.

The New Age ‘tribal community’

My own community, has recently been investigated and ‘explained’ by anthropologists – and therefore exists! The broad ‘New Age’ community in Glastonbury was subject to a monograph in 2001 by Ruth Prince and David Riches (14). In their desire to explain what they perceived as a New Age ‘religion’ the anthropologists seemed to lose sight of the effects of their own allegiance to theory. At one point they admit that New Age communities are loose and incoherent, and at the next they are comparing them as a category alongside other categories of ‘religion’. The need to categorise has forced the data into a preconceived notion of religion – a necessary prerequisite to fulfil some theoretical ambition to explain cultural change.

Most ‘tribals’  I know would not consider themselves as either a social movement, a religion or even a part of the New Age culture so apparent on Glastonbury High Street with its profusion of crystal shops, pagan boutiques and centres for alternative therapy. The tribal culture is largely in retreat from the mainstream and visible only on market days when local produce comes to town. People gather socially and shop socially. This community owns and runs a wholefood cooperative. Many live in various temporary structures such as benders and yurts in the surrounding woods (that some also own or which have a friendly owner). In some cases planning permission has been given for a small settlement. Of late, several of the 30+ generation with small children and some inheritance have bought farmhouses with land and enabled their friends to settle in temporary structures.There are dreams of eco-dwellings and eco-villages for the more settled whilst others live a nomadic existence working the summer festivals and spending the winter in Glastonbury, or as often as not in India or central America.

This counter-culture most certainly reacts against the mainstream – where most see an empty, rampant materialist and ecologically unsustainable society well on the way to its own destruction and seemingly unable to change course. They want to live more closely to the Earth, in respect of Nature, grow their own food and educate their children outside of the State system. There is naturally a real problem earning enough money without compromising their values – but many have jobs looking after the elderly or handicapped, working with wood, making tipis and yurts, jewellery or clothes, and some have set up small businesses employing their friends – for example, importing ‘tribal’ clothes, which in Glastonbury can be very stylish and expensive.

In my view the anthropologists missed the essence of the New Age tribal because they were so intent on constructing a model for all ‘religious movements’. Modern tribal consciousness is the antipathy of religion and I cannot see how one can fully describe something wholly in terms of its relationship to another thing which it is not.  In particular, the shamanic element of modern tribalism cannot be compared to most aspects of religion. A shaman may be a ‘priest’ but only in rudimentary functions of choreography or interpretation.  In modern shamanism, anyone can access the training and a connection to one’s own source of knowledge is encouraged. And there is a growing fusion of eastern yoga-tantra and Buddhist knowledge with North American and Amerindian. I cannot see how this can be ‘understood’ outside of a real experience of shamanic consciousness. Within this tribal culture – readily identifiable by clothing, tattoos and piercings, there is a well-established dance tradition. There also exists an antipathy toward State education – which is seen as too harsh, too authoritarian and focussed on serving an industrialised economy, rather than the real education of the creative individual. Where it can be financed locally, Waldorf schools are the preferred alternative. Medicine is another major departure, with a focus upon holistic systems of health and an aversion to pharmaceuticals.

Not everyone within the tribal community is schooled in shamanic ways, but most are familiar with the basics of a shamanic journey and many have taken such plant-spirit-medicine as Ayahuasca, Peyote and San Pedro, often in ceremony with visiting Amerindian shamans. There is a modern tradition of sweat lodge, following the lunar calendar and the old Celtic cross-quarter days, equinoxes and solstices, dance gatherings (Breton music is popular). Their dance bands and drummers are regular features of the summer music festivals such as Sunrise and Off-grid.

Within this loose community, my role is that of ceremonial dance choreographer. Other ‘shamans’ are specialised fire-keepers, fire-walkers and sweat-lodge leaders. The mark of a shaman is whether there is a community that looks to him or her to fulfil a particular role. For many years I also occupied the role of heyoka – the trickster, in those small camps devoted to the training of shamanic consciousness. The heyoka works beyond all rules and is there to make sure all ritual is real. There is no performance and no audience in a shamanic ceremony.

Within this loose agglomeration of tribal community there is no membership and no inaugural initiation – though plenty of initiatory experiences (sweat-lodge, fire-walk, power animal journey, trance-dance and ‘plant medicines’ are all readily available). The one thing that unites this loose ‘tribe’ is identified by the anthropologist readily enough – reaction to modern supposed civilised life, or ‘Babylon’, which they see as destroying the soul of humanity as well as its ecological support systems. They turn to other cultures to recover lost knowledge of another way of living. I am part of the recovery team. I have helped to organise teaching camps, bring over indigenous elders, shamans and teachers, adapt other more eastern cultural sources, such as yoga and Tibetan tantra, and also work with neo-Druids engaged on a similar task (15).

Other than these brief and simple observations, I have no ethnography, no notes or interviews – any such objectification and distance would seem almost a betrayal of the community to which I belong. As one of my tribal shaman-brothers remarked when I told him I would present a paper… ‘anthropologists are the enemy, man – the very worst of the scientists – they work for the Empire, they gathered the data for the extinction of indigenous peoples’.

I don’t agree with this perception because I know a little of  recent efforts to interpret, help and protect indigenous cultures – such as Jeremy Narby’s work in the Amazon, for example (16). But science is in itself the White Man’s medicine and anthropology does seem to lean in that direction in its efforts to ‘explain’ culture and develop theory. A culture thus explained, is perhaps more readily manipulated.

Without a deeper experiential understanding of shamanic perception and the nature of ‘inner’ vision, researchers such as Riches and Prince have no insight as to the reality of what they are seeking to ‘explain’ – they outline the circumstances for the reaction as counter-cultural, but really proffer little idea of what it constitutes.

There are parallels here with the response of ethnographers to the Ghost Dance ‘religion’ of the American plains tribes between 1870-1890.  A people faced genocidal war and as a consequence, the tribes came together. A unifying ‘religion’ arose that sought some kind of accommodation with the dominant Christian invaders. The last Ghost Dance shaman, the Paiute, Wovoka, dressed as a missionary man in western  garb and told the ethnographers – ‘ Jesus and our message….alla same’. (17)

Wovoka

Wovoka, Paiute Ghost Dance shaman,  ca 1890.

There is a problem though, and one well-understood by modern tribals who have worked with Native American teachers – shamans such as Wovoka sought a common  language for things that the  Christian religion had no comprehension of. And they also sought to conceal the meaning of their own actions. Those tribal dancers were in a state of shamanic consciousness and I have yet to see whether modern anthropology understands this now any more than it did in those times. In our dance work in Glastonbury we have spent over six years working to rebuild this form of consciousness, one which our Celtic ancestors would have shared.

A modern Ghost Dance

In 2004, I finally gave up trying to influence policy on energy, planning and risk (18), and limited my work to the rewilding of nature conservation – with a significant part of the latter project directed toward rewilding the human and working to introduce shamanic perspectives to scientific ecologists (19). However, during an impromptu vision quest on Native American territory in Nevada in October 2005, I was ‘asked’ (by a disembodied ancestral voice), to start the ‘Ghost Dance’ and to follow this through to 2012.

Up until that point, my ‘spiritual’ life was largely oriented toward the neo-Druid revival and deepening my knowledge of yoga tantra (20). It took some time to agree the quest and to fully understand the mission. It is from the perspective of the Ghost Dance ‘shaman’ that I now look back at the past decades, evaluate the meaning of 2012, assess the reality of the scientific quest for both knowledge and understanding of Earth’s ecological processes, and look to the future hoping to find some allies among social anthropology!

My hopes are not high. In the limited reading,  I came across this statement in 2012: decoding the countercultural apocalypse edited by Joseph Gelfer and containing this preface by Michael D. Coe, a Mayan specialist at Yale and Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus:

‘The Maya were adept at many things, including mathematics and rudimentary, naked-eye astronomy, but their mystic take on the end of the world is trumped any day by what modern science has to tell us about these matters’ (21)

This shows a rather typical naive perception of modern solar science as well as the usual ‘mystic’ appellation for any knowledge outside of the scientific method. Firstly, modern science as it applies to the Sun is in a state of disarray. Having for decades taught that solar output (visible light spectrum) was constant, the satellite era soon showed that it varied in clear cycles. Further, only in 1999 did papers begin to appear on the cycles of the solar magnetic field and their correlation to periods of warmth and cold on Earth. From 1900 to 1990 the Sun’s magnetic field steadily increased by 200%, after which it declined and co-incidentally global temperatures levelled off. There has been no extra surface ‘warming’ since 1995, though data appear to show heat is being transferred to the deep oceans. Thus far, climate science holds to the consensus that solar influences are minor, but new papers are being published on solar-terrestrial processes that link the solar wind (determined by the magnetic cycle), shifts in the Jetstream and natural warming and cooling cycles on Earth (22).

NASA has spent billions of dollars on models to predict the newly discovered magnetic cycle – largely because of the major implications for satellite technology when impacted by the coronal mass ejections that tend to occur at the peak of the magnetic cycle. In 2006, NASA confidently predicted that the coming cycle – number 24 (they average 11 years) would peak in 2012 and would be the biggest yet. The cycle did not meet the computer’s expectation. The cycle started two years late and is much smaller than the previous. NASA has now revised all of its predictions and now agrees with critics who could be numbered on one hand, that there is a possibility the Sun’s magnetic field will go into a Grand Minimum, a form of magnetic hibernation. The last time the Sun did this between 1600-1650, the northern hemisphere cooled dramatically and affected the global mean temperature. This effect is thought by some to be on a roughly 800 year cycle from trough to trough. (I have argued in my own work that this natural cycle can explain 80% of the observed 20th century warming).

And with regard to the mystic non-science of the Maya…..how could the world possibly end in 2012? Well, firstly, what the Mayans meant is not that clear. I have friends who are Mayan specialists and their interpretation varies according to the meaning attributed to the ‘glyphs’ at the end of the calendar. There is little debate that the calendar is accurate and that the Mayans tracked the rising of the winter-solstice Sun through its 26,000 year precession cycle (23). That cycle ends in 2012 according to Mayan time-keeping and they are the only people who have tracked this cycle. From an urban tribal perspective, they are the tribal ‘timekeepers’.

I don’t read the ‘end-of-the-world’ as in some planetary collision or earth-upheaval – rather the end of an era and a shift in consciousness – a period of some kind that had meaning within Mayan cosmology. How much physical disturbance might be expected varies from those modern Mayans who expected some kind of subtle shift in consciousness to those who warned of major catastrophe. I am more concerned with aspects of consciousness than physical realities, but we can certainly talk of the ‘end of the world as we know it’ – and scientifically.

Until 2008, when the US National Academy of Sciences reported on the issue, most people had no knowledge that very large magnetic pulses arrive on Earth from the Sun at irregular but periodic intervals of about 200 years – the last was in 1859. The NAS reported that should such a ‘Carrington event’ (named after the British astronomer who observed it) happen today, it would irreparably disable the global electricity grid. America could not then feed 95% of its population. Immediately, all cities would be without light, water, transport and modern communications. In my estimation, such an event would qualify as changing the world as we know it and with catastrophic consequences. There would likely be a significant shift in consciousness – much as has been recently reported from Japan in relation to their technological dependence following the tsunami and nuclear meltdowns.

The UK and most other countries were slow to pick up on the NAS report, but recently it has made the press when government instigated a select committee (under defence) to which I made a small contribution (24). I have since been in conversation with specialists at IBM, one of a number of multinationals now making emergency plans which may include relocating their headquarters. This is what Coe eulogises as ‘modern’ science, yet a whole technological civilisation has been built upon a solar constancy that never existed – and which, since 1859, science itself kept quiet about throughout the period of industrial development and city-building! Modern civilisation could be brought to its knees by a natural solar event that occurs on a regular basis!*

This places Mayan prophecies in proper context. But the scientific potential for such upheavals misses my point – which relates to their ‘mystic take’. The Mayan culture was essentially shamanic. Their top-deity was the Jaguar. This is of some note considering their level of architectural, mathematical and agricultural knowledge in what was a settled, artistic and civil culture. But the shamanic nature of Mayan culture is hardly acknowledged by archaeologists, historians and anthropologists – in a rather similar way in which Egyptian shamanic culture of animal-headed ‘gods’ is also largely ignored (25). The reason, I would suppose, is that none of these academic disciplines contain any kind of shamanic training and thus, the shamanic element is not appreciated or understood and cannot be represented as anything other than ‘mystic’.

I would personally expect that the Mayan did not have, as often regarded by historians, a ‘Jaguar-God’, and for the same reason the Egyptians had no animal-headed ‘gods’ – the deity was not a god, but a shamanic power,( referred to as a neter by the Egyptians). And I would argue that unless the observer has experienced what in shamanic training is termed a power animal journey, there can be no understanding of the difference between a ‘god’ that is ‘worshipped’ and an animal power that is invoked. Anthropologists could profitably interview initiates from Ayahuasca ceremony who have experienced that power – such experience goes well beyond imagination, drawn as it must ultimately be from personal experience, and implies the existence of a cosmic power that jaguars possess, yet one available to the human senses.

As it happens, in 2012, the Mayan glyphs predict the return of the ‘ultimate Jaguar’ which they almost certainly would have seen as a cosmic power. Historians and archaeologists would translate this as an expectation that some great Jaguar ‘King’ from hitherto is expected to re-incarnate and rule again. But again, this is to completely fail to penetrate the shamanic reality – where the Jaguar represents the ultimate predator and ruler. These realms of understanding are as inaccessible to modern Mayan specialists such as Yale professors of anthropology, as they are to modern Egyptologists attempting an understanding of the lion-headed ‘goddesses’.

In this vein, the popular writer Graham Hancock has argued that paleolithic cave paintings cannot be understood from outside of the shamanic perspective within which they were painted. (25) He thinks that the painters were in trance states induced by hallucinogens or by trance-dance and bemoans the response of the anthropologist specialists in this field who refuse to experiment with their own perceptive ability – either by taking the hallucinogens or by dancing! I sympathise and would apply the same argument to the Mayan or Egyptian artefacts. The inner journey, so readily dismissed as ‘mystic’ can be a source of knowledge – and it is from this source that the Mayans drew.

In shamanic practice, the trance ability is an ability to enter the ‘dreamworld’ and has to be honed and strengthened much as a mathematician might train his or her logical faculty. Real shamanic knowledge is thus out of the reach of the ordinary person (as well as the ordinary anthropologist). A few exceptions, such as Narby (op cit) have undergone the journey (with Ayahuasca) in the spirit of humble inquiry and have been deeply struck by the beauty of the insights they have gained. In our modern culture, Francis Crick, the discoverer of the structure of DNA admitted in his autobiography that his insights first came during a ‘trip’ on LSD.

These well-meaning adventurers are mere day-trippers to a complex ‘otherworld’ that has layers and dimensions – one of the latter being a dimension without time in its equations! Modern science has no passport to this world, nor does it request one. Its ideology is kept coherent by an assumption that any unseen worlds of consciousness are mere figments of the human imagination – and can be relegated therefore to the realm of the subjective and personal. The boundary of science is the sub-quantum realm as defined by the limits of instrumentation – and seemingly, scientists do not reflect upon the obvious fact that it is their limited imagination that must perforce design the instruments.

In this regard, science itself seems to have lost some consciousness since its inception in the 17th century. Any biography of the truly great insights of science would reveal the role of ‘dreaming’ in the revelation of scientific truths (Newton, Galileo, Tesla, Mendeleyev and even Darwin). Yet, dreaming is not encouraged let alone an integral part of the training readily available in scientific institutions. I will return to what training might exist behind the scenery but is not so readily available.

The dreamworld and other dimensions of knowledge

The ultimate shamanic journey takes the form of an initiatory journey to the centre of the galaxy. This is beyond the comprehension of anyone limited by normal modes of thought and perception. The end of the Mayan calendar happens to coincide with an alignment of the winter solstice Sun with the dark rift of the Milky Way and is within a few degrees of the astronomical Galactic Centre. For the Mayan, this point, referred to as Hunab Ku, was the cosmological mother of the Universe. The Egyptians are held by some to have had the same knowledge (27). Modern science only identified galactic centre with the birth of radio-astronomy (the centre is a powerful radio-source).

Despite ample documentation of altered states of consciousness the majority of the scientifically trained have never had an out-of-body experience and the few who have will not have embarked on any kind of training to move the locus or focal point of their conscious awareness. The commonest western experience comes from martial artists who are taught to shift that locus from the head to the hara – just below the navel. Thus aligning conscious awareness with a gravitational centre, such artists can perform extra-ordinary feats in defiance of the laws of physics. I have seen at close hand Buddhist monks in training break iron bars over their bare heads without so much as a bruise, and walk up a ladder of upturned swords sharp enough to dice cucumber, whilst carrying a yoke and two large pales of water!

The notion that a disembodied point of individual consciousness can ‘travel’ – as in a ‘journey’ to the galactic centre, seems absurd to the scientific mind – but most such minds are commonly illiterate of the boundaries of modern science. In quantum   physics there are established physical phenomena within which time is not a factor – such as the instantaneous communication of entangled electrons. Physicists regular talk about particles coming in and out of ‘existence’ – i.e. as materialising from the sub-quantum realm. Why then is it such a leap to postulate a state of mind where individual human consciousness can ‘travel’, observe and report its experience?

 

In the practical realms that most ecologists occupy, the advances in modern physics where mathematicians invoke and construct eleven dimensions of reality in order to reconcile the laws of gravity with the other cosmic forces, are simply not regarded as relevant! In the shamanic dream-world dimension, the journey takes no time because it is made in a dimension that has no time. Hence, there is no distance. Is this dream-world any less real than the world of quantum dynamics. In actuality, I would argue, the dream-world is infinitely more interesting because it has content and thus meaning! The world of electrons – and indeed, the physics of creation, is decidedly empty.

On this ‘galactic journey’ human consciousness is obliterated momentarily by the experience – and it is an initiation, an experience of the void. On return, the shaman has undergone a transformation that is beyond description in terms of ordinary reality. I have no doubt that shamans far more adept than I would stay conscious for longer and gain more insight and that when Mayan shamans danced their own Ghost Dance (in the skins of black jaguars) they would gain knowledge of value and meaning for the disintegration of the times they faced. In our own experience of the final Ghost Dance, there was not so much a gaining of knowledge, or any flow from the heavens into our earthly endeavour, rather we had the experience of transferring to other realms the essence of the work we had done over the previous seven years. It was an offering.

The problem with modern science is that it can only describe alternative dimensions where time does not operate (and it can only do so mathematically) – the modern physicist is not trained to enter them!

Paradoxically, the founding fathers of modern physics and hence western science, all practised entering these inner dimensions! The Royal Society was founded by a small group of alchemical freemasons led by the King’s astrologer Elias Ashmole. (28) At the outset, modern science was practised by magicians – as in magii, and curiously, few modern scientists are even curious as to why this was and what subsequently happened. There is hardly any appreciation in scientific circles of precisely what alchemy constituted. The language of magic has been debased, such that a modern magician is simply a conjuror and illusionist.

With regard to Alchemy, there remains the popular misconception that it was a fool’s errand to create gold from base metal. There is no remnant knowledge of the strength of the inquisition in 1600 AD and the need to codify and keep secret all activities that trained the inner perception of reality. And in addition to that particular heretical and hence dangerous inquiry, the alchemists also worked closely with women as equals in that journey of discovery.

European Alchemy was an inheritance of the Greek hermetic tradition of inner ‘work’ on the self – what would in New Age parlance be called the ‘dreambody’(28). This hermetic tradition (after Hermes, the interlocutor between Man and the Underworld in the Greek pantheon), directly followed instruction of the Greeks by the Egyptians. Inner knowledge in Egypt was gained through the intermediary Thoth, half-man, half-bird (the Ibis-headed ‘god’). When asked of their source of science, medicine, language, mathematics, engineering, and architecture, the Egyptian adept would say all were derived from Thoth. Narby found a similar reply when he asked how Amerindians had discovered the unlikely formula of herbal medicine plants that constitute Ayahuasca (where one plant provides the psycho-active substances that catalyse visionary experience, and another the enzyme inhibitors to allow their absorption from the digestive tract) – the ‘sacred’ vine itself had told them.

Sex, the serpent and the origin of evil

 

Any study of these inner paths to knowledge will reveal some kind of ‘tantra’ involved with sexual union. That is, the cultivation of ‘sexual energy’ for ‘magical’ purposes. The Alchemical Marriage was both an inner meditation and a union practised with a real partner. Similar traditions exist in more advanced shamanic communities – for example, the Kogi of Colombia (M. Michaelova, pers.comm). There are immediate parallels with yogic training, knowledge of kundalini and Tibetan tantric practice that derives from the ancient Vedas and may well precede the Egyptian hermetic tradition.

One can deduce from a recent biography of Ashmole that the alchemical freemasons had previously practised a form of tantric union for which a knowledgeable sexual partner was essential. (29) This inner journey sought to balance the male and female components of consciousness for which it used the serpent as a symbol, thus doubly inviting the wrath of the Christian church. Ashmole finally gave up because of problems with his wives – a woman of such knowledge was hard to find after several hundred years of ritual torture and execution. In freemasonry, the male mind finally found its answer to the problematic female mind – that part that eschews logic, favours intuition, dwells so often in emotion, and is forever changeable and unpredictable. More potently, the collective ‘divine’ feminine tends to destroy things in fits of cyclic frenzy.

In the New Age, ‘she’ is revered, at least in Glastonbury, as the ‘dark Goddess’, but there is nothing new here – the Greeks called her Chaos and the Indians, Kali. It is hard to appreciate just how far patriarchal culture and its systems of knowledge has moved from any kind of balanced perspective. Even the successes of feminism are heralded more in masculine realms of power, employment, mental and athletic agility, rather than anything ancient crone wisdom would have acknowledged – such as the power to dream, to heal, to love unconditionally, and above all, the power to destroy and seed the necessary rebirth of consciousness. Within educational systems, the ‘female’ side of the brain would have to be balanced in its training with that of the male side: intuition with logic, dreaming with analysis, feeling with thought, body consciousness with out-of-body mentalities, and love with the need for aggression and boundaries. Such would really herald a ‘new’ age.

I am of the opinion that hermetic knowledge is still very much alive within modern secret societies of magical freemasonry – but, of course, well hidden. Old reasons for secrecy are not hard to find, but the modern mason has other reasons related to the continued imbalance of the masculine above the feminine. Its inner work not only does not require union with woman, it teaches the transcendence of the male mind in a realm of Universal and architectural order. In many ways, science is lapdog to this order.

These pathways of inner knowledge ultimately lead to the rhythms of creation and destruction – very dark places for the modern male mind to explore and not risk madness. I would argue that in our clearly patriarchal culture, the amputation has been a deliberate avoidance – perhaps driven by an existential fear, perhaps because it confers apparent temporal power and control. Within this structure, educated and potentially powerful women have failed to see the level of illusion – for example, in her study The case of the female orgasm, the biologist Elisabeth Lloyd, concluded that the orgasm had no evolutionary function and was the biological equivalent of the male nipple!

Lloyd states at the outset that she does not consider the psychology of orgasm – that is to say, the content anything that women say they experience! Nor does she betray any knowledge that cultures outside of the United States or outside of the western scientific tradition, have evolved trainings for the cultivation of sexual energy. In tantric traditions, cultivated ‘sexual’ energy rises and empowers the inner vision centres of the brain. If a wider anthropological knowledge had been added to Lloyd’s frame of reference (Hugh Brody’s Maps and Dreams comes to mind) the adaptive power of dreaming with respect to the location of game or the perhaps aggressive designs of competing bipedals would provide ample evolutionary advantage.

All this is, of course, is mythic mumbo-jumbo to the average technocrat behind a desk in Brussels, or the funding committees of the Research Councils (unless, of course they have progressed beyond their particular local Lodge). And if there is a social anthropology of the origins of modern science and its claim to objective knowledge then I would hope to find it embellished with fieldwork among the tribe of scientists, in particular those who have risen above all in high-placed advisory committees.

My interest is not just a question of academic study or retrieval of an historical perspective – the modern scientific mind is, in my view, a dangerously imbalanced amputee, deprived of a whole hemispheric experience and more importantly, any training to negotiate the tricky roads within the right hemisphere or ‘female’ mind of intuition, feeling and dream.

Ironically, in the light of what we now know nearly happened in 2012, and of what could happen at any time in the near future, the whole of modern science, technology and architectural order, could be brought down to a new Neolithic tribal age in an instant of destruction – wrought not by the visible light of the Sun, but by its invisible dark side. The level of suffering among seven billion people, half of whom now live in cities, would be unprecedented.

Science and the repression of holistic knowledge

I would not want to project my limited experience of indigenous communities – but I have found some very happy and blissful people, grounded and connected to the Earth and in community, not afflicted by existential fears of survival or competition, with balanced sexuality, centred in their personal power, full of heart, free with their voice to sing and to dance, and with many in the tribe who can ‘see’ with their inner eye and a few who have been highly trained since birth to do so. This, in my estimation is the true heritage of what it is to be human. It is found well articulated in yoga-tantra, the hermetic tradition and in the Egyptian teachings of Thoth. It is not far removed from Druid knowledge and is paralleled in Native American and Amerindian concepts of energy and consciousness – particularly among the Kogi of Colombia.

I look around at modern civilised men and women and I find that all of the six ‘centres’ of consciousness – the chakra system in yoga tantra, representing – 1: security and the experience of unity; -2: duality and sexuality; -3: power; -4: heart; -5: voice; and -6: vision; have been systematically damaged. Most people I meet and work with experience base-level insecurity. They have no real supporting community and feel at the mercy of competitive forces. Yogic perception sees this existential fear closing off the base chakra and preventing the free flow of life energy, the kundalini, into the rest of the body’s energy centres.

Modern science has little conception of kundalini as an energy form, simply because it cannot be measured. What can be measured, but is hardly ever reported upon (or experienced) is that the roughly 2 metre height of the human coincides with a 200 volt increase in voltage above the ground. The surface of the Earth and the upper atmosphere differ by several million volts. There is an intricate web of voltage cells and invisible magnetic channels. Subtle currents are guided through these channels. The human body also has internal channels and subtle currents – of the kind that acupuncturists train for years to be able to feel, locate and stimulate. Chinese medicine has had maps of these channels for over two thousand years and is able, for example, to perform extremely painful and normally debilitating operations by careful manipulation of these pathways. Western medical practitioners have been amazed to watch hernia patients get up and walk out of Chinese surgery where acupuncture is used as an anaesthetic.

Unfortunately, western medical perception (still largely based on Newtonian mechanics, pumps, pipes and hydraulics, with a little electronic or cybernetic metaphor) cannot conceive that this power may not be purely physical, but psychic too. The disposition of the seven chakras also corresponds to seven psychic realms of consciousness. These realms of consciousness are not in themselves unfamiliar to the western mind – Carl Jung studied them intensively as the unconscious mind. It is their location at precise points in the body that represents a challenge. In western science, consciousness is located in the brain alone – and limited to the idea of ‘being conscious’. Western science still does not embrace Jungian or humanistic psychology wherein the content of consciousness is the subject of most interest. Instead, it relies upon its foundations in behavioural psychology and a heavy emphasis upon experiment with rats!

The subtle energy flows – symbolised in many cultures as a serpent-like power (Celtic, Tantric, Egyptian and Amerindian), because the snake is a master of the wave-form, has a tendency to flow upwards to the second level – that of the sexual organs. In yogic understanding, it is linked to the experience of duality and separation (whereas the base is linked to the consciousness of unity). In Yoga sutras, the experience of separation and hence duality drives all desire – including sexual desire.

The feelings of desire indicate a subtle energy loss and hence yoga tantra meditations seek to remedy this perception and balance the male and female polarities that drive desires.

Where sexuality is severely damaged – repressed, abused or misdirected, the flow of energy is further constricted or in males, habitually discharged. There is thus little flow left into the third level, the belly, the hara – the centre of gravity and personal power. Most modern humans in their urban hierarchical environment hold little personal power or creativity and have virtually no free ‘will’ in the sense that they are doing what they want to do. The will is centred in the belly. Without a strong and hence free will, such people are ever subject to a higher authority.

In my observations of indigenous community, the individual will is empowered rather than disempowered, and is free on a daily level, to order its life within the responsibilities of its communal existence. Furthermore, individuals are equal – even though they may be under the authority of a chief, that authority is willingly conferred and can be withdrawn.

With such ingrained loss of power, there is thus very little energy left for the fourth level of the heart. Such disempowered persons do love, but it is personal and not very persistent – their love lacks the power that can only be derived from the flow of energy from the lower chakras. They may profess abiding love as taught by great redeemers of the human condition – but when threatened, they retaliate, often with overwhelming force and animosity.

Thus energetically disabled, the modern civilised human experiences little voice (5th chakra) in their own affairs and very limited vision (6th chakra).

The recovery vehicle

These are my damaged people – the remnant tribes of the counterculture. If they try to dance a ‘long-dance’ – the Native American Ghost Dance was over four days and nights, the results are very predictable – it turns into a shake-out. There may be visions but they have little power. Modern youth needs alcohol and drugs to get ‘off its face’ and their ‘tribal trance dances’ are far from inspiring. Only the urban-shamanic Five Rhythms of Gabrielle Roth approaches the kind of repair-job required.

This matters to me in my task as the Ghost Dance shaman (30). All of my dancers are damaged and requiring repair – including myself. Indeed, it is only through my own therapeutic journey that I can know how to approach their limitations. Our goal is to free the ‘energy’ body such that the dreaming faculty can be empowered. This work can only be understood by those who have either some hermetic knowledge, a background in kundalini yoga, or deep levels of shamanic training in places where it is available – such as in the Amazon and Mexico.

The final ‘seventh level’ is the goal – that of a surrender to the higher power or that which is already dreaming this existence. This is the ultimate purpose of the Ghost Dance ritual. At first, only in Glastonbury could one hope to pull together a team of modern dancers already schooled in kundalini  practices, Five Rhythms  and the shamanic journey. In subsequent years, such teams could be built in Estonia, France and the Czech Republic.

When the rising serpent-power is directed to the sixth level – the ‘third eye’ of New Age parlance, then it empowers the dreamer and the dream. The Ghost Dance is a collectively empowered dream-dance.  Most people do not consciously power their dreams and hence most dreams do not manifest. In collective terms, the dominant dream is that which is most empowered by all the social dreamers – and in modern society this is largely unconscious and fearful or illusory. Fear is a powerful energy for the manifestation of dreams: that which is most greatly feared, eventually manifests.

The most powerful dream manifesting in modern times is not one of sustainable, equitable and ecological development, but the American Dream of individual liberation. It’s a magicians’ trick – an illusion. All of the founding fathers of the US Constitution were magical Freemasons. Even when the American Dream is held strongly, few manifest this dream because they are too fearful, and merely continue to exist as the base-level of a pyramid of power in someone else’s dream. The pyramid maintains its power through this illusion and poor education, disempowerment and where necessary, violent and conspiratorial repression. It has its own shadow, of course, wherein the most powerful nation on Earth, is also the least secure and is currently engaged on the manifestation of its greatest terror (ironically, Al Quaida means ‘The Base’ in Arabic!).

Once seen from a shamanic perspective, the repression of the true human is obvious: first create a base-level insecurity – for most of its existence the USA deliberately avoided any kind of social security system, fostering instead widespread fear of losing one’s job, status and means of survival. Sexuality was not only purged of all tantric training and rendered unto the biologists, it was deliberately hyped and amplified by the media to the level of obsession and distraction. In schools, children are first taught obedience to authority and their curriculum prescribed in detail. At University, academic studies require a time-consuming knowledge and citation of the authorities in any field. Children and developing minds are not empowered in their individuality – despite the illusion that the system is meant to foster individual freedom. In congested cities, a disheartened population then turns to drugs, pornography and prostitution, with rape, violence and child-abuse rampant. In such a culture, one cannot wonder that the ecological crisis of humanity passes most people by.

At the end of time

Finally, there is the question of what lies at the end of the inner journey – the rebalancing, the alchemical marriage and the highest yoga tantra? This is the goal of the Ghost Dance – it is a dance of death. Every human faces death, few are trained to do so (Ancient Egyptians and modern Tibetans).

 

wand and smudge copy

Druid wand and Magpie wing smudge, with sage and shell; Tibetan container of fire-ash from Himalayan sacred fire-pit.

It is at the moment of death that what has been grown is harvested. The secret of these teachings is that the work of the soul is harvested on another dimension – there is a transference. That dimension is boundless in space and contains no time – it is quite beyond our normal human comprehension. At this point, we the Ghost Dancers can only follow instructions.

The Tibetan understanding is that the soul re-incarnates, and it works with the harvest of its previous lifetimes. The fruit is the fruit of love, compassion and wisdom. If there is an End Time, a time perhaps when the human soul itself must die and re-incarnate in another time and perhaps even another place, then the shamans call the Ghost Dance.

We cannot begin to appreciate the human heart and its power of love from a viewpoint of western medical science. Here we are not focussed upon a pumping system but rather, the heart of what it is to be human. This heart is a vast psychic realm of passion, love, appreciation of beauty, caring, humility and sheer ecstatic explosively orgasmic experience. In a holographic and fractal Universe, the human heart is also a star. It shines with beneficence. It can also fade and die and even explode to seed new stars – all within its fractal reality. The Druids understood this inner realm very well and constructed their stone circles as solar temples – not out of acts of ‘worship’, for they did not separate themselves from any ‘deity’, but as places of direct experience and deep initiation.

stonehengeskull-2 copy

Ghost Dance ceremonial ‘crystal’ skull, carved by the modern western Shaman Steve Mitchell, from discarded Sarson stone at Stonehenge.

As a fractal of cosmic consciousness the human heart writes its stories of love, of comedies and tragedies, betrayals and revenge. It contains all music and modern symphony, all myths and every poem. And it is also an experiential state of unity, of the truth that there is only one being – one universal consciousness, a consciousness of unity that has to be experienced to be known. Once experienced, it places the individual human consciousness in perspective as a persistent illusion.

The original Ghost Dance of the plains tribes – as taught to them by the mountain Paiute, sought to reconcile the spirits of the Red Man and the White Man and to dream a time when the children of the soldiers would come to respect the ways of the ‘true human’. The tipi fields at our festivals and the burgeoning tribal and shamanic consciousness are tribute to the power of that dreaming. The modern Ghost Dance seeks to reconcile the still errant soul of the White Man with the indigenous soul of humanity, and to dream that restoration. This has to be done not on the mental level, but in the morphic field of the holistic and restored human heart. Its dreaming power rests in the heartful tonal quality of the Ghost Dance songs. For the individual dancer, the journey is equivalent to a yogic training or shamanic ‘death’, where the survival strategies of the ego are surrendered – there is no turning back and the whole of life then become the dance.

The consequence of knowing this fully human being (Gnosis in the ancient texts of the early Christian era)–  practising it and taking a conscious effort and training to breathe and align consciousness in this way, is to experience a state of great bliss and complete security. The human individual is then no longer identified with the vulnerable physical state, but with an eternal anchor. Anthropologists might well suppose this a mental state of illusion, almost as a mirror to the mystic who sees science as equally illusory – but the deeper question is, who gains from the illusion of insecurity maintained by a culture of individuality and an education founded in the scientific method of separation? I think that would be another suitable quest for an anthropology of invisible cultures.

 

cc.primary.srr

Peter Taylor, 2014

 

 

Notes and references

1) As a mature student at Oxford University’s Institute of Social Anthropology I already had an involvement in environmental issues as an activist trained in ecological sciences.

2) I was deeply impressed by Barry Barnes’ ‘Interests and the Growth of Knowledge’ and Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’, but at that time there were no reflective studies of sociology itself and how its theories reflected its own position and interests within the social and political world.

3) I would be interested to hear of any anthropological studies on the rise of ecological ‘theory’ in politics and in particular the role of the technocrat in policy making. Concepts drawn from feedback and control in cybernetics and systems theory have been embellished with ideas of harmony, fragile webs, interconnectedness and human dependence, such that ecologists have muscled in on decision makers formerly drawn mainly from the worlds of economics and socio-political theory.

4) For example, the ecological issue of climate change is entirely defined by bureaucratic scientists with a now global influence on development policy. Global carbon trading reached $176 billion in 2011, rising from $5 billion in 2005, and working largely through the Clean Development Mechanism. ‘Green’ technological strategies have far-reaching impacts upon social structure and indigenous cultures.

5) This is important because ‘clean’ energy developments, particularly in the form of biofuels, tend to industrialise agricultural production in otherwise subsistence economies – destroying community and accelerating migration to overcrowded cities; as well as developing remote mountain regions for hydro-power and cutting down primary forests for wood-fuel or biofuel plantations. In developed economies, wind turbine deployment on a large scale has divided communities and impacted the quality of rural life.

6) I discussed these works by Pahner and Novotny in ‘Nuclear Power in Central Europe’, The Ecologist Vol 7 No 6 pp216-222. (1977) and the text of this paper was used in the Open University’s ‘Control of Technology’ course.

7) See The Nuclear Controversy (with Martin Stott) Town and Country Planning Association, London (1980) for a summary of the issues at the Windscale Inquiry.

8) See ‘The Interpretation of Monitoring Results’ in Radiation & Health, ed. Southwood & Russell-Jones, Wiley. Pp 19-45. 1987

9) I discuss this issue in ‘The Precautionary Principle and the Prevention of Marine Pollution’  (with T.Jackson). Chemistry & Ecology, 7: (1-4), pp123-134. 1993.

10) Brian Wynne’s work at the Centre for Science Policy at Lancaster University was a notable effort to make these points within the EU bureaucracy.

11). See ‘Rewildng the grazers – obstacles to the ‘wild’ in wildlife management’ British Wildlife Vol 20 No5, Special issue: Naturalistic grazing and re-wilding in Britain. 2009

12) There is a compendium of articles on these issues from the journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationsists in ‘Rewilding’ ed. P. Taylor, Ethos, Oxford. 2011.

13) See my book ‘Chill: a reassessment of global warming theory’ Chapter 16, ‘Reflections from Anthropology’. Clairview,2009.

14)      See: ‘The New Age in Glastonbury: the construction of religious movements’. Ruth Prince and David Riches, Berghahn Books, Oxford (2000).

15) The fusion of sources – from Himalyan yogic and Tibetan tantric wisdom, to Amazonian plant-spirit-medicine is a hall-mark of the New Age, often disparaged, but reflective of the legacy disruption of native language and indigenous community since Celtic times and the desire to recover lost knowledge and wisdom.

16) Jeremy Narby (1999) ‘ The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge’. Putnam, London.

17) see Michael Hittman, ‘Wovoka and the Ghost Dance’. University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

18) My last work with government agencies (The Countryside Agency and the Department of Trade and Industry) sought to visualise change in the landscape and in communities through the use of computer virtual reality – see )  Visualising Renewable Energy in the Landscape of 2050. Multi-media Project for the Countryside Agency, Cheltenham. (2001) and accessible at www.ethos-uk.com

19) see Chapter 9, ‘The healing Forest’ in my book, ‘Beyond Conservation’, Earthscan, 2005.

20) I have written about the struggle to maintain yoga and the spiritual path within environmental work in ‘Shiva’s Rainbow: an autobiography’, Ethos, Oxford, 2004.

21) Joseph Gelfer ed. ‘2012: decoding the countercultural apocalypse’. Equinox, Sheffield, England.

22) I discuss solar science at length in ‘Chill’ where I present published evidence that recurrent natural climate cycles peaked in the late 20th century, are caused by magnetic cycles on the Sun, and may currently be turning downward, presaging not warming but cooling. An update can be found in the magazine Caduceus 88, 2014.

23) See John Major Jenkins ‘Galactic Alignment: The transformation of consciousness according to Mayan, Egyptian and Vedic traditions’, Bear & Co. Rochester, Vermont (2002) And also: Geoff Stray, ‘Beyond 2012: catastrophe or ecstasy’ Vital Signs Publishing, Lewes, England, 2005.

24) see the UK Parliament Defence Committee report: ‘Developing Threats: Electro-Magnetic Pulses (EMP)’, Feb 2012.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmdfence/1552/155203.htm

and also the June 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine, which has an article explaining recent solar science and outlines the potential for a global catastrophe

25) see: Jeremy Naydler’s ‘Shamanic wisdom in the pyramid texts: the mystical tradition of ancient Egypt’. Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, (2005).

26) Graham Hancock, ‘Supernatural: meetings with the ancient teachers of mankind’. The Disinformation Company. Ltd., New York. 2006.

27) see Paul LaViolette’s ‘Earth under Fire: humanity’s survival of the ice-age’  Bear & Co. Rochester, Vermont (2005) and ‘Genesis of the Cosmos: ancient science of continuous creation’, Bear&Co. (2004)

28) see ‘The Hermetica: lost wisdom of the Pharaohs’ by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy,. Tarcher, London, 2008.

29) see Tobias Churton’s ‘The Magus of Freemasonry: the mysterious life of Elias Ashmole – scientist, alchemist and founder of the Royal Society’,  Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2006.

30) For a more detailed account of the modern Ghost Dance see ‘The Ghost Dance in Avalon: countdown to 2012’ Caduceus vol80, pp14-17, 2011.

A journal from the end of times(2nd extract)

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I hope you  enjoy another extract form the forthcoming book, ‘A Journal from the End of Times.’

San Salvador, the centre of the Salvadorans capital and it is  Indigenous Peoples Day today, 518 years since Christopher Columbus arrived (1492) and changed the course of these people’s history.

I proceed to the demo a few blocks away, it is being held outside the office of a Human Rights organisation. As Mel and I arrive the participants are preparing themselves, a mariachi band sit on chairs and pleasantly set the scene. A ceremonial fire-pit bowl is placed on the pavement in front of the steps leading up to the Human Rights office. Many different coloured headscarves, belts and costumes are adorned, worn and adjusted. There is that buzz in the air. Men and women from many tribes and cultures are well represented here, mainly Central American, but also a few representatives from the North and the South are here also, the fire ceremony is prepared collectively and harmoniously, whether this was prearranged or not is unclear to me.

 

sound woman

Conches are blown, shakers are rattled and drums are beaten, a simultaneous cry goes up and the adrenaline increases, this really is quite some spectacle. The fire is lit, chanting and singing adds to the ceremony; at first it is quite cacophonous but soon unifies as the excitement can be seen on all of the participants faces. It is a visual spectacular as I run around paparazzi style, photographing from all angles in a media scrumage, at times it feels like there are as many video and camera journalists here as there are chiefs, but this is the point after all….. To get noticed.

In unison, the ceremony turns to the four points of the compass. The crowd synchronises and faces north, looking up the street for one suspended moment accompanied by chants and prayers, then we all turn east and look out into the traffic, then to the west and back down the street and finally the group turns south and every one unified in this traditional and ancient gathering, with their hands raised and chanting, singing up towards the steps of the Human Rights building. The receptive audience is some bewildered security guards, a few men in suits and their secretaries.

There is no police presence, the only security guards attending are those that would normally be resident here in these buildings. This amazes me, for a country where heavily armed guards patrol restaurants, hotels and petrol stations, where the military appear almost everywhere, but here in the centre of the capital city at an unannounced demonstration of indigenous activists…..nothing.

The chaotic buzz continues with this eclectic bunch performing in their own way; a hairy man with a lazy eye wanders around the crowd swinging a bowl of incense, the fire grows and rises as people bring offerings of fruit and flowers, shells, tobacco and alcohol are all offered to and around the fire, the pavement is beautified.

I am still twitchy, constantly surveying the surroundings, maybe no obvious police or military but surely some kind of secret service or surveillance, I am the sole western white man at this event and feel very conspicuous, I am always on the lookout for unwanted attention. In the UK at almost any form of crowd gathering it is now the norm to expect at least one police camera team present, poking their cameras in the face of every single participant. Video recognition has proved an effective tool in the security services arsenal, video intimidation is yet to be effectively legislated against. Recently at a demo in the UK parents complained that the police were even filming their very small children, it is a fine line between evidence gathering and bullying.

A man suddenly approaches me and is eager to convey a message, I find him hard to understand, he makes me nervous but he is persistent, I can’t make out what he wants. He hands me a piece of paper as I continue to look all around me, there are two pieces of paper sellotaped together. I quickly peruse the paper and at first glance I read peligro (danger), I turn the page and make out something about millions of dollars. This does not help my paranoia, it is a confusing concern and adds to the tension. I slip the note in my pocket and make my distance from this suspicious man.

I have met many of the key figures of this demonstration today and throughout the ceremony I am warmly greeted with handshakes and back slaps, again this rattles my nerves. Am I right to have this fear? I convince myself I am a passing tourist (not that there appear to be many here in this country) who can’t resist a photo opportunity, but I also know that many of these men now dressed in ceremonial costume were dressed in guerrilla combats only a few years ago, military leaders, agitators, activists and possibly cold blooded murderers, it’s not the sort of question you ask people about.

I speak with José as the ceremony naturally begins to subside. I tell José of my amazement at the lack of any police presence and relay the undemocratic state of protest in the UK, He smiles and responds,

“We fought for this”.

I can’t help feeling saddened by the state of how rapidly the UK has deteriorated, no serious blood is being spilt, but the insidious, sinister actions of the state have frightened many a peaceful demonstrator standing up for what they only think is right. You have the democratic right to protest but you will be watched, filmed, kettled, documented and pursued from ground level surveillance cameras and CCTV to invisible drone planes in the sky. Orwell cries from his grave,

“Told you so”.

I find a comfortable place to perch on a low wall, just to the side of the gathering. One by one the members of the ceremony, who are now de-robed and returned to civilian clothing, come and share cigars. We all puff together; some kind of moonshine, posh as it is known locally, is passed around in a half coconut shell. I feel very included in this camaraderie, everyone is beaming smiles and some are almost ecstatic with their achievements. Perhaps it is finally the unity between the various collectives that has occurred today, after so many years of conflict of division and rule, and this new found freedom to perform their ceremonies so openly after many years of oppression. I openly admit I am naive to their plight, I am just happy that they are happy.

I take the note I had stashed in my pocket earlier and ask José to help me translate it, at closer inspection it reads pelicula not peligro. Well that’s my crap Spanish for you, I have confused the word danger for the word film, we are both laughing as José reads on……….

Mr X has a brilliant script for a film and we should help him make it and we could all make millions of dollars!

A crank or I have just missed my chance at making my millions.

Whilst I have been hanging out, drinking and smoking with the men, Mel is still hard at work, opportunistic as ever and acquiring as many interviews as she can. She is with a group of female activists and has a small queue for interviews. I have to give her the usual clock warning as we are leaving El Salvador today and heading into Honduras, it is just past midday and it is another long, hot drive ahead, we gotta go, if we are to make this next country before nightfall.

 

You can follow the blog for A Journal from the End of times @ http://grantjriley.wordpress.com

Mind in Nature: A Question of Consciousness

Summary

Questions of consciousness – what it is, where it comes from, whether it evolved, how it relates to matter, and so on – are surely some of the most important and perplexing questions that have ever faced humanity. Yet what is almost as fascinating about these questions, is just how reluctant we are to ask them, even in the face of compelling evidence that has emerged from fields such as quantum physics and other sciences over the past century.

They are uncomfortable questions for many, no doubt, as they get right to the heart of how we experience the world. How we answer these questions will largely determine whether we see the world as alive with complex meaning and connection; or, as has been the case for much of the past few centuries, as little more than a set of coincidental mechanistic occurrences. And this, in my view, is exactly why they are such important questions.  As Christian de Quincey, a professor of philosophy at JFK University, puts it –

“Until we successfully reexamine the implicit ‘nuts and bolts’ of the philosophical superstructures that condition the way we think (more than what we think), we will continue to program ourselves to repeat the same kinds of mistakes. A major – perhaps the major – element in the conceptual and perceptual matrix that shapes our worldview is our scientific attitude to consciousness and its relationship to the world of matter. For, from this view, we look out on a world devoid of any real intrinsic value, of any inherent purpose, meaning, or feeling.”

The current mechanistic world view is, in the scheme things, only a recent paradigm, beginning with the likes of Descarte’s in the 17th century. Prior to this, the world has always been viewed as full of complex meaning and value. Focussing specifically on the subject of consciousness, it is interesting to consider the emerging similarities between the findings of modern science and the ancient beliefs held by Eastern cultures such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Perhaps it is by returning to these ancient cultures for guidance, that we might find the path forward?

This essay represents an attempt at exploring the subject of consciousness and its relevance to our experiences of the world, via an informal and personal experiential view point. It has been written as part of the course requirement for Module 4: Mind in Nature, of the Holistic Science Masters course at Schumacher College.

Introduction

As I have indicated in previous essays, one of the main reasons for my decision to travel half way around the world to study at Schumacher College related to a deep search for meaning. Intuitively I have always believed there is more to the world than the mechanistic, pure chance hypothesis that typifies the current mainstream view, a view so eloquently and convincingly summarised by renowned 20th century philosopher, Bertrand Russell when he said –

That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.”

It is hard for me to imagine a more depressing lens through which to view the world around us, yet it is the paradigm that we are all born into. When this is the dominant world view held by society, is it any wonder that we continue to worship the false gods of money, power and fame? Is it any wonder we are destroying the world around us? The world to which we are so inherently connected.

If we are going to navigate our way off our current course of certain planetary and self destruction, I am with de Quincey in believing that it will require a fundamental rethinking of our attitudes towards consciousness and its relationship to the world of matter. At a deep level, I feel it is only going to be through finding meaning in the world, that we will have any hope of saving it.

Thankfully, science is pointing towards a reality where consciousness is anything but a random and useless evolutionary coincidence. What’s more, we are not the first humans to be asking these questions – Eastern religions such as Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism have, for thousands of years, held central to their beliefs that sentience pervades all life and matter. And that it is this sentience, or, as the Taoists call it – Tao, that underpins reality.

The Taoist also realised that this Tao was, in essence, unknowable. It is everywhere and everything, it is beyond definition because in attempting to define it we are limiting the limitless. The first verse of the central Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching states – The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

And it is with this as the starting point, that Eastern thought turned away from attempts to understand, and towards a focus on alignment with that unknowable force.

But before I go further down the path of exploring how millennia of Eastern thought could be useful in guiding a path towards meaning and, ultimately, a harmonious existence as an integrated part of the Gaian system, I want to spend some time exploring the philosophical and scientific problems with the current worldview.

The Storyteller Paradox

One of the most fundamental paradoxes of the current worldview is what Christian de Quincey describes as the “storyteller paradox”, that we have created what he terms a “wonderful cosmology” story, but we have forgotten to include the storyteller – consciousness.  Explaining this paradox, de Quincey suggests that –

Science and philosophy exist only because of consciousness, yet consciousness is precisely what cannot be found anywhere within modern science or philosophy. We have a story without a storyteller.”

The renowned Austrian physicist and philosopher Erwin Schrödinger described the storyteller paradox in his own terms –

“The material world has only been constructed at the price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it, removing it; mind is not part of it; obviously, therefore, it can neither act on it nor be acted on by any of its parts.” 

And he went on –

“Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff. Mind could not cope with this gigantic task otherwise than by the simplifying device of excluding itself withdrawing from its conceptual creation. Hence the latter does not contain its creator.”

The fact is that the universe could have existed without observation, unknown and unobserved, it’s story never told, nor heard. But the reality is that the story is being told and therefore continuing to ignore the existence of the storyteller seems, not only pointless, but severely limiting to any attempts at understanding the universe and our place within it. The reality is that there is a raft of evidence to show that mind is influencing our physical reality; unfortunately, to accept this evidence requires many to overturn their entire world views, and herein lies the (understandable) resistance.

Quantum Problems

The discovery of the quantum realm in the early 20th century, in many ways should have stopped the mechanistic view of the world in its tracks by demonstrating that events occurring at the subatomic level are non causal, that is, that they are inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Quantum entities are both waves and particles, a reality that remains unexplained to this day, almost a century later.

Christian de Quincey describes two distinct problems that quantum theory has thrown up for the mechanistic paradigm –

  1. “Mechanism cannot be the whole story if there are quantum gaps in the world – because mechanism requires continuity and contact between adjoining objects to transmit the energy of their collisions.” and,
  2. “Furthermore, if quantum events happen only when observed the supposed subjectivity that goes hand in hand with mechanism comes into question.”

The second problem is particularly interesting when it comes to our approach to science. If we take the lessons of quantum theory onboard then the whole basis for objective science gets thrown out the window. Simply by performing experiments, we, as observers, are influencing the results. This, I feel, could be a good example of what Schrödinger was referring to above regarding the “gigantic task” of keeping mind in the picture.

And yet, possibly the most puzzling quantum question of all, is that of entanglement – something Einstein referred to as – “spooky action at a distance”. Quantum entanglement links the properties of particles, even when they have been separated by large distances. Via experimentation in this area scientist have been able to estimate that entangled particles would either need to travel at 10,000 times the speed of light, or, as is the accepted reality, that quantum events are non local, that quantum events are connected at some deep level of reality. Or, as physicist David Bohm interpreted it – “At the implicate quantum level, reality is an undivided whole.”

What is fascinating to me when pondering the implications of quantum theory is just how little the scientific findings of this field of science have impacted on our current world views. Despite the startling findings in this field we are still, very much, locked into the sort of mechanistic world view that quantum theory so clearly challenges. I can’t help but feel this is due to our addiction to certainty, something that keeps coming up for me in my studies at Schumacher.

There is no doubt that quantum theory has challenged the very basis for our mechanistic views of the universe, no one can argue against that. But as quantum theory remains a fundamental mystery at its core, we seem unable to accept its findings as reason enough for loosening the grip of mechanism over our world-views. It’s as if we are stuck in a pattern where we have become addicted to the false belief that we understand the world, to the extent that we seem unprepared to drop a core hypothesis, even when evidence has disproven it, without an equally complete hypothesis to replace it.

The obvious paradox here is that, given that the evidence has disproved the original hypothesis, we never had an accurate hypothesis to begin with. We are holding onto something that is false and misleading simply out of a reluctance to embrace uncertainty. Surely this is the most anti-science position possible?

This apparent addiction to certainty is exactly the same issue that I came up against when considering the reluctance to accept Gaia theory as an accurate metaphor for a living earth. Because Gaian scientists have been unable to provide a clear and concise mechanism for how the planet could possibly function as an integrated whole, many scientists have basically laughed Gaia off. But they are ignoring the evidence that Gaia is functioning as an integrated whole.

The Science of Mind

This is an extremely broad spanning subject and something I could write an entire PhD thesis exploring, so rather than attempting to review this area in any detail I will focus instead on some personal experiences that have convinced me that there is much more to this question than conventional science would have us believe.

The first major challenge to my thinking on this subject came a number of years ago, when a friend introduced me to a project called the global consciousness project. This project has has been running for over 15 years and involves about 70 random number generators located throughout the world. The project has proven that when events of global significance occur, attracting the attention of the world, subtle structure emerges within the otherwise random number sequences. Scientists involved with this project estimate a one in a trillion probability that this effect is due to chance alone and make this ultimate conclusion – “the evidence suggests an emerging noosphere or the unifying field of consciousness described by sages in all cultures.” This project represents the most detailed and substantial evidence for the connectivity of mind that I have ever come across.

More recently, during the Mind in Nature module we were privileged to spend a week listening to the renowned biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake began his career as a talented and highly regarded researcher before reaching a point where he felt that the structure of science itself was preventing him from pursuing the lines of inquiry he felt most drawn to.

Sheldrake has published over 80 scientific papers on subjects including – plant development, crop physiology, cell biology, and about half, published from the 1980s onwards, on experimenter effects, the sense of being stared at, telepathy in animals and people, and his own concept – morphic resonance (a concept in many ways aligned with that of unifying fields of consciousness referred to above). Much of his research is available on his website – http://www.sheldrake.org/

Sheldrake has gathered a vast collection of research clearly (in my view) demonstrating the connectivity of human (and animal) minds. If I had any doubts about this matter they were blown away when he showed us a video of an experiment involving a parrot named N’Kisi. Unfortunately, the video of this experiment is not publicly available due to private concerns of the parrots owner, but non the less, I have never seen a clearer and more convincing example of telepathic phenomena – the full details of the experiment are available here. It was while watching this video of N’Kisi that I made the very conscious decision to stop questioning whether or not minds are connected and instead, simply to accept it as a deep and mysterious truth.

But for all the fascinating science and information provided by Sheldrake, the thing that will stick in my mind most about his lectures were the discussions around how he has been constantly abused and vilified for daring to study these “off limits” issues. Before meeting Sheldrake, it is interesting for me to note my own position of scepticism, having read so much criticism of his work, I was extremely curious to meet the man in person. In some ways I was expecting a brash, opinionated, self promoter. What I experienced was an extremely humble and reserved man with an extraordinarily broad knowledge. Nothing like his critics would have us believe.

The experiments that Sheldrake performs are remarkably simple and cheap to conduct, yet his research is continually maligned as “pseudo science” by the fundamentalist sceptic’s who, instead of testing his hypotheses themselves, prefer to stand idly on the sidelines hurling abuse. They claim (and no doubt believe) they are the protectors of science and rationality, instead I feel they represent everything that is wrong with the current state of science. In convincing themselves that they are the guardians of science, they are, ironically, the most anti-science participants imaginable – completely incapable (it would seem) of viewing evidence independently of their preconceived views.

The evidence for the psychic phenomena is huge, as author Dr Dean Radin puts it –

“Psi has been shown to exist in thousands of experiments. There are disagreements over how to interpret the evidence, but the fact is that virtually all scientists who have studied the evidence, including the hard-nosed sceptics, now agree that something interesting is going on that merits serious scientific attention.”

But, to use Radin’s words again, the reality is that –

Facts don’t change minds as often as they confirm what the mind insists on believing.

That is to say, we have to be willing to look at the evidence and consider it with an open mind. Unfortunately, the keepers of the keys to “science” are still very much invested in the current paradigm beliefs that centre around mechanism and certainty. While this is understandable, it’s also something that must be overcome if we are to move beyond this current impasse and ensure that it is a scientific approach that guides our explorations into the subject of mind and consciousness.

There is ample evidence to show that psychic phenomena exists, what is needed now is thorough engagement around what it means for humanity and our relationship to the earth and cosmos. On this question, at least we have thousands of years of Eastern thought to guide us.

Lessons from the East

As I’ve attempted to highlight throughout this essay, research in fields such as quantum physics and the science of mind are pointing towards a reality that is interconnected in ways we have barely begun to comprehend. If we are to take on board these findings and pursue them, in search of higher truths, we must be willing to step into and embrace the world of uncertainty. As I mentioned at the start of this essay, Eastern religions start with uncertainty as their primary premise, and it is here that I feel we have so much to learn.

Fritjof Capra in his book, ‘the Tao of Physics’, exploring the relationship between modern physics and Eastern religions summarises the essence of the Eastern world view as follows –

The most important characteristic of the Eastern world view – one could almost say the essence of it – is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality. The Eastern traditions constantly refer to this ultimate, indivisible reality which manifests itself in all things, and of which all things are parts.”

This “ultimate and indivisible reality” is referred to as Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya in Buddhism, and Tao in Taoism. Instead of focussing on attempting to understand these concepts, Eastern religions instead focus on aligning themselves with them, understanding that no words or definitions could ever hope to contain the infinite.

Eastern philosophy sees our perceived separation from the world around us as an illusion brought on by our rambling unconscious minds. As Capra explains –

“To believe that our abstract concepts of separate ‘things’ and ‘events’ are realities of nature is an illusion. Hindus and Buddhists tell us that this illusion is based on avidya, or ignorance, produced by a mind under the spell of maya. The principal aim of the Eastern mystical traditions is therefore to readjust the mind by centering and quietening it through meditation.”

The benefits of meditation on health and wellbeing have been the focus of much study in recent decades with conclusively positive findings. Combine this with the scientific research coming out of the fields of quantum physics and parapsychology and it is clear that much can be learnt by going back to the ancient teachings of the East.

At a time when our separation from meaning and the world around us continues to see us pursue personal profit over our long term future, I can’t help feel there is much we can learn from a philosophy that puts “awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things” at its core.

This module and essay represent the first steps in what I feel will be a lifelong journey of exploration into the subject of mind in nature. I can only end by agreeing once more with Christian de Quincey in feeling that –

“Consciousness is not only science’s next frontier, its relationship to matter is also philosophy’s deepest mystery – a mystery that lies at the heart of the philosophy of mind.“

©Richard Widows,2014.