Journey into Gold
by Guy Dauncey
British Columbia is such an "outwards" kind of place — especially in summer. The mountains, ocean, islands, and rivers all invite us to engage ourselves in the world and its mysteries.
Yet the very beauty of our nature encourages inwardness and solitude. Many people like to dwell in an intimate, inward place, at least some of the time. So what happens when we take that deep inner breath, and turn to the space within?
The first things we meet, if we’re typically confused residents of the early 21st century, are all the things we don’t want to meet.
First, there’s General Irritability – that all-consuming grouch who believes he has a right to be annoyed or angry at someone or something, most of the time. He’ll spread his odour all over your inner space if you don’t take him in hand. The General is a tough customer to subdue, because self-righteous anger can be so satisfying, until you realise how the fragrance of your inner space is being destroyed.
Next, there’s Lady Hurt, with her arsenal of griefs. Broken relationships, family resentments, personal abandonments, imagined slights, bruised hopes. She can be so seductive, her embrace so comforting. She tells you so convincingly that it’s all their fault. Unfortunately, the world rarely delivers the kind of love she promises, so she creates new situations to justify new rounds of self-pity. With each new hurt, the floor of your inner space collapses.
Then there’s Bertie and Bertha Busy! They’re very popular 21st century characters who have such a full agenda, there’s no time for going within. They’ve got projects to complete, emails to answer, friends to call, household tasks to accomplish, places to go, events to attend, TV shows to watch. Not enough time. Slowly, your inner space becomes distant and unfamiliar.
Finally – for now – there’s Freddie and Fredericka Fear, and their daughter Doubt. They’ve always got a message that can make turning within a scary proposition. You’re not good enough. You’re not the way you ought to be. You’re afraid of remaining single; afraid of remaining married. Afraid of the future. Afraid of life. Who’d want to meet that lot? Better keep distracted with the out-there stuff.
If you’re searching for gold, these characters have to be put in their place. They’re like squatters in your soul, who will make themselves at home unless you act to evict them. Luckily, British Columbia is full of healers, poets, therapists, singers and compassionate friends, who can help you reclaim your domain, and enter your inner space in peace.
No sooner are you sitting peacefully, however, than your door is besieged by people who want to be your guide on the journey. Some offer to hold your hand for only as long as you want. Others want to bind you with gilded handcuffs. Choose wisely!
So now, if we pass these hurdles, we meet the wisdom characters of inner space, who have larger questions to pose. Who am I? Why am I here? Have I found my purpose in life? And behind these questions, another set of questions that they offer like enormous clouds, sometimes blocking, sometimes revealing the sun. Why are we here? Why are we making such a mess of things? Is there a purpose to this existence?
In different centuries, we have found different answers to these questions. In Europe’s medieval ages, the answer was no, there is no hope except in God. The world is an accursed mess; the only way to escape the fires of hell is to confess your sins, obey your priests, and pray for forgiveness. Some versions of Christian fundamentalism offer a similar answer today: the world is still a wicked and sinful place, only Jesus can save you. In India, for many thousand years, the answer has been likewise no - there is no hope, except in abandonment of the ego to God. The world is full of suffering; the only way to escape the awfulness of eternal re-incarnation is to achieve enlightenment, and step off the wheel forever.
But now we stand together, on an increasingly fragile planet. The questions are no longer just philosophical. There is so much confusion, so much ecological loss, that the future of our whole planet hangs on the answers. How can I enjoy my solitude, if the planet that gives me solitude is in such danger? The entire foundations of inner space are being questioned. Why are we here? Where are we going so fast? And what are we going to do about it?
We are in the midst of a journey into the quiet place within, that can be just as beautiful and miraculous as any ocean vista, waterfall or grizzly bear.
Last month, we passed some of the old regulars that like to hitch-hike along the road to inner peace. We met General Irritability, Lady Hurt, Bertie and Bertha Busy, and Freddie and Fredericka Fear, and we met the larger questions – "Who am I? Why am I here? Have I found my purpose in life?".
Before we could answer those questions, however, we were waylaid by another set of questions: "Why are we here – and why are we making such a mess of things?". We passed a roadside shrine to some of the answers that earlier generations created as they despaired of life on Earth, and we bumped into a big hole in the road that says "How can I enjoy my solitude, if the planet that gives me solitude is in such danger? Where are we going so fast? And what are we going to do about it?"
The hole is a magic juncture, where inner and outer worlds connect. In the past, most people who have used their lives to increase social justice, overcome hatred, or build a more ecologically sustainable planet have been guided by an inner roadmap which made sense of where they were going. For some, it was a Christian desire to live as Christ did, in the belief that one day, the whole Earth would live with faith, hope and kindness. For others, it was a humanist belief that beneath our warts and woes, humans are fundamentally good, and that if more of us would stand up for what is good, those who prefer to use their time on Earth to indulge their craving for money and power would have less influence.
What can inspire us today? The evidence is accumulating that human civilisations destroy themselves, not by taking on too much, but by doing too little to protect the ecosystems on which they depend. We are cooking our atmosphere. We have wiped out 90% of the oceans’ large fish in fifty years of industrial fishing. We are tearing down the oldgrowth rainforests as if they were some kind of disease.
But there is the peril inside this hole in the road. The wisdoms of science, that gave us the understandings that gave us the technologies that gave us the ability to cause this destruction, say there is no meaning. If there is an "it", it is evolution, the one gigantic idea into which all nature, all physical reality, and the whole enormous cosmos can fit. But the biologists who reign over evolutionary theory say that according to their research, evolution has no purpose or direction. There is no reason why civilisation, polar bears, sea-horses and poetry evolved. It was just random, as genes made sure they stayed alive by whatever means they could. There is no direction or purpose. The only meaning is the meaning we create for ourselves, to stop ourselves going insane.
The world’s religious faiths have created meanings from the ancient tales of their desert fathers, but their followers live their lives with the same ecological ignorance that caused previous civilisations to die out.
Many of those who are not bothered with religious explanations are happy to live for the moment, enjoying the pleasures of life, at least until they come unstuck. Be here now! Don’t sweat the small stuff! Be your own miracle! It is constantly useful that the leaders of industry manage to find so-called "scientific" studies that prove there’s nothing to worry about. The environment is getting cleaner; fish farming is perfectly harmless; free enterprise will find a solution. They add "Don’t worry – be happy!" to the mental worry-beads we can play with to keep the realities at bay.
Deep inside the hole, however, the search goes on. How can we enjoy the deep peace of inner space, when the world outside is (a) unfolding according to some religious dogma that causes more grief than it cures, (b) completely meaningless, or (c) just plain confused, and when meanwhile, we are cruising to ecological and social self-destruction?
There is one strand, at the very bottom of the hole, that we can draw on – the strand of our own consciousness. If you pull on it hard enough, and don’t get distracted by its knots and colourful tassels, it leads to spirit. And if you pull on spirit hard enough, even though it’s a contradiction in terms, it leads to the great, enormous something which some call Allah, some call the Creator, some call God, some call Mother Earth, some call YHWH, some call Krishna, and some will not name at all. It leads to an experience of love, of complete personal acceptance, and sometimes to an experience of miracle, and divine intervention.
Out of the well of this knowledge, every religion and spiritual tradition has been created. They are comforting, so we cling to them, either regardless of or specifically because of what is happening in the world around us. What else is there? Ever imagined being embraced by a selfish gene?
If we separate off the religion, however, the core remains. We do have consciousness, and there is solid evidence that consciousness can travel and create influence across space, maybe across time. Prayers, chants and invocations do lead to results, and healing can occur between one person and another, both in the presence and the absence of the one being healed. The spirits of those who have just died do sometimes appear to loved ones.
Stage magicians and sceptics can all stand aside, and these things will still happen. In the Middle Ages, before science emerged as a discipline, these experiences of the divine became entangled with charlatans, goblins, fears and superstitions, and lent themselves to some pretty crazy thinking. If things went badly, you could be burnt alive at the stake, as an expression of God’s love. When the early scientists came along, asking rigorous questions and testing their results for accuracy, they swept away much of the nonsense, but there was a price to pay.
The price was the loss of contact with spirit as part of the real world. Res mens – things of the mind – were relegated to the basement of human experience, and firmly sat upon. Only res extensa – things extended in space – were considered real, and worth investigating. The church could look after the rest. When modern evolutionary theory says there is no meaning and no direction, it is only talking about matter. It is not even on speaking terms with spirit.
But science is young. If the 20,000 year old story of human civilisation is compared to a 100-year human life, science is two and a half years old. It will learn, and grow. It is already turning its attention to consciousness, just as a two and a half-year old might do.
So here’s the possibility. Spirit is real. It exists throughout time and space, probably beyond time and space. It exists within all matter. Spirit is the medium that links our limited and often confused consciousness to that which is greater.
In the very beginning, when God became pregnant and gave birth to the universe, she scattered her spirit everywhere. Every nano-particle of God, rushing headlong through unexplored universe time and space, was simultaneously looking for the way back home. That’s why we have ideals. That’s why we dream of justice, peace, and human fulfilment, instead of boils and miserable marriages.
If this is true, then deeply embedded within evolution itself, far deeper than the replicating genes, is a sense of direction and purpose. And love, and meaning.
We are going back home, and we’re taking the whole universe with us, planet Earth and all. We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.
This would make sense of our perennial hope and idealism – but how does it explain the mess that we are making along the way, the ecological chaos that is threatening to unravel the very web of life that sustains us?
My answer is that we’re just learning, and we have to learn from our errors, as we have always done. A hole in the ozone layer? Oops – better fix that. 90% of the big fish nearly already gone? Oops – better close half the world’s oceans to fishing for 50 years, to give them a chance to recover. Our deep, ancient sense of direction – which is doubtless shared by all beings in this universe, whatever their shape, colour, or sexual predilection – is not changed by the fumblings and screw-ups that we create along the way. Death, misery and stupidity are as old as humanity, and a lot older too.
Right now, however, the challenge to learn from our mistakes and change our ways is particularly critical. Never before have humans possessed such wealth and technological power. Never before have we had the ability to vacuum the oceans of all their fish, to pollute nature’s gene-pool with laboratory-created strangeness, or to cook our own atmosphere. The word ‘urgent’ is not urgent enough.
And yet never before have we had the means to communicate with each other so instantly, so that we can share our stories, share our successes, and organize together to resist the black tide of selfishness that is trying to capture the world. Right on cue, we have developed the tools that we need to become responsible planetary citizens, both globally and locally.
The path continues. The journey into gold is calling, both to ourselves, and to this Earth, our only home.
About the author
Guy Dauncey is an author, organizer and sustainable communities consultant who specializes in developing a positive vision of an environmentally sustainable future, and translating that vision into action. He is the author of Stormy Weather : 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers, July 2001), and ‘A Sustainable Energy Plan for the US’ (Earth Island Journal, August 2003). He is also the publisher of EcoNews (a monthly newsletter), co-founder of the Victoria Car-Share Cooperative, and a consultant in ecovillage and green building development. He lives in Victoria, on the west coast of Canada.
His website is www.earthfuture.com.