We are at a major turning point in the history of humanity. Life is change and evolution. That’s why we’re here. Each one of us is here to evolve. We’re here to evolve as individuals and in that, we evolve our culture, our species and our planet. This is both the serious business and the joy of living. It is not a grim task, but it can have challenges and experiences that seem grim at the time.
Change, evolution, and growth are always happening. Life is impossible without these changes. In our own lives, change or evolution is not linear. It is not a steady progression. There are times of what appears to be stability. These quiet times can feel boring or they can be happy times of contentment. Either way, they do not last – they cannot last. Such times are quiet pools of liquid in a river, resting in a still backwater. Yet the river flows and water that is calm in one place, at one time, finds itself rushing over the rocks in a fast-moving tumble, traveling to the future.
We experience our lives as individuals, but in a web of relationships with other people, near and far. Each one of us is in a web of technology, culture, zeitgeist and circumstances seemingly beyond our control. We each shape our time and we are shaped by our time. We move as individuals, but we are all swept along by these forces and experiences. None of us experience the same environment as anyone else, but we share a great deal.
To be human is to live in a paradox. We are social creatures, tightly enmeshed in the lives of the people around us. Yet each of us experiences our lives as individuals and we have the responsibility of that. It is too easy to succumb to the herd, lost in the strong social forces around us. Many of these forces reach us consciously, but many more operate at the level of the unconscious. These forces are not here to determine our lives, but to inform them and to help to provide the clay that we must ourselves mold. We take our outside circumstances and experiences, and our own psyches, to choose our own personal path every moment, as we choose how to think and how to act. Slowly we construct the arc of our lives as our fellow travelers do the same, to weave the great tapestry.
At this time in human history, I think it is apparent that we find ourselves undergoing a disruptive and exciting, if not scary, jump in our evolution and growth. The rate of change is increasing for all of us. We are all buffeted by the forces and experiences at play. Old, contingent rules and guidelines are breaking down, while universal truths, mythical and archetypal contexts and stories remain to anchor us and provide the guidance we seek in this rapidly evolving world. And these universal truths, myths and archetypes seek us. So much of life is reciprocal.
We face an exciting and daunting future, but the past has not abandoned us. There lies within each of us, a deep ocean of resources, beyond our imagination – literally. Ironically, it is this world beyond that fuels our imagination. This is the ocean of resources, history, and experience that we all share. The startling similarity of myths across time and across cultures clearly point to this shared, deeper world that we are all a part of. We visit this place every night in our dreams, but there is so much more to access. This deep connection to a shared world, apart from the obvious one that we touch and see every day, plays a vital role in our lives and in our evolution and growth.
The power and importance of our dreams is obvious – we become psychotic after prolonged sleeplessness – without the periods of rest and dreaming. When we lose this dream relationship to the world beyond our simple physical senses, we actually become disconnected to the physical world before us. We need this connection to the world beyond our world. Especially now, in these profoundly disruptive times, we need to cultivate this connection to the world beyond our physical senses, consciously within ourselves, not just in our dreams, to enrich and guide us. This wisdom is within us and everywhere around us, but it requires an awareness and a focus to access and use.
Our individual evolution is the task before us each. If we feel compelled or drawn to work on our fellow humans or the planet, there is nothing wrong with that. But our central task remains our own being – our own consciousness. For those closest to us, we can help them in their growth and evolution, indirectly, by sharing and by example, not by domination. They do the same for us. Our relationships are fundamental in our lives and in our evolution. The people closest to us are catalysts and draw us in to evolve in ways that answer the deep questions we are asking ourselves.
Evolution and growth cannot occur without these questions or yearnings within us. People satisfied with the status quo will not evolve or grow, or do so very slowly.
The discontent that many of us feel is the deepest part of our self that is asking us questions and driving us to evolve – to grow – to expand. It is too easy to avoid these questions – to avoid this yearning within us. Another paradox of our current lives is that the world has never been more demanding and enticing in its urge for us to evolve and grow. Yet never before have we been faced with so many trivial pursuits and distractions to keep us asleep to the great questions and yearnings within us. This tension of push and pull within, produces great tidal forces that can tear us apart or compel us to seek superficial comfort in the distractions of modern life. Try as we might, we cannot ignore our inner voices. There is a price to be paid for remaining asleep to those voices within.
The study of our inner lives and the forces at play within us is the province of psychology. It is a modern science that has only recently become formalized, although people have always been fascinated by their behavior and thoughts. In many ways psychology is both the youngest and the oldest science. Too much of modern psychology aims toward tinkering and optimizing our lives in small ways. Or helping us cope with major disruptions and conditions like anxiety or depression. There is certainly value in that, but it often ignores the fundamental issues – the bigger issues.
For me, most of psychology has avoided the biggest questions in life. Why are we here? How are we to live? Psychology should be concentrating on the greatest questions of human existence – not wandering around the periphery. Psychology should be focused on that world beyond this simple physical world – the world suggested by our dreams and beyond. Psychology needs to squarely face the spiritual, and our own depths, no matter how you conceive that vast unknown place. I am not here to advocate for one view of this world beyond our physical one, but I know it exists. Dreams are the most obvious sign of its existence and its importance. Dreams are simply the doorway to the richer world that includes this one. Once you have seen one black swan, you can no longer pretend that all swans are white. There is no going back.
When we sit quietly with meditation or simple rest, where do many of our ideas come from? Where does the artist get her inspiration? Where does the inventor get his ideas? Where does each one of us get our own ideas and inspirations? Often they come when we are laying in bed before sleep, or in the shower, or quietly sitting. They often don’t seem to be the products of deep thought, but rather appear from the background when our mind is quieter. They come from the world beyond this simple physical realm of our basic senses – the deep well of wisdom that is available to us when we make the effort. Or give ourselves the space and silence to contact it.
So here we are evolving in a revolutionary time in our history. The disruption we are all feeling is part of this evolutionary process and it is more acute because it is so large compared to evolution in the past. This disruptive evolution reverberates around the globe as modern technology and travel have connected and united us as never before.
I intend to explore and riff on the ideas and things that serve and demonstrate our evolution generally – the big and the small ideas. I will also focus on those people who have and are contributing to our evolution in the most profound ways.
There are three big subject areas in human life and evolution – psychology, philosophy and physics. These all work and play together in our culture, in art, in politics, in economics, and in our relationships. There are some giant thinkers who have contributed to my ideas here. Some you may have heard of – like Carl Jung. Some you likely haven’t heard of – like Colin Wilson or Jean Gebser. And some you may have heard of, but with a very distorted notion of their ideas and importance – like Friedrich Nietzsche.
Evolution and exploration go together like cows and grass. Evolution feeds off of exploration.
One more word to ponder – meaning. Most kids start their education shortly after they start talking, with the single most important word in any language – why? Everything in this universe is connected to everything else, in a myriad of ways and combinations. “Why” is the question that explores these connections and relationships. Meaning is the sense of that relationship. If you ever start answering a young child’s question of “why”, you quickly discover that there is no end to “why”. One answer just leads to another “why”. Until you reach the biggest why – the ultimate question to the universe, life and everything.
I like to call this the Bigger Meaning of Life. Bigger, as opposed to big, implies not static – evolving and growing. And big means not small. If money or success are your meaning of life – your ultimate purpose, more power to you. But I think you’re playing small. I want the Bigger Meaning of Life and for me that’s evolution – never stopping – the expanding whale swallowing its own tail, to riff on the archetype of the serpent swallowing its own tail.
The wonderful thing about evolution or growth is that it is so broad that anyone can find something personal that fits their own evolution and serving that of humanity. You get to make up the rules and purpose of your life. You want to support your evolution as well as that of others. The concept of evolution as the ultimate meaning of life does help to guide you in your thoughts and actions, profoundly, but only generally. You create the details of your own life and working within the context of your own meaning and evolution, while supporting the meaning and evolution of those around you (or at least not actively getting in the way of others’ evolution). And you can’t get it wrong – evolution includes experiments that do not turn out as planned or expected. Evolution is messy, but that is a feature and not a bug.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “there is nothing good or bad, but supporting or not supporting evolution makes it so”. The most obvious example is love versus fear. Love clearly supports evolution and fear does not. There you have it, a guide to thought and action via the Bigger Meaning of Life.
As always, we’re just getting started.
We’re here to evolve.