Chapter 10 — Step 2: Release (for Dave)
“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
— GREGORY BATESON
“Modern society is in an extreme, pathological state of rupture from the reality of the natural world, as is indicated on a daily basis by the ecological crisis. There is, moreover, little public recognition that this crisis is indeed a psychological one.”
— ANDY FISHER
Autumn in Earth’s annual seasons is the sputtering flare of a candle before it burns itself out. There’s a brief burst of hot weather and a corresponding surge of energy, urgency, and organization. In the garden, stems and branches become brittle and rigidity replaces flexibility and accommodation. Leaves dry, crumble, and detach. It’s a time of falling away and letting go. The trajectory of nature’s forces begins to reverse course, contracting, their essences turning inward and downward. We sense what’s coming and get busy, cutting back the fields, plowing under, culling the herds, sorting the useful from the unnecessary. Days shorten, light retreats, moisture evaporates.
In Autumn of the precessional cycle, the waters of the world retreat and evaporate. Tectonics dance. The Earth spits fire. Systems and infrastructures collapse. Food is scarce. Humans become brittle and hard, detach from each other, hoard, and go to war. Dying and grief are the flavors of this time.
In Step 1: Reflect, we identified the fundamental problem: our narrow vision that excludes the reality of Earth and sky.
Now in Step 2: Release, we are going to look at the cause of the problem: the way we have been conditioned to think.
At this moment, when you look out of the window of a café or at the walls of your home or the floor of your cubicle, it may seem highly stable. However, as we learned in Part I, we are, in fact, whirling through space at 66,000 miles per hour, bombarded every moment by waves and blasts of radiation, tugged this way and that by other celestial bodies, dodging asteroids, and continuously shaped by the seasons of existence. The very soil we’re perched on is a cool wafer floating on a bucking sea of fire. Periodically, Earth undergoes tremendous upheaval. Temperatures soar or drop. Volcanoes erupt, drastically cooling Earth for decades. Meteorites rain down. Droughts destroy cities. Civilizations go mad and become self-destructive.
Our ancient ancestors were acutely aware of the seasons of time and their effects, from micro to macro, and they went to great lengths to inform and warn us of cyclical patterns of degeneration and regeneration. However, in our alienated modern society we think very differently than they did and have great difficulty comprehending and accepting the information and knowledge that they worked so diligently to preserve for us. This difficulty is the result of having been trained to think in ways that exclude a clear understanding of the dynamic patterns and processes of Earth and sky and our innate place within them. Rather than directly face the reality of uncertainty and the moment-by-moment unfolding of change and periodic catastrophe, we’ve been trained to take refuge in dissociative patterns of thought that avoid acknowledging the cyclical realities of this place we exist in, and that deny our inescapable relationship with them. These patterns of thought narrow our range of attention, and are what Thomas Roszak, a pioneering American ecopsychologist, referred to as “…the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society” (Roszak 1992). In this chapter, we’re going to examine the roots of this madness and its effects on our lives, society, and the natural world.
The Severing of Earth and Sky
“The memory of the cataclysms was erased, not because of lack of written traditions, but because of some characteristic process that later caused entire nations, together with their literate men, to read into these traditions allegories or metaphors where actually cosmic disturbances were clearly described”.
— Immanuel Velikovsky, Mankind in Amnesia
Until around 1,800 years ago, the ancient oral traditions based on cultural astronomy that we looked at in Part 1, and their related social codes, were still intact all over the world, as they had been far back into the mists of time. But big changes were coming. In 384 BCE, a man was born whose ideas would, starting approximately 800 years later, contribute enormously to a worldwide forgetting of the seasons of time and the enduring stories, codes, symbols, and rituals that contained and preserved knowledge of them. That man was the Greek philosopher Aristotle. We can trace the roots of our modern amnesia and alienation back to him.
Aristotle described his metaphysics as being the highest degree of abstraction. Abstraction is the process and quality of dealing with ideas separate from place or event. Living several centuries removed from the most recent catastrophic events before his birth, Aristotle regarded the records of these events as literature and analogies. They were seen as ideas, not actual events, though how he arrived at this conclusion is a mystery, having been for twenty years a student of Plato, who preserved much information about cataclysm in his works. This abstraction is the reason for Aristotle’s enduring popularity, especially during the Middle Ages. Aristotle is a good example of the denial and repressed memory of cycling system-wide degeneration and regeneration, and the means of repressing it, which has resulted in a collective amnesia now common in modern society.
The framework of Aristotle’s works is his influential geocentric cosmology, which was widely accepted in the West until the sixteenth century. From the third century BCE to the sixteenth century CE, this cosmology became the dominant view in the West: that is, that Earth was the rotational center of the universe. It is as if this cosmology was purposefully designed to eliminate even the possibility of celestially induced cataclysm. It centered on a complex structuring of geocentric celestial mechanics that were uniform and orderly for eternity. (It’s interesting to note another characteristic of his work: his view that the changes of the Earth are so slow, in comparison to the duration of our lives, that they are overlooked. We heard echoes of this view in the works of Charles Lyell in Part 1.) Plato had preserved accounts of cataclysm that Aristotle and his admirers were soon to reclassify as myth, unscientific, or non-historical. For Plato, myth was a basically factual vehicle designed to carry the memory and truths of historical events. Differentiating himself from his teacher, Aristotle regarded the ancient stories of cyclical cataclysm to be allegorical literature — fiction, not fact. During the current Piscean Era, most of the world came to agree with him. Let’s briefly examine how this came to be.
The physics of Euclid and Ptolemy rose on the foundation of Aristotle’s geocentric notion of the universe. Ptolemy, an influential astronomer who had been Aristotle’s student, profoundly influenced the science of his era by expanding and solidifying Aristotle’s conception of a celestial realm that was essentially uniform. This became the accepted view for a millennium and a half, until Johannes Kepler returned us to sanity. In the sixteenth century, when Copernicus formulated a heliocentric model of the universe that placed the sun at the center, rather than Earth, he was mocked by the powerful clergyman Martin Luther, who is rumored to have said of him: “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down” (Kobe, 1998). Copernicus delayed publishing De Revolutionibus, his work on the heliocentric theory, until the very end of his life, for fear of being ostracized and punished by the Church. On May 24, 1543, his longtime student Rheticus placed the first copy in his teacher’s hands, only hours before his death.
In the early seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei, an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the scientific revolution, was interrogated by the Church’s office of the Inquisition — not because he broke with scriptural doctrine, but because he broke with Aristotelian doctrine by challenging geocentrism, supporting a heliocentric model of the universe, and defending Copernicus’s theory. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. He was also forced to ““abjure, curse and detest” the heliocentric model, and the publication of any of his work was forbidden (de Santilana 1955, 312–313). It wasn’t until 2008 that the Vatican changed Galileo’s status from heretic to hero, with Pope Benedict XVI calling him a “patron of the dialogue between faith and reason” and claiming that the work of the scientist now helps the faithful “contemplate with gratitude the Lord’s work” (Thomsett 2011, 13). One can’t help but wonder what Galileo would have thought of this embrace of his legacy by the institution that caused him so much hardship and nearly cost him his life.
What was it in the heliocentric system that caused such resistance? The problem was the uncertainty it espoused. In the geocentric system, Earth was stable, unmovable, and protected, and it allowed humans to be cast in the central role in the universe. It reinforced the fiction of separate, solid, and certain. The heliocentric system revealed that Earth moves, and a moving Earth is uncertain. It threatened to expose the collective repressed memory of periodic catastrophe and the cultural amnesia that serves to protect this memory from becoming conscious. The upstart Christian sect’s violent campaign of terror against so-called pagan traditions in the second through the fourth centuries CE, combined with unconscious and fearful genetic memories of catastrophic climate changes, meteor bombardment, seismic and volcanic activity, plague, famine, and social collapse that took place in the early Middle Ages; the threat of being ostracized, bankrupted, and jailed if disagreeing with consensually accepted dogma; and the terror of the various Christian inquisitions that tortured and killed countless people (estimates run to a million and more) — all these have shaped modern parameters and substance of thought and fueled a persistent amnesia that denies and ignores the dynamic patterns of Earth and sky. In modern scientific thought, since the thirteenth century, there has been, and still is, the desire to know only just so much and no more. This peripheral blindness, the willful ignorance of boundaries narrowly drawn that exclude an acknowledgment of periodic celestially induced catastrophe, has dominated science, and has profoundly influenced all areas of modern thought.
To Know and to Not Know
“Irrational feelings may be escalated into high-sounding reason when thrown up against a seemingly hostile and unfulfilling natural world.”
— Paul Shephard
The taboo against acknowledging that we are riding in a catastrophe-prone planet has long shaped and constrained patterns of thought in modern natural science. This is exemplified by Charles Darwin and central aspects of his work. In the early 1830s, Darwin, a young naturalist, did field research in South America. There he studied the fossilized bones of countless extinct species, and recorded in his journal: “Certainly, no fact in the history of the world is so startling as the wide and repeated extermination of its inhabitants” (Darwin 1834). Yet even with the evidence of repeated catastrophe that he viewed firsthand, in situ, he was unable to incorporate the obvious into his work in a realistic and meaningful way. He is a modern example of limiting thought patterns and selective amnesia. He went on to ignore both the fingerprints of catastrophe and the works of his predecessors, Roderick Murchinson, William Buckland, and Adam Sedgwich, of the early nineteenth century, who had collated coherent data showing that the terrestrial landscape had been repeatedly altered by cataclysmic events on a global scale. Darwin, despite the evidence of repeated cataclysm, rejected a view of natural revolution and replaced it with a Gradualist theory of natural evolutionthat was heavily influenced by the works of Lyell, the father of Gradualism / Uniformitarianism that we looked at in Part I. Two decades after having seen the bone fields in the slopes of the Andes, Darwin had to forget them to convince himself and his fellow scholars that Earth pursues a stable evolution on a stable course of uninterrupted circling. He forgot what he saw with his own eyes, in order to support his theory of a peaceful, stable, undisturbed Earth, and the slow demise of species over vast lengths of time.
Both Gradualism / Uniformitarianism and the Darwinian theory of evolution are offspring of nineteenth-century Aristotelianism. Both are factual, but our understanding of them has changed in recent decades. We now know that Earth’s geophysics change gradually over long periods of time andperiodically change rapidly, and often radically. We know that evolution is gradual and we now know that evolutionary rates can also fluctuate between very fast and very slow, or even enter a period of stasis, as the research that led to the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium has shown. And we’ve learned that both the geophysics of Earth and the inherited characteristics of biological populations are continuously moved and reshaped by exoterrestrial fluctuations, cycling celestial mechanics, and punctuating cataclysmic events. However, in spite of these advances there is still a medium grade resistance in modern science toward Catastrophism. The perceptual shift from certainty to uncertainty is now well underway, and the understanding that the earth and sky operate in patterns that can best be described as orderly chaos, is now grudgingly acknowledged by even the most orthodox of researchers. However, there’s a tendency to minimize this truth, and it’s still taboo to speak of it candidly. Hesitancy and avoidance are still evident, and there is a shadowed sense of having been defeated. It’s as if human society has feelings of embarrassment, indignation, betrayal, and resentment, regarding a perceived lack of shame, self control, and unwillingness to be dominated on the part of Earth and the sky. The parallels between how Catastrophism is regarded in modern society and how both sex and women were regarded during the Victorian era are striking, and the urge to restrain and control nature, religiously instilled in human thought patterns, still lurks large in science and society.
Speaking of religion…let’s now go back to the Middle Ages and look at another powerful, related thread of thought that contributed to our amnesia and that has significantly shaped how modern people think. In the twelfth century, Averroes, a Spanish Muslim scientist and philosopher, merged Islam with his writings on Aristotelianism. Around the same time, Maimonides, a Sephardic Jewish philosopher and astronomer, wrote The Guide to the Perplexed, merging Judaism with Aristotelianism. And in the thirteen century, Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican monk greatly influenced by the essentially Aristotelian astronomy of the day, wrote Summa Theologica, blending Catholicism with Aristotelianism.
Aquinas, in this blending of Catholicism and geocentric Aristotelianism, frequently included a term in his writings that originated in the thirteenth century, used to describe something that was believed to exist separate from nature and above it: supernaturalis, the supernatural. He also greatly expanded the meaning and common usage of the Latin term religio, defining it within a supernatural context, with the result that the idea, emotional states, and practice of religion were born. Prior to his claiming and reinventing the term, religio had a variety of common meanings, none corresponding to the modern concept of religion, nor making a distinction between religious and secular. The original meaning included nuances such as rite, protocol, decorum, sense of reserve, scruples, rules, and law. Several modern scholars favor the derivation re (again) and ligo from (connect), but this shouldn’t be assumed to mean connecting with anything supernatural; it should be understood as a reestablishment of a connection with social order, consistent with the established usage of the term, and as I’ll make clear further along, a reconnection with the cycles of celestial mechanics that results in a perennial threat to social order and the human community.
Aquinas’s new supernaturalized definition of religio was then used by Christian scholars to translate the Hebrew terms huqqah and dan, (now understood to have simply meant statute, custom, or enactment); the Greek termthreskeia (now understood to have meant simply rite or duty); and the Arabic term dīn, from which the Hebrew term dan derives (now understood to have meant simply custom, social transaction, social order, and law). As a result, these terms came to be newly regarded as carrying religious meaning also. However, there is no comparable term for religion in Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the common ancestor of Indo-European languages. Classical Greek has no term that functions as ‘religion’. In an article in the Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān, Patrice Brodeur writes of Arabic dīn: “Prior to the twentieth century, the English word ‘religion’ had no direct equivalent in Arabic nor had the Arabic word dīn in English. They became partially synonymous only in the course of the twentieth century as a result of increased English-Arabic encounters and the need for consistency in translation” (Brodeur 2013). And the well-known Islamic scholar Fazlur Rahman Malik has suggested that dīn is best considered simply as “the way-to-be-followed” (Malik 1979).
Many people in modern society have been taught to think that religion extends back to the origins of civilization, and even that it is somehow intrinsic to human evolution. However, scholars are increasingly contesting the idea that the concept of religion is ancient. The concepts of religion and the supernatural, the habits of thought, the emotional states, and the way of seeing that are provoked by them (religiosity), and the redefining of ancient seasonal festivals and mnemonic rites as worship are carefully manufactured products of the late Middle Ages. This exploitive, science-erasing dogma was then imposed on the cultural astronomy, oral traditions, written records, symbols, rituals, and social codes of non-Christian and non-Western cultures, and persuasively impressed upon the leaders of these cultures, often with economic promises tied to military threats. These cultures then gradually came to accept this conceptual imposition so that their oral traditions, social codes, and mnemonic rites, now religionized and supernaturalized, will be regarded on the same level as Christianity, and to protect themselves from Christian Europe’s aggressive and frequently cruel persuasion tactics.
This process meant that the Old Story, around the globe, was forced underground, where it was nearly entirely forgotten and replaced with the abstractions of religion and the supernatural, separated from place and event. Again and again, we see that ancient cultures, which possessed the knowledge of the cycles of time and related periodic cataclysm, and which ordered society around them, continuously referred to a “way-that-must-be-followed.” This “way” was a reflection of the way of life that helped them survive and thrive in a continuously changing and periodically threatening Earth and sky. It referenced the way of the world: the wheeling way of the precessional cycle, annual seasons, the seasons of the day, and the seasons of life. It also referenced a social code that kept society balanced with the scale invariant seasons of time. Laws, protocols, rites, and scruples were all used to create a way of life that was necessary to maintain society’s health, consistent with the fluctuations and periodic jolts associated with the celestial mechanics we looked at in Chapter Four and the Introduction to Part 2. This way of living in balance with the way of the world was also the way of contentment and happiness. It wasn’t a supernatural ‘religion’ intended to placate and control followers.
Japan is a clear example of the Christian export and spread of the fairly recently invented concept of religion. Jason Josephson writes in The Invention of Religion in Japan: “Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept for ‘religion’. There was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything that came close to its meaning until the 1850s when America forced the Japanese to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion” (Josephson 2012). This freedom of religion clause was lobbied for inclusion by Western Christian leaders, who eyed Japan as virgin territory for Christian market share. To comply, Japan was forced to create an official state-defined category for religion. Shendao (Shinto) — the way, path, law (dao) of the celestial entities (shen) — was officially categorized as a science. All other variations of the ancient story, thirty-six of them named in the scholarly documents of the time, became newly classified as religion or as superstition to satisfy treaty demands.
Similarly, our modern understanding of Buddhism as a religion is also largely a modern Western invention. Prior to Western culture’s attempt, beginning in the late 18thcentury, to explain and categorize this widespread Asian version of the Old Story, there was no evidence for a concept of religion in Buddhism. Indeed, there was no sign of the odd creature we now know as ‘Buddhism.’ There was Dharma, understood as ‘the way’, referring to both the endless cycles of time and a way of life consistent with them. Not a religion with a supernatural component, it was a syncretic mixture of ancient Indian, Persian, and Egyptian cultural astronomy encoded in oral traditions, symbols, and mnemonic rites, adapted and locally embellished by the Asian cultures it flourished in, that preserved a real-time awareness of the cycles of time and a sophisticated social code and personal practices that were designed to align perception with the patterns and processes of Earth and sky. Many central symbols used in the ancient mnemotechnical language that recorded the celestial mechanics and their effects still survive in the modern construction now commonly referred to as Buddhism: the central tree (the Milky Way), a snake (the fluctuations of time and space), a lion (Leo), the cross (in the form of a swastika indicating rotation), the Four Heavenly Kings that represent the four directions of the world, an iconic pillar, the cycles of time that make life nearly unbearable, the Wheel of Time, and successive world ages that end in catastrophe. And we looked earlier at the Buddhist Borobudur monument in Indonesia that served as a calendric gnomon and has precessional numbers encoded into its construction. In addition, the life story of ‘Buddha’ that’s now taught in comparative religion classes was largely constructed by Western Christian writers in the nineteenth century. This fiction was then creatively and strategically polished by Buddhist faith-based scholars within the last fifty years, and promulgated by the institutions of Buddhism today, to be included under the modern rubric of ‘world religion’, a concept that was also created and self-interestedly exported in the early nineteenth century by Christian scholars.
It’s interesting to note that the earliest material representations of Buddha as a person date to 250–150 BCE, around 200 years after the death of Greek philosopher Aristotle, and is a manifestation of Greco-Buddhism, a cultural syncretism that occurred as a result of Classical Greek expansionism into a ‘Buddhist’ culture that existed in the area that is now Afghanistan. Prior to this, the phenomenon of ‘Buddha’ was only expressed by way of symbols: a tree with a snake (the World Tree), a footprint filled with cultural astronomical symbols (frequently including a wheeling swastika), an empty chair (the solar seat), a spoked wheel representing the divisions of time, or an umbrella (which represents aspects of the precessional cycle, as described in Chapter Seven). Buddha was a cultural astronomical symbol. “He” sat under the (World) Tree and did battle with a powerful dark ‘demon’ which he defeated, claiming the golden treasure of knowledge and awareness (reminding us of Jack, his beanstalk, a threatening giant, and a bag of gold). He later died, and a new ‘Buddha’ will return (similar to the way that Leo the Lion returns), joining a long list of returning personages across many cultures. It’s recorded that there are thirty-two physical characteristics of Buddha, who was originally known as the Great Man. If we recall the work of classical Chinese “fiction” known as the Hsin T’angshu that we looked at in Chapter Six, we remember that there were thirty-two dignitaries in the royal court of The Monarch (the sun), which represented the twenty-eight asterisms or nakshatraof Indian astronomy and the four cardinal directions. The Great Man, known as the Buddha, is sounding familiar.
Dharma records contain many clear descriptions of cataclysm, but they are now mostly ignored or regarded as allegory and metaphor. And the ‘path’ described in Buddhist stories and ritual practices, prior to the fairly recent mythification, mystification, and religionization of what we now call Buddhism, was a social code and a way of life designed to keep people acutely awake to the everyday reality of existing in a twirling Earth that’s affected by cycling changes. These cycling changes are referred to in sutra texts as “the endless cycles of cycles” inherent in the scale invariant “Wheel of Time”. These perpetual changes result in what is termed dukkha in Dharma records. Despite the best efforts of Buddhist scholars, it is agreed that this term still resists satisfactory interpretation. It is generally described as suffering, anxiety, stress, or unsatisfactoriness, but these scholars have acknowledged that these definitions don’t hit the mark. It’s my carefully considered opinion that the difficulty in translating this term is related to the erasure of the central context of Dharma records: the celestial mechanics and their continuous effects on all living beings at all levels of their existence, particularly during the degenerating seasons of time. The electromagnetic and gravitational effects of the “Wheel of Time”: it is these grinding cycles of change and impermanence, their hills and valleys, beginnings and endings, along with our lack of awareness of their endless effects on body and mind, that create the condition described by the term dukkha. Dukkha is the experience of being on the receiving end of relentlessly changing exoterrestrial influences, in every moment of life. It is a moment-by-moment uncertainty that’s the result of moment-by-moment changes taking place at all levels of our existence, internal and external, material and energetic, from subtle to catastrophic, in the absence of a conscious awareness of how this uncertainty and relentless change moves us and the environments we exist in.
Native American oral traditions were similarly distorted and defined. Native American cultures (on both continents) had no concept of religion or religiosity prior to European Christian colonization and subjugation. Their oral traditions, rites, and symbols are components of a sophisticated cultural astronomy, historical record, and an environmental and ecological awareness, melded with a way of life; a social code that kept an acknowledgement and familiarization of place at the foreground of the community’s vision in order to protect the wellbeing of society, individuals, and the non-human creatures of the earth. These traditions were brutally suppressed by Christian invaders and “settlers” who, in their cultural insularity, interpreted them as supernatural religion, while they systematically and violently dismantled Native American culture and killed millions in a very short period of time.
And, as in Classical Greek, there is also a notable lack of any word in premodern Chinese that signifies ‘religion’ or ‘supernatural,’ or anything that corresponds to those terms. The modern Chinese term zongjiao was first employed to mean ‘religion’ in the late nineteenth century.
Even within Christianity we still see many clear remnants of the ancient story: the succession of Four Horsemen (four royal stars), the twelve disciples (the mansions of the zodiac) that surrounded Jesus (the sun). The crucifixion of Jesus on a cross or tau-shaped construction (the World Tree), representing the sun intersecting the galactic and solstice crosses. Jesus’s body lying in the tomb for three days and then rising up to heaven, as in much older oral traditions that described the dying sun retreating to a cave for three days before emerging as a new sun that rose to take its place at the center of the celestial dome. These are just a few of the countless fragments of cultural astronomy that are preserved in Christian mythology, and that are dim echoes of the grand ancient story.
A strong case can be made that Christianity only fully became defined as a religion late in the Middle Ages. One clue to this is seen in the many churches of the early Middle Ages over the length and breadth of Europe that incorporated the symbols and measurements of celestial mechanics into their interior and exterior construction, and that served as calendric gnomons, tracking the movements of the stars and planets. Another clue is that many of their rites and festivals, and even biblical texts, can be traced back far before the ascendancy of the small sect that later developed into the religious institution of Christianity. More clues are seen in how early Christian monks lived in groups of 13 (recall that the number 13 was also important to Southeastern Asian monks), and the paintings and mosaics of the time that show monks raising their hands to the sun when chanting. In many early churches, the face of Jesus was portrayed in the center of a zodiac circle, with sunrays surrounding his head — a clear representation of the sun. It’s interesting to note here that the first encounter between Christian Jesuits and Japanese leaders in 1551 CE led to Christianity being officially outlawed in Japan. Japanese scholars considered it a corrupt form of what is now understood as Buddhism, which up until the nineteenth century wasn’t regarded as a religion in Japan but was regarded as one version of an irreligious ancient story based on cultural astronomy.
To collapse some nuance in the interest of space, Christianity, prior to around the thirteenth century, is better understood as a long hijacking, distortion, and erasure of the Ancient Story, and a corruption of its corresponding social code, symbols, and rites in the service of a powerful political economic movement tied to aggressive military expansion. It was a wholesale theft and retooling of the Ancient Story for the purpose of controlling the population and the flow of wealth, reinforced by a reign of terror. It didn’t become supernaturalized, interiorized religion until Thomas Aquinas codified it as such in the thirteenth century. Over time, as the memory of periodic cataclysm and an understanding of the purpose of ancient oral traditions began to fade, a progressive amnesia began to form. The Ancient Story began to be regarded as myth, as Aristotle had believed, and a growing void took their place. Thomas Aquinas filled this void with the abstract concept of religion and a supernaturalized and interiorized emotional state of religiosity. Religion developed as both a symptom of cultural amnesia that forgets where we are and how this place actually works, and as a means to prevent remembering.
The concept of ‘religion’ is entirely a modern Eurocentric subjective construct that functions as a comparison to Christianity, while applying classification and definition when used outside of Christianity. Defining and classifying the traditions of ancient cultures as religion, and defining their associated rites and codes as religiosity, is tantamount to colonization and erasure. Recontextualization is erasure. Whoever controls the story, language, images, and rites controls how the mind thinks. It is as aggressive and destructive as the burning of libraries, the destruction of standing stone circles, and the imprisoning, torturing, and murdering of scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers. The ancient cultural astronomy stories, dating far back into time, were playing out in the skyscape. The fictional characters in what we now consider to be mythology (including religious mythology) mirrored the cycling celestial mechanics. This mirroring was tied to social codes and practices that kept society and individuals in balance with the patterns and processes of Earth and sky. It was science preserved in a complex technical language and a corresponding social order rooted in the reality of the place we exist in. It wasn’t an interiorized pursuit of, or reverence for, a supernatural abstraction. Quite the opposite: the story was a way to preserve ancient scientific data and a corresponding social code that kept humanity from becoming self-absorbed and collectively mad. It emphasized the integration of body and mind, and integration with each other, the ecosystem, and celestial mechanics for very practical purposes: physical and mental wellbeing, social order, contentment, happiness, and the survival of the species in a constantly changing, often life-threatening Earth and sky. It was a story of integration and balance, not separation and alienation.
The two major developments of thought that we’ve examined here, science and religion, have both been built on a foundation of Aristotelian cosmology that excluded the possibility of cataclysm. Early modern science placed Earth at the center of the universe, immovable and protected, where it still sits in the unconscious collective sense of place, even though science has moved beyond the geocentric model and most people in modern society are intellectually aware of this (although a third of people in Western countries still think that the sun revolves around Earth). And the high scholastic codification of the concept of religion by Thomas Aquinas, as a compatible extension of Aristotelian science, placed humans spang at the center of the universe, separate and supernaturally protected, with dominion over Earth, while at the same time creating an aversion to, fear of, and hostility toward any evidence of nature that isn’t controlled and exploited. By doing so, Aquinas, building on Aristotle’s abstractions, created the modern alienated human.
The simultaneous birth in the thirteenth century of Christian-dominated high scholasticism and the invention of the ‘supernatural’; the melding of high scholasticism and supernaturalism with Aristotelianism; the co-opting and redefining of the Latin term religio and using it to define nonreligious terms in the oral tradition and rites of non-Christian and non-Western cultures — these signaled the beginning of the end of the ancient technical language preserved in stories, rites, and symbols around the globe, an enduring framework of existence that had informed, sustained, and protected humanity for tens of thousands of years. The ancient oral traditions, rituals, and symbols that told the story of the sky and its relationship with Earth, and humanity’s place in them, in which the precession of the equinox was a central component, have been mythified and mystified. Aristotle killed the sky. Aquinas severed Earth from the sky and rendered Earth as if dead. Modern science, as we shall see, cut the perceived-as-dead carcass of Earth and its thin layer of life into progressively smaller static parts. And humanity lost its sense of place and went mad.
These two models of existence have created patterns of thought in modern people that have had and, more than ever, are having a destructive effect on the natural world, human society, and health and wellbeing. As Lynn White writes in The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis (White 1967): “The emphasis … on a transcendence over nature in the quest of a personal salvation and otherworldy reward, a turning away from the world, and the dominion of humans over nature has led to a devaluing of the natural world and a subsequent destruction of its resources for utilitarian ends.” These two threads of thought, Aristotelian science and Aristotelian religion, have conditioned how we think in modern society, whether we are religious or not, and whether we are scientifically knowledgeable or not. They deeply and unconsciously permeate all of Western and Westernized thought. They’ve conditioned us to think that Earth and sky are separate, that we are separate from Earth, and that Earth is a static pile of resources for us to consume. These two threads of thought have also conditioned us to think that each of us is separate, solid, and certain, resulting in a way of life that necessarily causes discontentment, disease, and endangerment. This way of thinking is the foundation of unrestrained materialism, scientific reductionism, irresponsible and destructive industrialism, and a rampant consumerism that are wreaking havoc by destroying the ecosystem, destabilizing society, negatively impacting our health and wellbeing, and narrowing the human species’ chance of survival, here at the end of time before time renews itself.
Let’s take a closer look at how modern people think.
Dividing Up the World
“If man thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate.”
— David Bohm
The creation of the dichotomy between natural and supernatural has had a pronounced effect on how humans think about Earth and sky. Earth was designated as a natural realm, and the supernatural realm was abstractly thought to be above and beyond the laws of nature. Since Earth was the realm of nature — the natural — it was easy to unconsciously think of the supernatural as being in the sky. Thus, we began to think of Earth and sky as separate from each other. These binary divisions of natural/supernatural and Earth/sky have significantly shaped our patterns of thought for the past millennium (the degenerate last half of the closing zodiac segment in the precessional cycle) and have caused us to think in terms of separate parts wherever we look. We think parts, we see parts. Western Science has been at the forefront of this relatively new way of thinking about where we are, picking everything apart into increasingly smaller pieces. It has, until fairly recently, assumed that humans could understand the world by picking it apart, by dissecting it. But by breaking down the world into smaller and smaller units, Western science separated mind from matter, bodies from organs, and plants and other living things from their environments. The result is that we’ve come to see the world as a collection of static parts that we name, categorize, organize, and exploit.
“We express ourselves in a conventional language, and the dictionary defines and limits the meaning of each word. Therefore, we can understand nothing beyond what the dictionary knows.”
— R. A. Schwaller De Lubicz
There is the tacit understanding that knowledge is finite and stable, and that eventually, if we write down enough names, we’ll reach the end. Ursula K. Le Guin, in her story “She Unnames Them,” imagines an Eden in which Eve removes the names Adam has bestowed on the creatures. This allows them to be seen for the first time, and recognizes that this “naming” has been primarily a male-dominated narrative and way of seeing the world. The story ends with this delicate sentence: “My words must be as slow, as new, as single, as tentative as the steps I took going down the path away from the house, between the dark-branched, tall dancers motionless against the winter shining” (Le Guin 1985).
Naming is an action with consequences. As Francis Bacon wrote: “Name, though it seem but an outward and superficial matter, yet it carrieth much impression and enchantment” (Bacon 1819). The central building blocks of our thoughts are nouns. The word “noun” comes from the Latin nomen: “name.” To name something is to give it stability; to separate it, classify it and put it in its place, and to pin it down. The process of naming parts is a central way that we as humans interact with the world, but it gained new impetus in the 1700s, when Carl Linnaeus laid the ground for binomial nomenclature: the “Latin names” that scientists give to every new species. While this taxonomy of living things has proven extraordinarily fruitful, leading to the fields of genetics, and enhancing biology and environmental science, it has had a corollary effect of calcifying knowledge and something critically important has been lost. We habitually paint the world with classification, forgetting that our nouns are only a convenient convention and not a complete reflection of reality.
We can think of this as a conventional way of thinking that results in a conventional view of reality. This conventional reality is entirely created by our thoughts, which have been conditioned to reduce the world to its parts. The separating, naming, categorizing, and organizing of information — the foundation of conceptual thinking — is necessary and valuable, but on its own it results in a static, fragmented view of the world. This pattern of thinking doesn’t give us a complete picture that can be thought of as relational reality, in which the parts are acknowledged to be interrelated and interactive phenomena that are taking place in, and are also reflections of the dynamic whole of existence.
By naming the parts of the world, categorizing and boxing them up in words, and then forgetting that we have done so, we don’t see the forest for the trees … or, as Le Guin suggests, we don’t even see the trees for the trees. The names are stumbling blocks to true vision. We only see parts, objects, the nouns that we construct, missing the whole and the innate verbness of everything. In contrast, relational reality is a reflection of a pre-conceptual, preverbal way of knowing that recognizes that the parts, which we habitually classify as static separate nouns, are enmeshed in a far-reaching web of relationship with each other throughout the whole of existence. In other words, the parts that we style as separate with our nouns are actually verb-like interrelated and interactive processes that weave an infinitely extending web of cause and effect. An awareness of these processes is lost when we think in the conventional ways that we’ve been conditioned to by the history of the two threads of thought we looked at above. We have become blinded and numbed to the effects of these relationships that we exclude from our awareness and vision, to our great detriment. In the next Step we’ll become familiar with a way of knowing and seeing that results in relational thinking: a way of thinking that incorporates knowledge of the relationships that exist between parts, and between parts and the whole.
At this point you might be wondering how our patterns of thought that divide existence into parts have anything to do with contentment and happiness. To answer that question, let’s take a look at one of the primary divisions we’ve created: a division that consumes a lot of our time and causes us much distress.
The Root of Madness
“For man does not dominate his fundamental conception of the world; on the contrary, it is it that dominates him, animates him, determines, and governs him.
— Ludwig Andreas Von Feuerbach
Because we’ve been conditioned to conceptualize the world into separate solid parts and then name, categorize, and organize them, we’ve come to regard what we call the self as a separate, solid part as well. How we see the self is conditioned by how we think of the self.
We think we are a part, apart. Thinking as we do, we only see the conventional reality of our individual existence; that is, on the surface we appear to be independently existing objects. We’ve lost sight of the relational reality of the self, and we go through our lives searching for our “true self” and a meaningful connection. This objectification of self apart prevents us from seeing that we are inseparable from the dynamic patterns of Earth and sky that we depend on for our continued existence, and that continuously shape and reshape the self that we think to be separate and solid. These conventional patterns of thought and the resulting habit of self-objectification distort how we see the self and confine us in a blinding bubble of self-absorption. This severing of us from our environments is the root of our discontenting, diseasing, and endangering everyday madness. Each of us is trapped in an illusion of self-existing, but what we think of as the self is not self-existing and cannot be. We certainly do exist (if you think you don’t, take your shoe off and kick a rock), but we don’t exist as we unconsciously and habitually think we do as a result of our conditioning.
This is a difficult concept for modern people to grasp. We are drunk on selfing. We take pride in our individual identity and sculpt our life through ambition, creativity, and willful effort. We live in human-made environments, affected by human-made systems, and surrounded with human-made objects that we manipulate for our gain. Our mass media promotes individualism and self-effort as pathways to success. This gives us the impression that we are separate, solid, and in control. But the actual self is an interrelated and interactive phenomenon, more akin to a cloud or river, that isn’t separate from the continuously changing conditions of Earth and sky. The meta-environments we exist in are flowing and are moving us at very deep levels of our personal existence. We’re participating in, and affected on a moment by moment basis, by the continuously changing environments that we exist in. We’re not ultimately in control. There are countless clues that we’re not separate from where we exist in any meaningful way, and it is in this actual inseparability and uncertainty that we find the relational self or “true self” that modern people are constantly searching for. Our “true self” is hidden behind the veil of our cherished amnesia and the resulting avoidance of relational reality.
The breath is the most obvious clue to the relational reality of the self. If you hold the breath for a sustained period of time it quickly becomes apparent that the living body and the atmosphere are entwined in an innately fundamental way. Without the atmosphere, the body will not function or exist. The same is true of water. The human body is approximately two-thirds water. Like a tree or a common houseplant, if we’re not watered regularly we die, and our need for water varies depending on shifting external factors such as humidity and temperature. How can we be separate from water and air when our life depends on them and they are functional components of the body, always present and always moving through us? Since water and air are components of Earth and sky, how can we be separate from these larger environments that contain us and that we contain? There’s nothing woo-woomagical about the oneness of self and water and air. We exist because water exists. It follows then that we coexist with water. We exist because air exists. We coexist with air. If there is no water and air in the body, then we die and turn into dust. We conventionally think of air and water as something that we have or use, but we rarely, if ever, acknowledge that we are air and water in every moment. And what we do to air and water we do to the self. When we pollute the air, the pollution enters the body through the air that rhythmically tides through us. We also absorb this airborne pollution through the skin. The same is true of water: what we put into the waterways of the world flows through the waterways of the body, and what we put into the waterways of the body flows through the waterways of the world. And when the waterways of the world dry up, as they periodically do, the human species shrinks in direct proportion. Thus we are extensions of water. Tilting the mind just so, we can even understand ourselves as manifestations of the natural environments that we’re embedded in, in the same way that ice and clouds are manifestations of water, and acorns are manifestations of oak trees. Water, and air, in Earth, under some conditions, manifests as human life.
Another clue to the relational self is the broad range of effects on the human organism caused by the phases of the moon and the patterns of the sun. The moon continuously regulates many internal bodily processes. For example, a recent study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology (Chakraborty2013) regarding heart rate and blood pressure in different phases of the moon determined that the gravitation pull of the moon throughout the shifting phases has a measurable effect on cardiovascular systems. The moon also affects the cycles of ovulation, menstruation, sleep patterns, degrees and subtleties of consciousness, and more — the list is very long. Without the moon we wouldn’t exist as we do; thus we are extensions of the moon. We are the moon. And we saw in the Introduction to Part II that the sun’s electromagnetic field and its fluctuations give form to the electromagnetic web here in Earth that extends to the electromagnetic fields of brain and body, affecting health and consciousness. We are extensions of the sun. We are the sun.
More clues are found in the relationship between the self and food. Every food substance we ingest causes myriad changes in the body’s interior temperature, humidity, hormonal secretions, metabolism, and the quality and regulation of organ functionality, which in turn influence how we think, feel, and act. We are because food is, and we are what we eat.
And we are the seasons of time. As we move through the seasons, they move through us and move us, as we saw in the Introduction to Part II. Our chronobiological systems change in tandem with seasonally influenced exoterrestrial conditions in ways that have evolved to enhance and protect life. This information regarding how the external and internal interact changes how we think of the self in relationship to the seasons of Earth and sky. The gravitational and electromagnetic fluctuations, climate, and the resulting quality of light associated with each seasonal increment of the annual and precessional year trigger internally corresponding physical, cognitive, and emotional states of being.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
— Henry David Thoreau
In Seasons of Life, Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience, and Leon Kreitzman, a science writer, report that “moods, performance, sleep patterns, thermoregulation capability, thyroid function, cortisol levels and almost everything else one cares to mention show some seasonal variation” (Foster and Kreitzman 2009, p6). This seasonality of being results in seasonal needs (hourly, daily, monthly, annually, and throughout the seasons of our lives, from infant to elder) that must be met to adapt to the internal shifts that keep pace with shifting external realities. If we’re paying attention, we see we are deeply connected to and conditioned by seasonal influences throughout the day, year, and our lifetime. Let’s take a quick look at some effects of the annual seasons.
In Spring, as our metabolism is stimulated by increasing exposure to solar radiation, the conceptual mind tends to become very busy, giving birth to planning, lists, organizing, and accomplishment. Many people find it difficult to slow down or turn off their thoughts in Spring. It’s also a time when irritation, frustration, and even explosive anger tend to surface more readily if the organizing mind encounters external resistance to its well-ordered plans. Crimes motivated by anger increase in Spring, related to frustration and control issues. Spontaneous street demonstrations erupt. Domestic violence and road rage incidents increase. Disorders related to the eyes are more common in Spring, as are diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, and insomnia. Sperm and embryo quality is highest in Spring. Statistics show that in the northern latitudes, men born in Spring have more offspring than men born in Autumn.
In Summer, the mind tends to relax and the gears of thought slow down and smooth out. Spontaneous singing, humming, and whistling are often heard in this season. Thoughts become more expansive, turning to creativity, cooperation, play, enjoyment, and affection. Incidents of clinical hysteria increase in summer, as do memory loss, circulation disorders, and speech problems. Statistically, women born in Summer will have fewer offspring than women born in the other seasons.
In Late Summer, the mind tends toward confusion and disorder. It’s a time of questioning, and well-thought-out plans often fall apart in this season. Relationships often encounter problems this time of year. Premeditated crimes increase during this season, as long-simmering resentments erupt. Mouth and teeth disorders are more common in Late Summer, as are stomach discomfort and digestion difficulties.
In Autumn, we find the mind again begins to organize and plan. Our thoughts spontaneously move to issues related to making changes that focus on accumulation and security: money, career enhancement, contemplating a returning to school, releasing old ways of doing things to become more stable. For those who have experienced personal loss, grief tends to resurface in this season of dissolution and letting go. And if we observe our thoughts carefully, we see that there’s a tendency to spontaneously reminisce in Autumn … deep memories spontaneously drifting to the surface of consciousness. Lung discomfort and respiratory disease are more common in Autumn.
In Winter, the mind naturally begins to slow down. We tend to seek community and comfort as the nights grow longer and the days shorter. We experience deeper thoughts about life and existence, our dreams may increase in quantity and vividness, and we may notice deep fears in the depths of Winter. We may find it difficult getting the brain started in the morning and find it shutting down earlier in the evening. What we pathologize and describe as depression is often experienced in Winter — it’s now recognized that there’s a connection between winter depression and the quality and quantity of natural light. For many people, there is also a dread of slowing down, in both body and mind. Winter is a time to slow down and go deep, but our perpetual Springtime society doesn’t allow for it. In Winter, kidney and bladder disorders and ear infections are more common. In the Northern Hemisphere, people diagnosed with schizophrenia are more likely to have been born in Winter. Also in the Northern Hemisphere, people born in early Winter have a statistically lower chance of developing multiple sclerosis than those born in early Summer.
If you carefully observe the seasons and their effects on life and society throughout the year, over years, you’ll notice an alternating rising and falling, surfacing and diving, tension and release, activity and passivity, as each year unfolds season by season. In tangible, observable ways, we are the patterns of the celestial mechanics. We are Earth, sun, and moon. We are what we breathe, eat, and drink.
We are also other people, society, and all living beings. We’re all connected in very real ways that we’ve excluded from awareness because it doesn’t conveniently fit with the separate, solid self that we think we are, or with the society that has been built on the collective sense of existing separately. Where does your “I” end and everything around you begin? At the surface of the skin? No … physically you are permeable. But what about other people? Can the “I” be separate from the collective human organism and human society that it depends on for its existence? If all the people in society disappeared tomorrow, then how would that change the quality of life for you? Would you survive? Every bite of food you eat and the water you use have been made available to you by countless other people. The shelter you live in was likely built and maintained by others. The electricity that provides so many of your needs is the product of countless people over decades. Who would care for you when you become sick or disabled? Humans have evolved as a communal animal as a necessity. We need each other for companionship and material support. This need is nowhere clearer than in the dependent relationship that an infant has with whoever cares for it until it can function as an adult. Without other people, we aren’t safe and we aren’t whole. We evolved to need and support each other, and not just for physical survival.
Studies have shown that loneliness and alienation are significant causes of aggressive antisocial behavior, illness, and premature death. How is the self separate from that which is needed to keep it healthy and alive? The modern fantasy that we can exist as an island unto our self, regarded as an ideal by many here in this darkening tail end of the precessional cycle, is a discontenting, diseasing, endangering delusion. It’s a manifestation of a very modern madness that’s a product of the ways we’ve been conditioned to think of ourselves as a part, apart. And it’s evident in modern society that this fragmented way of thinking, and the way that it conditions us to see and act, is failing us, society, and all living beings.
Thinking that we are separate and solid affects us in ways that aren’t readily apparent because we overlook the more subtle cause-and-effect processes that result from this pattern of thinking. We are each a network of processes, living within processes. We aren’t separate from where we exist or the effects of our actions, and we don’t get away with anything. In our amnesia-induced constricted thought patterns and self-obsessed tunnel vision, individually and collectively, we create the conditions for discontentment, disease, and endangerment, without noticing that we are doing so. It’s an ongoing constructed process that we participate in out of habit, but we’ve been blind to important information. This blindness leads to a weak weave that is always threatening to fall apart and reveal what we’ve blocked from our occluded vision and stunted awareness.
The Result Is Madness
To glue it all together and maintain our amnesia and denial in the face of escalating uncertainty, we think more and more, and more complexly, but only up to a consensually agreed-upon point and no further. We rationalize with lightning speed. We tell ourselves endless stories, but always in the same rutted patterns that protect our amnesia and avoid any cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a state of mental discomfort marked by confusion and uncertainty that arises when event and place aren’t consistent with the abstractions used to build our habitual stories, thought patterns, and especially our beliefs. The state of mind we describe as belief is a blinding attempt to impose a stagnating conceptual narrative of certainty upon our innately uncertain and relative existence. Its central purpose is to draw a line in the sand between our unacknowledged but well-cherished notions of a separate, solid, and certain self, and anything that threatens to expose this alienated charade of self-existing as the fiction it is. It is a replacement for the process of knowing, closed to possibility. We always think we have an answer for everything and avoid questions that might have answers with the power to dismantle our calcified, unexamined beliefs. We rarely say “I don’t know.”
Jeanette Armstrong, a Native American activist and educator, writes that in the native Okanagan language, “insane” can be understood as “in a state of talking talking inside the head” (Fisher 2013, 78): polarized chatter, talking built on top of talking (hence, “talking” stated twice)…a state of abstraction dissociated from place and event and, increasingly, from each other and the nature that is our body. To protect our fictions that tell us we’re separate, solid, and certain, we think faster and faster, build more complex, towering stories, consume more information and sensory stimulation, fortify belief, and grab and push more intently.
Visualize a glass of water. Now imagine putting a spoonful of dirt in the glass and stirring rapidly. The swirling dirt represents the endless chatter of thoughts in the mind, and the torrent of blinding sensory stimulation with which we clutter our inner existence in nearly every waking hour. The big chunks represent our hardened beliefs. The darkened, stirred, swirling water represents our vigilant rationalizations and our constant hungry and fearful reactions to circumstances and events that violate our tightly wound sense of psychic order. This is the state of the modern mind: swirling in a cluttered, clouded whirlpool of “talking talking” like demented parrots, blind to the full reality of where we are, how where we are actually works, and what time it actually is. We’re intellectually and creatively bankrupt as a society, trapped in archaic, alienated, failing patterns of thought and reactive habits that are deepening our discontentment and increasing disease and endangerment. It’s exhausting and life consuming, and it prevents contentment and happiness.
We don’t have to live like this. There is another way. We can train ourselves to step out of our “talking talking” and our unconscious grabbing at and pushing away. We can look beyond our conceptually manufactured conventional reality so that we can see and participate in the practical dance of relational reality. But to do this, a sacrifice is needed.
“Do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish.”
— Philip K. Dick
The territory we’ve covered in this Step can be challenging. At the beginning of this book, I warned that we’d look under rocks, peer into deep shadows, and returned to long-forgotten places. During the course of our journey so far, we’ve discovered things that are inconvenient, even unsettling, to know about our world, our society, and ourselves. We’ve seen that there’s no solid ground to be found in Earth or sky. We’ve looked closely at our patterns of thought and have seen how they determine the way we see the self and the world. We’ve seen that these patterns of thought are the result of deep and consistent conditioning, and that they are affected by shifting realities beyond our control. We examined the relationship of these patterns of thought to a manufactured illusion of a separate, solid, certain self. This illusion is a futile attempt to establish psychic order so that we can feel secure and real in ways that we are not. And we’ve seen the role that our beliefs play, which is to defend patterns of thought that create a highly cherished personal identity dependent on an illusion of a separate, solid, certain self. Belief necessarily narrows our range of attention to glue the whole construction together. It is certainty without evidence or even contrary to evidence. This reified circle of thought and belief is the breeding ground of an everyday madness of amnesia, denial, and ignorance that triggers reactive habits with which we build our lives and society in ways that result in chronic discontentment, disease, and endangerment.
Collectively, modern society puts enormous effort into protecting itself from consciously acknowledging the full and moving reality of where we are and what’s taking place, in Earth and sky, and in our personal existence. We do remember, but this memory of the stages of decline inherent in the cycle of the annual year, the precessional year, and our own lifespan has been deeply repressed. We’ve built a society and individual lives that demand we forget that ecosystems, civilizations, and what we regard as the solid, separate, certain self are all subject to the degenerating and regenerating, frequently punctuating cycles of time:
Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Fall, Winter …
Generation, Expansion, Degeneration, Dissolution, Dormancy …
Birth, Aging, Sickness, Dying, Death …
This repressed memory is the master of our thoughts. These common patterns of thought in modern society, and their effects, look very much like what people experience when suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We can compare the collective PTSD of modern society to what is frequently experienced by children who have endured traumatizing abuse or by adult victims of persecution, war, torture, or assault. These survivors often tend to distance themselves from their bodies in an unconscious attempt to minimize and even erase the somatic memory of traumatizing events. And human society now treats their own bodies, and the body of Earth, poorly, even destructively, in the absence of a conscious memory of the traumatizing cataclysmic events encoded deep in our genes and our ancient records. Survivors of traumatizing events, without conscious awareness of how the events have affected them, frequently live unbalanced and risk-prone lives that cause harm to themselves and others. And human society, with a diligently repressed memory of traumatizing cataclysmic events in the past, now organizes itself in unbalanced ways that are destructive and increase risk. Survivors of traumatizing events often have patterns of thought that actively work to keep the memory of these events hidden. And human society has patterns of thought that deny and ignore the memory of Earth’s catastrophic past. Survivors of traumatizing events are often trapped in tightly woven patterns of reactive grabbing at and pushing away, preventing them from living contented and happy lives. Modern society, with no conscious awareness of the degenerating and regenerating patterns of existence, is trapped in patterns of thought and reaction that make it impossible for it to be consistently contented, happy, and safely productive, no matter how hard its members work or how much pleasure or relief they seek. These and many other parallels are striking.
The only way to recovery in both cases is through a conscious remembering of the cause of trauma, and a conscious release of corresponding defense mechanisms and reactive skills that helped people survive during and in the immediate aftermath of traumatizing experiences: habituated skills that, when perpetuated far beyond the actual traumatizing experiences, often involve amnesia and aggression against whatever threatens to remind them of the experience. Survival skills born of traumatizing events are marginally effective, but only in the short term. When we rely on them in the long term, unaware that we are doing so, they begin to work against us and sabotage our best efforts.
Instead, we need to consciously remember and train ourselves to let go of unconscious, entrenched habits of thought and reaction. Loosening our grip on the illusion of a separate, solid self is an important step toward doing this. We’re not a part, apart … we are a process, embedded within other processes and affecting them, while processes larger than us are moving processes within us. This means that we are connected, and the more conscious we are of our interrelated and interactive place in existence, the more support will be available to us. We don’t exist alone. We can get out of our own way and learn new ways of being that skillfully and consciously reconnect us to the whole web of life and each other. We don’t have to believe everything we think, and we don’t have to continue thinking in abstract and inaccurate ways that narrow our vision and our options. We can consciously and effectively build down what has been built up. We can let go of patterns of thought that aren’t useful and that are harmful. We can see through and dissolve our manufactured and obsessively groomed cartoon of a separate, solid, certain self. We can release short-sighted reactive habits of grabbing at and pushing away that shore up the illusion and cause more discontentment and damage. We can resist taking refuge in fortresses of beliefs that protect the whole rickety edifice and that deny change. And we can stop working at cross purposes with the relational reality we exist in and begin to move in balance with its patterns and processes. When we begin to release dysfunctional patterns of thought, and the ways that we protect and defend these patterns, we make space for clearer vision and new ways of thinking that are relevant to current circumstances.
Here’s a fun little exercise that will demonstrate how releasing habitual thought patterns can change how and what we see. In modern society, when people look at the full moon, they can see what looks like the face of a person on its surface. In Western and Westernized modern society, we’ve been conditioned by popular culture to see “the man in the moon.” In some societies, people don’t see a face when they look at the moon; they see a rabbit (which was tied to the precessional story in some elder oral traditions). When you look at the full moon, look for the face. After you’ve found it, set that aside and look for the rabbit. It may take some looking, but if you focus your attention and think ‘rabbit’, the rabbit will find its way to the foreground on its own. When you see it, you may be surprised. It’s been there all along, but it’s been your habit to think a face and then see it. Once you’ve seen the rabbit, practice moving back and forth between the two images. By doing this, you’ll see that it is the conditioning of thought patterns that determines what you see.
By releasing conditioned patterns of thought, we can think differently, and we can see that there are other ways of experiencing phenomena and circumstances. This also applies to how we think a separate self, a separate Earth, and a separate sky, and then see a separate self, separate Earth, and separate sky. Nothing is separate, solid, and certain … we only think they are because we’ve been trained to, and because we unconsciously fear what might be revealed to us if we think differently or if we acknowledge uncertainty. Just as with the man in the moon and the rabbit, there’s another way of knowing who we are and where we are that will let us bring the interrelated and interactive relationships of existence to the foreground of our vision. Seeing ourselves as we really are is the key that opens an expansive window to the world. When we begin to let go of the patterns of thought that we use to build the protective borders of our comfort zone, we can begin to see the real self, the real Earth, the real sky, and the innate relationships that exist between them that have been there all along behind the veil of our everyday madness. Then we can begin to live in balance with them.
When we Reflect as we have in Part I and Step I, to see what we’ve been blind to in our everyday madness, and then begin to Release what’s not accurate, is blinding, or that is harmful, we’ve taken a huge step toward contentment and happiness. We have begun to repent. ‘Repent’ is an awkward term, isn’t it? It has fallen out of favor in our modern society because of its negative association with religion; however, I’m reclaiming the word here, stripped of all recently added religious context and meaning. In elder cultures, ‘repent’ simply meant amending one’s inaccurate patterns of thought and ceasing unskillful or harmful behaviors, to consciously return to a state of balance and integration. It means letting go of patterns of thought that condition us to only see a conventional view of reality and opening ourselves to the relational reality of where we actually are. It means seeing place and event instead of just self-serving abstract ideations. The ancient Hebrew word teshuvah (represented by two verbs, shuv and nicham), often translated “repentance,” simply meant “to turn or return.” The word tawbah (repentance) in Arabic literally means “to return.” The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, is a composite of two words that denote change and time: meta (return) and noeo (to think, remember). And repent was a Roman military term which called for a turn of 180 degrees — a complete about-face. If we look at repent a little closer, we see that the Old English path or pæþ, from Proto-Germanic *paþaz, from Avestan pɑntɑ or pɑθɑ (way) and Old Persian pɑthi, derives from Proto-Indo-European , derives from Proto-Indo-European pent (tread, path). Avestan panta or “way” and Old Persian pathi or “path” are both etymologically related to wegh (deriving from wheel, cycle) in nearly every branch of Indo-European. And the Germanic word find is also from Proto-Indo-European pent. Wegh, as we’ve seen earlier, is based on the centrality of the precessional cycle in ancient thought. It is the primordial circle … the grand wheeling cycle of time that creates all the other myriad seasons of life. Repent, then, means to remember, find, and return tothe path or way. The way or path is both the primary cycle of time that affects life in Earth and our own life, and a social code consistent with its rhythmical fluctuations and punctuations. It’s a change of mind and a return to a way of thinking and acting that’s consistent with the relational reality of where we actually are, what’s actually happening, and what time it actually is. Turning again, with the turning of time, instead of being continuously seduced by the straight line of abstractions in the service of an imagined separate, solid, certain self. The act of repenting is the loosening of our grip on self-absorbed patterns of thought and action that cause us to forget what must never be forgotten. It’s an adaptive acknowledgement and realignment with the seasonal hills and valleys of time and space, for the common good and survival of the human community.
When we find ourselves thinking and acting in ways that are inconsistent with changed and changing conditions — that is, when we are pulled off the path by our narrow conventional thinking and self-obsession — we can release and reconnect with relational reality. We can begin again, and again, and again, as often as needed, with a fresh awareness of current patterns and conditions. Releasing and returning to the path keeps us in the moment, attuned to current circumstances, and moving with the seasons of time, instead of trapped in abstract fictions of separate, solid, and certain, reactive grabbing at and pushing away, and stagnating fortresses of belief that protect how we think everything should be, which are all just grist for the mill. This lets us return to and turn with life’s circle.
Elder cultures cultivated patterns of thought that consciously united conventional reality and relational reality, and that created a way of life that helped people and society stay on the path, connected to community, Earth and its living beings, and celestial mechanics, attending to what’s really taking place. In Living Life’s Circle: Mescalero Apache Cosmovision, Claire Farrer describes the Mescalero Apache (Native American) people’s annual coming-of-age ceremony for girls, as an example of how deeply attuned the Mescalero Apache were with Earth and the patterns of the sky. Throughout the night and early morning of the ceremony, a complex ritual event is performed, known as the “pulling of the sun.” The ceremony begins late in the evening. Both its precise starting moment and the movements of dancers and singers throughout the course of the night are so perfectly synced with the movements of the Great Dipper that the last line of the last song is sung at the exact moment the sun is “pulled” atop the mountain ridge, with its first rays striking the sun symbol painted on the palms of the synchronized dancers’ outstretched hands.
In the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, in the Greek city-state of Sparta, a ritual of similar duration and timing took place, dating back to the tenth century BCE. This ritual was called the Procession of the Girls. It took place at the time of the year when the Pleiades are briefly seen rising in the morning sky just before sunrise. The procession would start when the sky was still dark, and ritual preparations for it would have started early the evening before. During the actual procession the girls would place an offering on an altar at the exact time that the Pleiades appeared in the sky. To do this, the girls would have needed to complete their song and perform the final movement of their processional dance and offering exactly timed to the few moments when the Pleiades were visible before being made invisible by the first rays of the sun.
For elder civilizations, ritual ceremonies such as this had a practical function. The precisely attuned relationship between mnemonic ritual action and celestial movements over the course of many hours, relying only on the path of the stars for the exact timing, ensured that their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy was kept alive in the whole community through daily life and activities. It tied important developmental stages of life to the patterns of Earth and sky, and securely bonded individuals and community to place and change. Ceremonies such as this sun dance and ritual procession, and the songs and stories associated with them, formed a constant integrating link between the community and the ever-circling wheel of time.
In our modern consumer society, we lack these community-based rituals that reveal where we really are, who we really are, and what’s actually happening. We’re each on our own, obsessively constructing and grooming our personal identity in a void of imagined separateness and solidity, hypnotized by a cacophony of conditioning while performing sad rituals of consumption. Peter Levine, an American psychologist who studied somatic aspects of dissociation, wrote that this way of being “leaves our rational minds to create fantasies based on disconnection rather than connection. These fantasies compel us to compete, make war, distrust one another, and undermine our natural respect for life” (Levine 1997, 266). When looked at carefully from a distance, modern people begin to appear not much different from a caged bird that chatters endlessly to itself in a mirror while compulsively grooming itself until its feathers fall out. This situation places the responsibility for our contentment and happiness squarely on each one of us. But to return to life and thrive, to experience authentic contentment and happiness, we must let go of conditioned patterns of thought and ossified belief because, as Philip K. Dick reminds us: “Before the new things can be born the old must perish.” Then we can release ourselves from our cages.
After the Letting Go, Then What?
Let’s listen again to Wallace Stevens:
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.
In the previous Step: Reflect, by looking through a mirror-like lens that’s larger than we’re used to, we became aware that we’re snared in an everyday madness that excludes the turning patterns and processes of Earth and sky and their effects. Reflecting, as uncomfortable as it may be, helps to create the conditions of mind that support, in this Step: Release, a conscious letting go of patterns of thought that prevent us from knowing where we really are and what time it really is. We’ve narrowed our vision and built a life that keeps us from knowing who we really are, and that hurts us and all of life, so that we can function as society demands and to protect our comfort zone. The tensions between the conventional reality created by conditioned conventional thinking, and the actuality of relational reality, are growing as uncertainty and change intensify, and this is creating both internal and external conflict as we struggle ever harder to forget what now needs to be remembered. In our modern society, here in the tail end of Late Summer in the precessional cycle, when chaos and disorder are growing, “talking talking” in the head, dissociated from the realities of the natural world and celestial mechanics, is considered normal, and is even required. However, consensually agreed-upon madness is still madness, no matter how widespread it is, how much it is valued, or how normal it seems. In the next phase of our journey, we’re going to descend deeper into our being, beneath the surface workings of the mind, and beyond the boundaries of our everyday madness, to the heart of the matter. There we’ll begin to familiarize ourselves with a macro level of our being that our conventional way of mediating reality has prevented us from including in our vision. We’ll begin to remember a way of knowing that doesn’t render us a part and apart, and we’ll discover a boundary-free relational self “more truly and more strange.” This non-dual experiential place is where knowing and realization occur. But before we descend, here are some exercises that familiarize us with releasing.