The hippies, like the spiritual seekers who followed, weren’t entirely wrong. Just missing half the picture.
When, after serving twenty months of what was meant to be a life sentence, I staged a break-out from my spiritual community, those dutiful servants of Empire, the Bush-Blair duo, were finalising Wall Street plans for Iraq.
It was February 2003.
My guru, a tough-talking New Yorker of unsurpassed eloquence and extraordinary depth of insight whose teachings I still look to, had given his following to understand that (a) he was “Enlightened” and (b) The Enlightened One does not make serious mistakes.
Now his puerile understanding – a straight steal from the tabloids – of the slaughter to come as a case of Taking Out A Bully had led him to declare that “I stand with my president”.
(Not that our “quality” media were any better on Iraq. What distinguishes upmarket corporate media from down, other than tone and sophistication of language, is the former’s willingness to explore matters of undeniable importance. Abortion, say, or systemic racism. What unites them is the abandoning of truth on matters vital to power. None more so than the waging of war on those states in the way of empire designs. Contrary to the beliefs of most of the left, reformist or revolutionary, the primary mechanism here is not billionaire ownership but the advertising (or in the Guardian’s case, sponsorship) business model. From which the likes of America’s PBS, Australia’s ABC and Britain’s BBC are only part exempt – and then only with other assurances of their deference to power when it really counts.)
I’ve spent the twenty years since trying, not always consciously, to integrate what was good in Andrew Cohen’s teachings with those, encountered in the seventies, of dialectical materialism. I believe the former has enriched my life immeasurably but that’s an assessment Andrew would scorn, on the whole rightly, as lost in the personal.
And I believe that without the latter our understandings of the world will be hopelessly wide of the mark, much to the satisfaction of those who beneath a thinning veneer of democracy rule us, hugely aided by the most extensive, the most sophisticated and the most multidimensional propaganda system in history. As Harold Pinter put it in his 2005 Nobel acceptance speech:
The crimes of the USA have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few have talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
And as Caitlin Johnstone put it more recently:
If your understanding of world events doesn’t account for the easily quantifiable fact that the US is the most tyrannical regime on earth by a massive margin, nothing else in your understanding of world events will be fact-based.
I admire Caitlin for the undeniable force of her passion but, as Jack Nicholson – the Devil in The Witches of Eastwick – says of Susan Sarandon’s cello playing, ‘passion without precision sucks’. It’s Caitlin’s mix of passion with the ability to state counterintuitive truths (counter to dominant narratives, that is) in ways which make them seem simple common sense that has her featuring so often on my masthead, and in my posts.
Passion and precision then. And the fact that she too sees no separation between our spiritual nature, and the need for a deeply materialist – follow the money – approach to a criminally insane world order.
It can be hard to feel your roots as a westerner.
Many of us live in countries built on relatively recent colonization by Europeans, so our ancestral connection to the land only goes back a few generations. Our spirituality is generally expressed in religions which originated thousands of years ago in a geographical and historical context that we have no real relationship with, or in the borrowing from other traditions we’re even more distant from. And all of us are continually slammed in the face every day with a mainstream culture that is phony and shallow from top to bottom.
This often leads to feelings of disconnection and alienation, and a deep yearning that feels so tender and vulnerable we don’t even like talking about it. It’s a deep yearning for depth, for groundedness in something ancient and much bigger than ourselves. We feel it when observing the colonialism-ravaged remnants of indigenous cultures, or even made-up indigenous cultures like in the movie Avatar; this longing to belong to a cultural framework for connecting to the land and to other people in a way that’s guided by ancient wisdom, and which we don’t have to make up as we go along.
But it is possible to find that deep connection we long for, and we don’t even have to go appropriating indigenous spirituality or co-opting eastern religions in order to get there.
Right now, without trying to get anywhere, you are already fully unified with something unfathomably vast and incomprehensibly ancient. And I’m not speaking spiritually or philosophically here. I’m speaking scientifically.
Scientists have recently determined that the water on our planet is 4.5 billion years old. This is the water we drink, bathe in and swim in; the water that falls from our sky; the water with which we nourish the plants we eat and the plants we grow around us. It’s the water that makes up 60 percent of our bodies and 90 percent of our blood.
4.5 billion years is also the approximate age of the planet we live on, and all the other elements which make up our bodies are approximately the same age as well. Those elements, including water, were birthed from the swirling stardust of the universe which eventually cooled and gave rise to them, and that stardust was in turn birthed by the Great Whatever at the beginning of time that started this whole party.
And now here you are, an arrangement of cells made of stuff that is billions of years old, using your profoundly advanced eye organs to process the electromagnetic radiation from this screen and transform those readings into thoughts and ideas in a brain so complex that science has barely scratched the surface of understanding how it works.
You are not separate from the universe. How could you be? The whole thing worked together to give rise to you through an unbroken chain of occurrences over billions of years, and the stuff you are made of comes from the same Great Whatever as everything else. Since the dawn of life on this planet organisms have been exchanging water and other elements back and forth through eating, drinking, reproducing and dying, and you are inseparably one with that dance.
And your own elements will not die. When your incredible heart stops beating and the stuff your amazing body is made of begins to come apart, your own molecules will simply continue the dance of the elements that has been going on for billions of years.
You won’t die, you’ll just return. Some elements born of stardust arranged themselves on two legs, looked around, experienced countless wonders, laughed, cried, fell in love, learned and unlearned, and then changed form, like a ripple ceasing its movement and becoming indistinguishable from the surrounding water. The water remains the same — it’s just doing a different dance now.
You are inseparably one with all of this. You are not an outsider; you have been here from the beginning. You belong here. You might not be properly indigenous to this precise slice of spacetime, but you are indigenous to something much, much bigger and much, much older. You are indigenous to this planet. You are indigenous to this universe. You are indigenous to this ongoing dance of birth and return, of water and evaporation, of rippling and unrippling.
You are home, and I mean that in both senses of the phrase. You’re home, and you are home. You are home, but you are also made of what home is. All the elements in your body and the dance they do, are from home, are home, is home. You may yearn for home, yet you are made of it. You are as home as home gets. You’re so home that you can’t escape home, any more than a tortoise can escape its shell.
You don’t need to think about the words I’m saying to experience this for yourself from moment to moment; it’s not a narrative or a belief system, it’s what you are. You can feel it in the aliveness of your body, in the thrum of consciousness, in the experience of everything. You can touch in with this reality whenever you want, and in fact you can learn to embody it continuously.
This goes much much deeper than religion or spirituality, much much deeper than culture, because it’s not something people made up. It’s just what’s happening; it’s simply reality as it is. And you can live it each day, embodying it wordlessly, at home in your place here. More sacred than sacred. Older than god.
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