In anticipation of the fall a few sobering words. I am known to be a party pooper. Life is not just beautiful. Sapiens is mostly a tragic figure. In its entire history (with only few localized exceptions), humanity as a whole has never proven to be capable of anything else than self-destruction. As of this writing, there is no evidence of the contrary – we are racing against a wall at 200 km/hour with no meaningful sign of slowing down, happily counting our pennies.
Consider this true story: In 1983, the Russian atomic control center’s alarm went off that the US had launched several missiles against Russia. The commander at the time chose not to believe the computers because he did not trust them. He waited until the missiles could be directly detected by radar. By that time it would have been too late and the Russians would have had just time to fire off a counter attack. The moment came, and the radars did not detect anything. It was a false alarm by a glitch in the computer.
One atomic bomb today far exceeds the destructive power of all bombs used during the second world war. If in 1983 the Russians launched just one atomic missile to the US, over 50% of the North American population would have been dead or gravely wounded. The US would then launch a counterattack on predetermined targets, which would basically wipe out most if not all life on this planet. Just sit quietly for a moment and ponder this: What kind of a species, what kind of a brain creates such folly? Where does your cherished mindfulness enter the equation?
It is difficult to imagine anything different than homo sapiens being doomed, because we are deeply enslaved from within. The environmental destruction train we have unleashed has long left the station of irreversibility and nature has begun to shake us off. Mind you, our planet does not care. It has done that many times before, wiping the slate clean and making room for new evolutions, and it will do it again. It is one thing though when cataclysmic cosmic events change the landscape; it is another to destroy ourselves when we could enjoy the bounty of this marvellous universe for many more centuries to come. To realize how dire things are on this planet, you need to look closely and read the fine and not so fine print of scientific evidence. Like the boiling frog anecdote, environmental changes occur gradually and we happily bicker about which tea set is most appropriate for afternoon tea while the boat is already sinking and we are about to be cooked to a crisp. Where does mindfulness come into play?
Educated to compete and pursue unlimited growth, when the economy shrinks from 7% to 3% we panic, and we argue about whether carbon reduction targets should be met 30, 50 or 100 years from now! We are on the same road like the former inhabitants of Easter Island. Their mindset and class system dictated that vast amounts of timber be used for elaborate temple constructions and buildings for the upper class. Locked in by this mindset they continued pillaging the island until every single tree was gone. With the last tree the ecosystem that sustained them was also gone and the society collapsed. What role does mindfulness have in this?
Rampant social injustice destroys us. The dog eats dog world we project on nature reaches all the way to humans where sapiens eats sapiens. The survival of the fittest is well alive and thriving even in civilized societies that profess to be humanistic. We chase return of capital, yield, profit and relentless expansion at the expense of others and nature. The terrible tyrants of yesterday have morphed into the politically correct corporations of today. We live in the bubble of a limitless imaginary world of our own creation, out of touch with the limited reality of the natural planet that sustains us. Where is mindfulness to be seen?
Other species were doomed in the past because of external natural circumstances such as meteors and climatic shifts which destroyed their sustaining environment. We are doomed because of how our psyche works. Quite simply, we have the powers of creation and destruction, yet are in the unfettered grip of our grandiose left brain with its unsavoury characteristics.
We think we know it all and that we can go it alone without nature. So we waste and pillage, counting on nature to clean up after us.
We are plagued by unrealistic expectations and play like Peter Pan without regard to the limitations of resources. So we consume far beyond what is reasonable.
We are paranoid, unable to trust and inspire trust, and always in need of feeling in control. So we compete out of fear of survival and are in a constant state of war with nature and others.
We are overly optimistic and unrealistically positive, so we endlessly postpone dealing with the reckoning that sits at our doorstep.
We are in denial about our shortcomings, so we entertain grandiose ideas about our ability to solve problems.
We are unreasonably certain and see the world in black and white terms, so we dismiss everything that does not fit our agenda and launch like the apprentice sorcerer into activities and experiments far beyond our expertise.
We create stories and opinions that are woefully wrong and out of touch with reality, but don’t even notice it because our theories always reflect back on and confirm themselves. When reality does not match our fantasies about it, we will invent lies to confirm our delusions. So we act in terribly destructive ways and become the authors of countless suffering.
We manipulate truth with the loudness of our voice. So who has the loudest voice has the truth.
We manipulate reality by controlling the means of argument such as pseudo logic and detachment. So we ignore the truth that emotions and intuition hide.
We are hugely reactive and incapable of wise discernment. So we make terrible decisions that have terrible consequences.
We are unable to see the long-term picture and have a short memory for history. So we never learn from our experiences and repeat destructive courses of action again and again.
On a global scale I have no solution, because the energy flow that determines the behavior of masses is way beyond anyone’s control. The only point of influence is the individual, not just because the individual is the only one capable of saving himself, but because masses can change direction when enough individuals change direction. Despite my realism (or pessimism?), whether we’ll globally succeed or not in changing direction as the global family of sapiens is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, we can put ourselves on the right side of history.
To be on the right side of history means to examine the instrument with which we play the tune of our lives, learn from it and apply its lessons. One of the tools (and possibly the most powerful one) is mindfulness. On the surface it seems like mindfulness has taken off like wildfire, at least in Europe and North America. This is not the first time. Thousands of years ago whole countries embraced its principles. But on the large scale of masses its depth gets diluted, not surprisingly hijacked by the left brain which molds it to its particular worldview. Today, mindfulness as a nice idea, a cool trend that fits into our lives between a golf game and dinner, has reached epidemic proportions. With it comes a sense of gratuitous facility with which we play with the toy of mindfulness – with the result of course that changes are much diluted. Mindfulness has morphed into the MacMindfulness of people trying to rewire the brain to make things better. But making things better is more a side effect of mindfulness than its soul. It is fast-food-mindfulness lacking access to the nutritious potential of its depth. I hear Shania Twain’s line pop up in my mind, ‘… that don’t impress me much!’
Will we really free ourselves from the scourge of the left brain gone berserk with 10 minutes a day of mindfulness as we try to cure our high blood pressure? Not a chance! The tens of thousands of years of evolutionary conditioning will wipe us out before we say boo, even with lower blood pressure. So making things better is noble, but not where it is fundamentally at.
With mortality bestowed upon us, we are the lucky ones. Richard Dawkins writes: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
Mortality is an opportunity to discover our nature as ‘that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred’. With mindfulness it is not illnesses we need to cure. It is mortality itself. Yes, we need to cure mortality, or put differently, we must learn to die from death, not from illnesses. In our left-brain narrow-mindedness of MacMindfulness we chase after the cure of disease and the removal of pain. If you are old enough, you know all too well that this does not work.
To cure mortality is to heal and cure our lives by gaining access to our birthright, the nameless vastness of timelessness. Only then true liberation from suffering can be found, trust and love can flourish, and the missiles can be taken down. There is a reality we are blind to, that is far more real than the one we think we see. The material world is not the end all and be all. Beyond it lays the promised land of pure awareness, our real identity transcending the limitations of time and space. It is the land of birthlessness and deathlessness, where birth and death are transformations of the same unknown we are made of. It is also the land of humility, justice, reverence for life and love. It is the land of nature if we know how to listen.
The fine dining of mindfulness is the big challenge we are taking on this year (as we have every prior year), but with a twist: One of the Mindsight Intensive groups will be devoted to non-duality and its mysteries.