To quote Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” This truth has stayed with me as I’ve questioned how we create a new way forward. I’ve noticed particularly in the environmental world, but also in politics – we seem to be going in circles while things just get worse, and no amount of yelling louder seems to help. So I was particularly thrilled to hear Charles Eisenstein speak the other evening. What I immediately noticed was his vulnerability and the attention he gave to setting out the context for his own authentic exploration.
Charles Eisenstein and our dysfunctional shared sense of Self
Charles Eisenstein is rightly considered ‘one of the up and coming great minds of our time’. Teacher, public speaker and writer, he’s an astute philosopher of our generation. He has delved deeply into the roots of the economic, social and environmental challenges we face and explored the myriad threads of our cultural consciousness to produce a stirring postmodern critique of the dominant worldview that has led us to a precipice.
“I was always consumed by questions like, “Where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” so of course, embedded as I was in a culture that sees science and reason as the source of truth, I tried to “figure out” the answers…but my development of reason and intellect brought me no closer to any truth I really cared about.” – Charles Eisenstein
We feel that the world is not supposed to be like this – that it could be better, but instead it seems to be getting worse. He concludes that our sense of helplessness in the face of the overwhelming global crises facing humanity is an illusion created by our culture’s dysfunctional sense of self which is becoming obsolete: we live as separate beings in a world of separate beings in a universe that is separate from our self, and as a consequence we struggle to control life through force and power over nature and each other. You can see this in politics, in corporations, in physics; you can also see it in the environmental movement.
We use force to change people or to make them do what we want, or we use shame to bring them around to our views. But on some level we begin to understand that there is no universe ‘out there’. What we do to the world we are at some level doing to ourselves as well. Only by embracing a different story, a shift in consciousness to a different sense of self, he feels we can create the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible – and discover a life of meaning.
The Ascent of Humanity
“I have long found most prescriptions for “what you can do” to reverse humanity’s trajectory of ruin quite empty. Recycle your bottles and turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Write your Congressman. What are these tiny individual actions against the juggernaut of destruction that consumes oceans, trees, soil, and culture?” – Charles Eisenstein
His very hefty treatise Ascent of Humanity encapsulates the enormity of the crisis before us. Eisenstein considers the history and future of civilization from a unique perspective: the evolution of the human sense of self. He describes how all the expressions of our civilization—its miraculous technology as well as the pillage of earth, culture, goodness, and beauty—arise from our identity, our way of being as a discrete and separate self. The gathering crises of our age demonstrate that this way of being is on the verge of collapse. And this collapse is setting the stage for a revolution in human beingness whose stirrings, he says, we already begin to feel.
The Power of Money
His popular book Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition looks at the history of money from ancient economies to modern capitalism. He discovers that the system of money has contributed to alienation, competition, scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth. Today, these trends have reached their extreme—but in the wake of their collapse, he argues, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological and sustainable way of being.
In a video filmed during the Occupy Movement, I’m struck that he doesn’t denounce the 1% – the corporate executives and the wealthy traders. In fact he feels that, put in their position, we’d do the same – the institutions have their own logic. He also doesn’t feel that the solution is shifting power to the 99% because we’re all part of the same story. Instead he feels what is significant is we’re waking up to a different way of being – connecting in relationship with other human beings.
“For a long time our minds have been telling us that maybe we’re imagining things that maybe it’s crazy to live according to what you want to give. But I think as more and more people around us wake up to the truth – that we are here to give – we realise we aren’t crazy – it makes sense.”
In this new revolution there’s no other – there’s no one to fight. It’s not about fighting. Refreshingly he asserts that the solution is us – we have to change our own story. From a world where we don’t need each other we transition to a world where we appreciate each other. Giving our gifts in service to something large than our self creates intimacy and connection, and a new world of love and gratitude for life.