The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.” 20.
The Two Tribes (Part 3) While the running tribe kept running around the island of Allandon, exploiting it and fashioning it in the image of its own self-importance, the sitting tribe tried to sit quietly within whatever natural surroundings were left on the island.
The sitting tribe had become small, as many of its members had switched over, feeling that the running tribe offered a better and more prosperous life. And yet life was not idyllic for the running tribe. For reasons they could not understand a collective restlessness had slowly come over them, a growing dissatisfaction with their lives.
They no longer laughed at the sitting tribe, for every day they could see serenity on the faces of the sitting tribe members, a serenity that they longed for.
The sitting tribe could not help but be drawn to some of the obvious improvements that the running tribe had made to the conditions of life, but they approached the running life with caution, taking sporadic moments to try a bit of running. While this was happening more often, many running tribe members slowly took some time out of their busy day to sit, hoping to find the serenity they saw on the faces of the sitting tribe.
The running tribe members each started to sit at different times to suit their own schedules. Eventually there was no longer an organized group that ran in unison, nor was there a group sitting in unison. In fact each individual developed their own unique pattern of the two practices. Amidst the daily confusion of sitting and running, the lines between the two tribes blurred more and more, until one tribe could not be distinguished from the other. It was around this time that a growing number of members of both tribes started to believe that one day the island of Allandon would again be home to a single tribe. It is only because we are at a special time in the history of humanity that we have the capacity to talk to each other about creating ourselves and our lives in the image of our personal visions. Human consciousness has evolved to the point where individuals are starting to see a choice as to whether or not to follow the values and aspirations of the nation, race, culture, creed or even family that they were born into. In other words, individuals no longer need to identify with a particular group in order to manifest their personal visions and desires in the world. Certainly it has not always been like this. Nietzsche pointed to this when he wrote, ‘Peoples were creators first. Only later were individuals creators. Indeed the individual is the latest creation.’ Although we tend to think that the entire history of humanity involved the choices, aspirations, and decisions of human individuals, in a very real sense the human individual as such only came into being through the development of the Ego Self, which really sums up the history of Western Civilization as well as anything.
There were of course a few remarkable individuals prior to the Classical Age of Greece, but those individuals were for all intents and purposes not humans but rather gods, who were deified as such by the vast majority of their culture. Only in modern times have ‘everyday’ individuals begun to identify themselves as creative, whole, self-fulfilling beings apart from any group. While human groups such as cultures, nations, and religions have allowed us to fulfill a most basic human longing for unity, it is a limited form of this fulfillment. Within any group, a collective mind is created that excludes others, and actually limits individuals from fully experiencing or even actively aspiring to unity within the larger body of humanity itself. And so it makes sense that this larger unity, which Hegel called the ‘full unfolding of the Spirit’, is only possible when all individuals are free and capable of identifying themselves as entities unto themselves. We have spoken at length about the pitfalls of our Western society founded on identification with the Ego Self, with its rampant materialism and disrespect for nature, its self-serving ideology and disregard for the communal fabric. Still, perhaps the growth of the Ego Self may not have been a catastrophic misstep of human development but rather an important, necessary stage in the evolution of consciousness. If we apply Hegel’s dialectic to this evolution on a grand scale, Eastern thought would be the starting point, the thesis. Western thought, which emerged from the bosom of Eastern civilization, would be the antithesis. And the great synthesis of these two opposing forces is the leap of consciousness that we are living through today. If we can make it happen it will be the greatest synthesis the world has ever seen, a synthesis of traditional Eastern holistic spirituality that identifies with the Dao Self and modern Western atomistic materialism that identifies with the Ego Self.
The promise of this synthesis is a life in which the best of both world views exist together. We have seen in our recent history that an augmentation of individual freedom has brought forth a much steadier flow of creativity and innovation. Possibilities have opened up, not only for individuals to express themselves in the world and manifest their own destiny, but also for humanity as a whole to benefit from this creative expression. Individual development has moved to the forefront and has become more and more the leading edge for human progress.
The development of the Ego Self has not only given individuals the opportunity to imagine a better way of life, it also provides the individual with the means to manifest this vision in the world. Chief Seattle may have envisioned something like this even as Western man came over to America and obliterated his people’s way of life. Remember he reflected that ‘God brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.’ Although he could not see the purpose of Western man’s dominance at the time, he still knew that it was all part of a common destiny of humanity that was much vaster than the particular aspirations of either culture. As Westerners, I believe it is time to embrace that larger vision today, lest we continue to be swept away by egocentric self-delusion. It is very tempting for us in the West to be swayed by our sense of self-importance in the world, and to continue promoting our unconscious mantra that the West is the best.
The very idea of ‘better’ and ‘best’ is a particularly Western convention. With the Western model, mankind is on a linear path to evolution. With the Eastern model, mankind’s evolution is seen within a cycle which returns back to the starting point. In the West we see ourselves going into uncharted territory, in the East we are simply returning home. With Western ideology the ability to progress in itself becomes the essential mark of a culture. It gives us a measuring stick as to the relative value and worth of a particular people. In other words, it appears to give us the license to judge. It should not come as a surprise that Hegel, author of this particular vision of human history, looked down with some disdain on traditional Eastern cultures. He once said that “the inferiority of [the Native Americans] in all respects, even in regard to size, is very manifest... [they are] still abiding in their natural condition of rudeness and barbarism.” He likewise felt that the German society of his day was the height of human evolution to that point. However when his indictment of Native Americans is measured up against Chief Seattle’s assessment of the white man—a white man who had just ravaged his people and their land, I might add—one is left to wonder which culture was actually more evolved. Where Chief Seattle believes that his people and the white man are all as brothers equal under the same God, the Europeans who claimed America had no doubts that they were better than Native Americans, smarter, more evolved, more worthy of what life and the Earth have to offer. For them the material focus of Western civilization constituted progress over the spiritual focus of Eastern civilization, and this belief continues to this day. We are only now awakening to the uncomfortable proposition that this is simply an acute delusion of the egocentricity inherent in the Western mindset as a whole. It is interesting that the extreme polarity of Eastern and Western civilizations can be traced to a single difference in their founding mythologies. Traditional Eastern cultures were founded on a mythology that saw the essential truth of life to be the unity of all things above and below the heavens. Everything is connected, and duality is the illusion of the world and can be transcended since the ultimate truth is unity with the One, the Dao. Western civilization has grown from the perception that this unity or oneness, such as existed in the garden of Eden before the ‘fall of man’, is the illusion that ultimately masks the fundamental truth of duality, revealed to man and woman by their eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which had previously been known only to God. Western religions that are derived from the mythology of duality are ethical in nature because of the belief that life is the battle between good and evil, God and Satan.
The focus of Western religion is that man is apart from God, that he has sinned, he has fallen, and needs to redeem himself. In the Eastern tradition there are no sinners and no need for redemption.
Their religions are not about ethics as much as alignment with nature, with one’s true self and path in life. Eastern traditions find their ultimate truth in the cyclical rhythms of day and night, the phases of the moon, and the seasons. By extension they see human life as cyclical. We are born, we live, we die, and we then are reborn. Reincarnation occurs as we move around the cosmic wheel, to return to the source from which we came once we have resolved all of our accumulated karma. History itself is cyclical. In the Hindu model, for example, the universe comes into being when Brahma the Creator sleeps, and once a set of very orderly ages have come and gone, Brahma wakes up and the universe is whisked out of existence.
Then Brahma goes to sleep once again and the whole process starts again from the beginning. Western mythology, on the other hand, focuses on linear progress and does not deal with the nature of eternity in any deliberate way. Somehow we have one life to learn how to be good, and after this short experience ends we are to spend the rest of eternity either in a comfortable place of complete stagnation or, if we are judged by God to be bad, an uncomfortable place of complete stagnation.
The God of Western tradition seems to care about whether we are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as though our being good would elevate this God in some way or make him expand, and our being bad would somehow bring him down or cause him to contract. In contrast, the Dao of Eastern tradition is completely unchanging and unaffected by our actions.
The ultimate question becomes: is the One/God/Dao evolving as we evolve, expanding as we expand? Or is it static and changeless, making our evolution simply an awakening to our eternal and unchanging nature? Is the universe evolving, really going somewhere, or is it just going around in a circle? The answer currently depends on which side of the fence we are on that divides Eastern and Western ideology. It is no wonder that the prevalent Western model of history, the Hegelian dialectic, implies linear progress, while its Eastern counterpart, the Chinese model of Yin and Yang, points to a history that is cyclical. Both models see one side of the duality emerging from directly within the other. Both models point to the interplay of these opposites as the driver of history. But while in the Western model this interplay represents a war of fierce opposition to reach higher ground, in the Eastern model it more closely resembles a dance of partners circling back to the same spot.
The new conversation lies on the razor’s edge of these two polarities. It asks for us not to sit comfortably on one side or the other, but to learn to balance on the fence of paradox itself. We are moving past an age where we can choose one polarity over the other, thinking one is right and the other wrong. As we see beyond the limits of each polarity, there is no turning back. If we are to move forward, it will be with an understanding that Western thought is no better than Eastern thought, and vice versa. In a higher consciousness Eastern and Western thought complement each other, as the ultimate opposing forces whose tension bestows us with purpose, direction, and understanding in our world. Our future can at once be a revival of the great and enchanting stories of the past and at the same time a tale that has not yet been told. Perhaps there is for the first time the possibility of conscious convergence, of a commitment to hold conflicting points of view at once, of identifying with both the Dao Self and the Ego Self at the same time. In this there is the opportunity to let go of judgment while still aspiring for a better life on the planet. This is the new possibility for consciousness, and the direction that the new conversation is taking us. While I have so far represented the two great polarities as ‘East’ and ‘West’, I hope you have come to understand these more as a distinction of ideas than of geographical reality. While any culture’s predominant founding mindset may sometimes be detectable, the joint presence of these opposing ideologies is at play in all of the cultures of the world, and to some extent always has been. Culture is not possible without some identification with both the Ego Self and the Dao Self, without some material and some spiritual awareness. Yet I believe it has been useful to make the distinction with regards to civilizations, in order to show how the play of these opposing forces has been the driving force of our human history. Naturally these forces have continued to grow out of each other and further blurred the lines of division. Eastern society has faced a barrage of Western modernity for some time now. And yet Western society, for all its power and influence, has not been immune to the infusion of traditional Eastern thought and values into the life of its citizens. This has certainly not happened with all the hoopla of the dissemination of Western policies in the world, but its effects are certainly starting to be felt. If the spread of Western democracy, economics and popular culture has appeared like large, loud bombs dropping from the air, Eastern values have entered into our minds from the ground up, with the seeds of sublime ideas slowly germinating in our consciousness over time.
The result is a society that is on the brink of a quiet revolution never before seen, in which seemingly contradictory ideas and values will one day find a place to coexist in our minds. We are not there yet, certainly, but this is the work in progress of the new conversation. It has emerged as a way to foster an environment that encourages people of all different perspectives, with unique ideas and experiences, to share in the search for a common understanding of life and a common goal for mankind. In our society the emphasis on the Ego Self has led to unbridled materialism. We can clearly go no further, and there are many signs that things have already started changing.
The pendulum appears to have reached its height in one direction and is on its way back. If it is true that all change is directed by the pull of opposites, then this period of extreme materialism too shall pass, and we will be the better for it. We will not look to spirituality simply as an escape from the dense and dark material world but rather as a better way into it.
The heights of materialism that we have reached are actually serving to provide fertile soil for the growth of a new spirituality—one that does not dismiss materialism, but rather helps to give it a more profound and meaningful expression. As we become ever more aware of our excesses, our self-centeredness, and our alienation from each other, so we become more pointedly conscious as individuals of our responsibilities to our planet and our role as important contributors to our collective evolution, one that includes the unique dreams and aspirations of all people. We are both the created and the creator, on the threshold of fully becoming aware of our own divinity.
The time has come for us to fully embrace the mission that we all share. We no longer need to deny the Earth to reach Heaven, nor deny Heaven to enjoy the Earth. Discover how Conscious Breathing can improve your life in just 10 days through our guided conscious breathing challenge! Get access to daily videos, guided meditations, and community support to master conscious breathing basics. Release stress, activate heart coherence, improve digestion, sleep better and more! Sign Up For The Chall.
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