Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Spiritual Imprints of Collapse

Originally published in SHIFT Magazine Issue #9 "Oh My God!"

The role of spirituality in activism, in my experience, seems to be thriving on the fringes of our earth community, yet is often ignored and under-appreciated on the frontlines of the environmental movement.
Since our work relies primarily on factual and pragmatic evidence-based discourse it can be easy to assume there is no room for broader spiritual and philosophical concerns. Who has time to ponder the meaning of life when we’ve reached ‘peak everything’ and ecological collapse demands serious preparation? Why should we preoccupy ourselves with the afterlife or supernatural when there are concrete problems to be solved and innocent lives to be saved in the here and now? It’s an understandable position, especially when existential humanism is viewed as a ‘given’ framework in which we are able to mandate human rights and extrapolate personal meaning.
Spiritual perspectives have not been easily reconciled, culturally and historically, with the scientific naturalism, determinism and materialism of the Cartesian-Newton paradigm, which has dominated western thought since the Enlightenment era. Statistically, atheism and agnosticism have risen in educated societies, due to our need for existential security being met by a higher standard of living. There is a diminished need to depend on a higher power, or think too hard about concepts like ‘the soul’, since we can afford the resources to strengthen and develop the ego-self or personality.
There’s an unspoken assumption that we will be fulfilled if only we jump through all the hoops of training our brains according to the latest neuroscience research, invest in the only self we will ever be, and approach our lives with a sense of urgency because it’s the only life we will ever have.
Evolution of Spirit through the Epochs
In Cosmos and Psyche, pioneering cosmology theorist Richard Tarnas refers to a historical schism within the western mind between Romantic and Enlightenment worldviews. Romanticism embodied the soul of western intellectual history; the Enlightenment ruled our schema of objective reality, where a reasoned life of the spirit was valid only within the interior, subjective confines of the modern psyche.
Our greatest aspirations for consciousness, manifested through mythic and sensory enchantment within the arts, literature, philosophy and mysticism, seemed to be constructed within an “atomistic void” — a fundamentally impersonal, purposeless and indifferent universe. The liberation ideologies of modernity — capitalism, industrialisation, scientific positivism, existentialism and individualism – invested in the belief that we are the sole determinants of our fate, employing a kind of faith that the rational ego will remain central and in control throughout our lives.
We have built high defenses against the possibility of being accountable to guiding, interdependent principles larger than ourselves — whether that is implicated in our unwillingness to surrender to Gaia’s ecological laws, or peer beneath subconscious, archetypal complexes on the soul level. Our times are governed by lack of a unified cosmology and the paradox of our shared humanity.
The irony of spiritual plurality, represented as objective nihilism or moral relativism, remains a liminal construct of the postmodern era. When quantum physics became infatuated with multiverses and supernatural dimensions, evolutionary biology buried god in the carbon-dated soil. Observer bias permeates our most advanced scientific times, yet contemporary philosophy still hungers for an integrated worldview to bridge the existential divide between holism and reductionism, romantic spirit and objective science.
Since the emergence of humanistic and transpersonal psychology in the 1960s and 70s, unconventional faiths and spiritual movements began to gain wider momentum and acceptance in our collective consciousness. The decline of organised religion paved the way for more personally intuitive, eclectic ‘salad buffet’ approaches to spirituality, while those who retained their faith were permitted to become more open-minded to its mystical, allegorical interpretations. Universal lessons began to be sought out and explored in pursuit of psychospiritual growth from a range of different cultures and wisdom traditions. More commonly among environmentalists and cultural creatives, contemporary spirituality became integrated within holistic healing modalities, which nurture the “mind-body-spirit” connection, such as meditation, yoga, shamanism, depth psychology and naturopathy.
In later revisions of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the pinnacle of human motivation extended beyond self-actualisation and the fulfillment of personal potential. Mystical or transpersonal dimensions of the self were unravelled through self-transcendence, defined as “seeking to further a cause and experience communion beyond the boundaries of the self through peak experiences.” Peak experiences can be understood as enabling the mind to calibrate and awaken to a deeper sense of purpose, inner stillness or psychological “flow.” Insights gained from self-transcendent states, such as losing our inhibitions in conscious intimacy, reconnecting with nature, surrendering our ego in altered states, meditation or meaningful service, anchors us within the bigger picture, enabling us to grow through existential lessons from a space of greater presence and compassion.
Seeking a Spiritual Path to Wholeness
La Trobe University professor and cultural scholar David Tacey argues that loss of contact with the sacred in secular societies has led to an endemic psychosocial decline in wellbeing, particularly among youth and indigenous communities. His interdisciplinary research into contemporary spirituality, philosophy and Jungian psychology cites Indigenous understandings of neurosis as an ailment of the soul, an inner crisis of profound disconnection from nature, the mystical undercurrents of life and ultimately, our true essence.
Overpowering addictions in our culture, such as consumerism, workaholism, substance abuse and dysfunctional relationships, thrive in the absence of meaningful rites of passage, altered states of being, or outlets for free self-exploration and self-transcendence. Meanwhile, spiritual colonisation has displaced the existential identities of many indigenous communities, through the dispossession of land, commons, sacred myth and ritual, in favour of techno-industrial ‘progress’ and its mechanistic, materialist cosmology. Social commentators have coined terms such as “the age of anxiety”, “social collapse of meaning”, “the managed heart” and “mutiny of the soul” to describe the current zeitgeist and its underlying, inner revolt of the spirit.
Founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, believed that following the formation and eventual disintegration of the ego, the psyche is predisposed to seek transcendence and wholeness. Traditionally, indigenous cultures held communal and shamanic rituals, such as soul retrievals and vision quests to guide them through their journey of individuation. Their concept of ‘self’ meant being in service to a unified, transpersonal reality or ancestral spirit, which extended beyond individualistic confines of egoic identity and self-interest. In such a worldview, meaning was intrinsically imbued in the fabric of existence, with sacred regard for the earth’s anima mundi and its archetypal cycles of separation and reunion, destruction and regeneration, across the vast animated cosmos. Unlike the isolated subjectivity of the modern psyche, an ensouled, numinous, deeply purposeful universe, as envisaged by indigenous cultures, could be synchronistically symbolised and psychologically integrated in the ‘objective’ world.
Faced with modernity’s collapse, we are increasingly restless for spiritual meaning and catharsis as a result of excessive bio-psycho-social stress, intergenerational trauma and systemic conditioning, much of which we are exposed to during our early, critical developmental years.
When introspective spiritual discourse is deliberately excluded in secular institutions, such as healthcare, psychotherapy, social work or education, we neglect an entire dimension of self-awareness, and risk contributing to a culture of spiritual repression and alienation. Spiritual repression denies our compulsively rational minds an inviting space for our intuition to flourish and explore meaningful possibilities, unconsciously delegating them to the shadow. It leads vulnerable people to buy into false gurus, new age delusions or religious fundamentalism in their search for broader spiritual perspectives, which are philosophically relevant, practically transformative and therapeutic in a secular context.
Our relationship with the sacred, ultimately, cannot be prescribed by any external authority, whether it be cultural, religious, scientific or political. The ‘eco’ spirituality, which many restless change makers yearn for, bears little semblance to the fixed caricatures and ideological battlegrounds of dogmatic religion, new atheism or metaphysical solipsism. It is concerned with both ‘doing’ and ‘being’ more intimately present, worldly and engaged in this life, rather than controlling or escaping above it. In a similar way that the personal is understood to be political, ecospirituality integrates care of the earth with care of the soul. Regardless of how literally or metaphorically we choose to take the notion of spirit, individual self-actualisation and transcendence involves deepening our relationship with the greater whole; reconnecting with our inner truth, shared values for meaningful change and capacity to serve our highest calling.
What does spirituality mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Further reading: 
David Tacey: Gods and Diseases, The Spirituality Revolution
Richard Tarnas: Cosmos and Psyche

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Revolution Will Not Be Boring

Originally published in SHIFT Magazine Issue #8 "Power to the People"

When British comedian turned activist/presenter, Russell Brand, released his latest book, Revolution, several mainstream media publications personally attacked him for being all talk — a “champagne socialist” — and for using his fame and status to egotistically hijack the struggle of the working poor. Little did they understand or anticipate the fierce direct action and practical campaigning that would follow as a result of the book’s message; after a sustained campaign last year by London residents, including Brand, US property conglomerate Westbrook (also known as “Westcrook”) was defeated in its plan to privatise social housing in East London and punish low-income tenants. And this was only the beginning.

Revolution is Brand at his most impassioned and authentic. In recounting his own struggles with addiction, mental illness, fame and divorce, we catch an intriguing glimpse inside the mind of a high-profile celebrity, conditioned to seek fulfillment in the hedonistic indulgences of the upper 1%. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, first class luxury and coveted success — it appeared as though the Trews creator was living the dream. But inside, Brand confesses, he felt spiritually impoverished. Determined to turn his life around and give back to the community, Brand took up the cause of transcendental meditation and a health-conscious lifestyle as part of his recovery journey — he is now collaborating with the David Lynch foundation to advocate for at-risk youth and sufferers of addiction.
The ideas in the book are not new, but repackaged in a more engaging and accessible form than the scholars and political theorists that came before him. Citing leading thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Thomas Piketty and Naomi Klein, and drawing on his own involvement with the Occupy movement, Brand explores the notion that political divides are perpetuated by outdated models of existential separateness. Inspired by his awakening to a collective need for greater meaning, wellness and compassion, Brand articulates a compelling vision of a more egalitarian society: communal anarchism offers an ethical, sustainable alternative to crony capitalism, corporate domination and global inequality. Written with verve, wit and subversive audacity, Revolution is a hilariously lucid and provocative manifesto for today’s generation.
With his revolutionary vision, Brand is optimistic, but not naïve; he recognises that before we can see any widespread, lasting change, there needs to be a revolution in consciousness. His unwavering belief in grassroots action over traditional partisan politics has caused a stir among establishment defenders, which fortunately hasn’t deterred clued-in fans and activists from planting new seeds of a more joyful, culturally-creative paradigm. The underlying message will certainly resonate with those who have ever questioned the system, or experienced even the slightest dissatisfaction with the status quo. If that’s you, it’s worth giving this book a glance. It will open your mind, make you laugh, and hopefully ignite a little fire in your spirit to shift your bum off the couch and become the change you want to see in the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fifty Shades of Miscommunication

when fifty shades of grey came out a few weeks ago, my news feed was flooded with angry rants from radical feminists, well known journalists, mental health professionals and those in the bdsm scene, who vehemently accused the film of glamourising misogyny, abuse, sexual and domestic violence, non-consensual kink and stereotypical gender roles. a campaign was even started, urging prospective viewers to boycott the film and spend their money donating to women’s services instead.

But was such alarmed attention, fuelling the media circus, really necessary? If anything, all the negative reviews only caused more hype and publicity for the already commercialised, multi-million dollar franchise. I finally went to see it last Friday with the SWWNAWW ladies, who had read the ‘trigger warning’ memo, but wanted to make up their own minds about the film’s potential flaws, shortcomings or redeeming elements. 
Like most people who were insistent on having a preconceived opinion, I haven’t read the books. (I’ve been told the books include significant missing context, which puts the story into more perspective.) *spoiler alert* Alas, the plot isn’t majorly deep: timid, innocent, quixotic college student, Anastasia Steele falls for wealthy, dominant, emotionally unavailable businessman, Christian Grey. Instead of love letters, he writes extensive D/s contracts and negotiates the "terms and conditions" through some rather raunchy “business meetings.”
"Foreplay" is inclusive of but not limited to: dirty talk that kills me because it’s so hilariously bad, scenes where he takes her out in helicopters, buys her a laptop, buys her a car, plays sad songs for her on the piano, prescribes her medicine, invites her to stay indefinitely in his mansion, gives her a bath, then nonchalantly stalks her when she tries to leave. Christian Grey is essentially the perfect sugar daddy. Oh and there’s the part where they have a bunch of formally negotiated, kinky sex, which goes somewhat pear shaped/anticlimactic towards the end. (I suspect it wasn’t just the disappointing branded lube EL James was literally sued for.)
The vanilla world may have its knickers in a knot over the confronting power dynamics portrayed in Anastasia and Christian’s relationship, but to be fair, a fantastic soundtrack wasn’t the only positive. Moreso than any other film, the controversy surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey has managed to open up constructive, much needed dialogue surrounding healthy relationships, sexual diversity and the need for adequate sexual education in a dangerously repressed culture. The hashtag #50shadesofmisinformation is currently trending on tumblr, encouraging bloggers to share and expose some of the most unhealthy myths they’ve been taught about gender, love and sexuality, either by society or the media.

Actually, THIS is what I'm really like...

If I had to weigh in on my own perception, the most damaging message which could've been taken from Fifty Shades isn’t the not-so-perfectly-consensual S&M. It’s the implication that a woman’s love/beauty/purity can “save” or change a man, as though her nurturing allure and unconditional devotion will somehow “complete” him with emotions he never knew he was capable of feeling or living without. What seems like a romantic notion on the surface is often the reason many women stay in abusive or unfulfilling relationships; they fall in love with a man’s potential and lose sight of how they deserve to be treated, absolving men of the responsibility to integrate their anima and take charge of their own growth and transformation.  
Throughout the movie, Anastasia responds to Christian’s emotionally disengaged, hot and cold behaviour with heightened affection and infatuation. (Sound familiar, ladies?) Their attachment styles both follow a typically unequal, codependent pattern, where the anxious partner pursues and the avoidant partner retreats. Anxious-preoccupied types often attract avoidant personalities because it reinforces an unconscious belief that their need for emotional closeness isn’t worthy of being met. Since the ego primarily uses defense mechanisms to protect itself, dismissive-avoidant types are also drawn to anxious personalities to reinforce the belief that intense lovers are too clingy or needy. 
Maybe I didn’t find the film triggering because I interpreted it as a psychological case study, rather than a feminist or BDSM purist issue, given how clearly damaged and emotionally immature the protagonists were. Christian Grey became a sadistic dominant because his mother was a neglectful crack addict and his first female role model was a dominatrix, who taught him that the only way to cope with pain was to maintain power and control. It’s not exactly a self-help manual most people would be eager to seek life advice from, nor does it follow that everyone who’s into BDSM must be seriously messed up. 
The bottom line is Fifty Shades portrays a dysfunctional BDSM relationship, though I see no reason why that can’t or shouldn’t be represented in a fictional context. Did it ever claim to portray a healthy one? How many examples of unhealthy relationships exist already in life, porn and the media, yet people aren’t making as big a fuss about it? The film's popularity is likely attributed to its transgressions and ‘fantasy’ aspect, not because people wanted to see a realistic portrayal of a BDSM relationship. Although I understand that challenging media representations is an important step in achieving a culture of consent, Hollywood isn’t going to change as a result of us bitching and whinging. It’s only going to change when more people start writing and producing better stories.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Filling Voids Through A Value-Driven Life

I recently attended a personal development workshop on the topic of values and finding inner fulfilment, inspired by the work of Dr John deMartini (author of The Values Factor). It was run by life coach and meetup organiser of Sydney Motivation Club, Giulia Coletti, whom I happen to have a mutual friend in common with. Here are my notes from the evening, including some of my own thoughts and tangents: (copied from my tumblr)

Social idealisms are socially acceptable or obligatory ways of thinking and believing. They interfere with our capacity to live an authentic, value-driven life when our goals and decisions become subordinate to the expectations of others. 

Clues that you are talking about social idealisms:
“I should/must/have to..”
“I feel guilty for not..”

What are my social idealisms?
  • I should aspire to be married someday and start a family. 
  • I should go to uni and pick a course solely based on its earning potential.
  • I should lock myself into a full time job and save up for a mortgage. 
  • I should vote for the major parties and not question the status quo. 
  • I should make more effort with small talk for the sake of fitting in. 
  • I should give any “nice guy” who offers me attention a chance. (hello double standards)
  • I should feel inferior for not fitting western ideals of beauty.
  • I should compare myself to the extraverted ideal that ‘confidence is loud’ (even if it doesn’t feel authentic)

Clues that you are talking about a goal that is desirable to you:
“I desire/choose/dream about/need..”

In contrast, what do I love?
  • I love having plenty of free time to pursue my personal interests without any deadlines or assignments to stress me out.
  • I love learning about consciousness, relationships and the human condition.
  • I love living a sustainable, cruelty free lifestyle that is gentle on animals and the environment. 
  • I love honest, revealing conversations that extend beyond the superficial. 
  • I love tapping into a creative outlet when I need to express myself - blogging, photos, daydreaming..
  • I love embodying my truth, even at the expense of sacrificing approval or popularity. 

Other questions you can ask to bring you closer to your values:
  • What dominates your thoughts?
  • What do you visualise most?
  • What captivates and inspires you? 
  • When are you most reliable and motivated to succeed?
  • What goals have persisted and stood the test of time?
  • What topics do you love to read about or research?
  • What do you love to share and talk about with others?

Our values are so powerful because they subconsciously influence our attention, retention and intention: what we notice, what we remember and what we act upon. Even if we tried to suppress our values to appease our social idealisms, we probably couldn’t keep it up for very long without burning out and losing our sense of self. 

Whenever you are unsure of your values, ask which voids remain to be filled?

Examples of common voids:
  • Feelings of loneliness may suggest you value closer, more meaningful relationships.
  • Catching the travel bug suggests you value change and variety.
  • Feeling unsatisfied at work suggests you crave a purpose-driven vocation, etc.

Can voids be deceptive? It depends, pseudo-voids are conditioned with false promises, eg. you will be happy once you save up for a bigger house, better car.. materialistic pursuits. You may approach your life with gratitude but still feel something is ‘missing’ and that’s normal. It may take some reflection to figure out the true source of that inner lacking. 

Voids aren’t necessarily negative if they give us insight into areas where we need to refocus our attention and priorities. Our voids mirror and represent our highest values. 

Contrary to popular belief, the greatest gift we can give to the world is not conformity and obedience to social idealisms. It is the courage and willingness to live in accordance with our highest values, which gives others permission to honour their truth and do the same. 

The deepest voids we feel are often the ones we try to run from most or even push out of consciousness. We will never feel entirely ‘whole’ when we ignore an area that is so important to us, simply because it is too painful to face. The only way to be free of our voids is to own them, find a way to engage and co-operate with them until we finally find closure.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Unfriending the Anthropocene

Originally published in SHIFT Magazine Issue #7 "Techno-Fix"

in the fallout of the information age, society is shifting towards an increasingly integrated, yet tenuous relationship with technology and the internet.

new media has given us a freer press, but more powerful tools for state surveillance and corporate consolidation. the 24/7 connectedness of social networking has enabled us to transcend borders and map global revolutions, but to the point we’re at risk of losing touch with our local communities. knowledge and validation has become the primary currency in which we trade, equipped with cognitive add-ons to sublimate the reality that we are lonelier, starved for meaning, and more narcissistic than ever. we have become highly innovative and advanced with our techno-visionary ideals of progress, but at what cost to our needs for meaningful relationship, holistic wellbeing and the planet?

Picture: the location of every IP address on the internet.

Hands shaking at my keyboard with tears streaming down my face on a brutal, unforgiving December night, suddenly reality hits that a seven year friendship can end with a single mouse click. Nine months later, the new friends I planned to move in with unexpectedly announce the relocation of their business venture interstate, where we hurriedly sent our best wishes and goodbyes over Facebook.

We were told it was supposed to be empowering to broaden our ever-thinning networks, and in some ways it was — for indie crowdfunders, promising social enterprises, minority groups and geographically isolated activists to efficiently organise through global solidarity. The internet became a safe place where troubled misfits and underground creatives could finally upload and express their ‘true selves’, as long as they were always one step ahead of the FOMO curve, hyper-vigilant not to compare their behind the scenes to everybody else’s highlight reel. It was empowering if your self-branded following was globally competitive and lucratively sponsored, if you had little trouble cultivating close relationships in the real world, and only turned to social media as a supplement rather than a substitute.

As a member of the digital native generation, I’ve closely experienced both the benefits and challenges of being raised by the internet. Gen Y is likely to be more educated and freethinking as a result of self-directed learning and independent media, but also susceptible to unverified, questionably sourced beliefs, passive distractions and poorly designed inspirational platitude memes. Viral content often falls short in spreading the brightest ideas of the hive mind, since the internet remains a mirror of society, no better than our self-medicating addiction to trash TV, favouring the vacuously popular over anything remotely philosophically challenging. Our online identities have curated an information revolution, yet turned us into products, where our personal tastes, stories, likes and dislikes are exploited in the form of company shares and advertising assets.

The PBS report, Generation Like, exposes the growing collusion between online ‘identity capital’ and corporate endorsement. Major brands are bypassing the need to advertise directly to consumers by manipulating fans to freely and tirelessly do it for them instead — from self-promoting YouTube hauls to instagram flay-lays, sponsored product reviews and coveted fashion blogs. Everything is documented, re-appropriated, insta-tagged, reblogged, livestreamed or data-retained, rather than mindfully experienced. Alone together, online socialites continue to pour their hearts out on blogs for likes, and hopefully a book deal, while superficial connection dominates the subtext, feeding narcissistic trolls through a pervasive scarcity of empathy and eye contact.

Antisocial Media

In the domain of personal relationships, our technocratic anthropocene has been branded “the Age of Loneliness” by Guardian writer, George Monbiot. Smacked with stigma and superimposed unattractiveness, today’s generation are test subjects in a Facebook-manipulated chicken-or-egg experiment: does social media make us lonely or do lonely people gravitate towards social media? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Cuddle cafés in Tokyo and New York snuggeries have scored a profitable market among lost and lonely upper-middle class professionals, whose busy lives and buzzing blackberries have left them chronically deprived of human touch and affection. Pretending to be busy on your phone in scary social situations is a legitimate thing, labelled an “avoidance behaviour” in anxiety therapy circles, while hell is any place without wifi or ATMs. Between disposable Tinder swipes and snapchat D&Ms, the religion of our time is self-made individualism, where the pursuit of love and intimacy is a mere form of status anxiety, a pathological fear of not having it all.

Spike Jonze’s 2014 film, Her, quintessentially depicts this phenomenon. Set in the not-too-distant future, Theodore (played by Ryan Gosling), a professional love-letter writer and heartbroken divorcee, develops a touching and uncanny relationship with an artificially intelligent operating system, Samantha (played by Scarlett Johanssen.) Exploring philosophical themes on the qualia and poiesis of A.I. consciousness, the film poignantly portrays the melancholy depths of longing entangled within modernity’s symbiotic relationship to anthropomorphised machines. As the virtually omniscient Samantha learns to feel complex emotions through their relationship, Theodore grapples with his ever-growing attachment to her ephemerally disembodied, transhuman nature, which defies mortality, and exists ‘beyond space and time.’ Technology is portrayed in a poetically benevolent light through Samantha’s digital creations, transcending physical limitation as though it were a breath of life in a washed out city. The characters in the film are afflicted with existential anxiety when the operating systems upgrade and disappear from the market, leaving them in an awed state of surrender to once again seek solace in each other’s company.

Collapse: There’s an App for that

In The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture In the Digital Age, journalist and documentary filmmaker, Astra Taylor argues that the internet has not created a freer world, untethered from the inequitable growth paradigm of our current system. While social media has been a democratising force behind pivotal social movements such as Occupy, the Arab Spring and Ferguson protests, it has also strengthened and consolidated the commercial interests of entrenched, increasingly powerful institutions. Technocratic capitalism has enabled Wall Street firms to trade derivatives at faster rates, governments to subvert civil liberties under mass surveillance, marketing and insurance companies to track risky clients, and globalised inequality to soar as corporations use predatory trade deals to protect investors and expand their global empires online.

The ubiquity of user-generated content, reflecting our intrinsic creative drive to share, connect and enrich the commons has yet to produce a level playing field for cultural democracy, protecting the rights and integrity of the independent arts, grassroots media, political dissidents and whistleblowers.

The future of growing tech consumption could be even bleaker for the environment; as planned obsolesce clutters up foreign landfills serviced by cheap labour, we unknowingly comply to ‘data mining’ natural habitats for rare earth metals in the hopes that it will someday lead to being retweeted by sock-puppet accounts of out-of-reach celebrities. All the cool kids camp out like good consumers for the latest gadgets, queues scribbling out in fluorescent malls and concrete car parks, yet climate activists and blockaders are maced and arrested for catching the sunrise, daring to imagine the need for sustainable, technological degrowth.

Silver Linings In the Cloud

Despite the binary, often polarising nature of such debates, dividing both sides into techno-optimists versus techno-skeptics, Taylor advocates a more nuanced understanding of looming technological challenges. The internet may be changing the structure of our brains and eroding face to face relationships, but it is also one of our most effective tools for reaching a global audience and catalysing collective change. David Cain, author of radical self-help blog, Raptitude, posits that networked communication is humanity’s grand attempt at globally replicating our ancestors’ tribal, egalitarian methods of direct democracy, such as congregating around the campfire.
“People start printing their thoughts, and in no time at all they start overthrowing kings and tyrants, and calling out institutions on their cruelty. All of these changes are the result of sharing ideas about better and worse ways to run a society. You and I are, at this moment, doing what ancestors couldn’t for thousands of years. We are sharing ideas, across class lines, across borders, even across language barriers. We are talking about who we are, what we value and where we want to go, and we could potentially include many millions of others in this conversation.”
As users and developers begin to navigate in the web in more socially conscious, sophisticated ways, people are waking up to an imperative futurist Buckmeister Fuller forecasted 30 years ago, “We never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, we need a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

Grassroots, open source decision making platforms, such as liquid democracy, and advertising-free social networking sites, such as Ello.com, among many others, are gradually emerging to fill the void. Leading the collaborative consumption movement are time-banking initiatives (such as LETS.org.au), free and flexible education programs (MOOCs, University of the People), trust-driven communities (Meetup, couch surfing, car sharing, etc.), and online gifting economies such as friendswiththings.com and impossible.com, which encourage users to give, receive and ask for their needs to be met unconditionally through pro-social currency. Such online initiatives share a common intention to connect, and leverage local communities through direct cooperation, rather than armchair clicktivism and consumerism.

Humans have been drawn to the web for the same reason we may try to distance ourselves from it — the need for connection, to create and collaborate, expand our understandings, and express to the world that we exist inherently drives us as social beings. Although a number of deep green tribes may choose to eschew the tainted offerings of industrial civilisation altogether, some of the people fighting hardest to save our planet are doing so because of the internet; we needn’t adopt a hardcore primitivist lifestyle in order to think critically about our relationship with technology. The social media revolution has yet to reach its highest potential or give us the balance we crave because it’s up to us to do the inner work — to address our vulnerable, unmet need for authentic connection, consume gadgets less wastefully, and make a conscious effort to use our collective intelligence for altruism and community over isolation and self-indulgence. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Long Distance Dreamers

Part One: A twenty-something, late bloomer's reflections on maturity milestones + life stages

"we must have adventures in order to know where we truly belong."

Travelling is one of those things society says you’re expected to do when young or in your twenties, ideally, before you settle down. I’ve always found it strange how we’re expected to do all or most of our travelling during our poorest years, while trying to balance work and study, renting or living at home. Keep in mind that I’m talking about big trips here, which may involve solo travel or an element of risk/emotional investment. Short, low budget trips or those paid by others are deliciously easy. I can understand why you would want to save up for a big trip as soon as possible — life is too short not to experience more of what the world has to offer, but the rush and pressure to “do/have it all” in our twenties is frankly ridiculous. 

According to astrology, our cosmic itineraries can occur either through the third house of self-expression, short trips and local communities, or the ninth house of higher education, philosophical expansion and long distance travel. Since I have Saturn and Neptune in the ninth house, and Mercury in the third house, travel for me needs to be healing, meaningful and a source of creative inspiration. It doesn't have to expensive or elaborate, I believe the simple act of trying new things in your own city can be culturally rewarding. I would prefer to travel with a purpose, or once I've found my 'purpose'  ideally as an extended period of soul searching, to blog about my discoveries, or photograph beautiful landscapes. I currently travel to the US approximately every two years to visit relatives, which falls under the purposeful umbrella. I want to travel properly when I find compatible companions and feel financially stable, when I have an amazing life for me waiting back home, so I know I'm not needing to escape from my problems. 

I possess a competing desire to establish roots while I'm young — a sanctuary to call home, yet gradually uprooting my attachment to any particular time and place. Only my intuition can know when the right time will be. I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to travel in my early 20s with the right people, but if I have to go alone, it will possibly be in my late 20s, 30s or even 40s..? That’s the beauty of not having goals that revolve around marriage and kids, I don’t feel the need to cram all my fun and options into a single decade. My dreams will change for the better. I will aspire to visit places which need me just as much as I need them. I will be more than just a tourist, mapping new internal universes. I will be expanding my comprehension of home. 

To be updated later.. intentional reflections on:
  • Finding purpose and giving back
  • Dating, relationships and 'settling down'

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cultural Evolution In A World of Moral Tribes

Originally published in SHIFT Magazine Issue #6 "Earth Community"

Many sustainability writers and activists believe that we need a mythopoetic vision – a new story to replace the old – in order to heal and transcend the ruins of industrial civilization. This emerging story relies on an idealistic vision of the convergence of universal human values – the expectation that it is our job as activists to change people at their core to adopt peaceful, eco-conscious and ‘awakened’ values.
While this may seem like a humane, noble pursuit, geopolitical unrest and division continues to exist in a world of moral tribes, underpinned by divergent, seemingly irreconcilable worldviews and ideologies. According to cultural historian Richard Tarnas, author of Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, the evolution of Western culture and intellectual history has taken place within a paradoxical context of competing narratives: the myth of progress and enlightened modernity versus the myth of civilization’s fall from unity into separation. These archetypal paradigms are represented in the tension between today’s social movements and major subcultures, and according to sociological research conducted over the last decade they comprise three main groups: Cultural Creatives, Moderns and Traditionalists. (Anderson, S. R. and Ray, P. H., 2001)
Cultural Creatives
SHIFT readers are most likely to recognize themselves in the description of Cultural Creatives, who, clocking in at approximately 50 million of us, tend to be empathic and prosocial, valuing humanitarian and environmental causes over techno-fixes and traditional conservative dogmas. With its roots in the anti-war, civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s and 70s, this emerging tribe of intuitive healers, subversive artists, teachers, systems thinkers, Gaian mystics, culture-jammers, peaceful activists and revolutionaries are the pioneers of a new chapter in global consciousness.
Due to their deep understanding of global interdependence, Cultural Creatives today are at the forefront of the deep ecology movement, the natural, wholefood, organic movement, the attachment parenting movement, the holistic wellness and authentic vulnerability movement, and so on. Eco-conscious and sensitive to injustice, they are concerned with living principled, sustainable lives, rich with purpose and meaning. While new age spirituality advocates transforming the self as a sufficient means for healing the world, and conventional politics champions collective change at the expense of the individual, Cultural Creatives are both self-aware and politically engaged. They are motivated to integrate the need for community resilience with personal growth and self-actualization, promoting both meaningful social change and inner transformation.
Cultural Creatives can be understood as comprising a core group of dedicated, leading activists – 66% of whom are women – and less involved groups of interested supporters, also known as greens and transitionalists. Greens are generally concerned about climate change, social justice, integrative health and ecology. They may be proactive on the logistical front lines of activism, but tend to place less importance on inner psychological, spiritual or existential experience. Like transitionalists, who are still in the process of developing awareness, some may feel torn between their convictions and competing demands. Ray and Anderson’s research suggests a higher correlation between inward soul searching and mindful change-making, as core Cultural Creatives are more likely to contemplate the deeper motivations behind their values.
Moderns & Traditionalists
Moderns and Traditionalists, in contrast, represent the antithesis of Cultural Creative values. Moderns stand for the neo-Enlightenment story of ‘homo economicus’, scientific reductionism, material growth and civilized progress.
Comprising half the US population, Moderns are the largest demographic, engineering the dominant social, political and economic pillars of our current system. Emblematic of the status quo, they are the architects of empires and mercenaries of corporate welfare, upholding established institutions such as big business, banking, politics, the military, mainstream media and the criminal justice system. Moderns tend to be driven by lessons pertaining to the accumulation of power, success, wealth and status – valuing rational self-interest, conformity to established norms and extrinsic motivation above inner-directed ethics and ideals.
Traditionalists are cultural conservatives who represent the far, religious right of politics. This group serves the interests of evangelical fundamentalists, puritan ascetics and lawful militants who tend to be rule-bound, god-fearing, and reactionary to progressive movements. Some Traditionalists may share a common thread with Cultural Creatives through their distrust of corporatocracy, techno-fixes and big government, but for different reasons, such as the belief that secularism is destroying old fashioned “family values.”
Reaching out
Ray and Anderson’s research suggests that Cultural Creative core group efforts might be better spent reaching out primarily to greens and transitionalists who, to some extent, already ‘get it’, as opposed to the 39.7% of Moderns and 15.4% of Traditionalists within the general population.
The most striking thing about Cultural Creatives is their coherence as a subculture, according to Ray and Anderson. However, their diffuse mainstream representation and political influence is clouded by the perception that they are alone in their awareness: “No one is more surprised to hear about the arrival of the Cultural Creatives than themselves. Most of them think that their worldview, values and lifestyle is shared by only a few of their friends; they have little notion that there are 50 million of them.” Qualities which often define Cultural Creatives, such as empathy, gentle tolerance, deep relational commitments, strong attachment to values and personal integrity may inadvertently prevent them from organizing politically – directing their efforts alternatively within private practice, philanthropic NGOs, and counter-cultural movements, where bureaucratic rigidities are less prevalent.
Primals & Transpersonalists 
In addition to the three main subcultures, esoteric schools of thought describe two additional groups, which Ray and Anderson have not covered in their research. According to this view, no worldview is necessarily “better” or “worse” – they merely represent different lessons, and thus varying levels of growth, insight and awareness. I call these groups the ‘Primals’ and ‘Transpersonalists’.
Primals encompass members of the indigenous population who are still living in traditional kinship clans or tribes. Their lessons concentrate on primitive survival and living symbiotically with the land. The Primal worldview is soulful and animistic, endowed with an anima mundi of intrinsic meaning and deep communion with nature.
Transpersonalism represents the perspective which theoretically comes after the time of the Cultural Creatives: an ‘old soul’ world which is primarily oriented towards “being” rather than “doing” or campaigning – a time where teaching, harvesting, philosophical questing, compassionate non-attachment, and the transmission of wisdom take higher prominence. While modernity and traditional religion perceive a fundamental separation between self and other, where nature is systematically conquered and objectified for human benefit, primal and transpersonal consciousness views the self as inseparable from the greater whole and mystical wonders of the universe – orienting towards mindful simplicity and radical acceptance.
Paradigm shift
In The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas asserts that all paradigm shifts are conceptually archetypal, as well as socio-historical in nature. Every dominant worldview must undergo its own mythic journey or evolutionary path, passing through developmental sequences of gestation, growth, crisis and revolution: “When a paradigm has fulfilled its purpose, when it has been developed and exploited to its full extent, then it loses its numinosity, it ceases to be libidinally charged, it becomes felt as oppressive, limiting, opaque–something to be overcome–while the new paradigm that is emerging is felt as a liberating birth into a new, luminosly intelligible universe.”
Within the Cultural Creative psyche there is a primal self which needs ritual and sustenance, a Traditional self which regulates boundaries and structure, a Modern self which craves independence and ambition, and a Transpersonal self which seeks unconditional love and wholeness. Cultural Creatives need to be aware of the tendency to become too attached and identified with their convictions for they are prone to becoming overcome with despair when their ideals fail to materialize, believing there is nothing to be gained or learnt from engaging different perspectives.
The Modern worldview is approaching its final limits to growth, catapulting itself into obstinate crisis. But before the seeds of revolution and cultural creative gestation can flourish, lessons of the dominant Modern paradigms need to be authentically integrated. Pushing the limits of affluence and self-interest currently serves a specific purpose for Moderns, in the same way cultivating relationships, inner awareness and social justice does for Cultural Creatives. Such labels and characteristics aren’t fixed; they represent an individual’s internal framework, their primary lessons, and evolving journey.
Jung posited that the unindividuated person believes everyone is, or ought to be, like himself, and that people don’t change until they’ve suffered enough. Likewise, some people need to devote their lives to climbing to the top – projecting their views of success and prosperity onto others – before they begin to question why it isn’t making them happy. Industrial civilization is fundamentally driven to preserve its ‘psychological basic ground’, which must experience the psychic death of its individual, social and collective mythos in order to be transformed.
At some point, activists will inevitably confront the sovereignty of conflicting worldviews and their respective self-serving mythologies, underlying the post-modern collapse of Grand Narratives. We needn’t adopt the nihilistic consequences of post-modernism, surrendering as passive voters and consumers, which Noam Chomsky states would be “pointless” for meeting tangible challenges. Rather, the Cultural Creatives’ influence upon the Information Age signifies a thematic shift towards grassroots participatism, eco-psychological re-integration, and the intentional co-creation of culture. The quest for universal truth is, paradoxically, an emergent, relativistic process, and the imminent epochal meta-narrative we re-imagine will need to encompass a humble, open-hearted acceptance of imperfect plurality.
Further reading: 
  1. http://www.kindredcommunity.com/2013/09/same-planet-different-worlds-how-cultural-creatives-are-bringing-forward-the-practical-wisdom-of-conscious-living/
  1. http://admin.alternet.org/story/10487/the_cultural_creative_paradox
  1. Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche
  1. Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind