The Long Emergency

In the present circumstances of the long emergency (which is certainly an ambiguous term for an ambiguous situation), knowledge or the pursuit of knowledge which does not initiate us into a radically new understanding of, and relationship with, “life, the universe, and everything” is simply frivolous. We need to put to ourselves the question that Nietzsche put: “what is its value for life?”, and not just for the human life.

We are facing the prospect of planet death. In the face of this abysmal prospect, what we urgently require is not knowledge, but vital knowledge or crucial knowledge —  the kind of knowledge that is snatched from the jaws of death and the abyss, for what is touched by death acquires power — mana.  This kind of vital or crucial knowledge (Rosenstock-Huessy calls it “survival knowledge”) is what has traditionally been called “wisdom”, and wisdom comes to no one who has not had, like Nietzsche, their own “stare into the abyss” or who lives, like Nietzsche did, with one foot in life and one in death, and who does not, in those terms, “die to oneself daily” as Jesus put it.  I know of no genuine rites of passage or initiation or transition that does not summon death as a witness. Death is ever-present also, and that is the real meaning of the Buddhist principle of “impermanence”.

So, here at The Chrysalis we’re concerned not with knowledge for knowledge’s sake, nor with l’art pour l’art. That’s the kind of thing I call “frivolous”. We’re after bigger game — vital knowledge.

What’s death? It’s simply shedding form. That’s the law of impermanence, and even the principle of evolution itself — a continuous shedding of form. Vitality, by its very nature, must remain fluid. Death preserves and safeguards the fluidity of awareness and life, otherwise it becomes, as Blake put it, “stagnant water” breeding “pestilence” or “reptiles of the mind”. And such pestilence and reptiles of the mind are very prevalent today largely because of what is called “reification of consciousness” (routine existence) and the “denial of death”.

Everything flows, everything is flux. Even what we call “matter” flows, as we now know. All forms are transient. And because of this flow, we perceive our world to be a world of Time and Death, which is the very meaning of the word “secular”, which is pretty much our equivalent expression for what Buddhists call “samsara“. Our world is a world of energy in continuous flux. What we call “time” and what we call “space”  and what we call “things” are interpretations of the energetic flux, which is the flow of awareness in a continuous play of donning and shedding form. The human form, or “mold of man”, is only one expression of the flux of energy and awareness. It is not the only form awareness can take.

I refer you, once again, to neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s very profound experience — actually archetypal experience — of her own rite of passage or initiation, as she described it in her TED talk on her “stroke of insight”. You might have missed the part where she did, in fact, pass through the portal of death and was transformed by it. Death isn’t what it seems. What happened on the other side of death, and which she brought back from the experience, she describes very movingly, very beautifully, very powerfully in fact. She brought back wisdom — a realisation of the fluidity of awareness, that awareness is unlimited, and that all awareness is one — the One that she calls “the Life Force Power of the Universe” with which she was identical, and which she correctly named “nirvana” — the state of non-duality.

This is what Jung described as the archetype of the “Hero’s Journey” — to pass through the portal of death and return with the “treasures of darkness” from the “other side” — vital knowledge. There are a couple of other contemporary examples, one being Nietzsche-Zarathustra after his incinerating “stare into the abyss” and the other being Carlos Castaneda. The pattern of the hero’s journey always repeats itself in similar ways.

(And the attempt to “brand” the hero’s journey, trademark it, and sell it as a “brand”– “risk free” — is an abomination and a profanation. But that is exactly what “spiritual marketing” or “archetypal marketing” attempts to do. The commodification of all experience is even expressed in the saying “There’s an app for that”).

This preamble brings me to the purpose of today’s post, and that is to comment again on Daniel Kealey’s “Revisioning Environmental Ethics” and the issue of vital or crucial knowledge (or “survival knowledge”), which it must satisfy to become effective as an ethos at all. Vital knowledge, as wisdom, is not about “the facts of the matter” so much as it is about “the truth that sets free”. That’s the truth that we are hungry for, isn’t it? Not for more details and more facts of the matter. And this is what William Blake means when he writes: “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man.” What this “All” is, is the issue of the One as the All-in-All. This was “the truth that sets free” that Jill Bolte-Taylor discovered through her “stroke of insight”. It’s here that we are in the presence of the sacred as this “Life Force Power of the Universe”.

Why is realising your identity with this All or this “Life Force Power of the Universe” what Castaneda’s don Juan calls “total freedom” or Jesus also called “the truth that sets free”? Once it is appreciated that awareness has no limits, that it is infinite and eternal, that all awareness is one awareness, then it is evident that awareness is not bound at all by, or within, the matrix of space or time and yet is within it and present in it nonetheless. This is the paradox of the One and the Many and of Blake’s “universe in a grain of sand” and “eternity in the hour”. There is no “other world” in effect. There is only a barrier of perception called “the Cloud of Unknowing”. In consequence, it is completely understandable when Blake insists that “everything that lives is holy” because it is all an expression, or manifestation, of the One, the “Life Force Power of the Universe”.

But the problem here is not just to appreciate the “concept” or simply to believe it, but to know it, for this is the essence of wisdom, and from this knowledge of the One or the Whole comes true vital knowledge, or what we can call “holy knowledge” or “sacred knowledge”. It is not true knowledge until it is lived knowledge –an ethos — and this is what Carlos Castaneda’s teacher called “claiming knowledge as power” — as living knowledge, and which corresponds somewhat to what Nietzsche called “Dionysian wisdom”.

This is Kealey’s interest, too, in raising Plotinus and his idea of “the One” in Revisioning Environmental Ethics. So, at this stage in my reading of Kealey’s book — his quest for a new valid ecological ethos — it has become a bit slow, because I’m not familiar with Plotinus’s ouevre, (although some of it is available online I see). I don’t know whether Plotinus experienced the One directly or simply borrowed it as an abstract idea from elsewhere (from Plato for example). But the “One” as Plotinus uses it is what Kealey relates to Gebser’s “archaic consciousness” and as “the ever-present origin”, and its return as the “diaphanon” of Gebser’s integral consciousness structure from which all other consciousness structures (the magical, the mythical, the mental) are derived. It’s clear that this “One” of Plotinus is Blake’s “All” and also Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”, and of course of Castaneda’s vision of “energy as it flows in the universe” — and that our familiar, physical timespace reality is “simply” a perceptual interpretation of the flux of energy. In those terms, as the Buddhists say, “nothing has self-nature”, so that even to say that everything is related to everything else (in current terms, quantum non-locality or butterfly effect) in “inter-being” (inter-esse) is an approximation or metaphor. In Buddhism, too, everything that is, is a manifestation of the One, even the atoms. Everything that arises or is “originated” nonetheless retains its share and portion of the sentience of the commonwealth in the One as this Life Force Power of the Universe.

Now comes what we might call the Mystery of Mysteries, or perhaps what Church dogma refers to as mysterium iniquitatis, or mystery of iniquity. In Buddhism, all of existence has fallen into a trance, a narcissistic stupor. The Bodhisattva vows never to enter nirvana himself or herself until every last atom is finally liberated from samsaric existence. This is not far removed from the traditional Christian idea of original sin, that the Fall of Man precipitated a fall of nature, too. And it is in the notion of “stewardship” that we see reflected also the Bodhisattva vow. Human consciousness is evolved for the purpose of leading all creation out of samsaric existence. If the First Adam brought the sleep of death into the world, the second Adam would lead it back into life. The implication here is that all creation has forgotten its divine origins in the One, and has lapsed into the pursuit of the self-interest. The Bodhisattva, on the other hand, prays for enlightenment not for his or her sake, but in order to lead nature out of the delusions of self-interest, the basis of samsaric existence, because “nothing has self-nature”.

I’m pretty certain that “stewardship” did not mean management of nature, but guiding nature out of the throes of suffering — out of samsaric existence, and as embodied in the Bodhisattva vow, and that this is the authentic meaning of “redemption” and of the “redeemer” — the second Adam who is Blake’s “Albion” as integral human. This is really the majesty of Blake’s vision of the “New Age”. In Albion, he saw the Second Adam as the transfigured human form that would redeem nature from its fallen state he called “Ulro”, which is samsaric existence. Plotinus also holds, apparently, that material reality is a fallen form of the true reality. There is something of this equally in Nietzsche’s idea of the “overman” or “transhuman”, who combines aspects of Blake’s Albion, Gebser’s integral consciousness, and notions of the “steward” and the Bodhisattva too, and, as such, of “the Second Adam”. Zarathustra himself is a representation of the First Adam, or first Zarathustra who led the world into darkness, and now returns as the Second Adam, or second Zarathustra, a now enlightened Zarathustra, to set his first errors aright again.

We’ll see where Kealey goes with this in his book, and even how far we can take this theme of “stewardship” restored in the sense understood by the Bodhisattva too — as a new “ethos”. It may get interesting.



17 responses to “The Long Emergency”

  1. wtquinn says :

    All relevant points and well said. I’ll add. It needs some taboo, nausea and horror. Crime, Tragedy. Drama. The ONE is nothing more than evidence of Panopticon. Zero privacy. Lives under criminal surveillance. Prison planet with evidence of extinction events. One planet versus infinite worlds. Innummerable. Life is about relationship success and failure and worse, the offspring of something worse, which is humanity. Time, syncronicity, is the opportunity to undo remorse and regrets. Goats are an inadequate substitute. Thoughts are abstractions. Add material. We get action, good or bad and accountability. Responsibility. Without which there is no self and no self worth.

  2. davidm58 says :

    Stewardship, fascinating. I grew up a dispensationalist (reflected in my previous work on “Dispensational Jazzology”), so it was interesting to dig into this a little bit. In the New Testament, the greek “oikonomos” is translated as “steward” and “oikonomia” is translated as “stewardship,” or “dispensation” or “administration.”

    Oikos means house, and from which we derive “eco” from which we get both ecology and economy. Nomos means “law,” but it’s root is “nemos” which means to arrange or parcel out. Nomos in the New Testament usually means law, rule, precept, injunction, or a rule of action.

    Stewardship as guiding nature out of the throes of suffering has some merit, I think. Moreso when you include how the same word is sometimes translated as “dispensation”. which is understood to be “a mode of dealing, an arrangement, or administration of affairs.”

    From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
    “(c) in Eph 1:10; 3:9, it [oikonomia] is used of the arrangement or administration by God, by which in “the fullness of the times” (or seasons) God will sum up all things in the heavens and on earth in Christ.”

    Ephesians 1:10, New International Version: “…to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

    Ephesians 3:9: “…to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      “Where man is not, Nature is barren” . When I first came across that line in Blake, I scoffed. The truth seemed to be the exact opposite. Yet, after a while I realised (Blake being no dummy after all) that he was saying something important about “stewardship”. He was saying something about the proper role of human consciousness in relation to nature. For Blake, as for Plotinus it seems, the true is the beautiful. But where is the beautiful? It can’t be purely objective, nor can it be simply “in the eye of the beholder” alone (or the ear, the nose, etc). Beauty cannot be without a beholder, but that doesn’t mean it is in the beholder’s eye only. The redemption of nature, which in Blake is the role of “Imagination”, is this: beautification is beatification.

      The “inner” truth of nature, which is realised in beauty, can only be realised in beauty through the alchemy of human consciousness or blake’s “Imagination”, which is the soul’s art. In this way, Nature responds to human consciousness, which is certainly evident, at least, in the collapse of the wave function.

      I just saw your second comment appear a few moments ago. I think it touches on exactly this issue.

    • Scott Preston says :

      A while ago, I teased with the question: if the milieu of nature is the milieu of the magical consciousness, and the milieu of society is the milieu of the mythical consciousness, and the milieu of technology is the milieu of the mental-rational consciousness, what is the milieu of the integral consciousness?

      And I think it’s this: the milieu of beauty.

      • davidm58 says :

        Beautifully said. I keep thinking of the integral structure when I listen to this song.

        “Days To Come”
        (feat. Bajka)

        Journey set sail was to leave
        Cause I’m only birds & bees
        Lose and news and all things be
        Sunlight garden low red blossoms
        Moon tides of the sea

        When struggling for a magic grain
        We throw our life to the winds like rain
        For goodness sake
        Spare your failings and take the ability
        To strengthen
        No spirit can stimulate all minds
        Blossoms of days to come

        Blossoms of days to come

        Move away from your western guns
        Travel towards eastern suns
        Far above all earthly goals
        A pledge for creation’s soul
        Spirit finds fresh morning and the dew
        Of precious things
        Hope is a phoenix building wings to fly
        And what we wish shall be
        Like a breathe of fresh air
        Safe and secret powers
        That no love can spare

        Move away from your western guns
        Travel towards eastern suns
        Far above all earthly goals
        A pledge for creation’s soul

        Far above all earthly goals
        A pledge for creation’s soul

        Move away from your western guns
        Travel towards eastern suns
        Far above all earthly goals
        A pledge for creation’s soul [x2]

        Far above all earthly goals
        A pledge for creation’s soul

  3. davidm58 says :

    Re: “What we call “time” and what we call “space” and what we call “things” are interpretations of the energetic flux…”

    I wonder if you could comment on Kealey’s footnote #3 from chapter 1 (page 103), where he discusses Ilya Prigogine’s concept of the irreversibility of time. in contrast to “the Einsteinian notion of spatialized time, or reversibility of time.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’ve been overlooking his footnotes while reading his book. I’ld best not do that I think.

      Time would be potentially reversible if time were indeed an arrow. But it’s not an arrow. Time isn’t aiming for anything. As the joke goes: “wherever you go, there you are”.

      I have an anecdote about that, taken from Castaneda. Don Juan took him into a field one day, and sat him down. After a while, don Juan signaled him to look up at a tall tree and observe a leaf falling down from the top of the tree and follow it to the bottom. Castaneda did so. Then don Juan signaled him to observe again. Castaneda turned again to the tree, and saw what appeared to be the same leaf falling on the same path to the same place on the ground. Don Juan signaled him again to observe the tree, Castaneda saw the same leaf falling from the top of the tree along the same path. After a few more turns like this, Castaneda, unable to contain himself any longer, became violently ill. such things were not possible. But it’s pretty much the ancient doctrine of the eternal recurrence.

      Actually, the growing consensus in physics is that such things are possible. Recurrence, but not reversibility. don Juan, for example, couldn’t show Castaneda the leaf reversing its fall, and rising from the ground back to the top of the tree. If you listen to the CBC Ideas programme called “Living on Oxford Time”, it provides a pretty good rationale, in terms of physics, why what don Juan showed Castaneda as “eternal recurrence” is entirely feasible.

      (In other words, what these physicists are really describing is what is called “the akashic record”).

      But reversibility? That would depend on time being an arrow.

      For Gebser’s “integral consciousness”, the transparency of the world includes time. All time past, and all time future are “presentiated” by virtue of their transparency. Rosenstock-Huessy also noted this, and it was the theme of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” too. In fact I received a book a short time ago that I’ve yet to get around to (I think Steve Lavendusky recommended it) calls “The Future of the Ancient World: Essays on the History of Consciousness” which seems to speak to the same thing. Interesting that Gebser doesn’t seem to have influenced it at all. he’s not in the index.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    The story of the first Adam reveals that Adam has been sent down to the earth to exercise the role of stewardship and was provided with the necessary consciousness (the naming of all things) to enable him to fulfill that errand. Blake statement, where man is not, earth is barren is an authentic testimony. The story of all the prophets testify to that stewardship. The beauty and majesty of the performance of that errand resides in honesty,truth and justice. The beauty that sleeps in the action and not in the apparent beauty of things. It is the process of expressing the hidden beauty of action ( love, empathy, compassion, justice, truth and honesty) is the goal, since the beauty of things is already already evident in the rose, in the bird, in the breeze and in the poem etc.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    When I look at the scene of the world and ponder how its law of priority has been capsized and misused and the more I think about the tragedy of my region I feel convinced that the problem of the middle east can not be solved without solving the problem of the domineering west. This is why I feel with confidence that those intelligent people of the west who have started to dissect their problem is my hope in the way of solving the malady of the region and the world. I am convinced also that the law of the divine correction takes place at the hand of those who work honestly and persistently in path of correction. God does not not like oppression, injustice lie and perversion. This is also why I sometime do not follow the dictate of some posts, pushing for a wider view, in line with the spirit of the Chrysalis, the spirit of integral consciousness, the spirit of the infinite. In this context I feel there are four major discourses going on in the west without any communication among each other. There are those who call the west to move away from the guns and to travel to the eastern sun, reminding them of the far above all earthly goal and to pledge them to the creation of the soul, as expressed by the song quoted by Dave, the second are those that have never stopped pursuing the path of deception and aggression which in the words of a western thinker, It is astonishing to see a highly civilized society, give birth to the most murderously vengeful government in history, the third are those who tackle abstract issues without trying to move to the concrete, like the mathematics whose ultimate goal as stated by Whitehead is to eliminate any need for intelligent thought and the fourth are those that represent the majority who are oblivious and helpless living in a state of trance. This disconnection is by itself is a disease that need correction and all signs seem to point in the way of the death of the present consciousness and the birth of new consciousness. Nothing stay unchanged, and everything return to Him.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It is interesting to know that Plotinus, apparently, had a great influence on Muslim mystical thought, and in turn, Rumi has had a great influence (at least since Goethe) on the West. So, Plotinus was, in a sense, the ambassador of the West to the East, and Rumi the ambassador of the East to the West, and this reciprocity in the spiritual realm goes on despite the surface of events, and despite the surface of events, there has been a continuous ongoing dialogue in the spiritual realm, quite obviously, in this undercurrents, perhaps leading towards a kind of “parousia” — that is to say, ,all leading towards the advent of an integral consciousness.

      • abdulmonem says :

        You know Scott what pains me most is to be besieged with the horizontal mode of knowledge and forget the vertical path of knowledge,the original path of all knowledge, the path of the spirit the carrier of knowledge to the human sphere, the inspirational process that is the domain of so many recent studies and which has been invoked by so many sages in pursuance of the path of all prophets who have always brought fresh and corrective knowledge to humanity.

  6. davidm58 says :

    Scott wrote, “I don’t know whether Plotinus experienced the One directly or simply borrowed it as an abstract idea from elsewhere (from Plato for example). But the “One” as Plotinus uses it is what Kealey relates to Gebser’s “archaic consciousness” and as “the ever-present origin”, and its return as the “diaphanon” of Gebser’s integral consciousness structure from which all other consciousness structures (the magical, the mythical, the mental) are derived.”

    Looking at my Plotinus book now, from the biographical note:
    Plotinus was a disciple of Ammonius, who left no writings. Ammonius’ disciples were pledged to keep secret his doctrine, but “his teaching was probably concerned more with establishing a way of life than in pursuing intellectual knowledge.for its own sake.”

    Plotinus left Ammonius at age 39 with the intent to “obtain direct knowledge of the philosophy practised among the Persians and honored among the Indians.” He traveled with the army and emperor as far as Mesopotamia, but when the emperor was assassinated the travel was cut short, and he escaped to Antioch, then ended up in Rome.

    He led an austere life, abstaining from meat “and paid little attention to elementary hygienic precautions. Much of his time was given to meditation. Porphyry declared that ‘his end and aim was intimate union with the God who is above all things’ and testified that during the time he knew him Plotinus ‘attained this end four times.’ …at the moment of his death he is reported to have declared to his friend: ‘Now I shall endeavor to make that which is divine in me rise up to that which is divine in the universe.’ “

  7. abdulmonem says :

    So why we do not try to seek intimation and direct knowledge of the One. The vertical path of knowledge as I said in my last comment.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Because the path is not vertical. “The body is the temple of the living God”, and the movement of the spirit today is not outwards or upwards, but inwards.

  8. abdulmonem says :

    Away from descriptive adjective the spirit has no location, I am happy it is moving inwards.The importance resides in our awareness of it and in its epistemic role in our life. Thank you Scott for a rich journey in the never-ending world of knowledge.

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