EcoIQ Magazine Reviews
The Living Universe: Where Are We?
Who Are We? Where Are We Going?
  The Living Universe[Editor's note: The excerpt below is from Chapter 7: Humanity Is Halfway Home of Elgin's visionary new book - The Living Universe. Published by Berrett-Koehler in April 2009, this work "brings together extraordinary evidence from cosmology, biology, and physics to show that the universe is not dead but rather uniquely alive - an insight in harmony with all of the world's major spiritual traditions… The nonliving view of the universe has led to rampant materialism and global environmental degradation. To transform our planetary crises we need to move past a paradigm of separation and exploitation and learn to live sustainably on the Earth."]   Duane ElginDuane Elgin is the bestselling author of Voluntary Simplicity (more than 150,000 sold) and an internationally recognized speaker, author, and social visionary who looks beneath the surface turbulence of our times to explore the deeper trends that are transforming our world. In 2005, he received the Japanese "Goi International Peace Award" in recognition of his contribution to a global "vision, consciousness, and lifestyle" that fosters a "more sustainable and spiritual culture."
 
 Our Supreme Test and Time of Initiation

Evolution moves forward on a bending curve and there is no going back. The starting gun of history has gone off, and humanity is moving rapidly into a new world. We humans have always been tested by adversity. However, our current times are unique in one crucial respect - and this makes all the difference. The circle has closed and there is no escape. Now the entire Earth and whole human community is at risk. Now the entire human species must deal with the reality of climate disruption (with resulting crop failures and famine), the dwindling supply of cheap energy, an enormous global population with most people living on the edge of subsistence, a massive wave of extinction of plants and animals, the spread of weapons of mass destruction in an ever more interdependent world, and much more. All of these are occurring at the same time the global communications revolution

"The circle has closed
and there is no escape.
Now the entire Earth
and whole human
community is at risk."

is making the world transparent to itself. Our supreme test is to grow consciously into this new world and learn to live in balance with the Earth, in peace with one another, and in gratitude with the living universe.

My estimate is that, by the 2020s, "adversity trends" will coalesce into an unyielding, world-scale systems crisis. Every major system in our lives - ecological, economic, political, cultural, psychological, and spiritual - will be in crisis as it is challenged to adapt to a dramatically changing world. This time of supreme testing will occur in a wired world that is transparent to an immensity of suffering. This is a recipe for anarchy and chaos as millions (perhaps billions) of people will be on the move in search of a sustainable existence. With the largest migrations of humans in history underway, the likelihood of widespread civic collapse and tremendous violence will be extremely high.

Suffering will not be shared equally. Although every aspect of our lives will be challenged, not everyone is equally vulnerable. The world's poor will face greater hardships than ever coping with climate change and energy shortages. While energy shortages are inconvenient for the wealthy, they are catastrophic for the world's poor. Climate disruption, crop failures, and rising food prices create extra difficulties for the wealthy but disaster for those living at the margins of existence.

We are moving into a time of steel-gripped necessity, a time of intense planetary compression. In this generation, the world will become a superheated pressure cooker; the human family will be crushed by unrelenting forces so unyielding, and the stresses they place upon our world so extreme, that human civilization will soon either descend into chaos, or ascend in a spiraling process of profound transformation. On the one hand, if humanity is unwilling to work for the advance of all, then the world will collapse into a spiral of resource wars, and misery, poverty, and calamity will descend on the planet. On the other hand, unprecedented suffering may awaken humanity by burning through the unconscious denial, greed, and fear that now divide us. In encountering ourselves so directly and powerfully, a new human alloy may emerge from the furnace of these superheated decades. Our time of fiery transition may fuse the human family together with a new sense of identity and purpose that is strong enough to support the rebuilding of our lives to create a sustainable and meaningful future.

The challenges we confront are so great that we are called to move beyond our personal awakening to our collective awakening - as communities, as nations, and as a species. I do not view the emerging world systems crisis as a problem to be fixed. It seems natural that we would attempt to grow beyond the limits of the Earth to sustain us. Because nearly every organism works to exploit the surrounding ecology to the fullest extent, overshoot and collapse are common occurrences in natural systems. Since we have never before had the ability to exploit the entire Earth so completely, we have no experience in exercising global restraint. We learn through experience and, never having encountered an endangered Earth before, we should not be surprised if a great challenge or tragedy is necessary to awaken the evolutionary intelligence of humanity. However,
"Since we have never
before had the ability
to exploit the entire
Earth so completely, we
have no experience in
exercising global restraint."
once we collectively recognize the extreme urgency of our situation, the human community could awaken quickly and create a future of unimagined opportunity - or we could hesitate and drift into a future of unimagined tragedy.

The suffering, distress, and anguish of these times will become a purifying fire that burns through ancient prejudices and hostilities to cleanse the soul of our species. I expect no single, golden moment of reconciliation to descend upon the planet; instead, waves of ecological calamity will reinforce periods of economic crisis, and both will be amplified by massive waves of civil unrest. Instead of a single crescendo of crisis and conflict, there will likely be momentary reconciliation followed by disintegration, and then new reconciliation. In giving birth to a sustainable world civilization, humanity will probably move back and forth through cycles of contraction and relaxation. Only when we utterly exhaust ourselves will we burn through the barriers that separate us from our wholeness as a human family. Eventually we will see that we have an unyielding choice between a badly injured (or even stillborn) planetary civilization and the birth of a bruised but relatively healthy human family and biosphere. In seeing and accepting responsibility for this inescapable choice, we will work to discover a common sense of reality, identity, and social purpose. Finding this new common sense will be an extremely demanding task. Only after we have exhausted all hope of partial solutions will we be willing to move forward with an open mind and heart toward a future of mutually supportive development. Ultimately, in moving through our initiation, we can grow from our adolescent ways as a species into our early adulthood and consciously take responsibility for our relationship with the Earth, the rest of life, and the universe.

Humanity's Journey of Return

As we open to this new understanding of the universe, aliveness and awe return to the world around us. Where the existential mindset of the industrial era bleached the life out of nature and left a machinelike cosmos filled mostly with dead matter and empty space, the consciousness of this new era awakens the intuition that a living presence permeates the universe that - with equanimity spanning billions of years - sustains the unfolding of all life, including that of the human species.

Our return is not only to the Earth that supports us, and to the community of life that surrounds us; it is also a return to the living universe that sustains us. After maturing through the fire of our collective rite of passage, the human community can choose a path of learning to live in greater harmony with the Earth, peace with one another, and communion with the living universe. Ultimately, we seek to relax into the natural peace of communion with the totality - the Mother Universe. Recognizing this, we can look at everyday life in a new way. We catch glimpses of the interwoven fabric of the cosmos and our intimate participation within the living web of existence. Less often is reality broken into relativistic islands or fragments. Even if only for brief moments, existence will be glimpsed and known as a seamless totality. Touching the aliveness of the universe, even momentarily, transforms our lives. The renowned Sufi poet, Kabir, wrote that he saw the universe as a living and growing body for fifteen seconds and it made him "a servant for life."

In this new era, we will regard the universe as the nurturing body of the Cosmic Feminine. Moment by moment, over billions of years, she sustains this cosmic garden as her off spring grow to consciously recognize and participate in her magnificent work. The Cosmic Feminine is not remote. We are immersed within, and created from, her body. We are She. Science strips away superstition and finds the miracle of a living universe. The sacred returns to the world.

The wisdom culture of the next stage is more ordinary and accessible to us than we may think. During the stage of the awakening hunter-gatherers, our ancestors would have been incredulous if someone suggested
"A key test of our
maturity as a species…
is how well we manage
to integrate the many
polarities that currently
divide us."
that millions of people could learn to live and work together in the manner now considered ordinary in advanced industrial nations. They would have been amazed to see us living in massive cities, driving cars on freeways, operating computers and television sets, and working in enormous organizations. We now take our urban-industrial way of perceiving, living, and working for granted. But, to the ancient hunter-gatherer who had yet to establish a village way of life, the thought of people able to function in a manner common to the industrial era would have seemed utterly impossible. In a similar way, attaining our initial maturity as an awakening species may appear unreachable; however, we seem to be designed with the capacity for successful realization of our species-maturity.

Overall, a key test of our maturity as a species as we move into this next major phase in humanity's evolution is how well we manage to integrate the many polarities that currently divide us. Unity and diversity, being and becoming, rich and poor, women and men, the eternal and the momentary, transcendence and immanence - the ongoing integration of these and other polarities will produce a strong and dynamically stable world civilization.

© Duane Elgin
San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2009

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