Tuesday, May 20, 2008

#36. Aspects of the Immense Transition, Parts 3 & 4

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This is the second half of the previous post. Together, the two posts offer thoughts about the Second Axial Period-- the time of Great Turning or Immense Transition we're in-- using the quaternary perspectives of both Jungian concepts and Native American imagery while focusing on Karl Rahner's existential analysis of human experience.

I spelled out the Jungian functions of consciousness along with their Medicine Wheel images in three recent posts: #29 (The Four-fold Mind), #30 (Ways Of Being Religious) and #31 (Integrating the Four Functions); and I described Rahner's "existentials" of self-awareness, self-transcendence, freedom and grace in post #34 (Talking about Us). The briefest way I know to express Rahner's four existentials is to say that we experience ourselves as aware, open, free and given.

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3. The Immense Transition and Our Experience of Freedom.
The experience of freedom means that, although we know ourselves to be limited in so many ways, we also experience ourselves as being able to make choices. Probably the best word we have to describe this existential aspect of our personal experience is self-determination.

For a fairly coherent description of just what freedom means from a scientific point of view-- in terms of neurological functioning-- you might want to check out post #12 on the cognitive extension of prehension, where I've spelled it out in Biogenetic Structuralism jargon.

The main idea there is that because of the structure and function of the human brain, our actions are not controlled totally by our instincts; in ways our animal relatives can not, we can choose. And it's in making these free choices that we "actualize"-- make actual or real-- our individuality and uniqueness.

While Rahner's second existential-- self-transcendence-- describes our experience of being open to all reality, this third existential-- personal freedom-- describes the human task of bringing the "unbounded human spirit" down to earth. By our free choices, we creatively embody the cosmic spiritus.

And it is this creative freedom-- which is ours precisely because we are both open to all things and specific and finite-- which makes us a mystery to ourselves.

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But here too we need to think in terms of "the Other Half of Person" which I described in post #22. A significant aspect of the Second Axial Period is that we see self-determination as characteristic not only of individuals but also of the entire global human community. We see that humanity as a whole has a certain amount of freedom for self-determination and that this responsibility includes all the peoples of the Earth and extends to all the Earth's living things.

And this really is something new. Our growing awareness that we are a responsible part of nature and of the cosmic process on Earth is a key aspect of the Immense Transition. Global humanity is coming to recognize our freedom and responsibility for creative self-determination.

Just as individuals, when they reach a certain stage of maturity in their ontogenetic development, see that what they do with their lives is up to them, so the human race as a whole is coming to see that our cultural development is up to us. The Great Turning is a dawning on the part of the Earth's peoples of the place not just of each individual as a "person in the world" (as Rahner puts it) but of the role of communal creativity in our on-going history.

There are two new perspectives here. One is that we see ourselves as creative participants in the cosmic process; and this is a new-anthropocentrism, different from the anthropocentrism of past ages where humans focused on themselves to the exclusion of nature. Now we see that we have a central role in nature, that we-- all humans together-- are responsible for the Earth. One way is to say it is that we see now that cultural evolution and the future of the Earth is in our hands.

And this realization is indeed a Great Turning. Teilhard has a down-to-earth image of this new anthropocentrism: we're like a group of people playing cards. If we get up and leave the table, that's the end of the game. Nothing happens without us.

The second new perspective is that we see ourselves as creative participants in the cosmic process. I think this aspect of the Immense Transition can best be understood as  an acceptance of and adaptation to the accomplishments of science and technology-- of humanity's creative role in transforming society and the natural world.

We don't usually think of creativity and technology together, but in fact they are two words for the same human activity: the creative transformation of our world. We have trouble putting the two words together because in the static cultural perspective of the past, the idea of creative transformation was literally inconceivable.


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In understanding this change in human consciousness it helps to keep in mind that our experience of freedom is expressed via the Jungian function called Thinking, and that Thinking is a judgment function. It's based primarily on the activity of the brain's Temporal lobe and concerned with distinctions, differentiation and diversity-- with all that "head" means in contrast to the Feeling function's "heart."

It also helps to remember that the Thinking function needs to keep a certain distance and objectivity for the sake of clarity and that it is especially concerned with questioning; it asks of anything, "Is it true?" It's also especially focused on the dynamic flow of time. The emphasis here is on movement, growth and creative development, both of the individual (which Jung calls the "individuation process" and Biogenetic Structuralism calls "ontogenesis") and of the human community (which we are learning to recognize as "cultural evolution").

In contrast to the Feeling function's need to hold on to the past, the Thinking function's concern is to "move on." And it's this desire to "get on with it"-- continually asking questions about how we can make things better-- that we call creativity.

While the traditional way of being religious associated with the Thinking function is asceticism, we see that the effort, attention and mindfulness involved in traditional ascetic practices is being expanded in this time of Great Turning to include creative activity. But we also need to enlarge our sense of scientific technology. Down-to-earth science and down-to-earth religious practice are both concerned with creative transformation.

Certainly creativity was not something stressed in the religious writings of the past. But as we move beyond the limitations of the Thinking function's imprisonment in the patriarchal perspectives of former centuries, we are coming to recognize, as Matthew Fox notes in his book Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, that it's precisely our creativity, via our free choices, that defines us. Human creativity, Fox says, "is not frosting on the cake" but "integral to our sustainability." Creativity is our "survival mechanism... it is the essence of who we are."

The free creation of new things and the creative making of old things new again is what makes us human. And newness is the very essence of the Thinking function. On the Medicine Wheel Thinking is imaged by the Gold Eagle of the east, where it is associated with dawn, the rising sun, and the fresh air of morning and springtime-- all images of new beginnings.

The emphasis on creative newness is well-expressed in pre-industrial cultures which daily honor the first rays of the sun as it appears above the horizon, and also in the trickster figure such as Coyote which is prominent in many pre-Christian cultures and also in the renewed post-patriarchal masculine perspectives. Because of the fear of Black Bear imagery, western people have lost the sense of the trickster, but in many traditional cultures it's the trickster-- if not Coyote, then some other animal figure such as Raven or Brer Rabbit or Anansi the Spider-- who acts as a teacher and counselor in our use of freedom, always promoting cooperation rather than competition as the way to creative transformation.

The trickster guides us through rough ways, helping us to accept our woundedness and to make the right choices in our efforts to become all that we can be. This emphasis on creative newness is also present in the feminine image of Divine Sophia in the Hebrew scriptures; she, too, guides and directs us as the "Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily." (Those words are still sung each year throughout the world at the winter solstice; we may not be so far from a recovery of the best of the old ways!)

In the previous post I suggested "green" as a one-word summary for the consciousness of that aspect of the Immense Transition which comes to us by way of our experience of self-awareness and Feeling-relatedness. For the aspect of the Immense Transition which comes to us via our experience of self-determination and Thinking's unceasing pursuit of creative transformation, I think the best catch-word might simply be "new."

Green and new. The Second Axial Period sounds like springtime!

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4. The Immense Transition and Our Experience of Being Given to Ourselves.


In calling the fourth existential aspect of human experience "grace," Rahner's main idea is that we are well-aware that we did not create ourselves, but rather that we experience ourselves as having our origins in the Great Mystery and of being blessed to be conscious participants in the universe as its manifestation.

In an interview on Salon.com, the well-known American "integral philosopher" Ken Wilber is asked about his understanding of this experience non-dual awareness. "It's very simple," he says. "It's something that's already present in one's awareness but it's so simple and so obvious that it's not noticed. Zen refers to it as the 'such-ness' of reality. [The Christian mystic] Meister Eckhart called it 'thus-ness.' "

Rahner's wording for the experience is something like "God is present in our self-awareness as the incomprehensible source of all" and as the "context and precondition" for our existence. The word "given" seems to be a good way to express this most profound personal experience.

As I noted in post #34 (Talking About Us), Rahner's fourth existential is less easy to express clearly than the others-- not, as I said, "because it's difficult to understand, but because it's difficult to put into words that aren't easily misunderstood." Nowadays, "God" is part of the problem.

In post #33 (Talking About God), I mentioned that the idea of creation by kenosis, in contrast to the idea of creation ex nihilo, is helpful in seeing the creative source of the world as bringing us into existence by pouring out itself as the world. To be clear about this idea of creation by kenosis, it's important to keep in mind what the pioneer 20th century theologian Henri de Lubac says with regard to the Mystery's creative out-pouring: "there is no prior recipient."

In calling this fourth existential "grace"-- which is related to words like "gracias" and "gratefulness," and also "charism," "charity" and even "cherie" (as in "ma cherie"), all of which evoke both a sense of gift and of love-- Rahner's point is that at a very deep level we do in fact experience ourselves as given to ourselves and that we are, thereby, an embodiment of the incomprehensible source which he calls the Great and Holy Mystery.

I want to emphasize again here (as I did in post #33) that Rahner is not proposing a theological doctrine, even though in our rationalist culture we can hardly hear it except in terms of theology. ("God" is indeed "part of the problem.") Rahner is intending to describe our experience of finding ourselves to be a "person in the world" (anthropos-in-cosmos) and offering insights about our human self-understanding which is independent of any specific religious or cultural tradition. Rahner says it is a matter of personal experience. (In that same Salon.com interview I mentioned above, Ken Wilber describes three different ways of talking about God, depending on our level of personal experience. You might like to check it out.)

It's helpful to keep in mind that post-rationalist scientists working in the fields of Systems Theory, Chaos Theory and Unified Field Theory are saying something very similar: that we and the world are manifestations of an underlying order of reality for which they use terms like the "Cosmic Fullness" and the "Quantum Sea."

It's also helpful to keep in mind that these scientific ideas sound a lot like the Russian theologian Sergius Bulgakov's phrase that we are "actualizations of the divine potentialities" and like the Jungian analyst Michael Conforti 's comment that the archetypal energies are "continually being incarnate in space and time." They also support the ideas I expressed in part 2 of the previous post about the coming together of east with west as a significant aspect of the Immense Transition. I'm thinking of the ancient Chinese description of the Tao as "the no-thing from which comes every-thing."

Perhaps the best name for the Mystery behind the universe is cosmologist Brian Swimme's phrase "the all-nourishing abyss."

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In terms of the Immense Transition, our experience of being given and of being, thereby, the embodiment of the world's creative source has two parts. One is that the Second Axial Period is a movement beyond the modern world; it is a turn to what's called "post-modernism," where absolutely everything is questioned-- especially the past history of western culture, with its rationalistic perspectives from Greek philosophy and its dualistic perspectives from Christianity interpreted in terms of those Greek metaphysical principles. The other part is the already-become-familiar and world-wide emphasis on the Earth's global culture and on the unity of the human family.

The Immense Transition is a movement toward one world, toward a united humanity aware of its communion with Earth and cosmos. As Bruno Barnhart says in his book on The Future of Wisdom, "Despite the continual violent conflicts, the world begins to become one world-- one humanity-- before our eyes." Our daily use of the internet for global communications is a good example, as is our growing awareness and acknowledgment of the human role in climate change.

But at an even deeper level, this aspect of the Great Turning-- the contemporary movement of Western culture in its turn to Earth's global culture, with its emphasis on world, person, human unity-- is the recognition that humanity's cultural history is a continuation of the embodiment-- the actualization, incarnation, manifestation-- of the all-nourishing abyss and incomprehensible source of all we call 'God".

This aspect of the Immense Transition also includes the recognition that this new "one world" perspective presents us with a task. As I said in post #18 (Called by the Universe), "In the dynamic view we see that our real lives in the real world have meaning and purpose, that we are called forth by the universe to do something. We have a cosmic vocation." There's work to be accomplished.

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That we have a job to do makes good sense when we recall that the experience of being given to ourselves, of being blessed and graced, and of our awareness of the Great Turning as movement toward one world, comes from the Jungian Sensation function. Sensation awareness asks of anything, "What's it for? What can we do with it?"

Like Intuition, Sensation is a perception function, but it looks at the individual trees rather than the forest; it focuses on the details. Its concern is the present and with our immediate needs for food, shelter and protection: for continuation and fullness of life. Not just with life's survival but with its "thrival." Based on the activity of the brain's Frontal lobe, where our attention is focused on particulars, Sensation is well-imaged on Medicine Wheel by the White Buffalo of the North; it is associated with the solidity of the earth and our need to deal with the dangerous cold and darkness of a midwinter night.

The traditional way of being religious associated with the White Buffalo function is service to all who are in need. In contrast to Intuition, of which the body-part image is the eye, the Sensation function is imaged by the hand. And it is a "helping hand." This desire to serve is often expressed by people who recognize that they have been gifted-- with a good education, for example, or good health or a good income-- by expressing their need "to give back." A major aspect of the Immense Transition is our growing awareness that the work and task of all of us is to take care of one another.

This awareness of concern for the life of all is a tremendous contrast to the attitudes of the patriarchal period. In pre-patriarchal times, it was expressed by the Neolithic image of the Great Mother and the Paleolithic image of Kernunnos, the Celtic Lord of the Hunt. It's also imaged in the Hebrew scriptures by the feminine Divine Sophia pictured as a food-bearing vine or tree providing protection and nourishment for the Earth's children, and by the contemporary renewed post-patriarchal masculine perspectives which stress communal cooperation on behalf of life rather than hierarchical competition between patriarchal egos.

There's one more factor involved in all this, one that's difficult to express well. If we experience our existence as a blessing and as a vocation to the cosmic task of making the world better by taking care of one another, then along with that experience of being called comes an inner experience of confidence. We can trust in our ability to deal with life's innumerable problems and we can trust, therefore, that our existence is not meaningless. Either life makes sense or it doesn't.

This is, of course, not something that can be proved, one way or the other, outside the realm of human experience. But it is precisely the personal experience that Rahner calls "grace"-- the experience of having been given to ourselves and of being blessed thereby to be conscious participants in the universe as its manifestation-- that allows us to trust.

I think that one word-- "trust"-- might serve well as a summary catch-term for this fourth aspect of the Immense Transition. It includes our awareness that we're all in it together and that we don't have to be afraid in working "on behalf of all and for all." We can trust from our own inner personal experience that the world does make sense and that our work and our very existence isn't meaningless. "Trust" allows us to embrace the Earth.

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A Summary of Posts #35 & #36.

There are so many factors involved in the Immense Transition that it's hard to get a handle on them. The four-fold perspective I've been sharing is helpful, but it's important to note that even the four-fold perspective is itself an aspect of the Immense Transition. So is Karl Rahner's analysis that we experience ourselves as aware, open, free and given. It is a new way of seeing ourselves, based neither on rationalist scientific concepts nor on traditional religious images, but our most basic experience of being a person in the world. And it all comes down to three very big changes-- in our understanding of cosmos, anthropos and theos.

COSMOS. With regard to the physical cosmos itself, from an over-all scientific perspective the Great Turning is a change from stasis to dynamis. It's an awareness, different from that of all past ages of human history, that we live not in a static world but in an evolutionary cosmos.

ANTHROPOS: With regard to ourselves, the Second Axial Period is the transition from the patriarchal suppression of persons to an affirmation of the mystery of person as the cosmos-become-conscious-of-itself. It includes the understanding that each of us is called to make a unique personal contribution to the evolution of the world and that all of us together are called to play a responsible creative role in the Earth's cultural evolution. We are called to take care of one another and of "all our relations."

THEOS: From an over-all religious perspective, the primary focus of the Immense Transition is a turning away from religious dualism to a unitive understanding of the cosmos and anthropos as the embodiment of the Great Mystery.

Perhaps the best way to say all this is that we are coming to see-- better than ever before in human history-- the unity of the universe, humanity and God.

sam@macspeno.com


PS (added later): For a good example of western culture's openness to the unitive worldview of the Asian religious traditions (a significant practical result of the second aspect of the Immense Transition), see the New York Time's article of 27 May 08: "Lotus Therapy" by Benedict Carey.

1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.