- Photo by Jason Stern
"The vision of the intolerable is reason enough to establish for human consciousness the necessity to be transformed."
—René Daumal, Everything You Know is Wrong
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Spring came slowly this year. She seemed to be waiting for something, a sign, and then, like an explosion, the gray skies cleared and the bare trees popped out fully formed leaves and the world was green again. Now, as I shelter in place, the beauty of the season is almost overwhelming. Every day new signs emerge—plant growth, birdsong, mating dances—the unstoppable creative force of Gaia.
At the same time is the narrative presented by the professional and amateur fourth estate, myriad commentators, politicians, public relations professionals. The situation is bleak. There's an invisible enemy threatening catastrophe in the air, on the surfaces. We are told to be afraid, and we are afraid. We are told to be angry and we are angry. We are told to stay apart, for safety, and we oblige.
I find myself faced with two overlapping realities. Placed one on top of the other, the amalgam produces a cognitive dissonance difficult to reconcile. The first is the beauty of the world, the budding trees, growing plants, clear skies, animals emerging from slumber, as well as the happy and peaceful humans I see from a distance as I venture from my abode. The other is the dreaded contagion, economic and business collapse, the sacrifice of freedom to be together other than via mediated corporate platforms, and what is, in a practical sense, the voluntary implementation of a new degree of technocratic, totalitarian control of human society.
How to reconcile the heaven and the horror? This inquiry plays out in my being many times each day. I find myself struggling to allow both perceptions at once. It is as though there are two worlds existing simultaneously.
I alternatively gravitate toward one or the other. A walk in the woods opens my consciousness to an essential goodness, to the felt sense of the interconnectedness and interdependence of plants, animals, and humans living together in the body of the biosphere. And then I go to the store, careful not to upset anyone with too much proximity, heartbroken by the atmosphere of fear. I arrive home, check the news, and the bile begins to rise. I resist the temptation to get involved in conversations about the situation because its obvious absurdity is almost overwhelming.
I am reminded of a fragment of a poem by Rumi, loosely remembered: Yesterday was beauty and light. Today, a burnt blackness everywhere. In the book of my life these two days shall be written as one.
A hundred years ago Rudolph Steiner predicted that our century would herald the triumph of materialism. What he called the "Ahrimanic" influence would so dominate human life as to cause humanity to forget we have a nature subtler than the physical objects of our bodies. Society would be structured for automation and control. The silver lining, he said, is that people individually and in small groups could make use of this influence to deepen our connection to our creative and spiritual nature. A small number of people willing to work in this way might be able to transmute the influence into something useful for transformation.
In one of Steiner's lectures, he said, "Let us learn to say frankly: Yes, the earth is in its decline, and human life, too, with respect to its physical manifestation; but just because it is so, let us muster the strength to draw into our civilization that element which, springing from humankind itself, will live on while the Earth is in decline, as the immortal fruit of Earth evolution."
For me, practically, this means striving to live equally in two worlds. First of all, the world of the inner life, of presence in myself, presence with others, in nature, and in the subtler qualities of life, relationships, meaning, and love. At the same time, it means being fully present with the prevailing narratives about the state of things, even as apparent events produce a reaction of fear or anger.
With this balance, there is the choice to include the essential perception together with fear and anger. With this balance is relief from the need to dramatize anything. With this balance, poison transforms into nectar.