Transformation, Consciousness, Spirituality

Conscious Evolution: Leaping Into Possibility

It is 40 years since the Futurist magazine published Prof. Clare W. Graves’ article titled “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap,” which contained predictions for our future that have proved remarkably prescient. The conditions that Graves anticipated are those we now experience. Graves’ theory regards human development as an adaptive process in which our Values systems, the codes that we perceive, will enable us to thrive and evolve to fit us to changing life conditions. Spiral Dynamics integral (as the theory subsequently became) predicted the current state of the world. That is the first mark of its potency. The second is that it described what we would need to do to meet today’s challenges.

Fast forward to today. How might we describe our conditions now? We have recently skirted economic meltdown. We are faced with considerable challenges like habitat damage, resource mismanagement, global terrorism, climatic instability, population growth and loss of species diversity, many of which derive from a short-term and materialist mind-set. These are already compounding one another or threatening to do so. The need for solutions seems urgent, yet we don’t seem to have evolved our thinking systems to devise, still less implement, those solutions. As yet, we have not made the Momentous Leap.

The leap is a shift in consciousness. The familiar statement attributed to Einstein, that we cannot solve our problems using the thinking systems that created them, is truer than ever. Our future depends on it. Graves himself saw three possible paths. We might regress through breakdown and collapse to primitive conditions. We might be “stuck in an Orwellian nightmare of tyrannical and manipulative governments operating under a gloss of moralisticdouble-think and sham humanitarianism.” Recent detention laws and attempts at Internet censorship and data harvesting show how present this possibility remains. The third path, the one requiring a leap of consciousness, is the only optimistic scenario. We could emerge into a new level that would stabilise our world and maintain the progress of human existence. I am an optimist and still favour this outcome where the human spirit continues to overcome such tyrannies. What will this require of us?

The Conscious Evolutionary Journey
We are aware of our position as latecomers to a 4-billion year biological evolution but less so of the psychological and societal development that has since taken place. I am talking here about ‘conscious evolution.’ In some of what follows, I will try to describe this evolutionary trajectory and indicate why I am an optimist, but I do not see conscious evolution as a done deal, and I certainly don’t see it as a passive or internal process. It requires action—coherent and integrated action.

Societal evolution has been a progression in numbers and complexity. It has taken us from small survival bands through tribes and warlord empires to the dawn of western civilisation with its laws and commercial systems. From our human perspective 1,000 years is long history but it is only 1% of homo sapiens’ existence and only 10% of the time since the Neolithic hunter-gather bands gave way to tribes. Psychosocial changes greatly outpace biological ones. That progression has accelerated through the industrial and technological revolutions into the twentieth century with its rise of human focus on human bonding and on equality amidst diversity. Only in the last 100 years do we have psychological theories because this stage of development is strongly inclined to explore who we are and what human nature is. Just as the previous modernist technological stage (still continuing, of course) sought mastery over the material world, we responded to its materialist focus with the desire to master the psychosocial one. This is also a transition from faith in the material world to the post-modernist questioning of objective reality. In the ten thousand years since the first tribal settlements, the human population has grown a thousand-fold from perhaps 5 million to 7 billion. Many of our cities contain more people than that first number. Each of the stages raised complexity—towns to cities to global inter-connectedness.

The Coming Stage: Coping with Complexity
If Graves’ view of our evolving consciousness was correct—if our Values systems and priority codes are psychosocial responses that adapt to changing life conditions—where are we now in our journey? We have already indicated the multiple strands of breakdown, simultaneous and urgent compound challenges all arising at speeds which defy the systems we have built. It is no wonder that two-thirds of the 1,500 global CEOs surveyed by IBM in 2011 cited ‘unpredictability’ as their biggest concern. These are our life conditions and none of our previous responses will be sufficient to tackle this chaotic turmoil. So what response is needed?

No previous shift has been as stark as this; we are in a new scenario. No previous stage in development has had the overview that we have. Each previous stage tended to dismiss its predecessors; warlords did not want to go back to settled tribes and the technological order rejects with Dawkins’ vehemence the religious dogma of its predecessor. If we are to avoid mutual destruction, now must be the time when humans are capable of seeing and accepting what has gone before. We need laws and commercial systems, we need technological benefits and we don’t want to abandon our new understandings of who we are or lose the bonds that we have created. We need to be integrative, seeking to blend, balance and mesh all previous perspectives. Post-postmodernism adopts shifting and oscillating viewpoints. However, this integration is just the beginning; the leap requires yet more.

In earlier, slower-paced and less complex times we could attempt to predict the outcome of our actions. Our uniquely human ability to project the future seemed to work. We could utilise cause-and-effect thinking and make plans. If we got it wrong, that was because the Gods had other ideas, because we didn’t know enough or because Murphy’s Law lives; it was not because those linear processes themselves were flawed. You could argue that our faith in that linear predictability was always behind the game but, either way, it is what we have done and it is still how many of us think and how most of our systems attempt to operate. Governments still make plans and formulate policies, and we as citizens expect that they should get that right. Media comment becomes severely punitive if a government changes its policy, treating this as weakness and talking of ‘U-turns.’

The Challenge of Non-Linear Conditions
None of these ways are capable of dealing with high-speed, complex, multi-variable interactions. By the time we have figured out the cause-and-effect, formulated a plan, analysed it in depth and then battered it out of shape with consensus-forming processes, the conditions have irrevocably changed. Our current challenges demand a huge shift out of linear thinking into more intuitive, presenced, flexible and responsive ways of being. If a government is not repeatedly adjusting its direction, it is not responding to the dynamic movement of emergent reality. You cannot surf the wave by sitting on the beach computing the sea’s motion and you cannot build a ship big enough to make the waves irrelevant.

Every previous adaptive system has added to our toolkit. Humans transcend warlord groupings when the costs and stresses of conflict become intolerable. The next stage is the one we are attempting and probably failing to establish in Afghanistan. In our history, that stage brought the notion of basic rules and order—codes that we could live by—and with it the basics of science—planetary motion, gravity and fundamentals of engineering. Those ordering systems show up in Afghanistan as the Taliban—a form of transition that is unacceptable to our pluralist views. Our ordering Values now provide us with repeatable processes and boxes to tick that say we have done the right things, but previously they brought the Spanish Inquisition. The following stage built on top of those rules, finding out how to stretch, bend and exploit them, how to turn them into the massively creative technological capacities that put men on the moon and gave us world-wide connectivity. But both these stages also fostered illusions about the nature of the world and our human place in it, seeing the material and spiritual worlds as separate. In the first, we are the children of an external creator (God) after ‘spirit moved upon the face of the deep.’ The second made us Techno-gods. Science views spirit as an imaginary accident of human brain mechanics. Consciousness, if it exists at all, is a psychological phenomenon.

Scientific Constraints and the Deeper Reality of Consciousness
Conscious evolution takes place through Values system changes, but many of us now have a more spiritual context for ‘consciousness.’ Science denies the ground this view would stand on and reduces our confidence that we know what we know. The reality that science does not yet recognise is that consciousness is a fundamental feature of the Universe. It is possible to show this throughout biology and physics and to underpin that knowledge with hard experimental data. It is also possible to validate that knowledge through systematic study of experiential data and philosophical understanding. We will need this new scientific view.

We are used to hearing and maybe have said ourselves that ‘everything is energy’ and we comfort ourselves with the mysteries of quantum uncertainty, which tell us that science can’t know everything. While these responses are not wrong, they fall short of useful knowledge. To say that ‘everything is energy’ misses the real question. What happens when energy becomes matter? Why does the world take the shape it does, and why are we the way that we are? The extremely short answer is that the whole Universe is an experiment of self-creation. When the first particles were created, the patterns that worked were remembered, carried in a realm of information that is what the Universe knows of itself. On top of those patterns, from those building blocks, more complex patterns arise and everything about them is stored in the universe of information. These patterns and events become evolutionary history and they become you and me. Consciousness is within and without; it is what we know of ourselves, what we know of the information with which the universe has defined its existence.

Empowering our Creative Potential
When we understand this, conscious evolution takes on a new potency. We are, for better or worse, the self-aware leading edge of a co-creative, self-exploring Universe. What then happens when we bring this knowledge back into the right-now, real-time issues of human thriving and apply that knowledge to today’s challenges?

At human evolution’s leading edge, many of us have engaged with the oneness of creation. Meditators and mystics know experientially that we are not separate and that each of us is a part of something transcendent, two eyes among the myriad eyes of creation. We may also have experienced intuitive knowing of that which science says we could not know. Nevertheless, much of the time we retreat inside our boundaries, the limits of our own skin. We relapse into believing that what exists and what is already known define what is possible.

Our habits of linear thinking caused us to form patterns. Choices that we have made in the past became our guides for the future. Some of those choices and rules are not even our own—they are programs that our parents and schooling gave us or simply conventional beliefs. These belief systems about what is right or wrong become our limitations. We attempt our leap into the turbulence of the unknown, not knowing what it will be like when we get there, yet carrying a suitcase of previous conclusions. Since our predictions are inadequate, we need instead to land with a capability to be present, to detect what is. We then need to be able to make free choices that are not preconditioned by our past habits and beliefs. We need our knowledge for sure, but what we know must be capable of continuous modification. Nothing is fixed; we must make fresh choices.

This means that we must hold our theories lightly, the hard science, the psychology and the brilliance of great maps like Spiral Dynamics or Integral. We may have grasped that the map is not the territory; which do we live in? Can we attempt to meet life’s challenges from inner consciousness—expecting that our thoughts will impact the wider field of consciousness to create our reality? We could, but only if we wish catastrophically to limit the outcomes.

The field of consciousness contains the defining information for all that exists. All that exists includes our collective beliefs, our communities, the food we eat, the homes we inhabit and wider societal realities like corporate finance, pharmaceutical medicine and correctional institutions. All of those were constructed based on the Values systems and priority codes of earlier times. They systematised the beliefs we had about what was possible, what could work and what we wished to make work.

Previous evolutionary stages were pervaded by our fear and our determination to survive. Humanity has done really well at surviving; there are seven billion of us. That survival is not secure yet and many are not yet thriving. There are two directions we could follow. Will things improve if we do more of the same? I don’t think so and I doubt that you do. That means there is no viable alternative to the leap. The only direction we can choose is into the new.

Leaping into Possibility
We must let go of the illusory security of our previous conclusions to embrace the unknown. We must learn fearlessly to choose and choose again so that we are in continual dynamic re-balancing, responding in short increments to changing conditions in the non-linear world. We allow and engage our intuitive ability and our spiritual wisdom so we can move out of the prison where ‘nothing except matter exists.’ Giving up our preconceptions allows us to see a wider range of possibilities or to emerge possibilities that we could not even see.

This is an active world; theory must lead to action. We cannot do everything from within because we must engage with each other. We must create the new aspects of the external world that support our future and we must re-engineer our societal systems to reflect the new blend of priorities, the integrative big-picture flows where knowing is more important than emotion. I suggest this is why we are here, why we are the ones with the tools, the great theories and the deep awareness. This is the beginning of days. Let us leap into action, ready for possibility.

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