Article Faith

Global Challenges Are Directing Us Toward a Unity of Purpose

We find ourselves awash in oceans of misinformation, with millions detached from reality. The world endures a pandemic that has fully exposed lingering social and economic injustices. Current adversities make opposing forces even more pronounced, resulting in deeper divisions everywhere.

This historic “dark night” of the collective soul requires us to pause, reflect, and take the action needed. We are well into the throes of a great shift in the way we relate to each other and the planet we share. Signs of a collective leap in consciousness are clear, as is the necessity of applying a universal framework of ethical standards and shared values for the good of the whole.

We have critical choices to make in this moment of transformation. Will we allow polarization to further divide us, or will we walk toward cooperation and unity? Will we leave behind an adolescent way of relating to others, or will we embrace living in harmony with all others? This is our moment to choose the future we want to live in.1

A Holistic Vision

Serpent Lava Fountain Tree | Jung’s Red Book

There is no quick answer, or easy fix. The periodic transformation of consciousness needed for our unfolding evolution depends upon the difficult work of confronting our shadow side, individually and collectively. As Carl Jung made clear, “The way to wholeness is made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings. It is a snake-like path that unites the opposites.” The transformative process of our collective awakening has been in motion for many decades; we are the agents of its fulfillment.

A holistic vision of evolution and consciousness sees a purpose to these turbulent times. Cycles of transformation and renewal punctuate our evolutionary progress, as we see in this year of lockdowns, demonstrations, and confrontations. Yet, all the divisions that natural differences create are essentially due to an incomplete investigation of truth. This can result in extreme antisocial orientations and behavioral patterns that support separation, create hierarchies, and endanger our very survival. On the other hand, an unfettered search for truth leads to a prosocial orientation and actions built upon a consciousness of wholeness, which also fulfills our innate potentiality. Consciousness is designed to evolve toward wholeness and unity.2

Symbol of unity from Jung’s Red Book

Living by a consciousness of wholeness prioritizes the whole, engenders a response based on harmony and cooperation, and places a unity of purpose above all else. At the same time, a consciousness of wholeness acknowledges our diversity of views, appearances, and contributions to the whole as our sustaining strength.

This consciousness calls for a complete shift in how we relate to reality. Seeing  beyond the illusion of separation allows us to focus on the one reality which is already a unified whole. Anything currently dividing us is also a catalyst for uniting us. We saw this last summer when the streets filled with people calling for racial justice and deep systemic change. A convergence of forces is building like never before. As we join hands across differences, we seek to heal a great divide in the human family.

A New Cycle of Human Power

In so many ways, this is a new Day. A relentless pandemic, and an even more pervasive pandemic of a profound loss of faith, are propelling us to the very edge of familiar life. We attempt to preserve control by replaying old power games, or fabricating conspiracy theories. Yet, each next day of new threats pushes us further into unknown territory. Our perceptions of reality are being reshaped.

We can keep holding on to what we know, or we can summon our courage and leap toward an expanded perception of the material, social, and spiritual reality we are living. We could choose to rise above our sense of self-doubts and reach for a new sense of sacredness. We could re-imagine our place in time and space and recast the rhythms of our lives to reflect a new world being born.

Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form?
When within thee the universe is folded?

If we do feel limited and vulnerable, perhaps even puny, under a mask of ok-ness, when we quiet our racing minds, remain still, and turn our attention inward, we hear a deeper rhythm, a core that speaks quietly but firmly.

Turn thy sight unto thyself that thou mayest find Me standing within thee,
mighty, powerful, and self-subsisting.

From that core, we know it is not right to hate, to turn a blind eye on suffering fellow humans, to cast judgments, to sneer, to live without discipline and integrity, to blindly go along with what ‘everyone else is doing’. We know we can act with conscience, rather than across party lines. We know our planet urgently needs us to change our lifestyles, or fires, hurricanes and other natural calamities will keep intensifying. Within us, we know what is true and what is real.

Faith is Essential

In our collective adolescence, arguing our differences was more important than listening for common ground. Discipline and character got discarded as old-fashioned limitations to the individual’s freedom of self-expression. Savvy technology is what we put our faith in. When we found that nothing holds, we end up swimming in a sea of addictions and apathy. Conflict reaches its climax in adolescence, and neither institutions nor individuals appear trustworthy. Our public life has massively forfeited rational inquiry and integrity, embraced fabrications, and become defined by the lowest common denominator of expediency. We are left bereft of anything to put our faith in. And life without faith is only existence, permeated by self-defeating ego, and collective dishonesty.

Faith in something that matters most to us, in our ability to become better humans, in our collective will to live more honestly together, whatever that may be for us, is what sustains us, gives us hope, and inspires us. It’s time to admit that we cannot live and thrive without a faith that strengthens our backs and gives us the fortitude to do right. It is time to redefine and reclaim faith.

Faith is what withstands scrutiny, fosters on-going self-regulation and development of the mind, contributes to the growth of discernment, and cultivates a spacious, attuned, and generous heart. Such faith is infused with comprehensive and encompassing spiritual, material, and social understanding of the evolutionary and interdependent nature of consciousness and life, and of the law of love driving this evolution.3

We have to ask ourselves: does the faith I live by truly make me more coherent in both heart and mind, more loving, compassionate, disciplined, trustworthy, generous, and service-minded? Does it allow me to engage in rational consultation with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, and build trust and good will? Does it strengthen me to withhold judgments and reactivity, and remain constructive through the harder negotiations and choices? Does it encourage my mind to engage scientific perspectives? Does it strengthen my heart’s ability to perceive an underlying oneness in all our diversity?

If the answer is ‘yes’, such faith can sustain us to leap forward into the qualitatively more complex decisions before us in this global millennium. It can allow us to build new unifying collective centers across our diversity, so that we can transform planetary turbulence into a new level of order.

New Collective Centers of Unity and Illumination

We have always depended on collective centers of illumination. But the collective centers of the past – tribe, religion, ethnic group, country – have all proven too limiting to solve the problems of a global age. We now have to recognize that our underlying oneness is foundational, and our diversity represents the divine wisdom in forcing us to become better humans in dealing with each other.

The collective centers we need now have to embrace the best of our past traditions and rational development while drawing on everything of value in our collective history – the mystical vision, the most comprehensive religious guidance for societies, the vast knowledge and skills in the physical and the social sciences, and the best of our collective experience in creating more just forms of governance. Viewing all of this human heritage in a spirit of finding greater unity among us will lead to a more comprehensive and holistic evolutionary approach to fulfilling the promise of justice for all, and for the planet.

New centers of collective illumination for a global millennium can equip us with unity of vision, unity of purpose, and unity of action across our diversity. The most reliable process developed so far in moving toward such collective maturity and a new level of collaboration is consultation.4 It is a spiritual approach, different from conversation or debate, that invites the individuals involved to first find a spiritual attitude of detachment from strong personal opinions and positions, and to bring forth open and loving minds and hearts. The consultative process is entered into with a measure of humility and readiness to both express perspectives and also hear deeply and understand the perspectives of others. Moderation in speech and deep listening are encouraged.

Such a process can create conscious communities, and social spaces without borders. It can develop in every individual the integral spiritual and social skills for collective governance.5 Everything in this new Day is pointing us forward.

Holistic Solutions

In all ecological communities, continued destruction can lead to a condition in which the normal “succession” of patterns of adaptation are destroyed and can no longer rebuild that system. We may be facing such a breaking point very soon.

Even after the global cataclysms of two World Wars, and their many attendant economic and sociological challenges, the world returned to those structures and norms previously in place. The newly formed global organizations and inter-relationships—from the United Nations to many others—adopted modes of operation based on national and cultural sovereignty. Their agreements, visions, and strategies remain non-binding, without consequences for non-compliance. The result has been a blatant failure to achieve their projected goals or expectations. This has led many to question whether our current norms of global practice can actually address the breadth of the critical challenges that face us.

In contrast, people who focus deeply on these issues have elaborated multiple holistic and comprehensive design solutions for addressing our future– the Integral Vision, Spiral Dynamics, Prosocial World (from Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom’s design principles), Building the New World, The WholeWorld-View, Whole Systems Solutions, Good of the Whole, Conscious World Citizens Essential Shift, Conscious Business, Design Thinking, Partnership Consciousness, Regenerative Design, and the Earth Constitution, to name only a few.6

Thus far, these forward thinking and visionary ideas have largely remained influential only within academia, or in limited circles. The fulcrums of power and policy – (1) national sovereignties and self-serving autocracies and dictatorships, and (2) the nonbinding nature of international agreements – stand strongly in the way of their implementation. The result is that by constantly returning to the broken norms of old systems, “the problems are being embraced as the solutions,” as Albert Einstein warned against when he said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

The paradox here is that without an awakening of consciousness in all human beings, not much can be achieved. A clear example, from our COVID era, is that the very nation that prides itself on personal freedoms and human rights, the United States, because of its highly decentralized social and governmental structures, appears to have had the most ineffective response to the COVID pandemic– with the largest per capita cases and deaths. When dealing with rampant health risks especially, a holistic approach to a solution is absolutely essential. The complexity of this problem needs cooperative centralized planning, and a vision for a sustainable, prosperous future.

Even such international visions as the United Nations Strategic Development Goals, the global climate accords, global health initiatives, and others, need to be not only binding and enforceable but also approached and fully carried out as a holistic endeavor.

Finding Ways to Make This Happen

The critical need of taking this seriously was recently stressed in a deathbed message from the celebrated western spiritual leader Fr. Thomas Keating delivered to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This message addresses the range of needs for radical change in both structures and consciousness, concluding with these poignant words: “We need to find ways to make these really happen.”7

The challenge is finding ways, in the face of the formidable fulcrums of power and policies in the world, to first mainstream, and then carry out global holistic solutions. If we cannot do this the consequences are quite clear.

We can put some realistic faith in at least two possibilities.  One is the overall effect of incremental change, across the “collective centers of illumination” mentioned above. For example, even within the overall lag of the SDG vision and implementation as a whole, innumerable elements of the goals are being realized through the accomplishments of hundreds of thousands of NGO’s and service organizations serving all around the world.

The second is our hope that this essential shift in consciousness will rapidly accelerate and mainstream the realization of evolutionary design principles as a matter of public policy around the world. A popular moniker for this sequence of essential transitions, joining required inner and outer work, is “Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up, Showing Up, Linking Up and Lifting Up,” precisely the title of a publication for the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions.8 The Parliament theme was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change”. Indeed, the world’s interfaith and interspiritual movements have made important contributions in the last decades.9 The biggest challenge is still how to get those in the positions of power and polity to implement, in real time, holistic and comprehensive design principles on a global basis across all areas of planning and policy. The tragedy for our planet at this critical threshold would be that answers to our challenges were actually available but no one heeded them.

When breaking down the unfolding of this collective process of transformation, we usually recognize the interaction of two opposing forces. One is destructive, contributing to the breakdown of old, worn out systems of hierarchy and separation, and the other is constructive, leading toward a new holistic system. The good news is there is an often-overlooked third force always present as well, an overriding Creative force, or Divine impulse, as seen through the lens of a spiritual/religious worldview.

This is good news because this third force is also seen in the direction of evolution itself. Science and spirituality agree, as the current understanding of natural selection shows, that groups – and nature – will in the long run select for what is for the good of the whole. Modern science confirms that evolution, because of adaptation, follows an overall positive direction, which also accounts for why altruism evolves in nature.10 Evolutionary biologists, who say that “evolution is optimism itself,” see a synchronicity in joining the principles and direction of evolution with the conscious choices that humans can make in driving social and cultural evolution.11 It is up to all of us to “get in the driver’s seat” and proactively make choices that align with the evolutionary impulse itself.

Unifying Values and Principles

Humanity “needs a star to follow,” or “standards by which we can direct our steps,” as systems thinker Ervin Laszlo has said. This is also good news because, as he notes, these are already present in “the great ideals of the world’s religions,” and as compiled in the declaration A Global Ethic, by the Parliament of the World’s Religions. These universal values and principles, along with the UNs Sustainable Development Goals, agreed upon by 193 nations, are what will ‘direct our steps’ toward the shared vision of peace on earth, where our evolution of consciousness is already leading us.

A new story of wholeness and unity is emerging, in which bridges are being built across boundaries to form a global community and create a culture of peace.12 Our collective awakening, in conjunction with the current global challenges and the lessons of the pandemic, reveals our greatest need: planetary unity. Solving effectively the critical issues of our time – caring for the planet itself, healing racial injustices, bridging economic extremes, establishing the equality of women and men, ensuring universal education, and building healthy and sustainable communities – requires a unified, holistic effort.

While we are all on the same sea, some are in superyachts and others are clinging to the floating debris, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted. The hard work needed in building centers of illumination worldwide is a collective process of reflection entered into with an open, loving, and kind heart, listening more deeply across differences, to find, ultimately, that we are more alike than different.

Seeing through another’s eyes allows compassion to emerge, from which a spark of understanding brings forth the common ground of truth, upon which we find a new path to reconciliation. This is how we transcend the illusion of separation and live into the unifying story of our time in which we are all at least 50th cousins. Establishing a sense of belonging to this community of the whole, and building the necessary trust in it, is the work of a generation. Let us begin now; we have no time to lose.


[1] See Atkinson, Johnson, and Moldow, eds. (2020) Our Moment of Choice: Evolutionary Visions and Hope for the Future, Simon & Schuster.
[2] See Atkinson, (2017) The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness, Sacred Stories Publishing.
[3] See Mustakova (2021), Global Unitive Healing, Light On Light Press.
[4] The power and comprehensiveness of the consultative approach, and the role of collective centers of illumination are described at length in chapters six, seven, and eight of Global Unitive Healing.
[5] Global Unitive Healing focuses on integral individual and collective skills for a global age and provides ample examples of such consultative processes under way.
[6] The Education Synergy Circle of the Evolutionary Leaders ( has published a more complete list in a free e-book:  Ulfik, Johnson and Winters, Eds.  2021.  Universal Principles and Action Steps.  New York, NY:  Light on Light Publications.
[7] This letter has not been made public; it is quoted here as read by the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamshala, India, Nov. 1, 2019, delivered by Kurt Johnson at the request of relevant clergy of St. Benedict’s [Trappist] Abbey, Snowmass, Colorado. The sentence quoted here was originally written in boldface.
[8] See Johnson, Winters and Ulfik [Eds]. 2018. Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up, Showing Up, Linking Up and Lifting UpConvergence magazine GPWR Special Issue:
[9] See Kurt Johnson article in The Interfaith Observer, “The Growing Edge of Interspirituality”,
[10] See Kurt Johnson article in Kosmos, “Evolving Toward Cooperation: David Sloan Wilson’s New Evolutionary Biology”,
[11] 2019, Mind & Life Conversation with the Dalai Lama and David Sloan Wilson,
[12] See Atkinson, (2017) The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness, Sacred Stories Publishing.

About Kurt Johnson

Dr. Kurt Johnson has worked in professional science and comparative religion over 40 years. A prominent figure on international committees, particularly at the United Nations, he is author of the influential book The Coming Interspiritual Age (2013) and two award-winning books in science: Nabokov’s Blues (2000) and Fine Lines (2015). Learn more about his work at

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About Elena Mustakova

Dr. Elena Mustakova ( , ) has dedicated her life’s work as an educator, psychotherapist, social scientist, and a spiritual being to the transformation of human consciousness. For the past 35 years, she has accompanied diverse populations in North America, Europe, Africa, and the Arab Peninsula on the path to claiming our nobility, and developing resilient and mindful relationships to others and our world.

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About Robert Atkinson

Robert Atkinson, PhD, author, educator, and developmental psychologist, is a 2017 Nautilus Book Award winner for The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness.  He is also the author or co-editor of eight other books, including Our Moment of Choice: Evolutionary Visions and Hope for the Future (2020), Year of Living Deeply: A Memoir of 1969 (2019), Mystic Journey: Getting to the Heart of Your Soul’s Story (2012), and The Gift of Stories (1995).

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