Article Keynote

The Teachings in a Time of Intense World Crisis

Cover image | Meandering wadis combine to form dense, branching networks across the stark, arid landscape of southeastern Jordan. 

How interesting to be devoting an issue of Kosmos to the Ageless Spirit, honoring both the vast body of wisdom teachings that have been passed down through the centuries AND those many wise elders (including some who are young in years) who are today bringing fresh insight to these teachings as they apply to the mind and heart of our age.

And what an age it is! The world right now, in all its intensity, can seem to be a chaotic complex of contradictions, conflicts, stresses and tensions. And as time goes on it only seems as if this intensity is mounting. As we become increasingly aware of how interdependent we are as a species, crises in the body politic are, not surprisingly, coalescing – mirroring that interdependence. As Oxfam International Executive Director, Amitabh Behar, recently declared while speaking at the UN, we are facing “a poly-crisis: a climate emergency, a cost-of-living crisis, an inequality crisis, a crisis of democracy back-sliding”. Readers of Kosmos recognize that the coalescing crises in society and international relations are also reflected in every profession, in science and technology and, most importantly, they reach into the depths of the psyche of our most private and intimate lives. As communities, nations, peoples and as individuals we are in crisis.

So, what’s going on? How does this chaos in the world affect our relationship with the great Wisdom Teachings that have played such a critical role throughout human history? Is the Ageless Spirit simply a way of escaping from the ‘real world’ and turning our backs on all the gritty questions of our age, as some might suggest? While of course the inherited wisdom of the ages can be approached in a whole variety of ways, some of which may be disempowering and escapist, I think that something different is at play here. If there is one thing that most teachings agree on it is: what’s wrong with crisis? Crisis transforms. Bearing in mind the oft quoted thought ‘never waste a good crisis’ – this is a time to welcome and appreciate breakdown as a sign that some sort of existential change is on the way. It’s a time to shift our focus and direct our attention to signs of breakthrough.

More than anything else, the intensity of these times challenges us to deepen our own orientation to the Real – and to our intelligent appreciation of future evolutionary possibilities that are being worked out in our lives and through our lives. And that is why the Wisdom Teachings are so important right now. We are being called to really think – and to explore what it means to think for ourselves, rather than be molded in our thinking by either the fears and insecurities of those around us, or by loud voices seeking to persuade us of one ‘right’ way of responding to these times. The Teachings give us a new map of Reality, and a way of seeing that spirit is alive and at work in all the matter and substance of our lives. It is then down to us how we interpret these teachings in the face of today’s realities.

Evolution, as I understand it, is pushing us all to think and feel in fresh and quite new ways. A reorientation to the Real (with its limitless dimensions of Joy and Beauty, Love and Purpose) is about going deeper so that our intelligence, creativity, and instinctual behaviors can be more oriented around and inspired by depths of wisdom that lie within us and can drive the emergence of an entirely new culture where science, religion and spirituality can become whole again and mystery, spirit and myth re-emerge in all the professions and social organisms.

Ancient wisdom that has been passed down through the ages has the power to lift modern thought into a new fascination with time-honored qualities like selflessness, healthy self-forgetfulness, sacrifice, service – all the ways in which the love of the soul truly breathes in and through our lives and our cultures. Only a serious, deep encounter with the ancient wisdom teachings (in their diversity) has the power to do this.

There is a purpose that lives in our soul or Essential Self, our own unique Buddha Nature. And in this moment of crisis that deep purpose is pushing itself, at times quite forcefully, through into the awareness of more and more of us – as individual units as well as into the shared thinking of groups and networks. That pushing into awareness can be a source of disorientation as everything we thought was real and true and substantial begins to be seen in a new light. To counter this, visions, goals, and disciplines must be re-discovered and re-envisioned.

It is here, as we rediscover what it is to be human in a world in transformation that the Wisdom Teachings of the ages can be seen to be so vitally important. For the teachings, considered as a whole body of thought – a perennial wisdom with a wealth of myths and stories and insights into the Real – are what give our minds and our hearts access to the new consciousness that is coming in. We need these maps and guides to help us navigate afresh our way out of materialism and into some new and as yet undefined culture of synthesis where the material world and the spiritual world sit together in a more creative and enriching way.

This sort of process of realignment can inspire a quiet persistence and an almost timeless sense that everything (absolutely everything) is about unfolding qualities of relationship: between personality and soul or vision, identity, thought and emotions; between individual and group; between groups; between kingdoms of nature; between the Earth and the Cosmos.

While the notion of Emotional Intelligence is now well established in thoughtful conversations we are still not so familiar with what Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall refer to as Spiritual Intelligence: the “intelligence with which we access our deepest meanings, values, purposes, and highest motivations. It is how we use these in our thinking processes, in the decisions that we make, and things that we think it is worthwhile to do …. Spiritual intelligence is our moral intelligence.”1  It is here that the Wisdom Teachings become our guides and protectors. They provide us with an understanding of how, through individuals and groups around the world, the mind and soul and spirit are again coalescing in ways that are already shaping a new world.

As Ian McGilchrist reminds us “attention is a moral act”. As more and more of us develop a long-term encounter with the wise teachings of the ages we are developing the muscles and discernment needed to navigate our own authentic ways of attending to the world and to the relationships within the world. And, I suspect, that many of us are doing so in response to the intensity of the crises of this time.


Return to Ageless Spirit Contents Page

1.    Daana Zohar and Ian Marshall, Spiritual Capital: Wealth We Can Live By. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler. p.

Earth, Our Eldest Teacher

In a remote part of the Western Desert in central Egypt, highly eroded plateaus rise from the desert floor. The bright speckles are ancient dry lakes
Vivid colors belie the arid landscape of northern Chile where the Atacama Desert, one of the world's driest, meets the foothills of the Andes.
This scar on an arid landscape is the dry riverbed of the Ghadamis River in the Tinrhert Hamada Mountains near Ghadamis, Libya.
In an area north of the city of Al-Basrah, Iraq, which borders Iran, a former wetland has been drained and walled off. Now littered with minefields and gun emplacements, it is a staging area for military exercises.
Like frantic brushstrokes, fire scars cover the arid landscape near Lake Amadeus in Australia's Northern Territory.
One glacier on Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean surprised scientists with its rapid change. In 5 years, the ice tongue doubled in size. In this inverted rendition, land is blue and fractured sea ice appears tan across the top of the image.

All images | US Geological Survey

About Steve Nation

Steve Nation who has worked for much of his adult life with World Goodwill and Lucis Trust offices in New York and London, is co-founder of Intuition in Service and the United Nations Days & Years Meditation Initiative. He distributes a monthly newsletter on global events and conferences, ‘Please Hold in the Light’. Steve is a member of the Council of the Spiritual Caucus at the United Nations, and he takes a special interest in the work of the Darjeeling Goodwill Centre and the Darjeeling Goodwill Animal Shelters in India. .

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