Something Bigger than Life is Trying to Work Through Us
by Tom Atlee (August 2009)
More and more, I feel called to talk about crises, as creatively
and usefully as I can.
Clearly crises are coming, some are very much here.
Once reserved for the fringes, crisis talk has gone mainstream.
We aren't talking "apocalyptic extremists" anymore. We're
talking the respected chief economist of the International Energy
Agency saying we'll be feeling serious economic impact from peak
oil in the immediate future <http://tinyurl.com/nmemcg>.
We just had four exhausting days of over 100 degree temperatures
in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon -- and new reports say that the
humongous Greenland ice sheet is going to melt, regardless, more
than doubling estimates of sea level rise <http://www.newsweek.com/id/208164>.
A scientist friend faulted me for having a few ounces of fish each
day for breakfast -- which I do for a cardiovascular condition --
because the oceans are dying <http://tinyurl.com/kk3lug>...
We can no longer act as if such information is merely
the hope-curdling pessimism of doom-and-gloomers. It is now our
daily news. But listening to it presents a quandry: On the one hand,
it feels increasingly odd to proceed with life as usual in the face
of it. On the other hand, what exactly are we supposed to do about
The more I delve into the situations we face, the
less I see clear or easy answers. However, in this challenging process
I am coming to realize a few things.
One of the big ones: To the extent our anguish over
the coming crises is a cry for no disruption in our lives -- and
that is certainly part of my own anguish -- I suspect we will not
find any answers, because our business-as-usual patterns
are so closely tied to the destructive systems at work on our planet.
Nothing we do to change our small lives within the business-as-usual
systems will change that disturbing fact. Only changing those systems
But changing a system is a gigantic, long-term undertaking.
More immediate issues confront us. For example: once we face the
fact that business-as-usual is not an answer, a logical next step
is to prepare. But...
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PREPARE?
I consider the options most often talked about in
crisis-conscious preparation circles.
There is the option of personal material preparation
-- of stocking up, gardening, investing in gold, figuring out where
to move, and so on. These are all useful as far as they go, but
when we think them through, they just don't go far enough. Other
people fleeing adjacent areas of hardship would likely seek security
of their own in whatever island of security we've managed to create.
If they are welcomed, they would likely overwhelm our supplies.
If they are turned away, some will try to take what we have.
We can prepare our communities, but the same holds
true there. I do believe that resilient sustainable communities
are part of the future, and are a top priority for our creative
energy (see Transition
Towns). But what about the community next door? What about the
migrants from afar, whose lives have been shattered?
Nowadays it seems to me like there is nothing to prepare
except the world. For most of us, that seems too big. (As bright
spots on the horizon, however, Transition Towns and related initiatives
are making a valiant attempt to do exactly that, from the ground
Of course, since we co-create our own suffering in
our minds, we can develop psycho-spiritual practices that enable
us personally to fully experience disruption and pain without actually
experiencing much suffering. There are ample tools for
that, from meditation to belief-changing practices.
Although such practices help us productively engage
with whatever happens, reliance on them can also beg the
question of what is happening in the larger world, and what it means
for who we humans are together in the Great Story of Life.
IN SEARCH OF BIG-PICTURE TRANSFORMATION
The above paragraphs explore the sort of thoughts
that come to me when I think of saving me and mine. Oddly enough,
they don't excite my life energy. What does energize me -- and it
is a calling filled with struggles, aliveness, and the most remarkable
people I've ever met -- is to center my life on serving that transformation
of the world that is crying to happen THROUGH the crises that are
emerging around us.
When I look at the big picture, I get the sense that
we are part of something larger that is "trying to happen."
What I do with my life is a symptom, a sign of particular energies
that are blowing in the wind. When I seek my own salvation -- and
extend it to everyone seeking their own salvation -- it seems to
me a symptom of The Whole coming apart, breaking into fragments
that think they can survive alone. When I seek the transformation
of The Whole -- the whole society, the whole culture, the whole
world -- it feels like a symptom of the whole of humanity seeking
to heal into something new, feeling its way into a future that is
It feels like none of it is really about me. It is
about the whole, the whole of life, the thrust and intelligence
of evolution working its way through time, through me, through you,
through us all and our world.
BEING PART OF THE BIG STORY
In these times of daunting emerging crises, some truths
that most potently shape my life are these:
The Big Bang is our awesome primal ancestor. We are
its children, its legacy. Its energy is ours, whether we know it
We are the hydrogen dew of the Universal Beginning
that was then forged in red giant stars and exploding supernovae
to become every atom of our bodies and our world.
For billions of years, we've been flowing with every
other particle in the universal river of stardust on an exquisite,
unlikely, painful, magical, and infinitely creative Journey into
the lives and worlds that we live in and are, today.
Over and over, I forget this awesome truth in my seemingly
ordinary everyday life. Then over and over I remember it: Truly
a miracle is unfolding within and around me, moment to moment, hidden
by the camouflage of business-as-usual.
But for better and worse, you and I are on the verge
of business-as-usual tearing itself apart before our very eyes,
revealing the raw truth of evolution here and now in our time, in
our place, in our hearts and minds. Evolution always speeds up in
the verges, the edges, the crises, the between-worlds spaces where
anything can happen....
And we, on that edge, are speeding toward a whole
new identity, a whole new Story of who we are and what we are about.
Today we are the 13.7 billion year evolutionary
adventure dreaming of becoming conscious of itself -- of becoming
knowingly choiceful -- able to evolve by aware understanding, will,
and caring. If we awaken, evolution will awaken.
If we do this thing, everything will be different,
and we will be saved. All together. As a new world.
CRISES ARE DOORWAYS THAT LOOK LIKE HURRICANES
Hidden by our institutionalized not-see-ism, the crises
that are coming are being co-created moment-to-moment by our collective
consciousness, our technologies, our social systems, simply by doing
what they were designed to do. These co-created crises are magnificent
in their complexity, their challenge, and their perfect fit for
our evolutionary awakening, which is underway even as you read this.
They call us to look in the mirror of evolution and see ourselves
clearly, to look at how we have set up our world. They call us to
step out of the box -- for the box is burning! -- and to transform
ourselves and our world by wise choice, creating the path as we
There is no waiting. There are no spectators. We are
It. Our collective systems are what It is about, and we are All
Our emerging crises are a call to become wiser, collectively
-- to become the deep collective wisdom and monumental creativity
of evolution, itself, becoming conscious through us.
To become evolution is to see the vastness of the
Story we are living, a Story of deep time stretching back through
chains of shape-shifting ancestors -- back through families, through
tribes, through animals and plants... back, back through bacteria,
molten earth, stars, galaxies, elemental particles -- back to the
infinitely potent Great Radiance that birthed the universe as an
Adventure, as a Family, as All Our Relations, as Us.
To become evolution is to realize that within the
depths of the emergent Now reside the potent traces of Everything
That Ever Was, shaping our next steps. Everything That Ever Was
is within and around us, calling us urgently to awaken to what is
trying to be born through us. It's Voice -- the Voice of Tomorrow
-- the Voice of the Whole -- is in every one of us.
To become evolution is to wake and know in every cell
that our still-adolescent human awareness, which arose out of evolution,
is creating problems it cannot solve without transforming itself.
It is to know that we, collectively, are both that adolescent
awareness and its transformation.
To become evolution is to wake up to deeper and deeper
awareness that our still-adolescent social systems -- especially
our political, governmental, economic, energy, technological, and
information systems -- all of which arose out of evolution -- are
creating problems they cannot solve without transforming themselves
and each other -- and to know in every cell that they can't
do that without our active, conscious participation. And that that
is our calling at this evolutionary moment.
To become evolution is to wake up to the reality that
we are participants in everything alive and in control of nothing
alive. To become evolution is thus to strive to learn how to be
engaged, wise, creative awake partners with each other, with the
world in which we live, and with the conditions of our time. Crisis
is opportunity on the winds of dangers that can stupify or
awaken us. Crisis is the dangerous breaking of glass that opens
locked windows of opportunity that require perceptiveness and courage
to move through, with care.
To become evolution is to say "We are Life, I
am Life, itself, finding ways to live, ways that work for and nurture
Life. This task is what Life is all about, now and forever. We are
All. In This. Together."
Such big declarations, so much easier said than done.
But such is the Story that makes meaning in my own life right now,
in the midst of emerging crises. My efforts, your efforts, are part
of the human story waking up to find its new proper place in the
Universe Story. Our efforts are not about us. They are not even
about winning or losing, succeeding or failing. They are about the
great Unfolding, which we are.
A FEW GUIDANCES
For some years I have been passionate about exploring
evolutionary dynamics that can be used to change social systems.
In that exploration, Peggy Holman and I stumbled on the idea that
evolution is about diverse entities interacting in nurturing and
challenging contexts to create and sustain new forms of elegantly
simple complexity. Each aspect of this definition now informs my
As evolution waking up, I feel called....
* I feel called to learn more about how to use our
differences and our challenges creatively, not simply as problems
to avoid or solve, but as signs of new life pushing to emerge --
and as invitations into a new, more whole tomorrow.
* I feel called to learn and practice potent forms of interaction
-- especially conversational and economic interactions -- that nurture
deep aliveness and lead to breakthrough. I feel called to notice
-- in my life and the world -- and to respond creatively to those
interactions that generate frustration, violence, and breakdown.
* I feel called to notice the role of contexts, and not take them
for granted. They so easily become invisible background, but they
are so extremely important. For example: spaces, histories,
intentions, worldviews, social systems, timing, the quality of conversation
-- all these are potent contexts. They shape who and how we are
and what is possible. They offer "nonlinear leverage"
for evolutionary work. I feel called to attend to these and to work
with other evolutionaries to shape and weave new contexts into a
wisdom culture, mindful of their power. The contexts we shape will
shape what happens to our children, to the Seventh Generation after
them, and to the children of all species.
* I feel called to seek the deepest, most elegant
and inclusive simplicity on the other side of complexity. I see
that the shallow simplicities on this side of complexity -- the
oversimplifications that don't acknowledge, welcome, and "digest"
the full diversity and nuances of who we are and what we face --
are killing us and our world. I dream of weaving ourselves into
new forms of alive organic complexity that are a simple, straightforward
joy to be dancing in...
I would not give a fig for the simplicity this
complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity
on the other side of complexity.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
CRISIS INVITES US, THEN PUSHES US
I have seen all this over the last few years. We are
thoroughly dependent on systems that are destroying us and our world.
The very designs and beliefs that make them powerful and toxic are
the designs and beliefs that, once transformed, will make us new.
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again,"
said Thomas Paine in another crisis era. "The birth of a new
world is at hand."
I see clearly that the longer we delay needed changes,
the more demanding they will be. The more we delay them, the less
resources we will have to do them. The demands on our lives from
these truths will be increasingly profound and revolutionary. Because
evolution, like water behind a dam, knows where all the cracks are,
and is working on them right now with increasing intensity.
Not changing is not an option any more. How soon we
consciously change -- and how open we are to the Call of the Whole
in and around us as we do it -- will make the difference.
I have seen so clearly that all this is not
about us as individuals. It is not about
issues and candidates. It is not about
good guys and bad guys. It IS about the
larger motions we make together, and
the cultures and systems that shape
Our individual suffering, our fear, our successes
are meaningless transient eddies in the current of Life -- unless
they are part of shifting those larger motions, those cultures and
systems, the Direction of the River.
The meaning of life -- at least of my life -- is increasingly
tied to all this -- to this waking into conscious evolution with
others so that the Profound Possibility that is Larger than Life
can happen through us with sacred beauty.
What is your role in this awakening
from our dream of business-as-usual
so that the remarkable experiment
called human consciousness and civilization
will not vanish,
but thrive to greater heights,
and be a blessing for the world?
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