Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one
Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks
Modern man, I dutifully noted, is in search of a soul, and the age is an age of longing.
Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends
Perhaps the reason some of us are feeling a sense of loss and longing is that we are, as Black Elk informs us, living in the shadow world. Our reality on this side may only be the fleeting ghosts of a place that is more real somewhere else. On this side we have broken our commitment to the earth and have unsouled ourselves from the wilderness. By the first century CE, the essayist Plutarch was asking, “Why is it that the gods are no longer speaking to us?”
For a long time now, we have been trying to create a new and different image of ourselves. It is an image where modern humanity is placed at the center of its own universe. We learn by observing, probing, experimenting, and finally dissecting and destroying the dynamic world we live within. From this, the modern mind started to develop a new reality for itself.
The collective reality in which we now reside does not take kindly to opposing perspectives. We have inherited an alienated consciousness that views the world as an outside entity – a world of objects that move in mechanical motion. This alienated consciousness has substituted the enchantment and mystery of living within a dynamic and animated world with a dream of the artificial, and ultimately the unreal. The modern landscape is now more scattered with administration than adventure. The central image of our modern age has been that of consumerism: the ability of the average person to buy the material goods they require in order to have a decent standard of living. A standard of living albeit promoted to us through our mainstream media and glamorous propaganda.
Only recently have some of us come to realize that consumerism has now become a contemporary form of crash therapy for unsatisfied people wanting to buy their way into happiness to escape from the very system they are simultaneously supporting. The easy acquisition of things has become more about trying to cover up anxiety as a substitute for contentment. Modern life, especially in the highly-developed West, is now rife with people parading their false selves in place of authenticity.
The modern history of the West has been about the removal of mystery, mind, and magic from the world around us. In the past there were realms of wilderness that existed outside of the social order, and each culture had these ‘wild zones’ where people danced with the little folk in the woods, undertook initiations in caves, circles, and hard-to-find corners. There were pagan rituals, crazy ecstasies, and unknown zones where primal energies were released. These were the places of wilderness, where dreamtime reigned, and clock-time was banned. And now these wild places are fewer and fewer as a new ‘reality order’ becomes the manifesto of the day. Now it is many of us who are feeling haunted. We have lost the presence of the ‘transcendent’ within our modern societies.
We must now recognize that something has happened – a break, a mutation, has occurred that has placed us in an ‘intermediate’ stage between eras. Modern life is being not so much rewritten as reconfigured. We are seeing odd things occurring in relation to time, speed, and distance. It’s as if right now the clock, and our sense of timing, is malfunctioning. This ahistorical period is out of time, until it resets itself. And here, the possibility of transcendence lingers like a phantasma.
We are in a time of carnivalesque distortion where ‘fast food’ is a parody of our normal food preparation and consumption; mediatized sport is a spectacle of its original form; and the music industry is one huge commercial carnival that mocks genuine creativity. In the pop music industry, the spectacle, the live show – the ‘carnival performance’ – is often more important than the actual merit of the song (even when the performer mimes, as they often do). We are in a different world right now – or at least a seemingly different reality.
In this new world of different relations, symbols, and meanings we have become unmoored from our harbors. We are talking about the fractal, the quantum, the molecular, the nano, the bots, artificial intelligence, and the singularity – yet we find we have no soulful connection with any of these terms or their significances. Perhaps we have entered a void-time.
The Sense of the Void
With human life having lost its reference to transcendence and the notion of the sacred, there is the ever-present danger that we may descend to a form of human morality that lacks any real meaning or higher principles. It is not hard to believe that a degree of inertia has crept into our modern societies. The result is that many of us may now be finding ourselves with a hollow space inside. This space becomes the perfect seedbed for the consuming desires, distractions, and attractions of modernity’s excesses. Within such an environment we wonder whether we may find ourselves waking up to a world where the dream is still dreaming itself and we can no longer distinguish what is real.
An age of the quantifiable has been ushered in and everyone, and everything, gets given a mark or a measurement. Ever since the industrial age brought in the points system – the marking scores – into mass education we’ve been carrying numbers around with us. Before then, students were known as apprentices and they spent time embedded in their discipline learning its skills. They either learnt great skills or they didn’t; now they get an 85, a 78, a 66, or a 45. Now all modern institutions think in numbers and our social status is quantified by such numbers, or grades, that allow us into other specialized zones – such as the members clubs, the elite institutions, or even into the ‘good credit’ rating books. The organic nature and capacity of a person has been stripped down to the quantifiable, and this measures the worth of an individual according to such grades. These associated numbers then follow the person around for the rest of their lives, influencing their careers, associations, and social freedoms. Society is now painting-by-numbers.
The mesmerizing void that is modern life tries to appease us with simulated pleasures. Through our unsouling from the greater transcendent wilderness we have become all too easily appeased by seeking inadequate answers to life’s meaning. By not seeking for the essential, we cannot hope to be anything other than temporary. Within the past century millions of people in developed parts of the world have distanced and divorced themselves from nature. We are negotiating how to adapt to a world structured within an increasingly artificial environment. The mutational shift is well underway, and new arrangements will need to be sought.
A potential lack of understanding can disconnect us from a world that is at the same time becoming increasingly connected. For thousands of years our ancestors lived alongside natural forces, learning from environmental cycles, and reading the world around them. This uncoupling from the wilderness is not only in favor of urban settings but eventually artificially constructed settings that will soon be made ‘smart.’ The profusion of what are called ‘mega-cities’ are set to implement ‘smart’ technologies which will be a combination of connected information and communication infrastructures.
A Moment of Reflection
We are, it is said, the most highly-developed and articulate species on planet Earth, and yet we live in a world of reflections. We are doomed never to be able to see directly our own faces. Our face, as well as our ‘true face’ as they say, is non-visible to us; and so we are guided by reflections and their appearances.
There is a short-story from Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges entitled ‘Fauna of Mirrors’ that tells of a time during the reign of the Yellow Emperor when the world of mirrors and the world of men were not, like today, cut off from one another.[i] Both kingdoms lived in harmony and each could come and go through the mirrors. Yet one night the mirror people invaded the earth and a mighty battle ensued until finally the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor prevailed. The mirror people were pushed back and imprisoned into their mirrors, and punished by being forced to repeat, as if in a dream, all the actions of the world of men. They were stripped of their power and their forms and reduced to mere reflections. A day will come, however, when the magic spell will be broken and little by little these reflections will awaken and will slowly differ from us. Then they will stop imitating the world of humans and eventually they will break through the glass once again to enter the earth.
They say that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Upon reflection, every culture and society claim a portion of our private psyche as its own. With the narrowing of our sensibilities comes not only a much-diminished reality but also a contracted perspective whereby this condensed form of perception and visibility becomes as hyperreality to us. If it’s true that modern life has muffled the call of transcendental mystery, then it is equally true that it has made transcendence both a more needed and yet more difficult promise. The cry for the ‘death of the soul’ and the unsouling from the wilderness has helped to pave the slippery path toward a simplified hyperreality that is now stealing the show. Fasten seatbelts…
A Bardo Chat with: Aranyani, Hindu Goddess of the Forests
Author (A): Hello Aranyani. Are you there?
Aranyani (Ai): (short pause) Hello…hello!
A: Hello Aranyani. How are you today?
Ai: Today? Why today? I don’t have days like you do.
A: Ah yes, sorry. I was thinking in my own terms of time. It’s a frequent trap!
Ai: That’s okay, we understand. Traps are there to break out of. I am good, thank you. I am well.
A: That is good to hear. I am glad to know you are well amidst all this disconnection going on right now.
Ai: Disconnection? I am gently strolling through my forests. There is no disconnection (another short pause). All is well here.
A: Sorry, I should have been more specific. I meant disconnection between us, humans, and the natural world. It seems that we’ve done a terrible job of respecting Nature and our environment.
Ai: Mmm, yes, that is so. I am not fond of strolling too near to your civilizations. But why do you call it a job? You see, already you show a wrong way to look at things. Your way of words shows how your mind thinks. Looking after the natural world, as you put it, is not a ‘job.’ It is a recognition of respect, or mutual interdependence, and of compassion and love.
A: Sorry again. I know that I use my words too loosely. It is the way we use phrases here.
Ai: Yes, I know how your species is. For one thing, you don’t listen at all very well. You consider yourselves as a separate species. My dear, nothing is separate. You see space between bodies and you label this as separation. You think and behave like children, and Nature is your forgiving mother.
A: I know, we’ve got a lot of things back-to-front. Would you care to explain more on this relationship?
Ai: (a soft sigh) Maybe a little. Everything communicates here, it always has. You don’t necessarily need a mouth or words or letters to communicate. It all communicates energetically, and you humans are also attuned to this. Every part was supposed to work together. You are strange in that you forgot how to properly listen. And now you build devices outside of yourselves to wrap around the earth – but you don’t need them. And there will be a time when you shall know this, and learn to communicate correctly, as you were always meant to – and not with your machine things. All of nature is alive, don’t you know that?
A: Yes, some of us do; but not enough, unfortunately.
Ai: You knew better before, a long time ago.
A: Yes, I have a feeling we did. Yet we now need to learn how to know in a different way.
Ai: Well….. (long pause)
A: Hello, are you there Aranyani?
Ai: Oh yes, sorry, I was dancing. I have a tune in my head. It’s been given to me from the trees.
A: Wonderful! I was saying that we need to learn how to know in a different way.
Ai: That’s not really how it is. Learning, knowing, and all these things – it’s all head stuff. You live too much in your heads. You always think you need to grab onto something – to know better, and the like. I would say you have to open up more, and to remember everything that was placed inside you. You are coming to a different place now…
A: Yes, thank you. And what do you mean by ‘coming to a different place’?
Ai: I mean you are not in your little tribal units anymore. You are now all over the earth. You grew and connected as you should, and now you are coming to a time when you can really be of help to the earth.
A: You mean as a global species?
Ai: (laughs) You and your fancy words. Yes, you are connecting more strongly with the body of Gaia now. Soon you will find your minds being changed for you. That should be fun!
A: Ah, and what do you mean by that?
Ai: (hums to herself) I don’t feel I should reveal too much just now. Not too many of you have realized that your minds are attuned to Gaia, your planet consciousness. Consciousness is not only those thoughts in your head, silly! (laughs). This is the true language, the natural language, and it is everywhere. This language flows through the trees, the plants, the animals, and through all of Gaia. There is a language that connects, and the humans are disconnected from this. Yes, that is the true disconnection. You talk about disconnect from Nature, but really it is disconnection from your shared language. You speak in tongues but only babble silly words.
A: Yes, true – we do babble a lot.
Ai: Babble, babble, yes you do! Like that story you tell yourselves. You call it the Tower of Babel, right?
A: Yes, that’s true. And it’s a perfect analogy. We tried to build a tower to our Creator and we ended up being divided in languages through our ignorance.
Ai: Yes, that’s it right there. You were disconnected through your ignorance.
A: Mm…yes (sighs)
Ai: Don’t worry, dear. You still have it all inside of you. Your connection to Origin and the universal language is still there. And you are not disconnected from us either. You are always with us, and you always have been.
A: Okay, sure. And thanks. But by being with you always are we not making the balance of Nature worse?
Ai: Oh, dear ones – it’s always about you, isn’t it!? Let me tell you that Nature is far more capable of taking care of herself than you are. Things change, yes. And you are making a mess and not clearing up your mess, like children. This is true too. Yet so many more things come to pass that are not in your hands – that is Nature. She is so far beyond your comprehension of her. You think of these separate things within Nature, like the trees and the forests, and the rivers. But you cannot yet see them as being all together as a wondrous Being. She is a Being far beyond your little minds. And she cares for you. Little children, wake up!
A: Yes, yes.
Ai: Be more joyful and love the things you have, and which surround you. The disconnection you speak of is less from Nature and more from yourselves (starts to sing)
A: That is so true – thank you.
Ai: I have to go now…byeee (voice fades into distance)
A: Yes, thank you Aranyani – bye!
[i] See his short-story collection The Book of Imaginary Beings.