Recently I learned a new word, polycrisis, described as converging environmental and societal disruptions that trigger a “runaway failure of Earth’s natural and social systems.” Is this the moment when collapsology enters our lives, as our society begins to implode, caused by climate crisis and unsustainable economic growth? Should we follow the simple advice to “collapse now and avoid the rush.”
Watching the signs in the outer world, as well as recognizing that we are at the end of an era—not just of fossil fuels, but of a way of life that is destabilizing the ecosystem—should we plan for the end of our world? Or is this just another example of attempting to control our future, escape the intense and growing vulnerability of the present moment when so much is uncertain?
There are many differing responses to the challenges of the present time. The voices of climate denial, backed by the fossil fuel industry, have been very vocal over the past decades, their simple rejection of an impending crisis and promotion of the belief that our way of life can continue indefinitely. But equally subversive are the voices that we can “green the economy,” continue with our present energy-intensive, materialistic culture through technological fixes. These voices have distorted the idea of sustainability, referencing it as “sustaining our present way of life,” rather than referring to our relationship with and impact on the biosphere. They envision giant wind or solar farms as a viable answer, without concern for the whole ecosystem. Or we can plan for a low energy, carbon neutral “post-growth” world, possibly one that includes the collapse of our present society.
However, among the many voices exploring how to build a better future, I have found that most lack a simple ingredient—they do not ask the Earth. The voice of the Earth Herself seems central to any sustainable future, one that includes the more-than-human world. Yet because we have separated ourself from the Earth for so long we no longer know how to either ask or listen to the Earth. We have censored the organ of perception that was central to our human journey for millennia. But how can we walk into a living future without returning our consciousness to the Earth, without “rejoining the Great Conversation,” otherwise we are only “talking to ourselves,” continuing with the ethos that has placed humanity as separate from the Earth, which lies at the root of this escalating “polycrisis.”
How we make this transition back to the Earth is one of the primary questions for this present moment, even if most contemporary voices do not even include it. In these podcasts and my recent writings I suggest that there is a “hidden pathway” to follow that can lead us back to this awareness, which is not so far away even as it seems so alien to our rational consciousness. And if only a few walk this pathway, rediscover this connection and so rejoin the Great Conversation, it will help us at this time of transition.
However, I believe that there is another important quality needed: to be able to live in the intense vulnerability and insecurity of this present time, in the space between stories. Our culture, long invested in the pursuit of “doing” has forgotten the potency of “being.” But there is a need to be present in this liminal space, where everything is uncertain, without planning for a future that may never happen. This can be considered as similar to the Taoist practice of wu wei, action in non-action, a state of being in which we are in alignment with the natural patterns of life’s unfolding.
For seven years during my thirties I journeyed deep into the archetypal world, the energy structure underlying our conscious world.[i] I was shown the effect our present culture was having on the powerful forces that exist there, for example how the archetypal feminine was blinded by her tears, the pain and sorrow caused by our patriarchal culture, and how this stopped her from sharing her wisdom. I saw how the Lord of Time, known to the Greeks as Kronos, was imprisoned by our fixed relationship to time as a linear progression of minutes, hours, and days. While in the unfolding of time the seasons relate to the galaxies, and the ebb and flow of galaxies is like the tides of a great ocean—always moving, changing. Each moment of our days forms part of this great pattern, a woven texture mirroring the flow of life.
I was also shown how this inner landscape was changing, how powerful forces deep in the collective unconscious were shifting. And how a new archetype that belonged to our future was emerging. The archetypes, the gods and goddesses of old, which Carl Jung rediscovered as existing within our psyche, are the great determining factors, the “river beds of life.” He wrote:
… our personal psychology is just a thin skin, a ripple on the ocean of collective psychology. The powerful factor, the factor which determines our whole life, which changes the surface of our known world, which makes history, is collective psychology, and collective psychology moves according to laws entirely different from those of our consciousness. The archetypes are the great decisive forces, they bring about the real events, and not our practical reasoning and practical intellect…. The archetypal images decide the fate of man.[ii]
The new archetype constellating in the depths has a quality quite different to the other forces. For example, a previous civilization may have been primarily influenced by the god of war, expressed through sword, battle and conquest; or a goddess of the Earth, sharing her generosity, the gifts of the harvest. But this emerging archetype is defined by being a space rather than a form, a space where everything has its own place and is known according to its true nature.
This emerging archetype first appeared to me in the form of a child with stars in its eyes, “as beautiful as the first light of morning,” and in it the names and purpose of each living thing is known. It knows everything in its newborn wholeness, and nothing is excluded. In the eyes of this child each atom of creation has its place in the unfolding music of life, and it is a living symbol of harmony and wholeness.
This emerging symbol also appeared in the form of a tree, which reaches from the earth to the heavens. It draws its water from the depths and gives shelter to all living creatures. This tree of life is born from the center of our being, for in the coming age we will return to the sacred source, which is the heart. Yet to call it a tree is in some ways misleading, for it is more a space than a form, a sacred space where each thing can be itself and reveal its true purpose, a garden where everything can flower in its own unique, individual way. And with this emerging archetype came a song:
Over the horizon comes the sun of the new dawn. It meets the sun in your heart and they sing to each other. This is the song of the new creation, when the outer will sing to the inner and the inner will sing to the outer. There will be such a power in this song as had never been known before. You carry this meeting within you and you see it in each moment of your life. It is as hard as a diamond and as soft as the petals of a flower, and it can never be taken away for it is a gift.
These images hold the promise of a future as yet unlived. If we are to bring this energy into our lives and communities, we need to be able to hold this space where the inner and outer meet, where something new can be born. This child lives both at the source of life and in our everyday world, even as it points to how the inner structure of our world is changing.
In the decades since I first saw this child, heard this song, our outer world has grown darker, ecocide increased, until today’s young people fear for their future being stolen by corporations that care only for profit. This is not the future I had hoped for, even as I still carry the seeds of rebirth, still see this inner beauty and wonder. But the changes taking place in the archetypal world are visible in how we are coming to the end of an era, even as we do not know how or when the dawn will come. What is essential is being able to hold this space of unknowing, where the future is not yet defined.
A space is not constricted by the forms of the past or the dreams of the future, but can come alive from a different dimension, from a place outside of time. A space where there is no hierarchy, but unfolding patterns of oneness, where all the threads of existence can be woven into new forms, new ways of being, new connections. But to hold this space in the rising darkness and devisiveness of the coming years will not be easy, amidst the forces that are gathering in our world.
As events constellate in our outer world we can see how we are in a time of polycrisis. But it can be helpful to look deeper, to recognize how collectively we are walking along a fault line. There are vast pressures building up under our feet, primal powers in the depths which have been moving for centuries. The fault line on which we are walking is the place where two eras meet. When one era ends and another begins, forces of a whole different magnitude collide. Because these energies move so slowly, constellating over centuries, we do not fully recognize the enormous scale of what is taking place.
A physical earthquake occurs when two geological plates collide. The fault line is where the plates meet and the pressure erupts, breaking through the fragile surface of the earth that up to that moment seems so immovable. The real earthquake will come as the forces of the inner world break through the surface structures of our lives. The inner forces of the archetypal realm are as powerful and as hidden as the physical forces that create continents. Sometimes they erupt in the collective psyche in wars and migrations, shaping our collective destiny. They can cause immense suffering and destruction, as when the Mongol hoards swept across continents, or bring freedom, as in the sudden fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Europe.
We can see the immensity of the present moment in the climate and biodiversity crisis, how the coming decade can shape future centuries. And although we need to respond to this crisis, we also need to hold a space for the future to emerge from the inner worlds. That is why most of our present plans are so limited, because they can only conceive of the future in the images of the past; concerned with the future of our present civilization, they are holding onto the past.
We do not have to save or protect our culture. We do not have the power to resist the dynamics of change. Nor do we have to create a new culture. We have neither the energy nor the knowledge for such an undertaking.
But we do have a responsibility: to listen, to love and be loved, and to open our awareness to what is really happening. We have to accept that we cannot save the planet, just as we cannot defeat the forces despoiling the Earth. The planet is a living being that can heal itself, with our love and cooperation.
The danger arises when we do not notice the signs. If we are too identified with the old ways and our position or identity within them, we will miss the chance to pack up a few possessions and move on. Restricting an emerging archetype will only lead to disaster. It may appear for a few years or decades that one can hold back the tide, clinging to one’s old values and images of security, but a life based on denial of the real forces at work is often haunted by a sense of unreality, as must have been experienced in the last dying days of the Roman Empire. Or today in the strange dynamics of the culture wars that seem mainly patterns of avoidance, remaining within a nostalgic dream. At this time there is also an instinctual unease, a primal insecurity, which no amount of anger or denial can dispel.
We need to acknowledge that something is happening beyond our control. One of the features of our patriarchal culture is a desire to control our environment, and as a result we are fearful of what we cannot control. We are terrified of chaos, although anyone who has experienced real transformation knows that chaos is a necessary ingredient of true creativity. Without an element of chaos life stagnates. And this is present in the radical uncertainty of the present time.
But there is also a wisdom of what is unknown, undefined, of space rather than form, as in the teachings of Lao Tsu:
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
My understanding is that it is how we hold the space of the present time that will determine our future. In this space we can reconnect to what is sacred and help midwife the forms of the new era. The colliding forces in the world around us and under our feet will create insecurity, but this is also part of the energy of transition, freeing us from many patterns that limit us, breaking down structures that inhibit the flow of new life.
Once I was given a symbolic glimpse of this future in which we are the dance and the love and the song:
Slowly a curtain has been raised onto a new stage. Your own life is this stage. Yet even the idea of a stage is a limitation because it belongs to the world of form. The stage of the future is not a form, it is not a frame. It is a quality of closeness, a quality of intimacy, a quality of being touched, of allowing yourself to be touched. It is a quality of sharing something most secret always, of being shown something most secret always. It really has to do with freeing yourself from so many restrictions that are totally irrelevant because they belong to another time.
Just stand in the middle of the doorway that is yourself. Just stand there. A quality of magic is being slowly infused into the world. It is this that will change the world. It is this that will heal the world. It comes through people, not through places, ceremonies or incantations. It comes through people who just stand as a doorway, as a space; who are open themselves to be opened…
A new star is being formed, held together at first by tenuous threads. This star is slowly coming into being without anybody noticing, otherwise they would disturb this most precious process. It has been hidden, but it is already here.
Just below my house, as I look to the bay, lies the San Andreas fault line, one of the largest in the world. We know how the ground that seems so secure can easily move. Our peninsula is moving northward, its rock formations come from over three hundred miles to the south. Here, beside the fault line, I also live in a space where the inner and outer meet, where I can sense the changes in our collective psyche, what is waiting to be born, even if it may take generations. Here the earth and the sky are my companions, the rise and fall of the tide my clock. Each day I watch the wetland fill with water which then recedes. I wonder at this moment in our collective destiny when the future I was shown decades ago is so near and still so hidden, silently waiting. It is easy to see the crises constellating around us, harder to hold the uncertainty and welcome the child with stars in its eyes.
[i] See Archetypal Journeys.
[ii] C.G. Jung, Psychological Reflections, ed. Jolande Jacobe, p. 39.