Stories can help us navigate the inner and outer landscape of our journey. They can help us to see the signs that can guide us, the pathways we need to follow. They can help us to look over the horizon of our immediate circumstances, find the deeper meaning of surface events.
As I mentioned in the introductory podcast, at the present moment the story of humanity and its dynamics of conquest and control are in direct conflict with the story of the Earth and its patterns of biodiversity, a conflict that is destroying the biosphere, endangering our shared survival. Yet amidst this accelerating catastrophe I believe that there is a new story waiting to be lived which returns us to values that are at the core of our human nature—care for each other and for the Earth, as well as the primary awareness of the sacred nature of creation. But how we make this transition to a living future depends upon how we hold the light that is left, and let it guide us through this liminal landscape.
Watching the horror being inflicted upon Ukraine—civilians bombed, children traumatized, atrocities committed, cities become ruins, as well as the many acts of courage and kindness—I sense that this is a pivotal moment in our collective story that reaches far beyond Eastern Europe. I will try to follow the threads of this story.
I would like to tell a story about the end of the world. Not the end of the world as we know it, a world of supermarkets and cars, of airplane travel and pizzas. But the end of a light that has sustained humanity for millennia. The light that creates the spark in a child’s eyes and the dreams of a teenager. The light that gives birth to a symphony or a haiku poem. This is the light that has taken us on our long migrations across continents, enticing us to discover what is over the horizon, inspiring us to create symbols, and, for the foolhardy, has drawn them into deep meditation, places of silence and emptiness far beyond the mind and its thoughts. This is the light that was a gift from the gods, or stolen from the gods, depending on one’s mythology.
Here, on this planet, this light from the gods was combined with the light within the Earth, what the alchemists called the lumen naturae. The light within the Earth helped give birth to life’s myriad forms—from the microscopic organisms that left their mark over three and a half billion years ago, to the beauty of a butterfly’s wings, the cry of a screech owl, the fragrance of a jasmine flower. Through this light creation danced and sang, proliferating in a myriad of ways, expressing life’s ever-changing and evolving unity. And then, when the light from below combined with the light from above, human consciousness was born. And this meeting and union came with a covenant, also known as the Original Instructions: that the purpose of this awakening consciousness was to know and praise what is sacred within creation—to live in prayer and thanksgiving.
And so it was for thousands of years as we walked the Earth, sang Her songs, learned to pray in a variety of ways. We were all a part of One Living Being that spoke and sang in innumerable voices. Our dreams were interwoven, our lives in harmony.
But then, gradually, for the majority of humanity, we forgot. We forgot this primordial covenant. We forgot how the patterns of creation were woven both into the Earth and our own souls. We forgot how we are all a part of this One Living Being, both whole and holy. We began to walk our own path, thinking, believing ourself separate from the world around us, from the ground under our feet. We even believed that we were superior, apart from nature—that we had “dominion over” the Earth. Gradually the light from above and the light from within the Earth no longer met and danced, no longer united within our hearts and souls. Our consciousness ceased to be a part of the great love affair that is creation.
And now a quality of this light is fading, and no one seems to notice. We look around, caught in the many images created by our present civilization—the pictures on our smart phones, the signs in shop windows—and we do not notice what is missing: how an essence of life is no longer present. We no longer remember the weaving together of the inner and outer worlds, how everything carries a message and meaning of the Divine. If we do remember, it is just as a story repeated by Indigenous Peoples or written in spiritual texts. It is not a remembrance held in our breath, or the way we place our feet on the ground. It is not a remembrance felt in the rain on our face or the wind bending the branches of a tree nearby. We do not realize that we are dying, that we are a part of a dying world.
We may have learned that there is an ecological crisis, a climate crisis, with droughts, fires and storms, rising seas. We may have become aware of species becoming extinct, as we lose wild places, forests full of biodiversity, hedgerows where wildflowers once flourished. But these are just the outer signs of a light that is vanishing, of a primal joy that is being lost, of the song of creation hardly heard.
And when this war came who knew what it really meant? There have been so many wars over the last half-century, so many people killed, so much devastation, always tears and blood. But this war was different—evident in the way its shadow covered half the world. People might speak about fighting for democracy against autocracy, freedom against oppression, fighting for our very humanity. And we could see the split around the world, where the story of the war, its unprovoked horrors, atrocities, could be told truthfully. This was one of the most photographed and documented conflicts in history, with images shared on social media, TikTok and Telegram. And yet for many this truth could not be spoken, the images of the war were stolen, suppressed. Bodies were left in the street and truth was left to die. And this was how the war seemed. But it changed everything, it changed the quality of light in the world. It determined how the future would dance.
Why now, why this war when so many have been fought? Because this is the decade that will decide the future of humanity and our shared journey together with the Earth. This is what the climate scientists tell us, especially those looking at carbon emissions and rising temperatures—the “do or die decade.” What the scientists do not realize, what their instruments cannot read, is how our relationship to the natural world is part of a larger story, the story of the sacred awakening within the Earth and what that means. We are beginning to recognize some of the patterns of interconnection in nature, and how our human behavior has compromised this interdependence. But the way the inner and outer worlds reflect each other remains a mystery.
Most previous civilizations were founded upon a relationship to the sacred, however it was expressed. Their creation myths did not begin with the Big Bang Theory of science, but the presence of the Divine, of Skywoman falling to Earth, of the Great Spirit, or the many gods and goddesses. They lived in a world in which the numinous reality of the inner world, and the meaning of its symbols, infused daily life. The world of the senses and the world of mystery were part of a living whole.
As the presence of the Divine unfolded through time, so the stories of humanity were written. Even through times of conquest, even when distorted by patterns of belief, a sense of the sacred remained. The most beautiful buildings were temples and cathedrals, the temples of Angkor Wat encompassing almost five hundred acres. But then this thread was lost, this covenant broken. Which is where we are now. Having lost a living relationship with the sacred nature of creation we stand on the edge of the abyss of climate crisis, knowing only that it is accelerating faster than we could have predicted. And because we have lost this thread, we think only in terms of carbon particles and degrees of warming, not of the light that has been lost, the sacred meaning of life that has been abandoned.
Sadly, tragically, because we see the future, even the unfolding present, in the images of our minds, in the patterns that are familiar, we can no longer read the book of life. We do not know its symbols, our rational selves have no place for the signs that are already around us. We have even forgotten how to read the patterns of the natural world, the meaning of the sunflower’s spiral, the shape-shifting clouds of a murmuration of starlings, or the sequences of change as the Earth warms. The natural world may be “the first book of revelation” but because we have lost the knowing of how to read this book, we cannot see what is happening. Thinking in the images of science we miss so much that is sacred, how what is hidden reveals itself. Nor can we understand the present patterns that are unfolding around us. And so we are blind as we stumble into this future, where the stories of science and technology we believe can sustain us are written in a language that is part of this dying, that has helped to cause this crisis. And as we cannot recognize what is happening, we can neither dance nor dream. The sacred circle has long been broken.
As the future unfolds outposts of light will remain, small enclaves, often hidden, or seeming so ordinary that no one notices, except of course the angels, they always notice. They see what cannot be seen, where the visible and invisible meet, where the seeds of the future might be planted. Where the songlines are. And with the light that is left we need to know what can be saved, what virtues to pass on, what dreams belong to our destiny—what is already written and what is yet to be written.
There is a living future waiting to awaken out of this dying dream. There is a pathway to follow, and signs to lead us there. There is a place where the worlds come together and magic can be born. Not the magic of computers which has dazzled us, but closer to the Earth magic that long ago whispered to us the secrets of creation, the language of the animals, the songs of the birds. But this magic will be different because it is born outside of time, beyond the rise and fall of the tides and the cycle of the seasons. It will have within it not just the names of creation but also the spark of the stars. The awakening world will be different in ways we cannot imagine, even as it opens its eyes after the darkening years.
Sadly, none of us alive today will live to see this awakening, when the song of creation will be reborn. But if we listen carefully, with a heart attuned to love, we may hear its music, still hidden, embryonic, like the sound of a flute carried on a distant wind. We may sense that there is another way to be, not born of discord or dreams of power, but where the soul and the senses are in unison, and presence is not a spiritual practice but a simple way to be.
Watching the bombs and missiles demolish the cities of Ukraine we can see the acts of this darkness as it destroys a way of life, simple ordinary life—taking the children to school or the playground, sitting in a café with friends and a glass of wine. We can see the power that betrays our shared humanity. And we can recognize what life is telling us, how this is a part of our collective destiny, the story of refugees in shelters and tears and kindness. The basic struggle for life among the ruins.
For now we have to wait and watch, seeing both the growing darkness and the light that remains; the dream that is dying and a dream waiting to be born. We have to hold the threads of love that connect us, and the acts of care and generosity that express this love. Over the next years the darkening will tell its story, that of a world without foundations, and a climate catastrophe born from our own greed. We will watch our present civilization fall apart, and wonder if it could have been otherwise.
© 2022 The Golden Sufi Center, www.goldensufi.org