August 10, 2013

Err in the Direction of Kindness

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers at 9:08 am by tiffanyannbrown


kindnessI read a great piece this this morning from New York Times bestselling American writer George Saunders entitled  “George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates,” which has apparently gone viral.  In reading through the address, there was one section in particular that stood out to me:

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us. Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

What I enjoyed about this portion of the speech is that Saunders focuses on what luminaries like Gandhi, Lao Tzu, and Mother Teresa have known for centuries: that kindness expands to include everything.  Because that is such a large statement, below are a couple of quotes on kindness from notable people across the centuries, which offer some insights into this concept:

  • “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” ― Jean Jacques Rousseau
  • “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” ― Lao Tzu
  • “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James
  • “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ― Aesop
  • “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

The more wisdom achieved, the more likely it is for people to come to the realization that kindness plays a much more important role in this world that one might initially think. While this goes against most of which is unconsciously taught in American culture (“every man for himself”), kindness is something that I believe each person inherently knows has value, and is something each person must work out on his own and experience for his or herself before understanding the true rewards and dividends it pays.

An Amazing Example of Kindness

Of the many “enlightened” people I know who have caught on to the concept of and true importance of kindness, one example stands out above the rest. I have a co-worker currently battling her third round of cancer who has maintained a blog about her experience for years now. In a recent post, she discussed how she celebrated her 38th birthday. In light of cancer, the way she chose to spend her birthday was not with a fancy dinner or wild weekend getaway. Instead, she decided to perform 38 random acts of kindness for her 38th birthday. She writes:

Today was honestly the best birthday I’ve ever had! I realized that it is so easy to bring joy and smiles to other people. I’m so grateful that I was able to complete this list and I encourage everyone to try doing something life this. Today was the greatest gift of life!

And to better illustrate her continued plight toward incorporating kindness in her life and its unspoken benefits, just last week she wrote a post about attending a Dave Matthews concert in which she talked about the many neat things that happened at the concert. Despite being very sick and encouraged not to travel, she wrote: “on the ride I told everyone they had to give one random act of kindness at some point during the night to get our karma back in balance. Apparently that worked because I met a few random angels that night … more to come.” You can read that post here.

Kindness is Catching On

I’ve been fascinated for some time now about how the concept of  how “kindness” is catching on across America. First and foremost the concept of “conscious capitalism” comes to mind, which is a movement in the business world whereby companies have begun to incorporate as “Benefit Corporations.” According to the B Corporation web site, benefit corporations give business leaders legal protection to pursue a higher purpose than profit, and they offer investors and the public greater transparency to protect against pretenders. In short, benefit corporations are manifestations of corporate-level kindness and an example of how business leaders are realizing the importance of kindness at a higher level.

From the Conscious Capitalism web site, there is a quote that reads:

Pioneering naturalist John Muir observed that ‘when you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.’ Such is the case with business, which is an intricate and interconnected web of relationships.

In short, businesses are recognizing the interconnectedness of the world around us and seeing that kindness, or giving back rather than taking from, is the basis of what makes the world go round.

Think Kindness 

In a similar fashion, there is an organization based in Reno, Nevada known as “Think Kindness” that also continues to intrigue me. The founder recently gave a TED talk where he talked about how he went from working a “suit and tie job” to founding a non-profit based on the concept of “kindness.”  You can learn more about his story, here (begin at 4 minutes and 25 seconds):

While the goal of the Think Kindness organization is simply to inspire acts of kindness around the world―of which you can read more about the many ways in which it is doing so through its web site―there are also now tangible ways of tracking kindness for those wanting to incorporate more kindness into their lives, or for those wanting to track the ripple effect that random acts of kindness have throughout the world for themselves. Learn more about “kindness cards,” here.

Practicing Kindness

There have been many studies done recently linking the practice of kindness and compassion to such health benefits as less stress and anxiety, a strengthened immune system, lower levels of harmful stress hormones, and increased vagal function, which has been associated with efficient regulation of glucose and inflammation, as well as lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes.  For these reasons and all of the others listed so eloquently in  the George Saunders speech noted above, why not kindness? When all else fails, err in the direction of kindness.

June 4, 2013

Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Series

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, The Mystics, Theologians tagged , at 7:51 pm by tiffanyannbrown


It’s been nearly two years since I last wrote a post on this blog – hard to believe. Around the time I wrote my last post, I recall that Oprah was just getting ready to launch the first episode of her new self-help and spirituality series known as “Super Soul Sunday,” which premiered on the OWN Network back in October of 2011. At the time, I had been listening to her Soul Series podcast on iTunes and thinking about how neat it was that Oprah was giving some air time to such interesting and progressive thinkers as Eckhardt Tolle and Jill Bolte Taylor. But I didn’t realize how soon she would be taking everything so mainstream (and to her credit, for these are important topics).

As might be expected from any modern day media mogul, in approximately two years time, the original podcast has extended into an extremely popular TV series supported by a flashy web site that includes a blog and catalog of videos, which has also led to a strong social media following with nearly 50,000 followers on @SuperSoulSunday’s Twitter account and 119,000 likes on the Facebook page. She also has a great list of books that have been featured on the series, which you can explore in more detail here.

Super Soul Sunday FB

According to a recent press release about the series, Super Soul Sunday features exclusive interviews and all-new conversations with top thinkers, authors, filmmakers and spiritual leaders. Exploring themes and issues including happiness, personal fulfillment, wellness, spirituality and conscious living, Super Soul Sunday presents an array of perspectives on what it means to be alive in today’s world.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out the show yet, I highly recommend that you do. As of today Oprah has hosted dozens of speakers on her series, people I originally first heard about mainly through Tami Simon’s “Insights at the Edge” podcast and other non-traditional avenues like the Omega Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The discussions she hosts not only raise important questions and new ways of thinking about the world, but bring certain well-accomplished, lesser known, and thoroughly inspiring individuals to the forefront of mainstream dialogue.

March 7, 2011

Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now

Posted in Philosophers tagged , , , at 1:01 pm by tiffanyannbrown


I recently came across Eckhart Tolle while listening to an Oprah Soul Series podcast. I was instantly intrigued for two reasons 1) Oprah mentioned that everyone who visits her home automatically receives a copy of Tolle’s book, The Power of Now and 2) prior to writing this book, Tolle was a depressed vagrant living on the streets of England, contemplating suicide until he decided that “he” could no longer live with “himself.” Upon making this statement, he suddenly realized that the “I” and the “himself” were at the same time one but not one of the same. This realization spurred an “inner awakening” and transformed his way of thinking, allowing for him to break free of his negative thought processes and embrace that which he essentially was. Tolle states:

I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void. I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness,” just observing and watching.

Tolle writes that “the most significant thing that can happen to a human being is the “separation process of thinking and awareness” and that awareness is “the space in which thoughts exist.” Tolle says that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” Below is an introduction from Jim Carrey:

According to Tolle’s web site, at the core of his teachings lies the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution. An essential aspect of this awakening consists of transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. Below is an interview with Tolle from ABC News:

Tolle mentions that 98 to 99% of our thinking is repetitive and in fact, a lot of our thinking is negative. He says that the ego is habitual and compulsive; many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. Therefore, people who are lost in their thoughts not only consumed by the ego but inevitably unable to fully and consciously enjoy their lives. He writes:

The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not ‘the thinker.’ The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.

Though nothing Eckhart’s really telling us is new, I recommend this book for anyone who needs a fresh perspective on how to achieve genuine peace and happiness in their lives. Borrowing heavily from the concepts of Buddhism, Tolle meshes together wisdom from a variety of different religions to piece together a clear and modern-day approach to understanding spiritual enlightenment.

Link to the webcasts from Oprah’s Soul Series are located here.

November 16, 2010

Huston Smith: A National Treasure

Posted in Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, Theologians at 10:22 pm by tiffanyannbrown


Huston Smith is perhaps one of the wisest, most charming, and insightful men that the good world has ever had the pleasure of knowing. Now in his 90s and living in a Berkeley, California-based assisted living home, he is still married to his wife, Kendra, of nearly 70 years. Having grown up in rural China alongside of missionary parents, then quickly rising up the academic ranks while teaching at such schools as Washington University, M.I.T, Syracuse, and Berkeley, Smith is perhaps best known for his traipsing around the world to discover the unique varieties of religious experience while at the same bringing insight and understanding of such lesser-known traditions to the West. This man has literally seen and done it all.

I was first introduced to Huston Smith, as most college students were, when assigned to read one of his books, The World’s Religions (which sold over 2.5 million copies), during an “Introduction to World Religions” course in college.  Never before had I been presented with such a clear and colorful, concise and vividly written account of the world’s religions. As a result, I became completely captivated with this author, especially after watching portions of his five-part PBS special with Bill Moyers, and went on to read additional books of his including Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief, Beyond the Postmodern Mind: The Place of Meaning in a Global Civilization, and most recently Tales of Wonder: Adventures in Chasing the Divine. (For a full list of books he has written, click here to visit his Amazon.com page.) In Why Religion Matters, Smith argues that religion is humanity’s greatest asset because it provides us with aspiration, hope, and courage. In Beyond the Postmodern Mind, he distinguishes between the “traditional” worldview that placed God at the center of the universe; the “modern” view in which science ruled; and the “postmodern” view that doubts whether the universe makes sense at all. In Tales of Wonder, he documents his extraordinary travels around the globe that have taken him to some of the world’s holiest places, where he has practiced religion with many of the great spiritual leaders of our time.

From a May 2009 San Francisco Chronicle article entitled “Huston Smith: Rock Star of Religions,” below are some of the reasons why I find him so interesting:

His autobiography is a dizzying tour of a singular life. Smith was there when the 1945 U.N. charter was signed in San Francisco. He met Mother Teresa, interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt and invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Washington University in 1956. Seeking enlightenment, he took mescaline with Timothy Leary and peyote with an Indian shaman. He counts Saul Bellow, Aldous Huxley, Pete Seeger and the Dalai Lama among his legion of friends …  and late on the night before the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, he arrived unsuspectingly in Beijing for a conference on Chinese philosophy.

In addition to his books, Smith has (luckily) given many interviews and lectures. Being an ordained Methodist minister, I came across an interview on the United Methodist Church web site where he discusses his faith story. I found his answer to the question of why he has remained a Methodist after having been exposed to so many of the world’s religions interesting. He stated:

I’m often asked why have I stayed in the Methodist church when there are so many other denominations and even other religions which I have studied and venerate. I take my answer from his holiness, the Dalai Lama, whom I have had a very deep friendship with for 35 years and I heard him ask whether conversion to another religion was ever appropriate. He said, it’s better if you can stay within your own tradition because you are imprinted with its form, and its music, and its literature, and Christmas carols, and the like. However, if you’ve been bruised by your tradition, your religion, why then, it is a good idea to look into others and possibly converting. Well, I have never been bruised by my church. I disagree with some of the policies, but just as we can disagree with the policies of the current American administration and still be an American, well, it’s the same way with me.

The link to the full interview is available by clicking here.

In May of 2000, Smith lectured at Duke University on “Why Religion Matters” where he outlined some of the major ideas from his book. Though not told in the rapid, bullet-point fashion of most lectures and presentations given today, and not accented with any flashy graphics or visual representations, I promise that if you listen to this lecture you will not only find wisdom in his words, but such beauty in his expression of them. Smith was in his early 80s at the time; if we could all only aspire to be like him!

In looking back across Smith’s life, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason that his life has not served a uniquely divine purpose given the coincidences of his interactions with famous cultural icons in American history combined with his presence and involvement at various key events. For a truly enjoyable read and a full outline of his life experiences and lessons to date, please check out the aptly named Tales of Wonder and feel free to share any thoughts here!

November 1, 2010

The Matrix in Terms of Authenticity and Heidegger

Posted in Philosophers tagged , , at 10:02 pm by tiffanyannbrown


In 2005 my professor Greg Tropea gave me a copy of his dissertation from his PhD program at Syracuse University (where he received an M.A. in Linguistic Theory, an M.A. in Religion, and a PhD in Religion and Cultural Symbol Systems) entitled Religion, Ideology, and Heidegger’s Concept of Falling. Having opened and closed the book several times over the past five years due to a fear of its challenging vocabulary, I recently decided to pick it up again and give it a try, if for no other reason than to honor the note left on the inside front cover, which reads: “Tiffany – with recollections and anticipations of fine insights. Keeping the faith, Greg.”

In Religion, Ideology, and Heidegger’s Concept of Falling, Tropea provides an analysis of German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of “falling” in Being and Time, the 1926 book that attempts to decipher what is meant by the phrase “to be.” Central to Heidegger’s framework is his idea of authenticity vs. inauthenticity. According to Wikipedia, authenticity is defined as follows: “In philosophy, the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.” Hence “falling” would be the act of caving into the external pressures of society that distract us from both getting to know and staying in touch with our true selves. In the case of “The Matrix,” it would be choosing the “blue pill” over the “red.” Tropea writes:

In authenticity, says Heidegger, Dasein chooses itself and wins itself, while in inauthenticity, Dasein chooses the public interpretations of the ‘they” and thereby loses itself … To Dasein’s state of being belongs falling. Proximally and for the most part Dasein is lost in its ‘world.’ Its understanding, as a projection upon possibilities of Being, has diverted itself thither. Its absorption in the ‘they’ signifies that it is dominated by the way things are publicly interpreted. That which has been uncovered and disclosed stands in a mode in which it has been disguised and closed off by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity.

In slightly simpler language, Jennifer McMahon discusses authenticity in “The Matrix” from the book entitled The Matrix and Philosophy:

Virtually all existential philosophers speak at length of the sort of choice Neo makes between honesty and ignorance, or truth and illusion. Though some use different terminology, they tend to describe it as a choice between authenticity and inauthenticity. Existentialists define authenticity as a state in which the individual is aware of the true nature of the human condition. In contrast, inauthenticity is defined as a state in which the individual is either ignorant of the true nature of reality or in denial with respect to it.

I find it interesting that Tropea wrote his book long before the popular 1999 movie “The Matrix” was ever conceptualized as there were references within his book that brought to mind ideas from the movie. “The Matrix” underscores this Heideggarian idea of being “lost” in the world, living inauthentically, and falling prey to they “they” (in this case, technology) that dominates the thinking of humans and the way that their world is fundamentally interpreted.

In Tropea’s chapter on technology, he discusses how technology can work against us when it comes to living authentically, but how it can also provide us with the ability to get lost in order to be found again. He writes:

Through its unplanned distancing of beings in their Being from authentic or resolute Dasein, technology in some moments forces Dasein away from its (that is, technology’s) matrix narrative in its one-dimensional world … Technology provides humanity with the possibility for factical existence grounded in the authentic resoluteness that Dasein achieves with the grasp of death as its ownmost possibility. It provides the occasion for Dasein to see how it can lose itself and how it can choose itself.”

To better clarify this concept—if not familiar with the movie—below is a synopsis from the book entitled The Matrix and Philosophy, specifically from the chapter entitled “Popping a Bitter Pill: Existential Authenticity in the Matrix and Nausea”:

The film depicts a future state, when, after a long and world-ravaging conflict, computers conquer the human race and enslave it as their energy source. The Matrix is the virtual reality created by the computer that both placates, and maximizes the energy output from, the human subjects who lie captive in a vast complex of energy pods. While the billions inside the Matrix exist in blissful ignorance of their true condition (as immobilized, expendable energy cells for the artificial intelligence that dominates earth), a small number of individuals are free of its digital illusion. Unlike their captive counterparts, these individuals are painfully aware of humanity’s authentic state. They constitute a resistance force that seeks to undermine the oppression by the Matrix. As a result, they live on the run from the computers that attempt to annihilate them.

And, below is a link to the original Matrix trailer:

Is it any wonder that the Matrix Reloaded had the second biggest opening weekend of all time in box office history? While some people may attribute the movie’s success to it’s visual effects and fight scenes, I would contend that it was the scriptwriters’ ability to connect with the culture at a much deeper level (albeit subconscious for most) that was responsible for its success.

October 21, 2010

God in New York!

Posted in Philosophers, Theologians tagged , at 10:27 pm by tiffanyannbrown


A good friend recently introduced me to the American author, speaker, and Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller who wrote the book The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism and founded the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City where she used to attend (lucky girl!). As a result, I listened to a 2008 lecture he gave at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA regarding his book, which you can view here:

A very impressive and knowledgeable speaker, Keller lays out the reasons for believing vs. not believing in God, pointing out that the argument for God is better than the argument against God, supported by material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology, and a multitude of other disciplines. He further mentions that the primary reasons for believing vs. not believing in God are either due to intellectual, personal, or social factors. For example, one might be drawn to a particular religion because they can identify with a certain group of friends who all subscribe to the same belief system, while another may have a personal experience that suddenly spins that person onto the path of belief vs. non-belief. Overall, it was very refreshing to hear this pastor speak, and I would highly recommend taking the time to pick up one of his books, or at the very least, listen to one of his lectures.

In a similar vein, there is also an Episcopal church out of Manhattan called Trinity Wall Street that has been putting on a National Theological Conference for the past 40 years.  In the year
2000, I remember sitting in on a live broadcast of their “God at 2000” conference, which was being shown at one of the auditoriums on the California State University, Chico State campus. I had intended to sit in and listen to just one speaker to obtain my “extra credit,” but ended up staying for the entire day to listen to all of the presentations! That year such captivating speakers as Karen Armstrong (a British author of numerous works on comparative religion, who first rose to prominence in 1993 with her highly successful A History of God and a former Roman Catholic nun); Marcus Borg (an American Biblical scholar and author); Diana Eck (Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard); Lawrence Kushner (a Jewish Rabbi based out of San Francisco); Hussein Nasr (Iranian University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, and a prominent Islamic philosopher); and Desmond Tutu (a South African activist and Christian cleric who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid) gave speeches. Overall, it was very refreshing to witness such theological scholars come together to participate in an open dialogue, despite their obvious on-the-surface differences. To learn more about the Trinity Institute, its national conferences, and to view video clips of past speakers, click here.

In closing, just for fun … in case you’re not sure what faith you are, there is a resource that can tell you. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic™ will tell you what religion (if any) you practice … or ought to consider practicing. You might just be surprised!

Please click here to take the quiz.

September 3, 2010

Food for Thought

Posted in Philosophers tagged , at 10:32 pm by tiffanyannbrown


From an article entitled “Time and Impermanence in Middle Way Buddhism and Modern Physics,” by Victor Mansfield of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Colgate University in New York (click here for link to full article), here is some food for thought!

If phenomena don’t independently exist, then how do they exist? The Middle Way tells us that they dependently exist in three fundamental ways. First, phenomena exist dependent upon causes and condition. For example, carrots depend upon soil, sunlight, moisture, freedom from rodents, and so forth. Second, phenomena depend upon their parts and attributes. A carrot depends upon its greens, stem, root hairs, and so on. Third, and most profoundly, phenomena depend upon mental imputation, attribution, or designations. From the rich panoply of experience, I collect the sense qualities, personal associations, and psychological reactions to carrots together and name then or designate them as “carrot.” The mind’s proper function is to construct its world, the only world we can know. The error enters because along with naming comes the false attribution of inherent existence, that foundation for desire and aversion.

I found this article quite interesting because it provides a new way of thinking about what something or someone really is – dynamic and ever-changing as opposed to static and definable. And interdependent as opposed to independent. The author also illustrates the point that a single person or possession can mean many different things to many different people.  Who or what then is this person or that thing? Nothing more than the sum of its associations? How does what we think about or how we think in general affect our own realities? What can we do to change the way we think about things and people in order to live a more purposeful and constructive existence?

Though the point of the article was actually to draw comparisons between Buddhism and modern physics, I found it enjoyable on a variety of levels, but mostly because it points to the idea that everything on Earth is interconnected from the level of science. The author also touches on such concepts as the theory of relativity, its link to our concept of what time really is, as well as the theory of Boltzmann’s box which proved that atoms cannot exist separately even when isolated.  He writes:

In contrast, we could ask what happens when our philosophic view embraces the false notion of independent existence. The late David Bohm, known for both the depths of his physics and philosophy, said it very directly when he wrote:

‘It is proposed that the widespread and pervasive distinctions between people (race, nation, family, profession, etc., etc.), which are now preventing mankind from working together for the common good, and indeed, even for survival, have one of the key factors of their origin in a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and “broken up” into yet smaller constituent parts. Each part is considered to be essentially independent and self-existent.’

According to Bohm, many of the evils of our modern world are traceable to a view where “Each part is considered to be essentially independent and self-existent.” In other words, one in which things inherently exist. I tried to show above that, although we commonly assume for simplicity that a system, such as Boltzmann’s box, is independent from its surroundings, such a view misleads us. This is bad enough in physics, but when a race, nation, or person views themselves as fundamentally independent, then the stage is set for calamity—the stuff of our daily headlines.

Click here to learn more about Middle Way Buddhism.

August 28, 2010

The Myth of Progress vs. The Myth of The Fall

Posted in Philosophers tagged at 10:39 pm by tiffanyannbrown


More than ten years ago now, I remember reading an essay entitled “The Great Initiation” by Richard Tarnas, a Harvard graduate famous for his book, The Passion of the Western Mind. On his web site, I recently came across another interesting article entitled “Is the Modern Psyche Undergoing a Rite of Passage?” In it, he discusses the idea that our society and world is at a fundamental crossroads in human history.

Below is a quote from the article (I’m going to quote heavy because he does a better job of explaining than I could do myself):

If we examine many of the intellectual and cultural debates of our time, particularly near the epicenter of the major paradigm battles today, it is possible to see looming behind them two fundamental interpretations, two archetypal stories or metanarratives, concerning the evolution of human consciousness and the history of the Western mind … One could be called the myth of progress, the other the myth of the fall.

More on the “Myth of Progress”:

The first, familiar to all of us from our education, describes the evolution of human consciousness, and particularly the history of the Western mind, as an extraordinary progressive development, a long heroic journey from a primitive world of dark ignorance, suffering, and limitation to a brighter modern world of ever increasing knowledge, freedom, and well-being … The apex of human achievement in this vision begins with the ascendance of modern science and individualistic democracy. The view of history is one of progressive emancipation and empowerment. It is a vision that emerged fully in the course of the European Enlightenment, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though its roots are as old as Western civilization itself.

More on the “Myth of the Fall”:

The other view, whose presence has become much stronger in our cultural discussion in recent years, though it was always present to one extent or another as a compensatory countercurrent to the progressive view, describes this story in quite opposite terms. In the form this myth has taken in our era, the evolution of human consciousness and the history of the Western mind are seen as a tragic story of humanity’s radical fall and separation from an original state of oneness with nature and with being … In this perspective, both humanity and nature are seen as having suffered grievously under a long domination of thought and society associated with both patriarchy and modernity, with the worst consequences being produced by the oppressive hegemony of Western industrial societies empowered by modern science and technology. The nadir of this fall is seen as the present time of planetary ecological disaster, moral disorientation, and spiritual emptiness, which is the direct consequence of human hubris as embodied above all in the structure and spirit of the modern Western mind and ego.

Throughout the 26-page article, which you can read by clicking here, Tarnas discusses the difference between these two worldviews in depth and goes on to make the grand statement that these two stories actually constitute two parts of an equation, or that the “larger story is one in which the two opposite interpretations are exactly intertwined to form a complex but integrated whole.” It is within this statement that I find hope for humanity despite all of the current setbacks we’re experiencing, but the author still isn’t clear about what that integration will look like, when it will occur, or how we’re going to get there.

In a similar vein, in his essay Tarnas references a statement made by Carl Jung (often considered the first modern psychologist to state that the human psyche is “by nature religious” and to explore it in depth) that seems to reflect his thinking quite closely, but also rings true to the current state of affairs we are experiencing today:

“[A] mood of universal destruction and renewal … has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment–for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious human within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science … So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of the modern human.”

The reason why I like Tarnas is because he’s so well spoken and fun to read.  Certainly worth a click if you’re interested in exploring more. He is the founding director of the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he currently teaches.  He also teaches on the faculty of the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, and gives many public lectures and workshops in the U.S. and abroad.

You can find his web site at http://www.cosmosandpsyche.com.

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