Mike’s note: The following is inspired by Terry Patten’s gripping, visionary volume, A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries – A Guide to Inner Work for Holistic Change – still available in limited quantities to qualified reviewers via Speakeasy!
Our times are strange and wondrous—so strange and so wondrous that they far outstrip our comprehension! Even as we are verging on world-changing breakthroughs in science, technology, consciousness, cooperation, and leadership, we’re also verging on catastrophic breakdowns of our planetary ecology, as well as our cultural cohesion, economic and social order, and, of course, our politics. It is wild, significant, inspiring, and terrifying that this is all happening simultaneously. We are clearly approaching a moment of truth.
We need the guidance of higher wisdom. Fortunately, all of humanity’s highest wisdom traditions are in conversation as never before. And yet the circumstances that have sometimes enabled wisdom to guide the human future seem to be eroding underneath our feet. Our collective nervous system is surging with adrenaline, jolted again and again by breaking news and visions of apocalypse as well as technological utopias and dystopias.
What’s really happening? Where are we headed? Is human civilization really coming apart? Will we all come together as never before? What does this mean for us personally? What can we do? How can we “be the change we want to see in the world”?
In 2016, while I was writing early drafts of this book, the average planet-wide surface air and ocean temperatures were the warmest ever recorded for sixteen consecutive months—and extreme weather events continued to increase in size and frequency. At the same time, a backlash against liberal democracy, immigration, and globalization spawned a worldwide political crisis, and our planetary ecology and climate were (to put it mildly) not the dominant popular priorities.
Although I feel chilled to the bone by some of what we might be facing, I am also uplifted and inspired to behold our most dramatically positive possibilities. It is becoming a cliché to state that we’re in a race between consciousness and catastrophe. So my focus is not on laying odds. It is on the inner work that can enable us to do the outer work of navigating this time of transition in the best ways possible.
Some colleagues and I have discovered some crucially helpful insights and practices. I believe they can lead us to a grounded, positive, authentic way of relating to our predicament and our opportunities. These insights and practices might help get us through the years ahead. More important, they might even help us take giant steps into a collective transformational process that can actually change the human game in the ways many of us have sought to all our lives.
Such a game-changing transformation would be something like what was, in ancient times, symbolized by a precious jewel. Buddhists have called it a “wish-fulfilling gem.” Such a diamond cannot be formed except under titanic pressures. Sudden, dramatic evolutionary progress often takes place under conditions of extreme tension, when pressures require rapid and dramatic adaptation. When new conditions disrupt ecological balance, other crucial environmental factors change, and they
force new faculties and behaviors to emerge.
We are seeing this happen to the planet—but the same thing is happening to us. As the planet is pushed to its limits, so too are we. While the changes being triggered ecologically are threatening in many ways, their effects on us, even when they do harm, may well also produce the evolutionary pressures that will form something like a diamond, a qualitative structural transformation of the elements of our very character. It will demand everything of us. That means we must accept responsibility for human evolution itself—and that this evolutionary transformation must take place not over eons, but rather as an accelerated “punctuated” sociocultural transformation.
Evolution has shown its ability to find astonishing expressions under the right circumstances. It has always proceeded against overwhelming life- and- death odds, but right now we are in the midst of a collection of interconnected challenges and opportunities of unprecedented scope and intensity. If evolution proceeds in fits and starts, with long periods of relative “equilibrium” punctuated by turbulent periods of rapid evolutionary innovation, those of us alive today are right in the center of the action.
Two Paths We Can Go By, in the Long Run
Two compelling and mutually conflicting metanarratives, each with conflicting views of our predicament, are in competition among intelligent observers.
The first is optimistic. It is a narrative of continual survival, adaptation, transcendence, and progression. In this view, our technological and cultural advances are entering a period of game- changing exponential acceleration. Our increasing collisions with planetary limits, and the unfolding catastrophic consequences of our unsustainable behaviors, though very real, will finally sober us and force us to change our collective habits, and we will have new means to ease the transition. Circumstances will teach us wisdom and set us firmly back on a positive evolutionary path into a marvelous unchartable future.
An evolutionary version of this narrative sees our precarious global predicament as an important transition but a temporary bottleneck in our upward evolutionary trajectory. It sees a powerful creative drive, native to every morsel of reality, driving our evolution. This dominant creative factor will be key to ensuring our continued survival and progress in ecology, science, culture, ethics, technology, politics, economics, and consciousness.
In the version of this narrative that inspires me, humankind will eventually establish a metacommunity, or metasangha, of “communities of practice,” expressing our highest ethics and values. And this future civilization will eventually manifest a new stage in the evolution of the human race—a new adulthood for the species—perhaps even a unified and transcendent super-organism that some see as the next Buddha, or as the true meaning of the second coming of Christ.
The second, equally influential metanarrative is pessimistic and socio-ecological. It sees a more primitive and instinctual power as the dominant force driving both our development and our degeneration, and ultimately determining our fate. This darker side of that raw evolutionary energy or Eros manifests as an unquenchable and compulsive drive for survival, dominance, adventure, acquisition, conquest, consumption, and control. We have long been in the grip of this power—Eros—and look at what has happened. We’ve nearly exhausted Earth’s resources, enormously overshot its carrying capacity, and are now on the verge of an age of contraction, scarcity, environmental degradation, social upheaval, and economic collapse—and these dangers appear more likely with every passing year.
In this narrative, humankind’s unbridled drives will inexorably lead to the collapse of civilization and the planetary biosphere, resulting in mass species extinctions—and, in time, scenarios that may well lead to a dystopian, nearly uninhabitable planet and perhaps the end of the human race. Many deep ecologists say we have already entered the early stages of the collapse of human civilization.
My life and work have been fueled and inspired by the optimistic evolutionary metanarrative. But I’ve been shaken, sobered, and educated by my intensive study of the science and journalism supporting the pessimistic metanarrative, which more realistically accounts for the latest current data. The history and evolution of humankind, and even of each individual life, reveals a struggle between the forces and effects of the evolutionary-creative Eros and the instinctual-power Eros.
And while we may place our hopes in the first narrative, we cannot dismiss the mounting evidence that supports the second. No one can know for sure which of these metanarratives will shape our future. We are suspended between two antithetical possibilities, as well as a spectrum of possibilities between the two extremes. I believe that even though certainty is beyond our grasp, we are the prime actors in the drama. And even without any certainty, we can greatly influence the outcomes.
I take this to heart, and I suggest we all do, because we’re each partially in charge. The locus of control of human civilization—this vast and hypercomplex system—is distributed, nonlinear, and unpredictable. It is no more conscious, no more able to choose its direction, anywhere else than it is right here, right now.
That implicates me, and you, at least in some small but potentially significant way. If humanity is to wake up to its predicament and choose a sustainable future, millions of people will necessarily participate. And where might that awakening and participation begin? When? I can’t expect it to be the exclusive responsibility of someone else—of some political or spiritual leader or expert or philanthropist or celebrity. It must also depend on me, if I am aware enough to sense and feel that I can make some small difference—and the same goes for you.
If you’ve been challenged and inspired by this reflection, you’ll want to check out Terry’s full clarion call,A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries – A Guide to Inner Work for Holistic Change. And if you’re a blogger or podcaster, limited review copies are still available via Speakeasy!
Acclaim for A New Republic of the Heart
“A superb, terrific, exciting, sane, and enlightening look at more truly integral approaches to activism. It represents a social activism that is certainly social, but also personal, emotional, spiritual, ecological, relational, and that stems from, and points toward, the very leading-edge of evolution itself. Highly recommended!”
— Ken Wilber, author of The Integral Vision, The Religion of Tomorrow, and Grace and Grit
“In this profound study, Patten brings a wealth of integral thinking to a seminal perspective on human and cultural development. The genius of this work lies in the author’s own deep knowledge of inner practices (Integral Cross Training) that offer a synergy of body, mind and spiritual practices which, together, evolves the human condition and elevates one’s ways of being and working in the world. What we have here is possibly the finest example of the making of the possible human and with this, the development of a possible world.”
— Jean Houston, Ph.D., Chancellor, Meridian University; author, A Passion for the Possible and Godseed: The Journey of Christ
“Terry Patten has woven together strands from evolutionary neuroscience, deep ecology, integral theory, and spiritual wisdom to offer a practical path forward out of humanity’s current morass. Written with great gusto and clarity, this book shows us how to integrate personal and political practice, transforming both our lives and our world. Fascinating, fast-moving, and heartfelt, this book is a gem.”
— Rick Hanson, PhD, author of Buddha’s Brain, Hardwiring Happiness, and Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness
“Patten clarifies how our wicked problems require us to grow, personally and collectively—showing how our political and ecological problems are also personal and interpersonal. He helps us in going beyond debate, one-upsmanship, and other non-communication, to talk and listen in new ways. He’s right on the mark—we must reknit our social fabric—our collective future requires it.”
— Joan Blades, cofounder of MoveOn.org and Living Room Conversations
“We all know that humanity is at a critical turning point—and this is THE manual for all who want to meet this moment as the historical call to action that it is. Combining brilliant social commentary along with a step-by-step blueprint for catalyzing whole-system change from the inside out, Terry shows us the way to rise into our personal and collective destiny.”
— Claire Zammit, Ph.D. Founder, FemininePower.com
“In a world of exploding crises, we are all called to contribute. But how do we find our unique contributions, and how do we make them most effectively, and bring out the best in us and all those whose lives we touch? These are among the most crucial questions of our time, and Terry Patten beautifully elicits the wisdom within us with which we can find our answers.”
— Roger Walsh MD, Ph.D., University of California, author of Essential Spirituality: The Seven Central Practices
Terry Patten was raised on a radical Plymouth Brethren farm outside Chicago. He grew up to become a philosopher, teacher, activist, consultant, social entrepreneur, and author. Over the last fifteen years he has devoted his efforts to the evolution of consciousness by facing, examining, and healing our global crisis through the marriage of spirit and activism. As an author, he co-wrote the book Integral Life Practice with Ken Wilber and a core team at the Integral Institute. As a teacher and consultant, he has worked on four continents, led a team at the HeartMath Institute that developed their first heart-rate variability monitor, and is the founder of the Beyond Awakening teleseminar series. As a community builder, he founded Bay Area Integral. As a social entrepreneur, he founded Tools For Exploration, a consciousness technologies company, and currently, he’s involved in restorative redwood forestry and fossil-fuel alternatives. Find Terry online at TerryPatten.com.