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From Daniel Pinchbeck: Our Forgotten Future

June 3, 2007

From the June Whole Life Times, Prophet Motive column. . .

The future is not what it used to be. What does our future look like from this particular point in time? Scanning the distressing ecological data, we might find ourselves reminded of Marlene Dietrich’s exit line to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil: “Your future’s all used up.” From the Oscar-nominated Children of Men to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, recent portraits of what may be coming down the pike have distinctly faded to black — sterile, war-torn wastelands where huddled masses forage for survival. These visions reflect the images we see from today’s Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur. They suggest a darkening of the collective psyche, a reduced capacity to envision a way out from the encroaching crises that we intuit but lack the will or courage to confront. Novels and films of apocalypse function as avoidance mechanisms, allowing us to imagine global doom from a comfortably alienated vantage point.

As the mainstream absorbs no-exit narratives of breakdowns ahead, the New Age and spiritual set have seized upon an almost antithetical attitude of naïve positivity, reflected in wildly popular works like What the Bleep Do We Know? and The Secret. From this perspective, the individual’s psychic state determines his or her physical reality, and the occult laws of attraction can be utilized to increase one’s bank account or sexual magnetism. If you haven’t cashed out, it is because you are not using your psychic powers at their maximum rate. If other people aren’t getting theirs’ yet, it’s not your problem, but their bad karma. This is a metaphysics suited to the narcissism of the baby boomers and the “Me Generation,” whose lifestyles have denuded the planet’s rainforests and ripped big holes in the ozone layer.

What makes this perspective so seductive is that there are fragments of truth in it. In my own life and the lives of many people I know, the power of intention is becoming more evident. Reality seems increasingly psychic, as we relearn, step by step, the lessons of synchronicity and nonduality well known to tribal shamans and realized mystics. However, as we access what Carl Jung called “the reality of the psyche,” we also discover the huge gap between the small-time desires of the ego and the deeper purposes of the Self, our complete personality, encompassing conscious and unconscious elements. The Self doesn’t give a hoot if we drive a fancy car or score with supermodels, and might even prefer to smash the delusions of the ego to incite a deeper realization.

Although I published a book on indigenous prophecy and the year 2012, which ends the 5,125-year Long Count of the Maya, my thoughts on the future continue to fluctuate (as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”). Between the various camps of technological utopians (see Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near), ecological pessimists, left-wing conspiracists, rapture-ready fundamentalists and New Age fantasists, one can experience schizo delirium. Is it possible that sudden crisis, such as coastal flooding or nuclear terrorism, will lead to a system meltdown that will change everything? Is it conceivable that most of the world will continue to disintegrate as wealthy First Worlders get stem cell injections, new DNA and nanobot implants? Or perhaps a rapid shift in global consciousness will lead to a new compassionate planetary culture, with shared resources and technologies based on nontoxic processes and biomimickry? In any event, unless the Law of Attraction can overcome the basic laws of physics, a contraction of industrial civilization seems inevitable.

The trickster element undermining all future predictions is the reality of the psyche, and the possibility that psychic energy could be harnessed for purposes of planetary transformation. If we look back at the Industrial Revolution, before the 18th century, people had experienced lightning and shocks, but nobody had any idea how to make use of electricity. Once we figured this out, we changed the geophysical conditions of the planet in a century and a half — not even a blink in evolutionary time. What if we are hovering on the brink of learning how to access and make use of psychic energy in a similar way? If this were the case, it would require a different approach from the modern scientific method, allowing no place for subjectivity. Psychic effects cannot be separated from subjective realizations. Creating the conditions in which psychic intention might interact with and influence the material world would require a deep sensitivity to unquantifiable aspects of human experience such as mood, atmosphere and emotion.

Considering this, it is possible that works like The Secret and What the Bleep have real importance. They could be transitional expressions, pointing us toward a new paradigm of psychic energy and intention that will become more sophisticated as it develops. It seems likely that the current interlocked problems facing our world simply cannot be solved by rational means – but they might be dissolved, if they are approached from a different level of consciousness, and a deeper realization of the psyche.

Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002) and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). His features have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Wired and many other publications.

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