Global Symphony or Global Cacophony
Dr. Stephen Fulder
Einstein once said that the amount of human intelligence was a constant. That means that the more people there are in the world the more stupid everyone becomes. There has been another view, very attractive because of the hope that it brings, that we are somehow getting more intelligent and wise. It is deeply ingrained in the Western psyche that we are becoming more ‘advanced’, and may even be evolving as a species towards a great global illuminated mind. The Catholic mystic Teilhard de Chardin put forward the vision that humans are developing towards a Christ-like shining epiphany, which he called the Omega Point. Jewish thinkers believe deeply in the Messiah, just as some Buddhists believe we are moving towards a golden age marked by the arrival of the Maitreya Buddha. Modern man is convinced that science is taking us forward in technological leaps and towards a bright future in which our multitude of problems and dilemmas will be solved.
But just because technology is shooting ahead, does it mean that we are more advanced? Is modern man’s capacity to process the complexities of the programs in his laptop really more than the capacity of an aborigine in Australia to read, process and identify with the vast stream of messages given by every rock, branch, stone, leaf, cloud formation, animal movement and life energies in himself and each of his group? I have watched a 7 year old Bedouin boy herding a flock of around 60 goats along a road from behind, sensing the first hints, more or less the first thoughts, of any one or more of them before they stray into the wheat field on the side, knowing the likely behaviour and tendency of each one, calling it by name or making the right sounds for each, and at the same time, whirling his stick, whistling and singing happily. Is this less than an American 7 year old kid playing with his mobile phone? If it is claimed that the difference lies in the capacity for abstract thinking, this too is questionable. Are the modelling and meta-modelling that allows prediction of the weather, the behaviour of goats, the likely harvest of each olive tree, that the Bedouin around me know, any less abstract or sophisticated? It is just undervalued. It is a cultural imperialism. It has to be said too that the greatest myths and all-time greatest books such as the Bible, the Mahabarata, the Buddhist suttas, were all written ages ago. Now we are copying them or even worshipping them, not writing them. So who are advanced?
There is no doubt that to make a large modern passenger airplane requires millions of pieces each engineered exactly and a huge co-operative effort, which continues during the hundreds of thousands of hours of safe flying. It is breathtaking. But it is also intoxicating. External tools are impressive. But what about internal tools, which are less obvious but equally sophisticated. Past cultures, whether Buddhist, Vedic, Celtic or American Indian, appreciated deep quiet and steadiness in the midst of the turmoil of life, joy in diversity, intuitive wisdom and insight, poetic and creative power, the ability to: ‘see the world in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour’, in the words of Blake. And above all, a sense of harmony with all life and an empathic and compassionate heart which is hugely gentle on others and our environment. For them it would be a monstrous idea that one could destroy the world by global warming just because we won’t give up our air conditioning or the right to rush hither and thither in cars and planes. It is a restless neediness, a dependence, an obsession with controlling our environment, which from a more balanced place looks primitive, destructive and childish. It is going backwards not forwards. There may arise a sense of pain or anxiety about the consequences of what we are doing to ourselves and our planetary home, but mostly the attempts to fix things and patch them up are instead of real change in the way we live and thus ‘more of the same’, which become part of the problem not the solution. It is the same mind that thinks it can control and manage the wild unmanageable life, the same hubris, the same collective ignorance that encourages us all to go running through life, rushing through our only precious home, destroying it as we go. So no advancement there.
It is hugely tempting to imagine that the rapid development of human information processing must somehow be connected with a growth in awareness and spiritual capacities. Most assume that the information superhighway automatically goes along with some kind of spiritual superhighway. But there is plenty of evidence that we are drowning not moving forward. It seems like the more we are flooded with information and communication there is less to communicate about. Apparently, every two days the human electronic communication processes and exchanges the same quantity of information as was processed in the entire human history beforehand. But where is the meaning? If the global chatter is looked at dispassionately, if feels like the global brain is full of noise, an utter cacophony, a vast hollow jar full of echoes.
Is there somewhere to go? Is there somewhere we are advancing to, and what is it that we are trying to get away from? Do we have in mind any vision of where we want to be? If you ask people what they want, you may get words like ‘more money’, ‘moving forward’, ‘change’, ‘fulfilment’. But if you ask them what they are really looking for, often words like ‘peace’, ‘well-being’, ‘stopping the struggle’, ‘contentment’ would turn up. On reflection, external advancement does not seem like such a wonderful thing, neither does going backwards, as they don’t really provide us with those invisible internal qualities, the harmony which we hunger for. It is based on a deep personal and cultural narrative running in the mind, that both leads to toxic results in our world and also dominates our wish for happiness – that we are not good enough, even that we are never good enough.
It is a blessing to realise that the key to wellbeing is largely not about changing our circumstances, but about becoming familiar with and taking charge of the way we respond to them. This needs ‘The Great Turning’ as Joanne Macy calls it, the courage to turning round to look inside and take responsibility for the mind and heart that seems to be driving us on relentlessly and blindly. Do we feed the constant hunger for something that will improve us, make us happier, more comfortable, newer, more entertaining, more satisfying, or do we meet the hunger at eye level, see its painful control over our life and our freedom, and gradually let it dissolve. Paradoxically, we often turn to meet our inner life with the same motivations that give us all the trouble in the first place as we don’t know others. For example we meet a teacher or teaching or go to classes, courses and retreats as we want to be happier, to reduce limitations and dissatisfaction, to feel better about ourselves, to succeed at meditation, to develop our consciousness and so on. But as we stay on this journey, and keep going in revealing the inner landscape with all its demons and angels, controls and freedoms, narratives, patterns, habits, and views, the motivations for the journey begin to change as well. We are less on the path of self-improvement and more on the way to discover our real nature. We begin to question the assumptions that seemed to be so true before. Are we already in Paradise but dancing so hard that we can’t see it and assume it is exile? Are we pointing in the wrong direction? Are we trying to become something else instead of becoming what we really are? Are we in a dream in which we proceed on, out and up, when we should proceed in. Do we need to explore the inner ocean and not try to beat the waves that arise from it? Bit by bit, we realise that where we are is where we ought to be. Only we just didn’t know it.
In one meditation class I taught in a college, I remember how much everyone rushed to the room in order to get there in time, until I reminded them that they were running in order to stop! Surely the way to a sense of completion, of harmony of meaningfulness, is through the ‘action of silence’, in the words of J. Krishnamurti, rather than the noise of artificial intelligence. Quiet reflection , inner peace and insight are the doorways to divine music not the cacophony that invade us. We cannot afford to overlook it.