Category Archives: POWERS OF THE UNIVERSE

Powers of the Universe: Interrelatedness

Along the lane that leads to my house, there are many many trees, evergreen as well as deciduous, including several ancient apple and crab-apple trees. Year after year, I had driven past them, scarcely noticing their flowering, their fruitfulness, their quiet winter sleep. In the late summer of 2013, some combination of factors led to an explosion of fruitfulness for one crab-apple tree just where the lane ends at my driveway.

I had noticed the tree the day before, saw that its two large branches were split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or else pummeled by winds in a recent storm.

I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.

After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out.

Then, I happened to look up at the tree. Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.

Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I think so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.

Walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks leads down into the Bonnechere River, I sought relief from furnace-like heat.
Embraced by the slowly moving river, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy. But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. A presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…

White Buffalo Calf Woman taught her people that all things are interrelated, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean Houston teaches, is what the power of Interrelatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Interrelatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.
Interrelatedness or Care has been at work in the universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the universe would fall apart.

Parental care emerged as a value in the universe because it made survival more likely when the mother and father fish care for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish). The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.

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While travelling in South Africa, my friend Debra Hawley took this photo. Notice the baby elephant to the left. Mother Elephants care for their offspring for fifty years.

In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chose a sexual partner, one of the qualities she sought was tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.

In a human person in whom the Power of Interrelatedness is strongly present, we see a psyche attuned to relatedness, with the capacity to identify another’s worth, and to be sensitive to the needs of others. Care can result in true devotion, service, nurturance. However Swimme cautions that this power needs to be balanced with the Power of Centration, lest one become so absorbed in the needs and values of others that there is a loss of the self.

Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.

How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (or views a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something that must be “used”.)

What would be another way?

Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have, through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed-in perspective.

Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human. Paraphrasing Meister Eckhart, Swimme says that “the eye we are using to regard care in the universe is the same eye that care is using to regard itself”. He asks: Is the role of the human to provide the vessel for a comprehensive care to come forth in the universe? The space in which this will take place is within the human.

On that September day, I was given the gift of experiencing interrelatedness directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.

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Powers of the Universe:Transformation

Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe. Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.

A few summers ago, at our community’s holiday place, Mary noticed a nymph crawl out of the lake to attach itself to a plant. Mary, who has spent some twenty summers tending our lake, observing the life it contains, clearing deadwood, decay and weeds from its floor, knew what was about to happen. She carefully carried the plant with the nymph still attached up to the lodge. Then she invited everyone to come and watch the miracle. Within an hour the adult nymph had shed its tight skin, expanded its new body. Before our wondering eyes, this pale, fragile, newly-emerged creature, its transparent wings delicate, took flight as a dragonfly. Transformation.

 

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In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.

Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE. Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth. Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages.

Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life.

These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.

Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun. That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it. The memory is passed on by cells.

With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways. The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.

The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events.

A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community. We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.

We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species. With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.

The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century age that, We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love, enable us to undertake this task.

Swimme asks what laws we are proud of: ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals?
Where else do we see possibilities for transformation?

And what of the seismic shifts happening in our purchase of food? What of our growing need to know where our food comes from? Our choices based on local sourcing? farmers’ markets sprouting everywhere? What of clothing purchases now that we know more of the sweat shops in Bangladesh and China?

From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative. We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.

One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears and gave her a profound peace. She writes:

It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes….I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not something I had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.

Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this. Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us.

We are the recoding, the reset button.

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We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love,

enable us to undertake this task.(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Powers of the Universe: Transmutation

 

In his DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme recalls Teilhard’s saying that we are the universe reflecting on itself. Swimme invites us to see ourselves as the Power of Transmutation reflecting on itself in conscious self–awareness. He asks, “How can this lead to a more vibrant earth community?”

Natural selection, Transmutation, is the way form changes through time… in the universe, the birth of radiant energy in atoms changes everything; clouds change into galaxies; primal stars transmute into stellar systems with planets; the earth herself changes from molten rock into a living planet.

The universe forces itself out of one era into another. If you are a particle you have nowhere to go but into an atom…

So, what do we do when we discover ourselves in the midst of the end of one era, moving into another? How do we participate in this Transmutation?

Swimme says we need to look at the way life moves from one form to another. The earth uses a form of restraint, of judgement. At the moment when the earth begins to cool from its molten state to form a crust, there is a constraint into the form of continents. When two continents collide, there is further restraint on formerly free activity, enabling restriction and opposition that create mountain ranges. To insist that things remain the same is to insist on the end of the planet’s growth.

Another form of resistance happens when the desires of different beings are in opposition. At the heart of transmutation is the question of how to deal with obstacles and opposites. The grasshopper is constrained by the bird who eats it; the bird has to follow the grasshopper. But to remove the constraints is to upset the beauty of form. A slower grasshopper leads to a less fleet bird; a slower bird means that the grasshopper decreases its speed. The destiny of the bird is tied to the grasshopper.

Creativity is spread out over the whole community. The system has constraints, demands, judgements. The natural selection dynamic is based on judgement that leads to excellence of form and beauty. The beak of the bird developed so it might retrieve bugs from a tree. The relationship between the bird and the tree is a form of intimacy. Every bioregion has this spectacular beauty, with the integrity of the whole maintained by this power of judgement, restraint, struggle.

Until humans arise, taking the whole system into collapse through our ability to get around the constraints, the judgements, using all the powers to our own advantage. No longer does natural selection take care of the whole.

Our challenge is to become the Power of Transmutation in conscious self-awareness. We are called upon to bring restraint to human activity so that the natural selection dynamics can proceed. The powers of the universe need the human to proceed through this change. Though our laws, customs and disciplines impose restraint on human activity, they have until now taken for granted that the human is the focus. Now we need to ask for laws that enable the whole community of life to flourish. We need to say clearly, “Some things are going to lead to ruin”. We need a law to protect species for themselves.

Swimme suggests that the human person in whom the Power of Transmutation surfaces strongly has a mind that is highly critical, judgemental. The tone of this person will be highly pessimistic with a sensitivity to the dynamic of the whole, with a drive for survival as well as deep respect for law, tradition, custom. The mind of a person in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is not dogmatic, but has the ability to change in order to make it through the challenges before us. The one in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is highly–disciplined, leading a structured life, the opposite of the chaotic personality in whom Emergence is the stronger power. However, should the Power of Transmutation become frozen in a person, there is danger that the negative aspects of pessimism, cynicism and guilt might take over.

The feeling mode of the person experiencing the Power of Transmutation is that one does not fit in. There is a sense of being cut off, set aside, rejected, even wounded. Yet those who feel most cut off are the ones who feel most deeply that the universe has made a judgement that this era is over. This is an invitation from the universe to look at what life does, to see in the opposition, the wound, one’s destiny. Swimme says: You are feeling the universe is rejecting part of you. Embrace the rejection, embrace that which is attempting to eliminate those aspects of yourself that are maladaptive, the elements that are part of the era that is over: a society based on consumerism, based on destroying opposition.

The planet is withering because humans have accepted a context that is much too small. We can no longer decide only what is best for a corporation or a culture but we must move to a larger context, to the planetary level. Our decisions will affect thousands of future generations. We are the universe as a whole reflecting on itself in this particular place.

Who are the models to inspire us? We co-evolve with all other beings. The great moments of beauty in the universe become our guides, and our criteria by which to judge. We look to the future, to beings who will learn to live in harmony to enable the whole to flourish. Thus we learn to live in the context of the whole universe: past, present and future, with the energies of the planet.

Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that future: when a windstorm knocked out electricity in our community’s holiday place one summer, a few of us decided to stay on. Small changes, transmutations… an evening swim rather than a morning shower…. food cooked on a barbecue… water for washing dishes heated on the barbecue…. perishables such as milk and yogurt packed in an ice chest…. wading into the lake in tall boots to scoop up buckets of water to keep the toilets working…

On the second night, sitting in darkness illumined by golden candles, we watched the rose madder sunset splash across the sky, and soon after Venus became clearly visible. For a little while she was a silvery presence but as the earth rolled away to the east, Venus slowly sank below the horizon…

This beauty we would have missed had there been electric light. I remembered a snatch of poetry: “After my house burned down, I had a better view of the moon.”

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Powers of the Universe: Synergy

As we continue our exploration of the Powers of the Universe, as described by Brian Swimme in his DVD series of that name, we come to the power of synergy. This power is magnificently illustrated in the behaviour of the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica for whom a learned behaviour has meant survival. They form a tight cluster with the outer circle exposed to the frigid cruelty of the weather while the inner circle is held in warmth. Then in a shifting soundless dance, they change places.

 

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The power of synergy has brought forward some of the most wondrous and crucial developments in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe. Plants that need nitrogen to survive, but are unable to draw it in, form a synergistic relationship with nodules whose bacteria can draw in nitrogen. Flowers, plants and trees that need to be pollinated thrive through their synergistic relationship with bees.

 

Swimme describes some great moments in synergy throughout the life of our planet:

(a) single cells learn to trade aspects of genetic information, enabling the spread of ideas across the earth;

(b) photosynthesis occurs when, in a synergistic relationship between life and the sun, cells learn to interact with sunlight to draw in energy;

(c) life learns to get hydrogen from water, releasing oxygen, but as oxygen is destructive to life, those forms of life that learn to draw in oxygen, creating through synergy new structures, survive, while the forms of life that do not learn how to do this, sink down into the swamp ;

(d) organisms learn how to mate: the discovery of sexuality 1.5 billion years ago enables an explosion of possibilities and new life forms as sexualized animals cover the planet.

Synergistic relationships enable survival and endurance. In order for life to endure two great challenges need to be met: find energy and create offspring. Life rewards creativity in these two crucial areas with survival. Synergy flowers as life finds creative response to this dual challenge. The quest, according to Swimme, is not to eliminate the challenge but to respond to it.

 

Seeking a synergistic response to life’s challenges has led to increasing complexity in the human. The challenge of finding energy relates to finding food. Swimme cites an aboriginal tribe who depended upon rabbit for survival. Regularly a group of fifty hunters came together to catch an abundance of rabbits for a steady food supply. Their social cohesion resulted from this need to work together to catch their food. In Inuit societies, the whole community comes together to capture a whale, something impossible for a lone hunter to achieve.

 

When humans learn to interact with seeds and plants, the nomadic way of life of the hunter/ gatherer societies is altered. A settled way of life emerges with the development of agriculture, pushing to the margins those who remain with the old ways, continuing to hunt and gather. The settled way of life intensifies through classical civilization and into industrial society where productivity increases, again with a crowding out of the earlier forms.

 

In our time, we see contemporary industrial society around the planet crowding out earlier forms of life, with the evaporation of indigenous groups everywhere. The factories and sweat shops of India and China lure workers into cities, where in order to earn small wages, they sometimes have to live separated from their families in barrack-like conditions. Understanding the process that has led to this moment in the earth’s history frees us to question whether this intensity of production is what we really want. Does the revelation of the appalling, life-threatening conditions in factories such as those in Bangladesh lead us to question our societal thirst for more and cheaper goods? Is this really an enhancement of life on our planet?

 

Do we see the phenomenal rise in community gardens and farmers’ markets as a sign of hope that we are shifting away from a production/transportation model that brings food to our table from across the planet? A recent CBC story told of an organic garden being created atop a high-rise building in downtown Montreal, a prototype for a whole new way of imagining how to grow the food we need.

 

The challenge for our time, as Swimme sees it, is for synergy to operate through conscious self-awareness. The movement now needs to be from an industrial to a planetary civilization, requiring the birth of the planetary human. Once we accept our true identity as earth community, sharing genes with oak trees and oysters, this becomes much easier. If we see our humanness from the perspective of biology rather than from religion or politics or culture, we can begin to imagine a planetary society. If we open ourselves to what other species can teach us, our learnings are greatly enhanced. What might fish be able to teach us about keeping the oceans healthy? Finally, war, once a form of social cohesion, has to be replaced. We take on instead the challenge of a synergistic relationship with others in order to deal with a wilting planet and a failing eco-system.

 

The death throes of Western civilization can be experienced as birth pangs as a new era of humanity is about to emerge. To move towards an abundance of life for all children, for all planetary life, demands greater synergy, deeper power, new technology and moral wisdom to guide us forward, Swimme believes. As with other new developments, the older nationalistic forms of life will not disappear but will hang around as they gradually make their way to the bottom of the swamp.

A message about the power of synergy comes in this email from Ricken Patel of Avaaz.org, a planet-wide movement, inviting individuals to study and respond to issues that affect all of life, such as Monsanto’s pesticide:

Dear Avaazers,
This has my head spinning. In months, Europe could actually ban the killer herbicide that Monsanto’s entire business model is based on!
Glyphosate kills *everything* except Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops, transforming our planet into ecological wastelands where nothing can live but one GM crop. It’s apocalyptic.
Even worse, its use is skyrocketing, has been found in 90% of our bodies, and a new study says it likely causes cancer!

Last week, we won a massive battle to block renewal of glyphosate’s license in Europe. Everyone told us this was impossible, but we changed the game! Leading EU politician Pavel Poc said: “Avaaz is indisputably the driving force on glyphosate”.

 

(As) with climate change and the Paris agreement, Avaaz has mobilised people on this issue at an unprecedented scale – we’ve taken the fight against Monsanto to a whole new level, and now it’s up to all of us, over the next 18 months, to win it.
First big oil, now Monsanto. We are taking on the dragons of our world. But if we stick together, and choose to believe and act, we can do anything.
With hope and determination, Ricken, Alice, Bert, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team

 

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This movement towards newness and rebirth is beginning. When we align our personal energies with it by creating mutually enhancing relationships, we align our human energies with this cosmological power called synergy.

 

Powers of the Universe: Cataclysm

Cataclysm, as Brian Swimme teaches in his DVD series: “Powers of the Universe”, is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.

Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart, created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years.

But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium, that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen, then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity. The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.

But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos. This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place, creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies. (for a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in  Journey of the Universe,  co-authored by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011)

The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe. Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated 96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now. Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes, our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure.

I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals, gazing back at me from the screen, I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang as a prayer of pleading, “let them continue on….” Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…

Concurrent with this extinction of species is the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes. As though engaged in a death dance between nature and man-made structures, we see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems in which we had once placed our trust.

Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power that is destroying us by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects…We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.

When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised that dared to bless the disaster that revealed what is worth valuing in life?

The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auswitch, wrote words that might be a light for us in this time: I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes, our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.IMG_0007

For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us. Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence. Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes. Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds, “You are blessed to be alive at this time.”

Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis

One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process, and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth, that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.
Diarmuid O’ Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality New York Crossroads 1998 p. 41

Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values. It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis: the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body; the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body. The earth herself remains in a state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years, just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heat away; then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.

The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas. In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas (a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater. In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode. Homeostasis.

Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.

When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole. The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet, then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life require for continuance.

Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration), though we honour the search for love and fullness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement) and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved in emergence, the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.

Asking the question why homeostasis is falling apart in major life systems, (the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet…) Brian Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body. The great search now for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, is a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.

Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community. There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary.

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“Not just stuff”the chambered nautilus knows when to move to a larger room 

 

Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet. If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.

On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives, to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about, tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.

Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet, honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.

But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side. Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns, holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”. The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality. Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing. The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.

 

When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play: Cataclysm ….

To my readers: I welcome your comments and questions: what further Sophia themes would you like to read about here?  Contact me: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca 

Powers of the Universe: Emergence

Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge…. the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.
Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination. Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.

 

In her teaching on the powers of the universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us. We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly to signal our intent to be open. We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us. We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.

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Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred. Eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:
…the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us. We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognise that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)

What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?
As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a n experience of the newness in religion, in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.

 

Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy. For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.

 

What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.

 

As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought her here, that have awakened her awareness of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies. For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.

 

But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men. You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked. Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”

 

Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?” No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother’…   “At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”… “A partner, inviting me to co-create with her”…“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.

 

What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her? Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?

 

Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess. There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…

 

As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about. They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.

Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.