Returning to the community of life
I have proposed that the ecological and geo-political meta-crisis we confront collectively is an initiatory threshold on a species level.
I thought I would return to that idea today, and explore what it might mean.
A few aspects of initiation interest me, as part of this thesis. As people like Joseph Campbell have explored, the structure of initiation is “separation, visionary transformation, and return.” The candidate for initiation leaves the community, undergoes a series of ordeals that are meant to bring them into direct relationship with a transcendent reality – a new vision – and then they come back to the community.
The elders of the community help the initiates to integrate their visionary experiences. The elders interpret the visions, which may have meaning for the community as a whole. The initiatory visions may even be prophetic windows into the future1.
As an analogy to the situation we are in: Over the last 10,000 years or so, the human species separated ourselves out from the community of life. We slowly lost touch with any concept of the sacred, any idea of responsibility for the whole. Like adolescents seeking initiation, we went outside of the house and got lost.
We are now entering a time of ecological and social breakdown that our own actions have unleashed. We have behaved, collectively, like an angry teenager that feels the need to separate from its mother and define itself in opposition to her. As part of this separation, we have discovered new powers and capacities, particularly the power of science and technology as a means of transforming ourselves and our world.
Initiations tend to be life-or-death thresholds, liminal spaces. At this point, we don’t know if we are going to survive this cascading catastrophe we have unleashed. Many climate scientists are now speaking more openly about the prospects for near-term extinction. We need to stop the momentum of this civilization, but it is difficult to imagine how that can happen without cataclysm.
If we were to return home, to the community of life, where are the elders who could help us rediscover our proper role in the cosmic order?
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