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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

In The Eye of the Storm – How to Stay Sane in an Insane World

April 30th, 2008

This year I’m giving a talk in a number of places about the most pressing issue of our times, and I thought I would share these ideas with you here, but ‘serialised’ over time, to give readers a chance to voice their own ideas. One of the great advances, aided by the internet, is that we can now share and pool our thoughts and inspirations, so if what is below triggers any thoughts do share them by making a comment. This first bit will probably be familiar to you and just sets the scene, but it contains the core issue ‘Can we face the future positively?’ I’ll serialise it by pasting in sections every few days below…



But the time is not a strong prison either.
A little scraping of the walls of dishonest contractor’s concrete
Through a shower of chips and sand makes freedom.
Shake the dust from your hair.
This mountain sea-coast is real
For it reaches out far into the past and future;
It is part of the great and timeless excellence of things.

From the poem ‘A Little Scraping’ by Robinson Jeffers

All of us here are alive at a very unusual time in the history of the world. Some scientists are warning that humanity may not survive beyond this century and all sorts of predictions about impending catastrophes are being evoked, often in relation to the year 2012. So these are worrying times to be alive.

Some people respond by saying that every age has been scared of extinction – Millenarians prepared for the end of the world in 1000; prophets predicting doom have regularly appeared and have disappointed their followers by continuing to be alive beyond their ‘due date’; during the Cold War we were scared of humanity being destroyed by nuclear warfare, and here we still are, and so on. But a little thought tells us that the situation we are now in is different.

At least five factors are all converging to make the present status of civilisation unsustainable. Something has to give, something has to change. These five factors, all interrelated, are: the population explosion, climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation from pollution and the destruction of habitats, and species extinction.

Like five runaway trains heading for the same destination the outcome is hardly going to be pleasant, and their arrival seems imminent. The trouble is we’re all sitting right where these trains are headed – in the eco-system itself.

So this is a very frightening thought. We’re at a time of crisis. There’s plenty of information out there about these factors, and indeed about what we can do individually and collectively to try to mitigate the situation – from living in a more eco-friendly way to looking at community and global solutions. So in this talk I’m not going to address these – not because they are not important – quite the contrary – but because others are doing this very well and there is a wealth of resources to turn to for this information.

The Gold Hidden in the Darkness

Instead I want to focus on the question of whether there is anything positive hidden within this time of crisis. Psychotherapy and the metaphor of alchemy are good at attempting to unearth the gold hidden in the darkness of the prima materia, or in the ‘darkness’ of a person’s experience or unconscious. In the past, alchemists even reasoned that if the ‘highest’ was hidden in the ‘lowest’ then gold or the elixir of life would be hidden within the lowest of matter: excrement. And so they tried working with that to get their results. Although they were wrong at a material level, at the psychological and spiritual level many believe they were on to something, and since humanity is now in ‘deep shit’, maybe an alchemical perspective can help us understand what is happening – to extract whatever gold there is out of the situation.

Some thinkers are now talking about this time as one of great potential – as a time of collective initiation, or of a great ‘shift’ in consciousness. And it’s not just New Age prophets who might be deluded, who are saying this. Deep thinkers like the neo-Jungian analyst James Hillman writes: “The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality.”

Now either this is all just nonsense – we’ve made the most incredible mess of the world and the ship is about to go down, and experts as we are at rationalisation, we are telling ourselves that something wonderful is really occurring, or it’s not nonsense and we are in fact living through one of the most exciting and potentially rewarding moments in the story of humanity.

Even though we might be tempted to say “Oh I just can’t cope with this New Age mumbo-jumbo. I’m off to the wilderness to grow beans, or – more likely – pour myself another drink and switch on the telly,” I think it’s worth pursuing the question “What if it’s true? What if there is gold hidden in the depths of this situation that seems so hopeless?”

The reward, if this is the case, is huge – which is why it’s worth pursuing this question. If it’s true, we can move from living in a state of fear to living with hope and trust in life. Given the size of the pay-off it’s worth a few minutes of our time, so let’s go! Read more