A recent deep dialogue with Margaret Wheatley (known as Meg), whose interview you’ll be hearing in February 2019, brought to my attention the cycles that every civilization goes through. They all start with high ideals, self-sacrifice, duty, honor, and country.
Wheatley tells us that because these values (sacrifice, putting service over self) are at the heart of the beginning of every civilization, the civilization becomes stable. But as that society shifts its emphasis to business it becomes materialistic and its focus becomes the motivation for profit, which leads to consumerism, greed, and narcissism. The striking details of this pattern of civilizations is that it reliably moves from service, through self-interest, to decadence and disorder.
Meg says, “We think we’re unique in this time of being overwhelmed by consumerism, materialism, and global capitalism. The pattern is like this every time. . . In the age of decadence, the culture worships actors, musicians, and sports heroes. Battles are fought in sports stadiums in Byzantium. [For example[, in the Aztec culture actors and musicians were worshiped.” She goes on to report how centers of learning start to emphasize the teaching of technical knowhow. She reports, “Going back to 861 in Baghdad, the centers of learning become places where people just want to study what will give them the technical knowhow to have good jobs.”
Wheatley tells us it is important that we understand where we are in the pattern of collapse and to not to throw up our hands in despair. It is important that we look squarely at our present situation. Her main historical references are from the work of Sir John Glubb (1897-1986), scholar on the fate of empires. He studied empires and noted this repeated pattern from Alexander the Great, to Mohammed, to the Mongols, to the British, and more.
I must admit it was hard for me to accept our present predicament as something that is unavoidable. Glubb found that it takes 250 years for a civilization to go through a cycle, which amounts to 10 generations. America is now at that 250 mark.
What gives me hope in these threshold times of chaos, breakdown, and disorder is to remember the cycle of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
When I first learned of this cycle I was amazed to find that after the caterpillar spins its cocoon it starts the process of releasing its body and actually becoming liquid. I assume that in the liquid state some state of livingness continues to exist. This process of giving up a solid form to one of liquid is extremely remarkable to me.
Present in this liquid state are certain “imaginal” cells that contain the entelechy (the vital principle that guides the development and functioning of an organism or other system or organization) of the butterfly. The cells begin to congregate. At first these cells are regarded as a threat and are attacked by the caterpillar’s immune system; then they persist, multiply, and connect with each other. When enough of them rendezvous the butterfly starts to form.
I truly believe that we – and I include all the New Dimensions listeners – are part of a group of “imaginal” cells who are collectively beginning to coalesce into a body that will lead us into the next cycle of the possible.
In Glubb’s view, every new empire begins with the age of the pioneers – courageous individuals with passion and vision who conquer new territories, perhaps taking over the remnants of an earlier collapsed civilization. I see our present new territory as one of consciousness. We are forming a new understanding of the nature of reality from one based on materialism to one based on consciousness.
The renown physicist Max Planck once said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything we talk about, everything we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
More and more of us are beginning to realize the truth that consciousness is the fundamental core of reality. This premise is as earth-shaking as a caterpillar dissolving and reforming into a butterfly. We are all part of that re-formation of culture. We are realizing that we are not separate from Gaia. We are not separate from nature. We are not separate from one another. As we hurt any of these spheres, we are hurting ourselves.
I see us becoming more intelligent about collaborating with one another and with the earth itself as we rise phoenix-like from the ashes of an empire that has liquified from its body of greed, extractive economics, violence, and hatred. As we rise, we realize our interdependence and become architects of a better world, revolutionizing the way we conduct everything from science to business to social innovation.
I’m optimistic about the future even though I may not live long enough to see the full outcome of our efforts. I encourage us all to follow the advice that Teddy Roosevelt gave, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” And that, I believe, is our individual assignment. I add to that my hope that we not be attached to the outcome. There are larger cycles that we may not see as we walk this pilgrim path. But know that every effort at “waking up” and joining hands with one another will ultimately lead to the emergence of a new butterfly culture. As Michael Toms said many times, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and working actively to change the evidence.”
– Justine Willis Toms