In the first article of this series I wrote about the loss of soul that occurred from Western society’s transition from craft to manufactured goods. But there is more. The transition profoundly affects each of us every day.
When You create something, as opposed to merely assembling parts on a production line, you engage in a process – a process of learning and exploration. You push the limits of your experience, move into unknown territory and expand the boundaries of your awareness. Personal growth comes from process, from pushing boundaries, facing fears, overcoming obstacles and expanding horizons.
Your creative efforts may not be appreciated by the critics, but in the context of spiritual growth, what you accomplish is not nearly as important as the process you engage in, because creative exploration is a vital part of the development of your soul. Think of it this way – love is to the soul what breath is to the body. That is why people study art – it speaks to their souls. And, the less practical your exploration, the more spiritually beneficial your efforts are likely to be.
Western society’s preoccupation with money and “success” has brought us to largely ignore the process and focus entirely on outcomes. The only thing that matters in America today is winning, gauged by the numbers: the price, the sports score, the school grades, the square footage of your home. Human factors are irrelevant. Your life may be a complete travesty, but if you have money or notoriety, it doesn’t matter. We don’t really care how you get there – even if the process is unethical (like sports doping) – so long as you don’t get caught and you deliver. The problem is that if your focus is on the outcome – on the product – you sacrifice the personal growth inherent in the creative process. Instead of an artist, You become a manufacturer, and the West has become a vast culture of manufacturers.
We have created an age of human robots – very good at making business-related decisions and lousy at development of the inner self. Business provides plenty of challenges, but to what end? For example, being a better lawyer does not necessarily develop the soul. Some would argue that it actually goes in the opposite direction. A person on a production line putting hubcaps on Oldsmobiles isn’t going to expand their personal horizons very far, either. They are going to make money. A Wall Street banker can learn a lot about manipulation, greed and skirting the law, but he’s not going to do much for the development of his soul. The focus on outcomes has left us adrift in a world ruled by emotion, but with few tools to address it and with very limited means to advance our spiritual growth – the reason we have come to earth.
Soul work is not a part of the corporate ethos. Financial managers define spiritual development outside the proper function of business. Besides, it negatively impacts profits. The business community has relegated (non-business related) personal development to psychologists and religion, and both have failed at that task miserably. Consider the things people do outside of work – fishing, painting, sailing, woodwork, making jewelry, public service, sports, meditation, yoga, knitting, music – all unprofitable and incredibly inefficient endeavors – that also feed the soul.
The corporate community is self-absorbed in relation to the “socialist leaning” arts, forcing the vast majority of writers, painters, musicians and actors, who feed our souls, to wait tables or starve.
I do not mean to disregard the benefits of consumerism and all the things corporations have given us, but we must ask ourselves, “How does the corporate culture, that dominates Western society, relate to the purpose of our being here?” From a strictly spiritual perspective – which, as I said, is the reason we have come to earth – the qualities inherent in a materialistic lifestyle have been a diversion, perhaps a necessary one, from our path to spiritual enlightenment.
We took the corporate side road because we wanted easier lives, and there is nothing wrong with that. But on the way, we fell into the traps of greed and materialism. Greed is easy. Any jerk can make money, in fact it’s easier if you are a jerk. Conversely, spiritual work is demanding and difficult. But in any case, it is clearly time to steer a course back towards the true road. What will make the transition challenging is that the foundations of spirituality – compassion and generosity – are anathema to business. Corporate culture regards them as anti-capitalistic socialism.
For thousands of years, spiritual teachers have urged us to avoid the seduction of greed and to focus on the process, not the outcome. That’s why most of them eschewed worldly pursuits to live on the road, adopting the way of the robe, walking stick and sandals. They understood the risks of pursuing a materialistic life.
Native Americans used to practice a ritual known as the “Vision Quest,” where the individual went alone into the wilderness, suffered deprivations and in the process, made a powerful and fundamental connection with his soul. Jesus and Moses went into the desert to face their demons and commune with God, Buddha wandered for years in the wilderness, Muhammed had his cave. The sages of India, Buddhist priests of Southeast Asia and Christian monks live simply in ashrams or monasteries, purposefully isolating themselves from the world so that they can heal their emotional wounds and eventually re-emerge to be of service. They focus on the spiritual process because they know that if they do that the outcome will take care of itself.
Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s most accomplished painters, was completely absorbed into his creative process. He lived and breathed his paintings, and it shows in the passion they project.
During his life, Van Gogh “sold” just one painting, which was really a trade for art supplies. Van Gogh was a “failure” because he did not sell his works, but I doubt that he cared. His life was so rich from the benefits of his creative work that something as mundane as money would have been irrelevant to him. What is not well known was that prior to his painting work, Van Gogh was a lay minister, so devout that he lived in abject poverty because he gave everything he had to the poor.
The people we most admire – like Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, St. Francis, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa, were people who had an incredible commitment to their principles. Their dedication to the truth gave them the strength to weather incredible difficulties. One of the things they all did, by the way, was to eschew the pursuit of wealth.
Conversely, the great business scions of the last generation like Ray Kroc and Sam Walton are gone, and few outside their empires will remember them, because these men served their own needs and ends. I find it ironic that Wal*Mart, one of the great business success stories of the last generation, owes a considerable part of it’s success to paying miserly wages and forcing its employees to live on the public subsidy of food stamps. The next time you are in a Wal*Mart, remember that a significant part of this giant retailer’s success is due to the public subsidy of its employee’s wages. The scions of the present generation will be remembered, not for their contributions, but for their incomprehensible narcissism and greed.
As I said in the first article, many people are concerned about the path of corporate society. The Western press does not talk about this much, but notwithstanding their local issues, the people of the world are very concerned about the corrupting Western juggernaut that bombs its women and children and whose corporations corrupt its governments, subvert traditional cultures and lay waste to the environment.
What to do? The solution will entail a massive cultural shift – the likes of which we have never seen. And because of the powerfully entrenched interests, it is difficult to envision a transition of this magnitude without considerable strife and conflict.
The pattern we have seen in the past in other successful social transformations has been when a group of dedicated “true believers” successfully brings their cause to the attention of the general populace through protests, marches and stories in the media. They eventually receive the support of a few courageous political leaders and then muscle the perennial conservative opposition aside. You will find this to be true in The American Revolution, the anti-slavery movement of the 1860′s, the Populist Party movement of the 1890′s, the women’s voting rights effort, Prohibition, the Civil Rights and environmental movements of the 1960′s, the anti-war protests of the 1970′s and more recently, the movement for women’s equality and the emerging movements for gay rights and animal rights.
But, as I said, the scale and scope of the changes to the foundations of Western culture dwarf previous social transformations. They represent nothing short of a complete restructuring of social priorities. It is also very difficult to conceive of the mass of Western consumers eschewing inexpensive consumer goods to pay perhaps three to ten times more for the same things not to be made in Chinese sweat shops. Although automation holds some hope for the future of manufacturing, and it has made strides in freeing some people from drudgery, robots are still a long way from substituting for human factory workers.
People concerned about the dark side of industry have predicted its demise for years, and have generally misread the system’s vitality and political staying power. However, it is very possible that the age of industry has outlived its usefulness and that some of the dark clouds on the horizon are the harbingers of its demise. Contributing to that dark image are also other forces that may coalesce to tip the economic system on its head.
Global warming, which the business community maintains does not exist, is already wreaking ecological havoc on the world’s climate and food supply. One hundred million people will die by 2030 as a direct result of global warming’s effects. Today, one third of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has simply disappeared. Arctic sea ice is disappearing much faster than even the most dire predictions. Rainforests that once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface now cover a mere 6% of it, and experts estimate that the remainder will be totally consumed by 2050. Ocean fisheries have been so depleted by advanced fishing technologies that a significant number of fish species will very likely never be able to recover.
Another major contributor to the chaos may well be a great tsunami advancing silently underneath the human population – the devastating alienation and isolation people feel in their lives. This represents an enormous social cost (drug and alcohol abuse, for example) that does not appear on corporate balance sheets, but if this tsunami ever breaks to the surface, as it began to in the Arab Spring this year, it will be an undeniable, massive force, impossible to ignore.
A great deal has been said and misunderstood, about the Mayan calendar predictions. The Mayan do not predict the end of the world, but rather the end of this world – the corporate one. There have been five “suns” in the Mayan calendar over the last 26,000 years, and the end of each “sun” has been marked by significant and often devastating disruption.
Predictions of other massive natural disasters have been with us for some time, and not just from Mayan sources. The Hopi, Nostradamus and many other seers, psychics and prophets have long predicted a period of intense earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, massive weather disturbances, volcanic eruptions, solar flares, etc. Some have even predicted that the earth will shift its poles! We are seeing twice as many natural disasters than at any time in the past. And, if the pattern continues, in combination with the present economic instability, political paralysis and the impacts of global warming, it is very possible that the synergy of these factors could substantially disrupt economic and political systems all over the planet and push them into disarray and chaos.
But ultimately the greatest challenge will be within ourselves. Americans have allowed corporate thinking to turn them into a nation of obedient and complacent sheep, far more docile than their European counterparts. Most Americans won’t even send back a bad restaurant meal!
So it is very possible that the entire social system will have to collapse in order to give birth to a new order not based in greed and power. The tragedy is that this is really doing things the hard way! What it will take to get us from point A to B is anyone’s guess, but it looks like it is going to be one hell of a ride!
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016