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The Reality of the Psyche

By Daniel Pinchbeck

A few months ago, I attended the Burning Man festival, in the Black Rock desert of Nevada, for the fifth time in a row. Burning Man has been called the world's biggest party, but I don't even know if I have "fun" at Burning Man in any ordinary sense - being there is incredibly intense, a kind of psychophysical endurance test. Despite the difficulties, I will continue to return as long as it is possible to do so. The gathering acts as an enormous shamanic transformer, constellating new insights and clearing away old junk.

I chose to go to Burning Man instead of staying in New York for the protests surrounding the Republican Convention. My increasing suspicion is that traditional forms of protest, at this point, are only playing into the hands of the security apparatus. The police and military get the opportunity to test out their latest tactics and shiniest gadgets, while the corporate media finds the most incendiary images to broadcast across the US, amping up the anxiety. The catharsis that protestors get from yelling slogans across barbed wire barriers and out of "free speech pens" might be energy that could be more creatively invested in other ways.

As the corporate and governmental superstructure continue a lockstep march towards their own self-destruction, their attempts to pulverize the collective psyche into submission becomes more transparent and overt. Electrical currents of spite and anxiety ripple across our public discourse and private lives. The individual's refusal to fall into these traps or accept this negative conditioning can be a great liberation. At Burning Man, I kept thinking that the most meaningful political act, right now, is to continue cultivating fearlessness in pursuit of joy. To be fearless, calm, and joyful is to jam a wrench into the "Brave New 1984" technodystopic machinery that is seeking to impose itself on our world.

I consider the current sociopolitical abyss to be a kind of evolutionary tool. The control apparatus of modern society may be functioning as a training ground for a new level of consciousness. Many different thinkers of the Twentieth Century, as well as the prophecies of archaic and indigenous spiritual traditions, have proposed that a major change in human consciousness is imminent. This has been articulated in various ways. Before his death in 1961, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw that the "reality of the psyche," repressed by the modern mentality, would soon become unavoidable. Mankind was being forced to climb "to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness," to handle "the superhuman powers which the fallen angels" had dropped into our hands.

The Austrian visionary Rudolf Steiner (founder of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education) claimed that the mission of his life on Earth was to return the knowledge of reincarnation to the West. According to Steiner, individual human beings reincarnate again and again, and the Earth itself passes through successive incarnations. He considered this phase to be the fourth incarnation of the Earth. Steiner thought we are approaching a fifth incarnation, the "Jupiter state," where humanity would evolve new capacities and reach a new level of wisdom - actually, not just humans. According to Steiner, the plant and mineral kingdom would reach a higher level of consciousness during this next incarnation, while humanity would split into several different "human kingdoms," undergoing different forms of evolution.

The Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo also felt that we were moving towards a new level or intensity of consciousness. In one of his last essays, The Mind of Light, he defined this as the "supramental" state. Just as life had self-organized out of matter, and mind had self-organized out of life, consciousness would evolve beyond the obscurations and ignorance of our current condition - to attain a level of truth-consciousness, and spiritual awareness, that could not be manipulated or fooled. Aurobindo speculated that our evolution would accelerate exponentially from that point. Once we had reached this supramental state, this truth-consciousness, we would be able to transform our physical reality and our bodies. "Man," Aurobindo wrote, "is a transitional being." The powers unleashed by technology might be reintegrated into the psyche, at a higher level of development.

As counterintuitive as it may seem at first, I propose that our current environment, saturated with noise and chaos and fear-mongering, is the necessary background for attaining this supramental condition, for accepting and mastering the reality of the psyche. The new mindset stems from a fearless curiosity and hunger for truth, and a rejection of the cynicism and negative programming foisted upon it by the corporate-controlled media and current power structure. The new intensity of consciousness accepts the reality of psychic and occult levels of reality, denied by modern materialism, but integrates this understanding with a scientific, pragmatic, and empirical approach to existence. As a speaker at Burning Man pointed out, it is not "New Age," but "New Edge."

My hypothesis is that at least a portion of humanity attains this level of "supramental" consciousness - including, as Aurobindo proposes, an accelerated evolution - as we approach the year 2012, prophesied by the Mayans as the end of the 5,125-year "Great Cycle" of human history. Despite current appearances, we are on the verge of a transition into a new intensity of human consciousness that will institute an harmonic and utopian situation on the Earth. This thesis is not mine alone - it is carefully elaborated by Carl Johann Calleman, among others, in his new book, The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness (Bear & Co.). This book supports the basic ideas of the writers Jose Arguelles and John Major Jenkins - a new outsider paradigm is crystallizing.

Calleman, a biologist who has worked with the World Health Organization, considers the development of human consciousness to be an organic process akin to fetal development. Chemical signals are transmitted to the fetus in an incredibly complex and perfectly orchestrated sequence. The proposal made by Arguelles, Calleman, and others, is that the evolution of human consciousness on Earth follows a similar process on a planetary scale, and we are currently approaching the birth of the higher mind, or noosphere, of the Earth. After many years of research, Calleman as well as Arguelles understand the Mayan Calendar to be a synchronically-attuned device that indicates the year-by-year changes, in this final period, leading to the inevitable phase-transition of human consciousness.

The run-up to the 2012 transition appears, necessarily, as universal capitulation and collapse - just as birth is a messy process that would appear horrific to the uninformed observer. According to Calleman's study of the Mayan Calendar, the global economy - and with it, the materialist paradigm currently holding the collective psyche at a certain level of development - will collapse around 2007 - 2008. Right now, we are being forced to witness the shadow of the psyche projected into material form through systemic misuse of technology, biospheric destruction, as well as our current political farce. During the transition, things seem to be getting simultaneously - paradoxically - much better and much worse. Time itself seems to be changing form, accelerating, as events follow each other at breakneck pace.

Obviously, it is a difficult leap for most people to accept the possibility that the Maya had a deeper understanding of time - as a synchronic order, rather than a simple linear extension - than we currently possess. However, it seems to me that any impartial study of the current world situation makes it obvious that the current social and political paradigm is unsustainable, even in the short term. We are depleting and burning out our global resources at an ever-accelerating rate. A cynical or nihilistic perspective on the imminent fate of our species is, of course, plausible, but unproductive. An alternate perspective sees the destruction of the biosphere - and the development of technology - as byproducts of the psychospiritual evolution of humanity, bringing us to a new form or phase-state of consciousness.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Burning Man is the wide-open expanse of the desert itself, which seems to represent the infinite potential available to the liberated human imagination. While I was bicycling across the playa one night, enjoying the laser lights and carnival displays of the festival from a distance, I thought that the shift to a new planetary culture, and a new form of nonhierarchical social organization matching our new level of mind, does not have to be a cataclysmic or destructive one. The transition could occur in a manner similar to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Empire - a sudden piffle, and a shocking surrender. However, for this to happen, the new paradigm must already be in place, at least as an undercurrent. Lacking a model or an imprint, the collapse of the current system will result in a world resembling that of the Road Warrior films, without the occasional flickers of irony.

If we can make the transition to a truly rational planetary culture based on compassion, generosity, and dharmic principles, this will inspire a change in our basic conception of science. Rather than seeking to resolve dualisms and institute some final "Theory of Everything," the science of post-history will embrace and explore paradox, going deeper into conundrums, relinquishing delusory attempts to achieve closure. Superstring physics describes a universe of nine, ten, or eleven dimensions. If reality is, as Buddhism proposes, actually maya, a projection of subtler levels of the psyche, then we may come to accept that the extradimensional object or hypercube described by physics is the psyche itself, in its full multidimensions.

I suggest that the planes or surfaces of this object can be incorporated into awareness as the various vectors or intervals or vibrational field-effects experienced in non-ordinary states - induced by psychoactive substances, meditations, dreams, shamanic trances, and so on. Different psychedelics open "lines of flight" or ingressions across the extra-dimensional object that is the psyche itself. When we have matured to the point that we can accept the "reality of the psyche," investigating these areas will be recognized as natural and even essential to expanding the parameters of human understanding. The science and art of post-history will be dedicated to exploring the numinous paradoxes of psychic reality. Instead of seeking closure, we will open new possibilities and explore infinite new realms
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