The Earth will be safe
when each of us feels safe.
– Buddhist walking meditation
Healthy people do not need authority figures to tell them what to do,
but only knowledge of themselves, self-esteem, and humility.
– Lao Tzu
My personal quest for more than 20 years now has been to find a pragmatic approach to the question: How does transformation toward health – personal and societal – happen? How, for example, does someone like Nelson Mandela get shaped and formed into the statesman whose values and actions so many could admire? I gained tremendous help in this search through my professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, Robert L. Moore, and his introduction to the work of Victor Turner, particularly their lessons in regard to ritual leadership.
Victor Turner (1920-1983) was a cultural anthropologist who studied tribal peoples in Africa and wrote about the importance of their symbols, rituals and rites of passage in personal and societal transformation. Drawing on the portrait of the process of ritual transformation described by Turner and Moore, I believe it is possible to say that the human and Earth communities are now engaged in what Turner calls “a social drama” of penultimate proportions. In addition, I believe the conscious evolution movement, with its vision that we humans are now evolution become conscious, provides a framework for the ritual leadership required to achieve the successful negotiation of this social drama toward a more healthy life for individuals and for our Earth community.
I believe the successful negotiation of this threshold moment, this liminal time for all humans and the Earth community, will require ritual elders who know the full implications of the emerging conscious evolution movement, its wisdom, principles and practices.
Drawing on Turner, and examining our historical moment in time, I would argue that Turner’s notion of the Breach event that initiates social drama equates in our time to the moment in which humanity first viewed the whole Earth from space. That image, photographed by Apollo astronauts on their way to the moon in the late 1960’s, almost instantly dismantled many of the individual and cultural structures of the past. In Turner’s terms, it has become as if all of humanity rode with those astronauts across a threshold in the blackness of space into this liminal period. Though much chaos and uncertainty has followed, ultimately it can be good news that we together have entered this tumultuous time.
Among its many other impacts, the knowledge that we are one world has heightened the conscious awareness among many people of the unequal distribution of the planet’s limited resources. This has led to the crossroads that Joseph Jaworski (1996, 1998) describes in his book, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. Jaworski tells of his experience in the early 1990’s leading a multinational team of experts in creating two global scenarios for the future of the world in the next thirty years. One scenario, named “The Barricades,” paints a future picture of insulated rich countries indifferent to the problems of the poor countries. In the 21st Century, this stand ultimately leads to a social reality on Earth dominated by violence. Writes Jaworski:
By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the self-reinforcing problems of overpopulation, resource depletion, disease, and increasing lawlessness cause a tidal flow of migrants beating against the “golden curtains” of the rich….By the end of the third decade of the twenty-first century, the scale of the problems in the world of Barricades is overwhelming. As neglected problem-areas deteriorate rapidly and tensions escalate, there is serious doubt as to whether the barricades can hold (p. 159).
In the second scenario, entitled “New Frontiers,” the primary goal in rich countries becomes measured in “quality of life,” replacing the old “growth” paradigm. Continued liberalization and economic growth shifts the center of gravity to the poor countries of the world, which take on new roles in global decision-making. Development is slow and complex, but a new world order eventually takes shape. According to this scenario, these transformations take place because of a change in consciousness and behavior on the part of individuals and governments. Observes Jaworski:
The new international order emerges because governments and individuals can see beyond narrow short-term interests to broader long-term interests and, in some cases, display a real generosity of spirit, as in the aid and debt relief extended to Russia and Africa to give them time to adjust….In New Frontiers, rich and poor alike recognize their economic, social, and environmental interdependence (p. 169).
On the morning of September 11, 2001, as I stood in my place of work and watched with others gathered around a television the live scene of the collapse of the first of the World Trade Towers, the thought that instantly came into my mind was, “Jaworski is right. And now it begins.” For me, 9/11 marked the moment we witnessed the full tragic impact of the crossroads between Jaworksi’s two scenarios.
While I very much appreciated Jaworski’s naming of the scenarios, I am aware that he does not address how we avoid the Barricades and get on the road to the New Frontiers scenario. In other words, while calling for a change in consciousness, he does not suggest how this change in consciousness comes about in the necessary number of people on the planet required for the New Frontiers scenario to be implemented. However, Victor Turner does. Turner speaks of the link between the experience of liminality and the expansion of social loyalties that occurs for participants in ancient adolescent rites of passage. Turner writes:
After his (sic) immersion in the depth of liminality – very frequently symbolized in ritual and myth as a grave that is also a womb– after this profound experience of humiliation and humility, a man (sic) who at the end of the ritual becomes the incumbent of a senior status or even merely of a higher position in some particularistic segment of the social structure can surely never again be quite so parochial, so particularistic, in his social loyalties (1974, pp. 259-260).
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela (1995) describes how in 1934, when he was 16 years old, he underwent the traditional Xhosa initiation ceremony and was circumcised. In Mandela’s description of this experience, we see the ritual process Turner describes, and we hear in Mandela’s own words the impact of the experience on his own consciousness. Mandela describes the experiences surrounding his initiation rite as having “planted a seed” and “though I had let that seed lie dormant for a long season it eventually began to grow” (p. 6). Mandela tries to describe the process of his own conscious evolution into a person concerned for his own and others freedom from existing oppression:
“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise” (Limb, 2008, p. 29)
Moore (2001) points to role of ritual leadership in the how when he argues in support of modern theories of change:
“The effectiveness of modern theories of change based in education, persuasion, and political enlightenment becomes increasingly understandable as we realize the fundamental necessity for ritual leadership that can locate, consecrate, steward, and make use of transformative space in the task of changing personality and cultural systems.”(p. 145).
There is no question for me that we have moved in recent years fully into the Barricades scenario. If we are ever to reach the promise and potential of the New Frontier, we must engage in the conscious transformation Jaworski spoke about, personally and collectively. I am not suggesting we return to tribal practices. Rather, we must seek out and support the new planetary ritual elders, such as Ken Wilber and Barbara Marx Hubbbard, in their attempts at encouraging ritual transformation and its enactment — their work of calling us to new images, new metaphors, new behaviors both as individuals and as societies. Next, we must work at developing our own program for personal transformation. Finally, we must work at designing and developing programs that are affordable and accessible to other.
A resource I found very helpful in beginning to understand the process of conscious evolution and its implications for personal and societal transformation is Wilber’s The Integral Vision. Translating this vision to practical, holistic, every-day implementation is in the collaborative work based on Wilber’s insight, Integral Life Practice. These resources can guide us in creating personal and collective “transformative space” needed to create change, as suggested by Moore.
The sciences are telling us we are all one; the images from space are confirming it. It remains for each one of us to go through the dark tunnel of initiation into behaving as one. This will require, for rich and poor alike, the stripping of former views of development, progress, status, and lifestyle; of national and religious dogmatism in order to come out the other side understanding the true purpose of these structures in our lives. For as Turner concludes: “man (sic) is both a structural and an anti-structural entity, who grows through anti-structure and conserves through structure.”
In these tumultuous times, we are individually and collectively called to let go of present structures – both personal and communal – in order to build new, life-sustaining ones. This is now the quest for us all. I am grateful for the ritual elders I have encountered who are taking the risk to show us the way.
Jaworski, J. (1996,1998). Synchronicity: The inner path of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Limb, P. (2008) Nelson Mandela: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Mandela, N. (1995). Long Walk to Freedom. Little Brown & Co.
Moore, R. L. (2001). The Archetype of Initiation:Sacred Space, Ritual Process, and Personal Transformation. Xlibris.
Petulla, J. (1998). The Tao Te Ching and the Christian Way. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p.111
Turner, V. (1969, 1995). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Chicago, IL: Aldine.
Turner, V. (1974). Dramas, fields and metaphors: symbolic action in human society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.