Cover: Common Starling flock, Dumfries, Scotland. Photograph: Paul Hobson/FLPA
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Article image credit: The 'heart and soul' nebulae. Photograph: Courtesy ESA/ESO/NASA
We live in an extraordinary age – an age of both mortal danger and unprecedented opportunity, if only we can understand what’s happening and why. Our capacity for destruction, both military and environmental, is vastly greater today than it was half a century ago, and will be greater still tomorrow.
It seems as if this mortal danger is forcing us to take a great leap in our evolution that we might never have made, were we not driven to it by the crises facing us. This leap consists of an expansion of human consciousness; a shift from seeing ourselves as the dominant species on this planet with a right to exploit its resources for our own needs, to seeing ourselves as utterly dependent for our survival on an extraordinary living web of planetary life. This great web of life, formed over countless millions of years, will not survive unless we respect the interdependence of its living systems.
At present we live irresponsibly, unconsciously, as if we can do what we like to the Earth, without consequences. We live as if there is no purpose or meaning to our lives beyond meeting our material needs. We live as if we are separate from each other and the planet. We live as if the presence of soul or spirit is irrelevant.
The treasure that we have lost is a living relationship with the soul. In the past, the word ‘soul’ conveyed meaning: the greatest artists, poets and mystics were engaged in keeping people in touch with their soul. Today the word means little in a culture unaware of the value of an inner life.
Our brilliant technological culture inflicts intolerable stress on us because it grants no value to mystery. It allows no time for relationship with the soul, no time to awaken to the beauty and wonder of the extraordinary treasure that lies within us, and the magnificence all around us.
Given that we may have only a few decades to heal ourselves and the planet, how do we recover our lost sense of being part of something totally sacred? How do we develop respect and compassion for Nature? How do we meet the needs of the human heart for love, relatedness, connection?
We can make radical shifts in our everyday lives in the way we do things, in the way we think, in how we are. Instead of seeing the current crises as frightening, we can see the opportunity they offer to transform the deficient values that currently drive our economies.
We can develop new energy technologies that are benign rather than destructive or polluting. We can adjust our domestic decisions – decisions about travel, heating, conserving food and precious resources – to the needs of the planet. We can take our business away from dehumanised organisations to more connected ones, where we can form a relationship with a person, such as local barter systems.
In our workplace, we can suggest and support moves away from hierarchical structures to horizontal ones that are personalised and connected and enable individuals to develop and thrive. We can demonstrate to leaders and managers that ‘top down’ change cannot succeed without ‘bottom up’ consultation and engagement. We can move away from the sickness of greed and ruthless competition towards an understanding of our path in life, of what we are really here to do.
We shall need emotional intelligence, understanding not simply the point of view but the needs of the ‘opponent’. Nonviolent communication is now being learned and used by people all over the world, simply because it works, and works wonders.
We are being offered new opportunities to grow and become more complete human beings. Servant leadership for example is a powerful way to learn how I – as an ego – can step back, and I as a servant can step forward. An ongoing practice of reflection or self-awareness could become a daily support. Self-knowledge enables us to develop the ability to confront and transform darker emotions.
Our book explains how each one of us can find our own unique path. In fact this may be the most important thing we ever do; to perceive how our particular skills can be of most use to the planet and future generations, and how this can inspire and guide our actions.
Soul Power: An Agenda for a Conscious Humanity by Anne Baring and Scilla Elworthy is published by Booksurge (2009), ISBN 978143923415.