Thanksgiving in the Cosmos: The Next Enlightenment
A Special offering from Bioneers – for this, our time.
The world has entered a period of radical creative destruction — of breakdown and breakthrough. The very fate of human civilization hangs in the balance. Where have we gone so wrong? Could it be our cosmology itself, our view of our place in the natural and cosmic order? As author Richard Tarnas observes, “World views create worlds.” Is a fundamental transformation of our civilization’s world view the gateway to our survival and flourishing as a species? In this Bioneers audio special, we take an experiential journey into cosmology, consciousness and change, with: Chief Oren Lyons, Native American leader from the Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy; Richard Tarnas, the author of Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View; and featuring music from Shaman’s Dream and Blue Tech.
- Chief Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Wolf Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Hau de no sau nee, or Six Nations — Onandaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora. He has been very active defending indigenous rights in U.N. forums around the world, and is a principal figure in the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders, a council of grassroots leaders of North American Indian nations.
- Richard Tarnas, founding director of the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he currently teaches. Tarnas is the author of The Passion of the Western Mind and Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View.
- Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
- Written by: Kenny Ausubel
- Host and Producer: Neil Harvey
Music by Shaman’s Dream and Blue Tech, from the CD Prana Pulse.
This is a Bioneers Audio Special. Visit our radio and podcast homepage to find out how to hear our regular program on your local station and how to subscribe to the podcast.
Subscribe to the Bioneers: Revolution from The Heart of Nature podcast
CHIEF OREN LYONS: The Question: How do you teach seven billion people to respect their relationship that they have with the Earth? Soon, now…
NEIL HARVEY, HOST: The world has entered a period of radical creative destruction — of breakdown and breakthrough. The very fate of human civilization hangs in the balance – an unprecedented planetary emergency. Has the apparent success of the modern project of “human progress” also precipitated our downfall?
As the wheels of the modern project of “human progress” come to a halt, we MUST contemplate this dawning age of biology and carefully reconsider “Who are we? What are we here for?” – our cosmology. Where have we gone so wrong? Could it be our cosmology itself, our view of our place in the natural and cosmic order?
As author Richard Tarnas observes, “World views create worlds.” Is a fundamental transformation of our civilization’s world view the gateway to our survival and flourishing as a species?
In this Bioneers audio special, we take an experiential journey into cosmology, consciousness and change – with Richard Tarnas, the author of Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View – and Chief Oren Lyons, Native American leader from the Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy.
I’m Neil Harvey. This is Thanksgiving in the Cosmos: The Next Enlightenment.
RICHARD TARNAS: Why is cosmology important? Cosmology is important because it is the container for everything that happens in a civilization. Our understanding of ourselves as human beings in the cosmos, our…our psychology, our strategies for how we relate to the larger community of life, all this is shaped by our cosmology in very fundamental ways.
And it’s been characteristic of our cosmology since the extraordinary convulsion of the birth of the modern era, the scientific revolution, the enlightenment, that there has emerged a fundamental separation of the human being from the cosmos, from the rest of nature, a sense of a separation between what in philosophy we call like the Cartesian subject, the monotheistic rational heroic solar ego in the larger matrix of nature.
And that separation has created what can perhaps best be summarized as a disenchanted cosmos, that is a cosmos that has been neutralized of all—of all spirit and soul, of all interiority.
CHIEF OREN LYONS: Talking here about cosmos, cosmology, …and I represent the Onondaga Nation so I speak rather specifically, you know, about the Iroquois, the Hau de no sau nee. Yeah, it’s Hau de no sau nee, which means the people of the long house. It’s…it’s a league—called the great league of peace. It’s old compared to other nations. It’s over a thousand years old. And the structure that we use today is the same structure that was given to us a thousand years ago.
So, it’s Indian country. We talk about Indian country, and it’s a big country. You know, on this whole Turtle Island that you’re sitting on right here. It’s all Indian country. And old, old people. Been here a long time, still here, and still carrying on ceremonies. Thanksgiving and the cosmos. What is the cosmos? You know? We all have our stories. Everybody has their stories. And I just always wanna hear a nation’s story. And when I hear the story, it’s amazing what it says. You know, if you’re talking to the Coast Salish people up there along the coast, they’ll talk about the clams, it’s in their cosmology. Salmon, or Lakota talk about the buffalo—[Lakota term]. Or the Hau de no sau nee will talk about peace.
RT: Imagine that you’re the universe and you’re being approached by two suitors, that is two ways of knowing you. And one suitor looks upon you, the universe, as being intrinsically incapable of any spiritual depths or of any meaning or purpose, of any conscious intelligence. All of that is see—the suitor looks upon himself as being the only being capable of that, and looks upon you as being something that is best understood in such a way that he can better exploit your resources for his own self enhancement. And so, the purpose of knowledge is prediction and control.
The second suitor looks upon you, the universe, as being at least as intelligent and spiritually profound as he might be capable of—he or she, and in this perspective this approach, this suitor looks upon you as being…a being that is best approached not through a narrow rationalism but through a capacity for an empathic, imaginative aesthetic, intuitive somatic, as well as reason and sense. All of this has to be brought, not to predict and control but rather to better overcome the barrier between self and world, human and nature, so that a larger creative potentiality can emerge out of this coniunctio, out of this sacred marriage.
If you’re the universe, who would you open up your deepest being to?
OL: Our story begins beyond the stars, way beyond the stars, before there was an Earth here, when this planet was a ball of water. That’s how our story starts in the sky world, when things were over there. Beautiful story—sky woman, Turtle Island. Strong cosmology.
And we were always relating, you know, our story is always about relationship. And so, as it goes, how the Earth came about on the back of a turtle, and how we got our names, and how we got our designations. Identity is so important, to have an identity, to have and know who you are. Fundamental peace to know who you are.
Our families, large extended families were named after the natural world here. See? This is my family right here. You see it? Othahyǫnih. The wolf. My family is the wolf. And things going pretty hard for my family out there these days in Minnesota and Montana, Canada and Alaska. Yeah, pretty hard for…And we have other families—the turtle, the eel, deer, bear, snipe, hawk, beaver—these are families. And why? Why? Well, it’s quite simple. We’re related. We’re closely related. So, just by the designation we’re tied to the Earth. We’re reminded all the time that this is our relation, this is our relative. We have a very large family, a very extended family. It goes around the world.
RT: But our civilization has by and large entirely bought into the first suitor’s approach that has brought about the reality that we see before us today, because a disenchanted, objectifying cosmology essentially empowers the utilitarian mindset whose highest value is profit and power.
And as a result, there’s a kind of spiritual emptiness in a disenchanted universe that the people attempt to fill that spiritual void with whatever they can, and if all they know is a materialistic universe, then consumerism is the strategy to fulfill that emptiness. So, we have a kind of techno-consumerist frenzy that is cannibalizing the planet…and because we can never get enough of what we don’t really need, we have this situation that we see before us today.
OL: …We’re tied to the Earth.
You’re included. Human species. We’re a species, we’re not races. We’re black, we’re white, we’re red, yellow and everything in between. We can exchange blood. We’re family. We’re brothers and sisters. And we have intellects. It’s why we talk about psyche and cosmology. We have intellect. We kind of bounce it around a lot, you know.
But our cosmology tells us how we’re related and how we came about, and how important it is to maintain this relationship.
And so my question to you, ponder and think about and come back with an answer, how do you teach seven billion people to respect their relationship that they have with the Earth? Soon, now…why? Well, we’re facing a crisis.
HOST: Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons and author Richard Tarnas, recorded at a Bioneers conference. This is “Thanksgiving in the Cosmos: The Next Enlightenment”, an audio special from Bioneers.
RT: So, in the modern cosmos, if you perceive any meaning and purpose, whether it’s in something that’s happening outside of you in nature, whether it’s a—if you see meaningful patterns that perhaps nature is representing and communicating to the human being through the flights of birds or the movements of the planets or the cycles of the sun and moon, from the modern perspective you’re simply projecting human meaning onto the non-human world. That’s what disenchantment is. It’s a way of turning the world into an object. It’s having an I:it relationship with the universe rather than an I:thou relationship.
That’s been very empowering in certain respects for the human being. Suddenly the world is ours to manipulate and rationally comprehend, predict, explain, control, exploit. But at a huge price, a price of spiritual alienation, but also at a price that can be seen in the external world in our time, and that is the great ecological catastrophe that we are grappling with.
OL: How do you teach seven billion people to respect their relationship that they have with the Earth?
RT: The world is deep, deeper than day can comprehend, as Friedrich Nietzsche said so eloquently. There’s more going on than just that one light of the solar egoic consciousness might be seeing. The night sky with the many lights, the night sky ruled by the moon that allows us to see the whole of space rather than just the very clarified part that’s visible during the day. That larger whole allows us to entertain other possibilities.
I think we, today, are recognizing that a profound change is taking place, and I want to argue that what we have seen in the last century in particular is not just a horrific, tragic error, ’cause after all, so much that is noble and precious has taken place, that is also connected to the modern project and to the autonomy, that has been part of what has emerged in the modern world, the autonomy, even the spiritual freedom, as well as intellectual and moral. Many positive qualities are there, and…I believe that in some sense we can look at what has taken place as a so many of the symptoms of our time and of the last century resemble a kind of initiatory crisis.
OL: We have good relations with the Maya. We have old relations. We’ve known them for a long time. So, I asked one of the leaders one time. I said, Well, what’s happening in 2012? And he says, The calendar’s coming to an end. I said, And then what? He said, Well, we’ll make another one. [LAUGHTER]
He says, However, there’ll be a period of enlightenment. And I thought about that. I said, What do you mean by that period of enlightenment? He’s talking about Long Island, and here is this businessman who works in New York, and beautiful day, and decides he’s going to take his boat, go out and do some fishing instead of go to work. So he does. It’s right there, way out in Montauk, tip of Long Island, sitting out there fishing. Bright sun, hot day. I’m gonna go swimming. So, he jumps off the boat and swims around—pretty big boat, you need a ladder to get back up. There it was, the ladder’s there and he’s floating around the water. Beautiful. And he drifts a little ways from the boat, but not far. And turns around and he sees a fin, a gray fin coming directly towards him about three feet out of the water. Oh, shit, he says. I shoulda went to work. That’s a period of enlightenment. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE]
RT: The dark night of the soul, the sense of a deconstruction of the old identity, the crisis of meaning, the encounter with mortality on a planetary scale, all these resemble closely what happens in indigenous rights of passage, in the death/rebirth mysteries, in what Jung would call the individuation process, what often happens spontaneously in near-death experiences.
The separation from the community in our case, in the modern human case, it’s been a separation from the entire community of being itself, from the universe, from the cosmos. And it’s as if the universe itself is putting us through some kind of initiatory death/rebirth process, even as we ourselves are co-creating it, helping to constellate it.
OL: Here we are. It is a period of enlightenment, calendar’s changing, and things are happening, as you well know. So, here we are gathered,… and it means you gotta bear down now. And all you kids out—all the young people out there, gonna need your legs, gonna need your strength, and…ourselves, we have to take a good look at ourselves and say, How are we gonna manage these next years coming? And what about the kids, and seven generations, as our leaders have been told?
The instructions we got, one of the instructions, one of many, “when you sit and you counsel for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself, nor of your family, nor even your generation. Make your decisions on behalf of the seven generation coming. Those faces looking up from the ground, layer upon layer…make your decisions on their behalf. You yourself will have peace.”
How do you teach seven billion people to respect their relationship that they have with the Earth?
RT: I think in some sense the universe may have been constellating painstakingly and painfully a partner to reconnect with the soul of the universe in a new way, not only rediscover that soul of the universe, but to reconnect with it. Not only to reconnect with it but to forge a new relationship to it that builds upon everything that has been learned in these thousands of years and in the period of the modern and post-modern.
OL: So, we have to be adults, don’t we? We have to grow up, get rid of your toys, trim down. Talked to Ted Turner one time and I said, Ted, we’re headed for a storm. I said, What do you do? He says, “Trim your sails, Man; trim your sails and head her into the wind and ride it.” And that’s where we’re going. So, learn to trim your sails, and we’ll see how good sailors we are. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]