“The Ecozoic (era) is the period when human conduct will be guided by the ideal of an integral earth community, a period when humans will be present upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.” – Thomas Berry
American society, and human society generally, faces a critical time. We have lived and created our cultures and societies since the dawn of civilizations from an egocentric perspective, that is, human consciousness has constellated, like planets circling a sun, around the perspective that me, my family, my group, my country, my species is important over all that is “other.” All of our social, cultural and economic systems have developed from this perspective. This abstracted “me” as an entity separate and struggling for significance and preeminence in the universe is what is psychologically known as ego.
From a psychological perspective, this post-hunter-gatherer period could be called the beginnings of the Egocentric era of human evolution. It has lasted ten thousand years. Ever since small bands of humans stepped out of the forests and a wholly symbiotic relationship with nature, and began to cultivate crops and to develop increasingly refined tools for manipulating nature, humanity’s unique evolutionary trait for abstracted consciousness has also ever-increasingly separated human identity from nature. What follows, are eras noted by humanity abstracting individual and social/cultural experience further out of nature, increasingly identifying with technology that manipulates nature to enhance human power.
We have, heretofore, mostly believed this to be a good thing. It is more and more, however, being noted as a disaster, first for the planet and its non-human occupants, and finally, as the sword of Damocles that hangs over humanity’s head, it’s supporting thread about to break. And so it is. An evolutionary crisis is at hand. The species, Homo Sapiens, the term itself, in the Latin meaning “wise or intelligent man,” has unwisely, unintelligently come into existential disharmony with the planet that is its home. We cannot project our species into the future following this course another one hundred years, let alone ten thousand, without seeing a severe diminishment of the quality of life on this planet. As in every evolutionary crisis for a species, either an evolutionary leap is made, or devolution, possibly extinction results.
There is, however, hope for humankind. The evolutionary trait of humanity is consciousness, and as the great paleontologist/theologian, Teilhard de Chardin noted, the evolution of consciousness is an ever-expanding convergent process. This means that the sense of “I” incorporates that which had been previously exiled to “other.” In the track of human history, we have greatly overcome tribalism, hereditary aristocracy, ethnicism, religious intolerance, sexism and other forms of division to have an ever-expanding and increasingly stable sense of inclusion within the human family. Glaring remaining exceptions give validity to the rule. de Chardin noted that the ultimate evolutionary perspective will arrive when the experience of “I” as entirely separate from “other,” not only between human groups, but humanity and all that exists, is overcome completely.
For this to occur, one “ism,” for which there is barely a glimmer of realization, must be acknowledged. It is species-ism, humanity’s failure to recognize the rights and needs of all on this planet, including the planet, which is not human. It is a form of collective egocentricism. For humanity to have a humane long future, a leap of consciousness is required that will first, enfold all humanity, and then, the ecosystem of humanity, within one reverential system. There is required a new consciousness that synthesizes the Nature reverence of primitive humans with the technological and democratic advancement of modern human civilization, creating a highly sophisticated world culture that applies its inventiveness not to the domination of Nature, and of other human, non-human groups and the planet, but to the harmonious support of all: “when humans will be present upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”
Ironically, there is an existing and ancient vein of human philosophy that is capable of exactly this vision. It is the Hindu/Buddhist/ Taoist traditions of Asia that emerged just as complex civilizations were being born. They are a bridge to a time when humanity still identified with Nature as its source and context. The “awakening” that is the meaning of the Sanskrit root of the words, Buddhism and Buddha, is exactly the awakening into the trans-egoic consciousness, the rediscovery of “original nature” within every person, that is required to take humanity and its home planet with all its occupants forward into the future. It is the core of these philosophies to grasp the interconnectedness and inter-Beingness of all who share this ecosystem. As Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth, “Awakened doing is the outer aspect of the next stage in the evolution of consciousness on our planet.”
Meditation and mindfulness are the irreplaceable practices that lead to this consciousness of “awakened doing.” To meditate on our present economic, political, social and psychological crises leads to the inescapable recognition of this truth. To meditate on our individual consciousness is to inescapably realize that we must “awaken” into an expanded, evolved awareness-and-doing to transcend our individual anxious, competitive egocentric tendencies. And to meditate is to discover the irrefutable path that leads to this awakening. These insights are what Buddha described as the result of his meditation in the famous “Four Noble Truths,” the doctrine core of Buddhism.
There is hope for humankind, and it has been ensconced in the background of human history for thousands of years locked away within the protective shell of these ancient religions waiting until it was needed. It is now needed. It is time to crack the anachronistic religious husks and claim the inner fruit. Humanity is of Nature. Nature is the home and source of humanity. Humanity’s “original nature,” as Buddhism refers to it, must awaken. The rebirth and contemporization of this philosophy and its meditative practices will result in what Thomas Berry refers to in The Great Work, as the next phase of human evolution, the Ecozoic era, as the ancient and modern reconcile and synthesize into a new flowering.