by Catherine Ingram: Andrew Beath on conscious activism…
Catherine Ingram: What is the primary theme of your new book, Consciousness in Action, and how did it come about?
Andrew Beath: The Book, which was recently published by Lantern Books in New York, has several themes running concurrently. The first is based on a concept that I refer to as natural harmony: the mutually beneficial reciprocity woven into the web of living systems that has allowed life on Earth to endure and evolve over billions of years. Humans are out of sync with natural harmony.
Our inventive ingenuity, based on scientific materialism, dominates our collective worldview. It is primarily manifest as consumerism, which has become the mind set of our current epoch and frequently creates a sense of isolation and meaninglessness in our lives. Consequently, we are willing to damage our environment so drastically that we endanger its health and our very survival.
How we perceive the world, our attitude toward it, is shaping the physical and biological character of our planet. Our worldview is literally creating the Earth’s future. Our level of appreciation or disdain for the Earth’s healthy functioning is determining the extent of additional global warming, ozone holes and species extinctions. Although we humans are just as natural as flowers and other creatures, we are a rapidly evolving and unfinished experiment of the living, dynamic Earth. If we become too burdensome and go too far, it is quite capable of sloughing us off for the health of the whole.
The second theme addresses the potential outcomes, from positive to disastrous, of our human centered—anthropocentric—arrogance. What is the prognosis? What means of salvation could potentially direct us toward a healthy relationship with the Earth and bring forth a vital future? To address these questions I contend that the destruction we have perpetrated on the planet is catalyzing the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. Damage we are causing is the impetus driving evolutionary change and is itself evidence of birth pains associated with the delivery of the next generation of consciousness, which will replace the production-consumption era.
Our ancestors’ mental acuity was informed, over eons of time, by relationships necessitated by the hunt, the subtle qualities that distinguish medicinal from toxic plants, the intellectual focus needed to develop agriculture and to learn to live together in cities, the symbolic thought involved in written language and the inventions of science. Our current evolutionary awakenings are coming from new insights about our interrelationship with the Earth’s dynamic systems. In each circumstance it is the pressure of our human-nature relationship that catalyzes deepened awareness. We are on the cusp of a new era, born of our excesses.
Catherine: So, Andrew, you are describing in the book a possibility of natural harmony and yet cautioning that, due to our destructiveness, the Earth may need to “slough [us] off” unless we rapidly evolve in conscious awareness. What are the ways we may accelerate our evolution into this greater awareness, short of mass scale environmental or other kinds of catastrophe?
Andrew: Our contemporary culture is a confluence of two rivers of energy. One features the scientific-production-consumption worldview of the past several hundred years. The other is an emergent stage of consciousness in which the living planet, Gaia, is the center of attention. Will we poison our children with nuclear waste and destabilize life with irresponsible genetic manipulation? Or will we deepen our understanding of the web of life and act on what we learn?
I propose that the planet’s health and our species’ future depend on a series of individual and society-wide awakenings based on a more profound understanding of our interrelationship with all life.
I use the term “liberation pathways” to describe the many processes that can expand our awareness, heal our wounds, reduce our fears and, thereby, ally us with natural harmony. Is there time to complete this process? I don’t know, but that’s what makes participation in the adventure even more compelling. The personal transformation parts of the book are structured around a gestalt that I call “the seven attributes of conscious activism”.
Catherine: What are the seven attributes of conscious activism, and would you briefly describe them?
Andrew: My definition of conscious activism is engagement in the world that expresses and reveals our most profound understanding of the nature of reality. I was discussing these ideas with Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher, and he offered his own definition: conscious activism is helping to liberate the compassionate heart of every individual.
These attributes encourage me to be more expanded in my philosophical outlook, more open-hearted, appreciative, and grateful and, consequently, more effective in my social change work. The following is a brief description of each attribute:
Becoming truly nonviolent is a lifelong process that involves refining the art of kindness, concern and tolerance, even in the midst of passionate disagreement. It need not be the absence or suppression of anger or other emotions. It is a behavioral choice we make again and again.
Second: Not Knowing
The mindset I call “not knowing” enables us to put aside our entrenched ideas and reactive behaviors. Intellect and intuition become more balanced. It is a place of open mind and heart accompanied by spontaneity and presence.
This is a means to self-discovery. As we come to understand our motives, we gain freedom to choose not to succumb to our outmoded, conditioned response patterns. Through self-inquiry we expand our personal imagination, experience the transpersonal realm and develop inner wisdom and resolve—the wellspring of a healthier society.
On a planetary level Eros is the cosmic attractor that acts as connector of all things large and small. On a personal level it is the archetypal energy of loving connection that is inherent in all beings and represents loving-kindness through interrelationship and appreciation. Love and beauty are more than ethereal qualities. They are essential elements of natural harmony. We humans have been given the ability to appreciate their integrity, and these sensibilities can help us resolve the problems we have created. When we love something, we want to help it thrive. Thus, Eros is engaged concern that results from recognition and appreciation of interrelationship.
Fifth: No Enemy
I may disagree and be disgusted by someone’s actions. But it is not helpful to detest the person, or to make an enemy out of someone with whom I differ. Just putting aside fear and hatred is revolutionary behavior that can change society.
Sixth: Vision, Free of Reaction
Activism without vision could more accurately be called re-activism. Active opposition often adds more energy to the very things that we oppose, whereas, providing new alternatives can attract others away from the old system. Vision in the present is essential for creating a healthier future.
Attachment to goals often leads to disappointment and burnout because we are losing ground. But the other side of grief is joy and both are part of a heightened sensibility and concern for others. When I stay focused on the beauty in my life and grounded in gratitude, I am more joyful and thus more effective in my efforts to create social change.
Catherine: Through your words and those of the people you have profiled in your book, I sense a cautious hope and an underlying well-being, despite the challenges we face. Could you say what it is about our species that gives you and these others this hope?
Andrew: The underlying well-being comes from the recognition that to live in appreciative of the interrelationship discussed here is the most fulfilling way to be alive. I and all the people profiled have discovered this in our own life experiences. This is a type of “waking up” that provides centering and an alternative to the everyday drama and consternation, promoted by the production-consumption ethic of our society, that most of us deal with our entire lives. The 13th century Zen philosopher, Dogen, said, “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things”, meaning that the more we are able to deeply connect the more profound our experience of life. This is a common thread in the comments of the people whose life examples I use in describing the seven attributes. Their stories ground the philosophy in very personal ways and provide guidance to the reader.
“Hopeful” is a good word, but I’m not optimistic. We’re in a real mess, which has become the challenge of our human epoch. Our fore-parents had different challenges to face. Ours requires human consciousness to make a rapid shift unlike any that has come before. Can we pull it off in time? I don’t know, but it seems to me that participating in the adventure to do so is the most exciting way to spend one’s “hour upon the stage”. All the pieces are in place, the wisdom is at hand, to turn the wheel of human destiny away from consumption and toward appreciation for all life. It just requires enough of us to recognize that living in intimacy is mutually beneficial for everything—and in the process we’ll discover that spending one’s life this way is about as much fun as one can have.