A shift in consciousness in all areas of human activity is necessary if we are to move into an era of true prosperity, writes Paul Fletcher
In the autumn of 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published. Reprinted in hardback in November 2012, it is a book that many believe led to the creation of the environmental movement in the US and UK, and then around the world.
Silent Spring highlighted a growing concern about the use of pesticides, particularly DDT, and the increasing pollution of the environment by an industrialised society. As Carson’s book began to receive favourable reviews and sell in large quantities, it introduced to a broad readership the idea that humans could not control nature.
From this we have seen a fertile and ever-growing environmental movement which, despite its limited successes, has been unable to stop the juggernaut of progress and expansion that is our technocratic society. 50 years later we are still ‘paving paradise’, as Joni Mitchell put it 1970, with governments and politicians seemingly oblivious to the destructive results of their policies. Why is this and what is the solution?
Until the 1960s, any view of a ‘new consciousness’ emerging would have been seen as utopian and idealistic. After 1962, models, theories and organisations developed apace, and campaigners’ bookshelves groaned under the weight of literature that examined how humanity might progress in a sustainable manner.
There are two figures from this period that dared to dream in their different ways, and perhaps a confluence of their ideas would ignite the means to make the shift we now need. These figures are the cultural historian and ‘Earth scholar’ Thomas Berry and the so-called ‘father of the New Age’ Sir George Trevelyan.
“After 1962, campaigners’ bookshelves groaned under the weight of literature that examined how humanity might progress in a sustainable manner”
Thomas Berry (1914-2009) understood the deeper levels and meaning of ecology and developed the ideas of eco-spirituality in a tradition stemming from Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. By the age of eight, he had concluded that “commercial values” were threatening life on this planet. This led him in later life to conclude that our crisis is not simply a matter of finding cheaper fuels and making our economic system work, but that something of far greater magnitude was afoot.
Berry believed we needed “a radical change in our mode of consciousness. Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human.” While acknowledging that the pioneers of scientific materialism – Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton – were deeply spiritual people, he saw that those that followed had made a grave mistake. Their “technological entrancement” led to total exploitation and consumption, which took us away from “divine communion.”
Meanwhile, Sir George Trevelyan (1906-1996), after growing up in an agnostic aristocratic family, had been ‘awakened’ by attending a lecture by Dr Walter Johannes Stein, a close associate of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Steiner’s work had a big influence on Sir George, who also absorbed ideas from Goethe, Blake, Teilhard de Chardin, Wellesley Tudor Pole, and Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan – the leader of the Sufi movement in Britain.
Sir George was a wonderful orator who inspired many people. Through his work with spiritual education organisations, the Wrekin Trust and the Findhorn Foundation, and his presence at spiritual gatherings and events – including an appearance on the Pyramid stage at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival – he was able to carry a message of the imperative need for a spiritual awakening and how it might come about.
During the 1980s, Sir George founded and inspired networks of people around Britain who were exploring spiritual and ecological ideas. His secretary Ruth Nesfield Cookson wrote in 2008: “George’s long-term influence on many areas of spiritual development, of thinking and activity involving service to humanity and the planet, is inestimable.”
If we are to make a soul-sized shift towards a new era, then some kind of fusion of Thomas Berry and Sir George Trevelyan’s work will need to happen. Our present predicament will not be solved purely by political, social or ecological means – it will entail a shift in consciousness in all areas of human endeavour, enabling us to restore coherence within all systems, practising harmlessness, becoming truly human.
Our real hope will involve a journey towards unity, resonating positivity from a spiritual foundation, working in our own society step-by-step with what Sir George called “undaunted optimism.” Becoming dreamers of the new Earth.
Paul’s recommended reading:
– Thomas Berry – Dreamer of the Earth (Inner Traditions)
– Awakening Consciousness: Selected Lectures of Sir George Trevelyan (Godstow Press)
– Rachel Carson – Silent Spring (Penguin)