A few years ago I came out of a meditation with a sentence that disturbed and surprised me. The words I was given were simple: “Those who follow the light follow the light. Those who follow the darkness stay here.” At that time the focus of my writing and teaching was on oneness: I was exploring how the next step in our evolution will be to awaken to the consciousness of oneness—the consciousness that we are all part of one interconnected spiritual organism. And here I was given a profound and almost paradoxical statement that said otherwise: that there would be a division between those who follow the light and those who follow the darkness. I was left with a strange sense of unease.
Over the years since I have meditated on this saying, trying to understand its message. Watching the outer world, listening within, and to the dreams and visions of others, I have come to believe that we have arrived at such a time of division, of separation between darkness and light. Looking around at a world covered in materialism, wrapped in a profound forgetfulness of the sacred, there is little to indicate a world of light.
Instead the forces of darkness, with their global exploitation and greed, with their unprecedented ecological destruction and desecration, appear to have taken over the world. Each time we have the potential to make a collective decision to help humanity and the environment, whether at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009, or this year’s Rio’s Summit, we have put exploitation before real care for our planet’s well-being. In fact at the Rio Summit the term “sustainability” mutated into “sustained growth.” Looking solely toward material progress, humanity has forgotten its sacred role as guardian of the planet.
And yet there are also signs of a global spiritual awakening. The principle of oneness, of being part of an interconnected living whole, is no longer a fringe idea. There is a longing within many people in different parts of the world to return to the sacred, to live a connection to the divine within themselves and within life. Many are dissatisfied with the values of materialism and the soulless civilization its fosters. Individually and as groups people are aspiring to create a way of life based upon a relationship to what is sacred. Often it seems that those who aspire to live by this awakening light and those who are drawn deeper and deeper into the addictions of materialism are living on different planets.
Some people are waiting, hoping that the prophecies of the Mayan Calendar mean that at the end of 2012 the awaited global transformation will take place. Others see darker signs on the horizon, sensing that we are at a few minutes to midnight in a global ecological or economic collapse, an unprecedented “tipping point” whose effects we cannot predict. We all have our hopes and fears, some shared and some secret. But we cannot deny that primal changes are happening in the inner and outer worlds. Is this a crisis or an opportunity, or both?
My own sense and deep sadness is that we have reached or even passed the “tipping point” and that humanity has made its collective decision. It has decided to pursue its dreams of economic prosperity with disregard for the environment and its own soul. Collectively we have refused to take real responsibility for our actions, for the massive depletion of species, global warming and the pollution that we continue to cause. Humanity has decided to remain in the darkness, forgetful of the sacred within all of life.
We cannot return to the simplicity of an indigenous life style, or to the ways of the hunter-gatherer. But we could have made a transition towards a real sustainability that cares for all of life and its sacred interconnected nature. Instead we have made a collective decision for “sustained growth,” regardless of its consequences. We have placed our own material welfare before the well-being of the whole. Our worship of the false gods of materialism has now become a globally destructive phenomenon.
What this means to the soul of humanity we cannot begin to understand. In its entire history, humanity as a whole has never made such a collective decision—almost all previous cultures lived a deeply rooted connection to the sacred, in whatever form that took; such a decision would have been unimaginable. And what is especially frightening now is our seeming lack of awareness of this choice or its possible consequences.
In our arrogance and ignorance we have decided to forget our sacred role as guardians of the planet. We have chosen not to listen to the cry of life itself, even as we poison its waters and bring its species to extinction. We do not even realize that there is also a spiritual dimension to our unprecedented ecocide that we are so heedlessly committing. Our desecration has created an inner wasteland vaster than the Tar Sands in Northern Alberta. And as a result, a sacred substance that is necessary to nourish the soul of humanity is growing weaker and weaker; soon it will no longer be accessible.
Traditionally this substance was nourished by the sacred ways of humanity, by its prayers, symbols and ceremonies. For example when the Pomo Indian people of Northern California wove baskets, the women would go out and pray over the grasses before they cut them. As they wove their baskets they would put the reeds or grasses through their mouths to moisten them, praying over them. The basket thus wove together the physical and the spiritual parts of life. All aspects of life were approached in this way, the warp and woof of physical and spiritual woven together into the single fabric of life that was never anything than sacred. Indigenous peoples saw their life as a communion with earth and spirit that nourished them and at the same time nourished creation, the two being so interwoven it would not have been possible even to think of nourishing the one without nourishing the other.
But we have lost these sacred ways and forgotten their purpose. And now our Western consumer culture that has no relationship to the sacred dimension of creation has become a global monster. The sacred substance within creation that gives deep meaning to our existence is hardly present anymore: humanity’s soul is starving and we do not even notice. Caught in the darkness we have created, does humanity have any choice but to remain in this soulless world?
And yet this darkness is not all that is present. There is a light that is calling to us. Those who are responding look towards a different way of being—a way in which they are not seduced by materialism and its accompanying forgetfulness of the sacred. In many different ways they aspire to live this light of the divine. But this light can no longer penetrate the darkness of our collective consciousness. It is more and more difficult for the light to exist in a world so devoid of the sacred—there is nothing to sustain it. The pathways of light have begun to separate from the world of darkness. The words that I was told those years ago begin to speak a truth I only now start to understand.
How can we access the light? The world of light is always present, only hidden by the desires of the ego and our instinctual drives. Our base instinctual drives, such as lust or aggression are very tangible: some of our self-centered actions and attitudes are also very visible. Other seductions of the ego, though, are more subtle. For example in our contemporary culture the ego has created an image of spiritual life that subtly serves the ego’s own purposes. The spirituality that is now sold in our market-place as a vehicle for self-improvement and self-empowerment, rather than service, has created a web of deception. Its promises, focusing on our ego’s needs and desires, hide us from the simplicity of our real Self. The true light of the divine cannot be marketed or sold, but like sunlight is free and belongs to all of us. However it carries the price of consciousness—awareness undistorted by the ego. With this awareness comes the real responsibility that is always in service to what is highest.
If we are to be present in the light we need to turn away from the ego and its patterns of self-interest. Then we will find a very different world opening around us. The higher knowledge that belongs to the world of light will gradually become accessible. In this light we will see more clearly the oneness of our multidimensional world, the “unity of being” that the mystic has long known to be the real nature of existence. And we will learn how to live according to the ways of oneness, which are very different to the struggles and demands of duality—the apparent world of separation we have inhabited for centuries. The sacred will once again be present though in a new way—not as something to be sought or longed for, but something naturally within and around us—the divine once again communing directly with us. And this relationship with the sacred will of necessity include creation: an awareness of the light of the divine throughout the whole web of life. Once again we will be able to read nature’s book of revelation and learn how to work with the real magic of creation. This is the future that is being offered to us at this moment in time.
At present these two realities appear to co-exist. People living in the same towns and the same streets are already in very divergent worlds. There are those who deny the dangers of climate change and think that we can safely continue our economic expansion. Believing in the myth of progress they look to technology to save us—blind to any real consequences of our unsustainable way of life. The effects of the ecocide we are perpetuating and the accompanying desecration of the inner world of the soul do not even enter their consciousness. And there are many others who know a very different reality in which inner and outer sustainability, and a reawakening of the sacred, are living principles. How these communities will continue together in the future is uncertain.
What really matters at this moment are the individual choices we make. In our world of free-will it is for each of us to make the decision: to follow the light or the darkness. The darkness is very present around us, and continues to entice us with the ego-centered desires and distractions of soulless materialism. The light will offer us a new way of being, a new awareness of our divine nature. And yet as with all transitions we will have to sacrifice something—our attachment to materialism, our focus on our self to the exclusion of the whole. At the moment there is still a bridge between these two worlds, still a way to journey from the darkness into the light. Soon the inner divide will grow too wide and the time for choice will have passed. But at this time of transition, as humanity deepens its self-destructive nightmare, the light of the sacred is calling to us and we can still respond.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Ph.D, is a Sufi teacher and author. His most recent book is Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism. Since 2000, the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and an awakening global consciousness of oneness. More recently he has written about the feminine, the Anima Mundi (world soul), and spiritual ecology.
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