On April 26, 2009 a news bulletin came across the airwaves like a bolt of lightning. Its psychological impact is not yet knowable, but it appears to mark a watershed in our collective evolutionary journey. ABC News Now reported on a study of children between the ages of 6 and 11 who had encountered hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and mudslides. One-third of them expressed the fear that "the earth will not be here" when they grow up.
This report dramatically highlights the specter of loss overshadowing our planet. In a few years' time we've grown accustomed to frequent accounts of people losing their homes, loved ones, and livelihoods. We've learned to adapt to the disappearance of regular seasons, species of plants and animals, landmarks like the World Trade Towers, portions of cities like New Orleans and entire towns and villages across the globe.
The children's fear that the earth itself may not "be here" in the future amplifies the disorientation of our times. Yet contained within their expressed fear is a paradox. They seem to be saying, though unconsciously so: the ground under my feet may no longer be here when I grow up, but I will be here. This would suggest an intuitive awareness of another level of reality or another self existing beyond the realm of time and space: the true Self—the Soul.
As external forces wreak havoc with the order of our lives, the spiritual dimension of reality is moving closer to the foreground of human consciousness. Change is accelerating in every sphere: from the expansion of the Universe to the melting polar ice caps on Earth; from the devastation of natural disasters to the outpouring of humanitarian responses; from the stripping away of a sense of permanence to the awareness that a higher Self exists. Outer events are forcing us to shift our awareness away from the persona and its identity with physical form and toward the consciousness within that form. Increasingly, we are called to recognize the Self and to live as a Soul.
To live as a soul is to realize that everything of a material nature is transitory, including our physical bodies; that all things pass away but the spiritual Self never dies. To live as a soul is to be aware that we have incarnated before and will do so again and again, on the journey toward spiritual perfection. It is to know that on the plane of the soul, each of us chose to be present on Earth at this crucial turning point in evolution. The particular reason may await discovery as one's life journey further unfolds. But learning to live as souls, collectively, is the evolutionary goal for humanity as a whole in the coming era—according to the modern wisdom teachings.
If this is indeed our destiny, it would appear that the Universe has conspired to teach us the Way of the Buddha at warp speed. To live through a period of constant upheaval with even a small degree of equanimity is to learn detachment. Unlike previous eras, when Buddhist monks spent entire lifetimes studying the Four Noble Truths and practicing the principles of the Eightfold Path, our learning cycle has been dramatically compressed and intensified. The escalation of human suffering challenges us to confront the causes of suffering and to practice the means of overcoming it as the tides of change engulf our world.
In the goal of ending human suffering, the Buddha taught three basic disciplines: detachment, dispassion, and discrimination. These disciplines are essential to progress on the path that transforms the self identified with form into an enligtened and liberated Soul. Through the practice of detachment from illusory material conditions, awareness is withdrawn from the sensory world and redirected to the subtle world of spiritual realities. Through the practice of dispassion, indifference to the pull of the emotions is developed, allowing access to the light of the soul. Through the practice of discrimination, the mind learns to distinguish the real from the unreal and one is increasingly drawn to the good, the true, the beautiful.
Treading the way of the Buddha generates the light to live consciously as a soul—to express the wisdom, compassion, and love that are the Buddha nature and the Christ consciousness. On the path of ascent, while learning about detachment from form and right relationship to all living beings, we invite the light of the soul to enter further into awareness. This light can be a lifeline for navigating the uncharted waters of these times, when darkness descends upon the world stage. It can also enable us to transcend this "vale of suffering" by anchoring our consciousness on a higher plane and radiating, from there, the light of a new world.
Decades ago, many of us sensed a gentle inner prodding to awaken and attune to the evolutionary flow. Now that flow is quickening and it seems we're being shoved directly into it. With the collapse of the old order and the stripping away of many forms of material security, powerful forces are propelling humanity toward a global spiritual awakening. The lessons of detachment are becoming woven into the fabric of daily living, challenging us as never before to know ourselves as Souls—immortal beings incarnate at a critical moment in Earth's evolution. As we each learn to do so, we add another divine spark to the stream of light that will flood the earth as the new age dawns.
Nancy Seifer and Martin Vieweg