In the book on Interspirituality and "The New Monasticism" I've been reading, a lot of attention is given to an evolutionary view of human consciousness and world spirituality. Under the influence of philosopher Karl Jaspers and theologian Ewert Cousins, authors Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko speak of Three Ages of World Consciousness:
1. The Pre-Axial Age, before 800 B.C.E. Here, human consciousness was more or less fused with both Nature and the tribe.
2. The First Axial Age (800-200 B.C.E.), when individualized consciousness and the ability to think apart from the tribe was first developing. Here, Lao-Tze and Confucius arose in China, The Upanishads, The Buddha and others were revolutionizing religion in India, Zoroaster founded a religion in Persia, the Jewish prophets (especially Jeremiah) were bringing a new understanding of justice and righteousness to Palestine, and Socrates, Plato and Aristotle began emphasizing individual reflection as the basis of the Western world.
An intensifying of this individualized consciousness then occurred in the era of the Protestant Reformation (when terror over the fate of one's individual "soul" came to the fore) and during The Age of Enlightenment, which gave birth to the modern view of democracy.
The disadvantages of the First Axial Age are many, especially a hardening of the distinctness of individual consciousness into SEPARATION, especially the separation of humanity from Nature, which is a major root of the present environmental crisis.
3. Occurring now is a Second Axial Age, when all of the distinctions, different religions and various philosophies that came to birth in the First Axial Age are being brought together as different puzzle pieces composing a Grand Whole. This is not an unconscious fusion with the Whole (a characteristic of the Pre-Axial Age) but a conscious and intentional uniting of all of the various distinctions born during the First Axial Age into a new cosmic "super-organism," where each philosophy, religion and individualized consciousness has its own part to play in the greater Whole.
The authors point out that the shamanic form of consciousness that predominated in the pre-Axial Age is needed now in order to bring the Second Axial Age to fruition. Accordingly, we need:
". . . the shamanistic gift of passing over into different 'worldspaces' or states of consciousness and then returning to the tribe with gifts and wisdom to share. Ewert Cousins refers to a 'shamanistic faculty' where 'we can leave, as it were, our distinctive forms of consciousness and enter by way of empathy into the consciousness of others. In so doing we enter into their value world and experience this from the inside. Then we return enriched, bringing into our own world these values and a larger horizon of awareness. Cousins calls this a 'shamanistic epistemology,' 'a faculty whereby we can pass over into the consciousness of another religion, gather new insight and return enriched to our own.'
This would of course include the ability to pass over into the consciousness of plants, animals, landscapes, skyscapes and seascapes in order to resonate with the values and forms of awareness present there. For this, we need the help of traditional indigenous peoples, who excel at this kind of awareness.
May all of us find our place in bringing to birth this Second Axial Age, and so bring healing to our world, and an enriched consciousness to the Divine!
Photo: Ice patterns on The Loch, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, January 18, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.