This post is a review of Charles Eisenstein’s fourth book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” published in late 2013 by North Atlantic Books. I got a copy through iBooks and read it on my iPad, but you can read it free online if you prefer, at the link above.
"The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible" serves as a handbook to the midwives of a new age, a spiritual guide to the permaculture/new economics nomads, a wake up call for those in Silicon Valley and the Financial District who have found success in our current world, and an inspiration to burnt out hippies to give this love thing one more try.
We find ourselves at a transition between ages, moving from the Age of Separation to the Age of Interbeing. Humanity is in a stage of adolescence. But our entrance into young adulthood is by no means guaranteed, although change is inevitable. I find the title to be misleading, as the book isn’t about the Age of Interbeing, but rather, how to get there. This is likely the more useful topic.
Some would say we’ve been here before. G. I. Gurdjieff talks about a time before the sand storms of the Caucuses 7,000 years ago when human civilization was at least as developed as it is today. The Shivapuri Baba said we’re coming to the close of a 6,000-year period; and as humanity is much older than that, his statement infers there have been cycles of development before this one. Ancient Origins would have us believe that the distant past of our race has been anything but primitive.
Regardless of whether you pay those sources any attention, something does set this stretch of human history apart from anything in recent millennia: the ecological limits with which we’ve already begun to collide. Deep Green Resistance can get you a good sense of the circumstances. Certain communities have periodically reached these limits before on a regional scale, but this time it’s global.
Are we going to make it this time? Why didn’t we make it last time? Charles might liken the first question to the way that Bill McKibben talks of global warming. Speaking at Slow Money in 2011, I remember Bill reminding us that it’s our obligation to have hope when pondering the possibility of coming to right relationship with the biome of the planet earth. Behaving as say, Goldman Sachs, has, putting the economy before the planet, has no possibility but failure. So why not look on the bright side?
Late in the book Charles gets into his view of miracle. A miracle is an impossible event. And what defines possible? Our worldview, our paradigm. One aspect of this transition between ages involves a fundamental shift in perspective. In the Age of Interbeing, there are no islands in the universe. Every being has a relationship with every other being. Questions of scale take on a very different meaning. From the perspective of Separation, the smallest acts can have impossibly large impacts. Think fractals, think microcosms, think holism.
During this transition, we have a foot in each world. The rules that govern possibility take on a shifty nature. We walk between two divergent realities, sometimes unsure which one houses us at any given moment. One useful model can be that of roles; we each have two faces, one for the old world and one for the new. Our role in Separation might be an accountant, when our role in Interbeing might be artist or gardner. It takes courage and strength to show our new faces to the old world, and in some circumstances, the old world can crush these faces.
That’s where community comes in. Belief is a social force. Enlightenment, if you please, is a communal activity. J. G. Bennett was very much of this perspective. And it makes sense: in Separation the frame of reference focalizes around the individual; in interbeing, the focal point is community.
And yet the path that Charles describes in the book, the challenges that we each face during this transition, are primarily internal. Where as Charles’ middle two books focus more on cosmology, this book is a return to a spiritual approach, similar to that of his first book. The experience of reading it reminds me of “The Power of Now.” Both are personal, humble, and practical accounts of how we can each work on ourselves.
Moving from the grand story of humanity Charles draws in his lengthy earlier works, this book is short, approachable, and focused on the self. I find this progression natural and fitting. If we seek to change the world, we must change ourselves.
I’m left with a number of concepts to ponder. One such topic is that of authenticity. In Interbeing, we do things because they matter. We don’t take one action in anticipation of it leading to something we desire; every act is a monad. For example, in Interbeing, we don’t get a degree to get a job. We could get a degree, but only due to it’s inherent value. In other words, value is completely illiquid. In contrast, in Separation, value has been commodified and liquidated through money. To those in Separation, money is the essence of value. In Interbeing, we need a fundamentally different understanding of money. This is an expansive concept to try to wrap one’s mind around. Maybe that’s one of the reason Charles used the word hearts in the title as opposed to mind; with something this different, understanding grows out of an intuitive feeling, rather than a mental model.
Charles mentions that he think’s we had our first chance for transition in the ’60s, and that we blew it. He says we’re currently at our second chance. And he thinks that if we miss this one, we’ll have one last time around 2050. This is interesting to me, because I think that the transition is happening now, but won’t be complete by 2050. So I guess I see a much longer timeline for transition than he’s thinking. Unless maybe he has the same timeline, but just thinks we haven’t started yet.
In the book there’s some great stuff about reason. I often use reason as a crutch, and it’s even something I’ve written about before. Charles asks, “What if the choices are really coming from somewhere else, and all the reasons we cite for the choice are actually rationalizations?” I see reason as breaking integrity. Integrity, as the root would have us know, has to do with one, with a whole. Reason turns our world into dualities: what we do, and why we do it, separate from each other. This sort of reason is an artifact of Separation. Here’s my post from a few months ago on the subject.
Excerpts, Notes, and Additional Resources
Table of Contents:
- Who am I?
- Why do things happen?
- What is the purpose of life?
- What is human nature?
- What is sacred?
- Who are we as a people?
- Where did we come from and where are we going?
- That my being partakes of your being and that of all beings. This goes beyond interdependency - our very existence is relational.
- That, therefore, what we do to another, we do to ourselves.
- That each of us has a unique and necessary gift to give the world.
- That the purpose of life is to express our gifts.
- That every act is significant and has an effect on the cosmos.
- That we are fundamentally unseperate from each other, from all beings, and from the universe.
- That every person we encounter and every experience we have mirrors something in ourselves.
- That humanity is meint to join fully the tribute of all life on Earth, offering our uniquely human gifts toward the well-being and development of the whole.
- That purpose, consciousness, and intelligence are innate properties of matter and the universe.
Seeds of the transition
- Wisdom lineages
- Sacred stories
- Indigenous tribes
- When one is aligned with the purpose of service, acts that seem exceptionally courageous to others are a matter of course.
- When one experiences the world as abundant, then acts of generosity are natural, since there is no doubt about continued supply.
- When one sees other people as reflection of oneself, forgiveness becomes second nature, as one realizes “But for the grace of God, so go I.”
- When one appreciates the order, beauty, mystery, and connectedness of the universe, a deep joy and cheerfulness arises that nothing can shake.
- When one sees time as abundant and life as infinite, on develops superhuman patience.
- When one lets go of the limitations of reductionism, objectivity, and determinism, technologies become possible that the science of separation cannot countenance.
- When one lets go of the story of the discrete and separate self, amazing intuitive and perceptual capabilities emerge from lifelong latency.
- It will come from the people and places that were excluded from full participation in the old Story of the People, and that thus preserved some pieces of the knowledge of how to live as interbeings.
- It will come from the ideas and technologies that were marginalized because they contradicted dominant paradigms. These include technologies of agriculture, healing, energy, mind, ecological restoration, and toxic waste remediation.
- It will also draw from marginalized or near-forgotten social and political technologies: consensus-based decision making, nonhierarchical organization, direct democracy, restorative justice, and nonviolent communication, to name a few.
- It will engage the kinds of skills that our present system suppresses or fails to encourage. People who have languished outside our dominant economic institutions, working for very little doing what they love, will find their skills and experience highly valued as pioneers of a new story.
- It will liberate the marginalized parts of people who have been suppressing their true gifts and passions in order to make a living or be normal. To some extent, this category probably includes every member of modern society. We can feel the stirring of these suppressed gifts any time we their, “I wasn’t put here on Earth to be doing this.”
- It will embody and validate marginalized parts of life, the things we neglect in the rush and press of modernity: qualities of spontaneity, patience, slowness, sensuality, and play. Beware of any revolution that doesn’t embody these qualities: it may be no revolution at all.
A Gathering of the Tribe
My tweets on the book - #AgeOfReunion