The other evening my three-year old son was having trouble sleeping. I told him I would read him one more book, and he picked a volume of Bible stories that had been my mother’s when she was a girl. We started at the beginning.
The narrative began in the way that is familiar to all: Adam and Eve lived in a beautiful garden, like a park, which was verdant and comfortable. Eden was full of beautiful plants and friendly animals, pure fresh water, and trees bearing every kind of delicious fruit. It was paradise.
As I read the description, I was struck for the first time by a realization—what the story describes is the natural state of most places on earth; that is, until modern humans arrive.
For the past month, a hole in the sea-floor in the Gulf of Mexico, has, according to unvarnished estimates, gushed 15 million gallons a day of oil into the ocean. It is flowing from an underground reservoir of oil, almost the size of the Gulf, into the sea. Deep underwater plumes of oil, 200 miles long and 5 miles wide, are appearing, and thick, sticky oil is beginning to fill the marshes along the Louisiana shoreline. Hundreds of sea turtles have died, with countless other casualties below the water, as the oilmen pump more toxic chemical “dispersants” into the water.
So vast is the deposit below the gush that upon its discovery in 2006 a Shell geologist exclaimed “Energy shortage? Hell! We are afraid of running out of air to burn.” What was to be the mother lode of cheap energy and profits has turned into something closer to a prophecy from the book of Revelations: “The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, and a third of the living creatures in the sea died.”
But what really lays in waste is the soul of our race. A friend commented that the world’s dependence on oil is a macrocosm of a heroin addict’s need to constantly find new veins to insert his needle. The society and economy run on the stuff—all our toys and tools, electronics and transportation, clothing and food, are made from, moved by, or constructed with the material of or energy latent in oil. We are addicted to the accoutrements of a lifestyle that is not only deadly to the planet, but is killing our humanity through unchecked consuming, environmental devastation, and brutal wars.
We could say that the oil spill in the Gulf was caused by oilmen’s carelessness; or by the culture of business running the government to get whatever it wants; or by the greed of a few to turn the world’s collective resources into the virtual value of swollen bank accounts; or by the whole population’s love affair with gadgets and easy living. Or we can look to ourselves.
What are our lives for? For our enjoyment? Even if this is so, shouldn’t we be happier given the abundant energy we are able to harness to fulfill our desires to eat and travel, play and work? But, in general, even those who have the most aren’t happy. We are taxed, depleting our own wells of energy as much as we deplete the planet’s, going ever-deeper into debt, borrowing from the future. And in the process we waste our world, and turn a real, living paradise into hell.
Spiritual traditions say that everything that lives is holy— because all living things are transformers of energy. In our bodies energy is transformed upward (anabolic) through intake of food into the stuff of thought, feeling, movement, healing, consciousness; or downward (catabolic) when refined energies are converted to some kind of activity through one or another kind of engine. The traditions say this is a sacred process because not only individual beings, but the whole universe does the same thing; i.e., “Human’s are created in the image of God.”
Our external fixation on refining raw materials into an expendable form, and burning or channeling the product to produce “work” is an externalization of what the human instrument is designed to do internally, in the alembic of our person. We have the right idea! It is only slightly misdirected.
The esoteric traditions all say the same thing: Humans have the possibility of refining energy in a way no other being on earth can. We can do this by refining raw materials into consciousness, and channeling that consciousness into living our lives in service to one another, in the care of our planet, and true to our unique individuality.
That consciousness awakens latent capacities, perhaps the greatest of which is conscience. With conscience awake, our oilmen and politicians could not but see the destructiveness of their mission and methods; they could not dissemble and lie to cover their tracks, and to defend their political capital and share prices.
Humanity comprises a single interconnected fabric, so that the effect of one person refining consciousness and awakening conscience in herself is a contagion to others. Working on ourselves we can, as William Blake poeticizes, “build Jerusalem, among these dark Satanic mills.”