A New View from the End of (what we think is) the World

If you’re really paying attention, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that the world is ending.  It certainly seems that way.  At least is seems that way from the inside.  But from the edge, things look very different.  It turns out that we know almost nothing.  And that’s a good thing.

We have mistaken civilization for the world.  We experience it as if it were both the whole and the source of reality.  But civilization is not the world.  Civilization is a very recent and short-lived creation.  The world was here for billions of years before there were even multi-cellular forms of life, much less animals, much less mammals, much less humans.  In fact, it’s poor form to even speak of “the world”.  If ever there was a proper noun, this is the one.  It is World.  And World is not ending.  It has shrugged off far greater disruptions than us.  We would destroy ourselves long before we could get anywhere near threatening World.

But mistaking civilization for World is only half the story.  Civilization doesn’t actually exist.  Civilization is an illusion, pure and simple.  It never began, so it’s not ending.  We never had it, so we can’t lose it.  It is nothing more than a bad story we’ve told each other with increasing intensity until it blotted out all of our other senses.  It’s like covering your ears and yelling “Down smells red!” over and over and over again.  Eventually the words fill your entire perceptual field.  Eventually it seems as if the words are all that exist.  Never mind the fact that the words aren’t true.  Never mind the fact that the words don’t even make any sense.

Now, it is true that something is ending.  The illusion is ending.  Our capacity to keep yelling the story on one hand and keep the truth from our senses on the other is rapidly collapsing.  Every day our cultural constructions that depend upon the telling of the illusion continue to fall apart.  Every day the accelerating environmental devastation we are causing piles up on our doorstep.  The story is almost over.

But an interesting thing happens when you put “civilization is not World” together with “civilization is an illusion”.  It offers a radically new viewpoint.  World is home.  World is Life.  World is beginning, journey, and destination.  World is the root of all meaning and the source of all value.  But we’ve been experiencing very little World.  We’ve mostly been experiencing illusion.  We’ve mostly been experiencing something fundamentally unreal.  And we have experienced that illusion as if it were World.  Which means that our experiences of what is home, Life, beginning, journey, destination, the root of all meaning, and the source of all value has been fundamentally mistaken.  It means one very simple thing.

We have almost no idea of what’s really going on.

At first, that might sound even worse than the illusion.  It certainly seems like it yanks the rug out from under us.  But that’s only the view from inside the illusion.  It is experiencing the illusion as reality that’s the whole problem to begin with.  It’s only in moving out of the illusion that we begin to experience World again.  It’s only in accepting our profound ignorance that we have the opportunity for actual knowledge.

And what great relief in that ignorance!  All the sources of war, poverty, ecocide, bigotry, and greed turn out to be stories in our mind.  The consequences of our actions are all too real, but the experiences that drove them are not.  The human starving to death is real, but the economy is not.  The human churning out toxins is real, but the factory never existed.  The human holding a rifle is real, but the soldier is pure fiction.

And what great adventure in that opportunity!  There is nothing less than the whole of World waiting for us.  The depth and breadth of discoveries and mysteries, triumphs and failures, connections and wonders available to us on the other side of the illusion beggar the imagination.  It will surely be adventure in the truest sense.  It will challenge us.  It will hurt us.  We may not succeed.  We may not even survive.  But we will be home.  And every day of the adventure we will be gloriously alive.