What Are We Living?
Do you sometimes wonder what’s happening all around you? Why people fill their time posting food plates on Facebook, and video clips of mind-bogglingly meaningless and self-preoccupied moments on every social media; and why wherever you look around you everyone is on their phones scrolling through the noise, consumed by it?
Do you look at your young adults and wonder why they cannot finish a sentence without using their hands and resorting to “like” a few times in each sentence? And why adults of every age now pay exorbitant prices for ripped clothes and do not consider it offensive to have as ‘cool’ a trend that imitates for fun the poverty of millions on this planet?
How did we ever become so vain, so callous, so empty and restless? Why does it now take two years to plan a wedding which will cost the fortune of a lifetime and will strive to outdo the royal weddings of the past, only to end up in 50% divorce rate?
Why do we so mindlessly play into an engineered consumer culture which exploits our most impulsive nature — the very aspects of human nature that every wisdom tradition in the history of civilization has sought to help us transform into strength and purpose? And then we wonder at the rising tide of every conceivable addiction, as well as depression, anxiety, and suicide rate among the youngest? And at religious radicalization in the age of galactic travel; and at secular radicalization expressed in conspiracy theories in the information age?
It seems that there are now two different kinds of despair pervasive in the world. One is the despair of millions and millions of people who cannot feed their children, who suffer daily violence, are displaced by proxy wars for natural resources, and wander the planet unwanted by any country. The other kind of despair may be even deadlier. It is the unconscious despair of living as though nothing matters, and anything goes — the despair of the Western world I described above.
It is worth pondering why there is so much despair in a world that has such vast knowledge and understanding on how to make things right. The sheer volume of expertise worldwide stands in stark contrast with how it’s being used. Clearly, something foundational is having to shift.
If we take a few more moments to continue this reflection (I am obviously appealing to those of you who are already getting restless and ready to quit thinking and check your phones instead), we will notice that the global and planetary scope of our current knowledge and understanding is not matched by a global and planetary value system that guides how knowledge is used.
Out of what values is knowledge now used to fabricate mindless consumer societies and global wars for resources?
At this point in the reflection, we have a choice. We can say, ‘oh, well, it’s not up to me, so let me check my phone instead.’ Or we can pause our automatic living, get quiet, and listen inwardly so that we can begin to discern the hunger in our souls.
It’s good to understand that it takes vast psychological energy to keep rationalizing our denial that we all participate in this madness. Strange as it may seem, it is much easier to wake up from our daze and find ground that holds — because it feels a lot better and more rewarding to know what you are living and to make conscious choices.
As soon as we begin to connect to our souls, we become aware of deep fundamental longings — to love and uplift others, and to cherish ideals worth living for. The masterful philosopher of comparative religion Houston Smith captured it cogently in his final book, Forgotten Truth:
Ever since man appeared on this planet, he seems to have been searching for an object that he could love, serve, and adore wholeheartedly; an object which, being of the highest and most permanent beauty and perfection, would never permit his love for it to dwindle, deteriorate, or suffer frustration. The search has led to difficulties … Yet he persists. The relentless urge of his nature compels him to continue at all cost. The entire history of the race — political, moral, legal, socio-cultural, intellectual, economic, and religious, from earliest times to the present day — is the record of man’s search for some beckoning object.
From this profound perspective, it become clear why there is so much despair. We have lost faith in the possibility of loving, serving, and adoring something greater than our own selves and at best our families. Our love capacity has dwindled into petty attachments to images. Our service has dwindled into ruthless self-interest. Our capacity for awe and adoration is relegated to exclamations like ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ at rock concerts and while watching video clips of someone’s latest posture. No wonder Houston Smith’s final message was this:
If people didn’t need models of reality and the life-serving orientation and the confidence they provide, there would be no problem; but history suggests that we do need them … In our postmodern Western world … something has gone wrong… in a sense far more radical than, say, the evils of industrial England which engaged Dickens…[W]hatever has gone wrong strikes to the heart and core of meaning itself … What is called into question now is the very enterprise of human life.
Whether we realize it or not, every life is struck by this pervasive loss of meaning and shows the signs of it. Hence, the choice belongs to every person — to pause and examine the values out of which I am living, or to carry on. Never before in history has the majority of people on this planet had access to enough knowledge and information to grasp the implications of our every choice. We can now see that our limited loyalties are causing a domino effect of immense suffering. We can recognize that historically our allegiances have gradually broadened — from family and clan, to city, tribe, and nation, and now to geopolitical alliances. We can think through the implications of these still fragmented loyalties in the face of a planet rendered toxic by short-sighted plunder, a planet still facing the possibility of world war while its climate is collapsing. We can ask ourselves — what alternatives are there? And we can find them because they are rapidly multiplying as more and more people are choosing to awaken, educate themselves, and organize for the radical transformation of our planet into a safe and humane space for all.
The skills of personal and collective transformation are now available to the majority of us like never before.
On which side of history will we fall?
This essay draws on the deeper examination of these questions in my recent book, Global Unitive Healing.
 Houston Smith, Forgotten Truth, p. 75–76.
 Ibid, p. vii.