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end of the world as a crisis in consciousness

The End of the World as a Crisis in Consciousness, John C Woodcock

ABSTRACT

As we approach the end of the second millennium (CE) and fears of the "end of the world" increase, more people are beginning to take concrete action based only on such fears as expressed in two polarized forms: that the end of the world is a literal objective event taking place "out there" or it is a hysterical, subjective event taking place "in here," within the individual. The first form has already led to action in the world that is destructive to life and culture while the second form has increased the range of people who are labeled "pathological" to the point that the social fabric is tearing. If both forms of fear continue to govern our actions in the world or towards others, a catastrophe of major proportions is highly likely.

In order to offer another alternative, this P.D.E. presents the hypothesis that the end of the world can be experienced as an objective reality within the subjective life of an individual. This hypothesis is an attempt to resolve the split between an "inner" interpretation or an "outer" one by presenting the possibility that individuals may personally experience the objective reality of the end of the world. If successful this attempt can lead to another kind of action in the world that is not based on fear but on the fruits of a personal encounter with the objective reality of the end of the world.

To develop and test this hypothesis, data was drawn from my own journals as I went through a personal experience of the end of the world over a period of twenty years. This data was subjected to a form of heuristic research which culminates in a creative synthesis. The conclusion of the research is that if the end of the world can be experienced as a phenomenon that can be personally encountered, then concrete action in the world will more likely be based on love than on fear, thus offering an embodied vision of the future to others that carries hope.

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The Place of my Study in Social, Cultural and Political Trends.

The theme of the end of the world is universal and enduring. If we accept Campbell's irony that myth is the other man's religion, then we can say that religions all over the world and throughout history have included the end of the world as a major aspect of their considerations, as expressed in their sacred stories. The myth of the end of the world is associated with initiatory rites and healing practices in traditional societies as well. All these accounts are well documented and are studied within disciplines such as religious studies, eschatology, mythology and anthropology (see Appendix A). They have provided us with a rich and seemingly inexhaustible mother lode from which to expand and deepen our understanding of our ancestors and the world in which they and we live(d). For example, Noah and the Flood has been used simplistically to reinforce current beliefs about the sinfulness of humankind and the wrath of God and the same story has been used to support sophisticated arguments of a general human trend to understand and work with the nature of time (see my Area of New Learning 2). The study of myth seems to be a study of open systems for there seems to be no end of what we can learn from them.

The theme of the end of the world is not only important to eschatologists and mythologists but to historians as well. The myth of the end of the world has had profound effects on human actions. At critical points in history, the myth has penetrated into human reality with devastating consequences to individuals and societies. Catastrophic or portentous events in history seem to get assimilated to the myth of the end of the world and people take action on the basis of their belief that the world is ending. Once events have been assimilated to the myth, human action seems to run a course that makes the myth in effect enter history and become a chronicled event. Such events are a subject of study in the disciplines of history and literature.In my Area of New Learning 3, I studied the period of time in the West around the end of the first millennium. I found that this time, like ours was filled with portents and forbodings concerning the end of the world. And, like our times, there seemed to be two conflicting "narratives" describing the end of the first millennium. The "official narrative" described the great achievements in politics and culture and became the recognized history of Medieval Europe while the "unofficial narrative" consisted of chronicles of horror in which individuals, groups and cultures suffered and died as the myth of the end of the world began to determine the actions of those in power-i.e the Popes and the Kings.

Today as we near the year 2000 AD, we are finding another emergence of the myth of the end of the world into human history. As in medieval times, this emergence is being accompanied by an "official narrative" that focusses on the promise of the 21st. century the great cultural achievements to come while at the same time, we have prophecies of doom and catastrophe, couched in language that is expressive of our modern popular culture (the "unofficial narrative"). For example there is a tremendous scientific interest in comets and their ability to suddenly alter the course of history. Comets have long held mythological import as harbingers of cosmic transformation . In the field of mathematics, chaos theory and its non-linear dynamical model of the world is showing the possibility of a solar system or a climatic system that may go chaotic, for the 'simple' reason that chaos is built into the system . Through environmental research, we are exposed to theories of the end of the world through flood (melting of the glaciers) or fire (nuclear holocaust), both of which are ancient themes belonging to the mythology of the end of the world . Ufology while perhaps not a legitimate academic discipline is a form of cultural studies that offers rich amplifications to the modern emergence of the theme of the end of the world .One of the most important disciplines that has emerged in modern times to address the problem of the end of the world is depth psychology which discovered that mythological material appears "in" the collective unconscious. Furthermore, people who undergo profound psychological transformations which often release new levels in creativity and a greater range of possibility in the personality reveal themes that can be explicitly linked to the myth of the end of the world . There are studies to link such personal transformations with ancient initiatory practices . Recent Western interest in the ancient spiritual practice of Kundalini Yoga offers rich support to the discoveries of depth psychology through its studies of individuals who undergo spiritual transformation through a spontaneous awakening of Kundalini energy.

The seriousness of the emergence of the myth of the end of the world into human history cannot be overestimated. People do take irreversible action based on their fear of the end of the world. More and more frequently we hear of groups of people taking their own lives or that of others, based on their eschatological beliefs. Right-wing militia or other separatist groups are founding communities and movements based on these same beliefs . Science, that bastion of rationality is also sounding the alarm. At present, for example there is serious scientific discussion about setting up a space program by which we may avoid the catastrophe of a meteor or a comet hitting the earth. I recently heard a theory in which the author suggested that our space program is based on Nature's intuition of the coming destruction of the Sun. Accordingly, we were created as a species that could respond to this emergency by organizing an escape from earth . I am reminded of Noah and his Ark. Biology is drawing our attention to catastrophes that changed the course of evolution in our ancient past . Even in the relatively recent field of high technology, there is a blossoming culture of the fin de siecle in the Y2K problem. A design flaw that will become active on January 1, 2000 is sending shudders through the world with fears that range from technological failures to complete social catastrophe. Even now, groups are organizing their lives to escape the calamity that will befall us.

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