Human beings in the 2020’s are starved for true nourishment. For nourishment beyond the immediate gratification of temporary pleasure of which there is an abundance.
We are starving for something to believe in. For a framework to understand life. For guidance on how to live.
For the modern secular worldview, which has become prevalent in western democracies over the last few centuries, has dismantled all that we previously believed, all we held true, all that had sustained us throughout the millennia before.
We have deconstructed our reality, our world view, our picture, our story, our place in the universe. Religion and tradition have diminished. Social and political customs are being undone. All this leaves us completely unmoored from any understanding of reality and how to operate in it.
The only guidance we are given these days is ‘you can be whatever you want to be’. That sounds great, sounds like total freedom, but in practice, taking all guidance away has left us without any understanding of what is important, and therefore, deprived of any idea of what we should aim at, and how to best orient ourselves in the world.
Over the last few centuries, we have come to believe we are separate, individual bits of matter. Just some physical substance that exists for a while and then ceases to be. We are left starving for meaning, starving for something Sacred.
Prior to this secularist trend, back throughout human history, we always knew we were part of a larger system, and that there is an intelligence superior to our own that permeates existence, that we should humble ourselves to.
We represented this force in a multitude of ways, through different ideas, imagery, names, and forms. As God, Gods, Soul, Self, Spirit, Yahweh, Allah, Brahman, Atman, Vishnu, the One, Consciousness, the Universe, the Field, Nature, Life and many more.
Native traditions knew the earth, the trees, the birds, the sky, the clouds, and everything else in the universe was a living being. We used to see everything as part of a larger whole. Everything was sacred and connected. This is what we have forgotten and is the reason we are suffering so much right now.
Carl Jung wrote of the native American Indians in his book The Symbolic Life, “These people have no problems. They have their daily life, their symbolic life. They get up in the morning with a feeling of great divine responsibility; they are the sons of the Sun, the Father, and their daily duty is to help the Father over the horizon – not for themselves alone, but for the whole world”. Having the sense that we are part of a larger system, and that we have an important role to play, is vital to feeling that life is meaningful. Jung said, “This gives the only meaning to human life, everything else is banal and you can dismiss it”.
At a time where we have more material wealth, by an astronomical margin, than ever before, and despite having every comfort, convenience, technology, and pleasure we could ever desire, we are more anxious, depressed, and unfulfilled than ever. For though we have everything materially, spiritually, we have been stripped bare.
Nietzsche saw this issue brewing all the way back in 1882 when he famously said, “God is dead. God remains dead, and we have killed him”. He was not gloating and gleeful, but rather guilty and lamenting, for he followed with, “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned, has bled to death under our knives”.
Nietzsche foresaw that without God, we would need to substitute something else in its place, or we would be unable to function well in the world. He thought the answer was to create our own values to direct our life. The problem is that while that is viable for some, most of us need some direction from a wise tradition on how best to live.
G.K. Chesterton said, “When we stop believing in God, we don’t believe in nothing, we’ll believe in anything”. We can see this playing out in society now. In the absence of something more appropriate, something greater and more meaningful to direct our energy toward, many are focussing on political and social issues. But these are symptoms, not causes. They are inherently divisive and incapable of resolving the underlying source of dissatisfaction and providing the nourishment we require.
The only thing that can do this and can make us whole is realigning our lives with the Sacred, the extraordinary system that we are all a part of. The Universal intelligence. Soul. Spirit. God. Nature. Life.
The modern human mind needs to be reintroduced to the understanding that we are part of One universal, interconnected system of interbeing and inter-existence. Though most of us are still operating under the illusion that we are separate, we are in truth indivisible, for we are One. We are inter-dependant and inter-reliant upon one another.
Einstein said, the sense of separation we experience is an optical illusion of the senses, for we are in fact part of one universal system that cannot divided. The more we hold on to the errant belief in separation, and the more we act on that basis, the more suffering we create for ourselves and others.
The yogic teachings advise that all our errors, all our problems, all our suffering stems from this one misunderstanding, the illusion of separation. If we can correct this misunderstanding, by realising the truth of Oneness, the way we live and act in the world automatically begins to shift to reflect this. A naturally emergent sense of honour, respect, and love for all existence arises within us.
When we look around the world, we see an unending variety of different problems, many of which appear potentially catastrophic. It is understandable that many of us feel overwhelmed and think we cannot possibly overcome it all.
Yoga advises however that though there are many manifested symptoms, there is in fact only one real problem, one cause of all chaos, and that is the illusion of separation. It advises that when we correct this single misunderstanding with the truth of unity, we will find that our many errors are correctible. For once we have attained the right view, right action flows naturally.
The Bhagavad Gita, which was written around 2500 years ago and is one of the central texts of the yogic tradition. It presents the complete yogic body of knowledge, thousands of years of accumulated wisdom, in one remarkable volume. It is considered by many the most important spiritual text ever written.
The Gita is the perfect antidote for all that ails the modern human and contains everything the spiritual aspirant needs to progress on their journey from separation and suffering to unity and peace. It addresses the inner struggle that rages between our lower and higher nature, between the forces of darkness and light within each of us, and how to overcome this. It teaches us to expand our understanding of self to encompass everyone around us and ultimately all of existence. To orient ourselves towards the Self / Soul / God, rather than all the impermanent things of the world that can never truly satisfy us. It guides us to freedom and fulfilment internally, and to love and serve others externally.
The re-introduction of the Sacred in life fills the hole that nothing else can fill. By remembering that we are part of something bigger, something infinite and eternal, and that we have an essential role to play, a contribution to make, we will transcend our suffering, find meaning, purpose, and fulfilment, healing ourselves and the world in the process.
With love and wisdom
My new book Living Yoga: Healing and Self-Mastery through the Timeless Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita is coming out in 2023.