– the development of compassion, hope and truth –
is what will break the polarity between
the evolutionary and the de-evolutionary forces at this time.”
...Cultural Anthropologist Angeles Arrien
Welcome to part two of my interview with author and cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien, Ph.D. To read part one, please visit www.InnerTapestry.org.
We left off talking about what we as a culture can learn from the shadows currently being revealed in the extreme and how we can effect positive change.
TP: How about the role and work of artists, writers and other creatives?
AA: I think art, just the definition of art, is bringing many different pieces together to create a greater whole. I think we’re in a time also, where we need to bring many different things together to create a greater whole. We cannot stay factionalized. It’s an exciting time because there’s a lot of opportunity and possibility available. Somebody asked former Czech President Vaclav Havel, ‘Are you an optimist or a pessimist about our times?’ and he said, ‘Well I’m really not an optimist because I don’t believe everything is going to totally work out positively. And I’m really not a pessimist because I don’t believe everything is going to be awful. I do spend a lot of time cultivating hope in my heart. It’s the only antidote against cynicism, fear, apathy and malaise.’ And that’s also one of the keys left at the bottom of Pandora’s box. Compassion, hope and truth, or honesty. If I’m a person who’s highly critical and judgmental, I have compassion work to do. If I’m highly cynical and have apathy and fear – I have work to do around the cultivation of hope. If I’m a person who is constantly comparing or competing – I have a lot of work to do around reclaiming the authentic self.
TP: What do you think about the ideas of the new physics, that we’re nearing zero-point, a time of co-creation?
AA: We are. I think it’s exciting. If we can harness all the energy that goes to chronic complaining and evaluation and criticality – and instead become solution-oriented. After 9/11 I had so many people come to my website upset about what had happened. I printed out one thousand pages and went through them to see if there were any creative solutions. People were reactive and complaining.Out of a thousand pages, there were thirteen pages of creative solutions or possibilities of what we could do. And I think that’s the energy that we are aiming to harness right now. Asking how can we be a creative unifying force in the world, rather than constantly pointing out what’s not working but not bringing forward solutions.
TP: There’s a rich tradition of looking to the Eastern cultures for spiritual leadership. You often look to another place.
AA: Not really. I love the East, West. As comparisons, I also love the North, South. The great cradle of all the great religious traditions of the world, or spiritual traditions of the world, have come out of the East and have spread around the world. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, have all come out of the East. And three of the great traditions have come out of the Middle East – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. And then there’s what are considered the perennial wisdoms or indigenous wisdoms that come out of all the spiritual traditions. Those are the ones that have captured my imagination. Each of the deep spiritual traditions of the world carry a neat, mystical root.
TP: The ones you call perennial indigenous are?
AA: Well perennial wisdom is not only found in indigenous but also in the religious, spiritual traditions. Perennial wisdoms have long sustainability, those that have sustained themselves over 2,000 years. Really the heart of my work has been taking a look at what are the universals we share as a human species? And that involves perennial wisdoms. What are the human values that sustain, that come through the spiritual traditions and the indigenous wisdoms? And where are the points of unity regardless of family tradition or cultural imprint? So, I’ve looked in both of those two great rivers. I’ve specialized in indigenous wisdoms but I’ve also specialized in comparative religions. And where they connect, through the perennial wisdoms, is valuing love and forgiveness, a high respect for life and the Earth and all living things.
TP: When we look at our Western culture, what are some of the gifts or wisdom we don’t naturally embrace as they do in other cultures - that maybe we’re missing?
AA: We happen to be the youngest culture in the world. With the grandparent cultures of China, India, the Indian indigenous wisdom, and the Middle East. And the parents are Europe and Russia and we’re the youngest culture in the world. We’re barely 200 years old. And we’re the only culture in the world that has that horrific honor of having the highest suicide rate between our teens and our elders. We are an ageist culture and we don’t have inter-generational bridging. Where every other culture of the world honors their youth and their elders. They don’t put their elders away in waiting stations and they involve their youth so their youth don’t have to initiate themselves into gangs in order to feel like they have value and that they can make some kind of contribution in a negative way. So we have a lot of work to do. And yet, at the same time, we are the most diverse culture and we are the most creative culture in the world. And in many ways, considered the wealthiest culture in the world even though one out of eight of our children here are starving, which is amoral.
TP: So being the most diverse, creative and wealthiest, are the up sides of our culture. How are we the most creative?
AA: Well, we have more freedom. We’re the most creative in that we have more disciplines available. We have more professions available. We have more job opportunities available. Our creativity and mythos are based on self-sufficiency, independence and freedom. And so that allows for a lot of creativity. And the greatest experiment that is going on in our culture is around diversity. How do we handle diversity? We have more of it than anywhere else. A diverse group - whether it’s a community, an organization or a team - is going to have more creativity come out of it because there are more creative solutions or different ways of seeing possibilities, different ways of approaching things.
TP: How can we apply myth to understand what is going on in the world?
AA: I think it’s very interesting to take a look at what is universal in all the myths. Every culture in the world has what I call the salvation myths, of the second coming of the Messiah. And every culture has the apocalyptic myth of the end of the world or destruction. But every culture also has what are called the creation myths. There’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t have a creation myth of how they came to be. How they created new possibilities or new worlds and how people could live and be together. It would be good for people to take a look at those creation myths.
And every culture of the world has the Pandora Myth and Pandora can be man or a creature. All the gods and goddesses of the world got together and decided to create a creature that had both divine and very human qualities. Then they decided this creature could bring their gifts of leadership, love, the hearth and home, into the world while staying connected to their divine nature. But they wanted to give them a task. And something they were not permitted to do, and in each case they were given a vase or a treasure box, was to open it. But when a creature has divine qualities and is also intelligent, the temptation of curiosity becomes overwhelming. So eventually, the box or the vase is opened and out come all the troubles, ills and evils of the world. In each case something is overlooked at the bottom of the box or jar.
And I think this is the myth that we’re currently working with at this time. All our talents and gifts have been released into the world. But so have all the evils, ills and temptations. The devil and the de-evolutionary forces are neck and neck at this time in history. And what’s been overlooked at the bottom of the jar in the East is compassion. In the West what’s overlooked is hope. Our indigenous or island peoples of the world have overlooked truth. So maybe the three golden keys of our time – the development of compassion, hope and truth – is what will break the polarity between the evolutionary and the de-evolutionary forces at this time.
That’s an example of a myth being timely and how it can be of use to an individual or collective. So it’s interesting at the same time there’s a real juxtaposition in our culture and in the world around all the evils and ills appearing. The consequences of greed, the economic downturn, and the consequences of so much being revealed about the unhealthy masculine and the unhealthy feminine who feel that they are above the law. The material and physical addictions.
TP: If we look at this period from the perspective of a Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey, where are we?
AA: There are really five stages of the Hero’s Journey – the Call, there’s the Search, the Struggle, there’s the Breakthrough and there’s a Return. And I think that we’re on the cusp between the Struggle and the Breakthrough.
TP: What about Joseph Campbell’s work and his thoughts on following our bliss. Is that something you think we should strive for?
AA: I think when he says follow your bliss – it’s another way of saying follow what has heart and meaning. If we really follow what has heart and meaning for us, it will not fail us.
TP: You believe that?
AA: I do. What makes me happy, you know? Why should I tolerate being unhappy?
TP: What word would you use to describe your state of mind about this particular time?
AA: I’m very excited about the possibilities. I’m really in that place of hopefulness. I think there’s a great opportunity and aperture or opening for enormous creativity. The great vision I hope to see manifest in my lifetime, and I am certainly going to do everything I can to plant a seed for it, is that every person in the world has shelter and food, and access to medicine and education.
Visit Angeles Arrien online at www.AngelesArrien.com.
© 2010 Teresa Piccari