Russell Workman talks to William Whitecloud about the implications of the nervous breakdown the world had to have.
Russell Workman: I’ve spent the last seven years working with street kids, creating community businesses, and I was at the cutting edge of corporate responsibility in one of the world’s biggest banks, where we were dealing with the serious issues of climate change, working with communities, and ending exploitation in poorer nations. It seemed as if, globally, we were making great progress on all these fronts, but lately a very precarious situation has emerged which threatens to destabilise the social, environmental and economic progress that the world has been making. There is no argument that we are witnessing the structural demise of the global banking and finance systems to which everything else is inextricably linked. What’s your take on what’s occurring world-wide now?
William Whitecloud: Well, there’s a lot of negativity about at the moment. People are in shock that the systems that underpin their lives are so vulnerable. Who would have thought that the global banking system could just seize up like an overheated motor and stop functioning? Everyone is entrenched in a system that they think is as permanent and reliable as the sun coming up every day. And just as they expect the sun to provide warmth and energy and life every day, they expect the social systems they are familiar with to deliver their personal and social aspirations. So we now have the social equivalent of the sun not coming up one day.
But if you ask me, I’m frankly very positive about what’s occurring in the world today. Many of us have been praying for change, for a new age of social cohesion and abundance based on a higher level of human consciousness. The illusion is that this change is going to be delivered by the current system; that it will be an extension or modification, somehow, of the existing structures. We all know the saying that a problem can’t be solved by the mind that created it. Psychologically, when an individual is stuck they invariably sabotage themselves subconsciously in order that they hit a rock bottom, and from there they can rebuild their life on a new foundation. And what is true for the individual is true for groups and organisations; it’s true for societies. I believe we are witnessing an awesome phenomenon – the self sabotage of the world-wide collective subconscious. It’s like a global nervous breakdown we’re having so we can rebuild our society on a new foundation.
Joseph Campbell, the mythology guru, said that the psychotic is drowning in the same water that the mystic is swimming in. A nervous breakdown is a terrifying ordeal when you’re fighting it, but it’s okay when you know the function it serves. The truth is, Russell, as a result of this global disruption, you’re now closer to achieving what you spent the last seven years working towards.
RW: This might be very positive in principle, but it does affect real people in very painful ways. What can people do to transcend their current negative circumstances and what are the foundations that need to be put in place to create a sustainable future?
WW: There’s only one problem facing the world today, in my opinion. Our problem isn’t peak oil; it’s not the subprime crisis, or any of the many dilemmas you can point to. The essential problem we’re faced with is that we live in a past-oriented society. Whenever we humans look for a solution we tend to refer to our past experience, which is why individually or collectively we keep creating more of the same. This is evidenced by the way any time a society faces change it experiences a surge in political and religious fundamentalism. Certainty is one of the essential needs of the ego. People revert to their most fundamental beliefs for orientation. The beliefs may be outdated and irrational – like the earth is flat – but they are familiar and unchanging. The problem with the past is that it does not functionally relate to the reality of the present or future.
One definition of creativity is that it is the ability to manifest ‘some-thing’ from ‘no-thing’. In order for us to create something new we have to get out of our past orientation, and the foundation for how we operated in the past is external reliance. We have relied on what is outside of ourselves for understanding, for direction, for security, for validation, fulfillment, you name it. The type of individual and social empowerment that people like you and I are agitating for doesn’t arise out of such a passive involvement in life. Cohesion and synergy arise out of people taking responsibility for their personal destinies. When people are able to look into their hearts and act on and speak up about what they find in there, not only do they transcend their circumstances, they also lend energy to a more enlightened world.
In times of great upheaval and uncertainty there have always been men and women who have managed to prosper and thrive and lead others to a better way of life. Immediately I think of Gurdjieff who, in the middle of the Russian Revolution and First World War, took 130 people into his home and led an archeological expedition through a territory being fought over by five competing armies. While you may look at him and think of his capacity as superhuman, it was nevertheless based on the very human ability to stand in and create from the security of his heart. You can regard the times we’re in as a blessing or as a curse. I think that whatever pushes us to come to and create from our hearts is a good thing.
RW: But William, everyone is saying this. Wherever I go, in board rooms in Sydney and in coffee shops in Byron Bay, people are talking about the heart. It’s amazing, unprecedented. The difficulty everyone acknowledges, though, is the ability to stay in their heart for any length of time, to actually live it. Why can’t people maintain their heart foundation? Why do they seem to oscillate between talking about their heart and then acting on their fear?
WW: Well, that’s the big question. This goes to the heart of change. Nothing will ever shift unless there’s a shift in orientation. It’s all well and good having a heart and talking about heart but if that’s not what we’re really driven by then what we say and do can be two different things entirely. Most people are driven by their identities which means that we have beliefs about how we, others and the world have to be before we can be safe to be who we want to be and do what we want to do, i.e., have our hearts. So we unconsciously pay more attention to maintaining the conditions we believe make us emotionally and physically safe. This always gives us the impression that we’re not ready to have our hearts. It’s always, “When the economy improves, when I’ve paid off my house, when I find a decent relationship, when I know enough, etc.”
One of the phases of alchemy is separation, and I think that it’s very relevant to human transformation. We have to separate ourselves from our identity and put it aside when it comes to strategic decisions and actions in life. In terms of functional living there’s no way around owning that we have an identity and facing what it would have us believe and do, and then having the courage to put the power in what our real self believes in. Living out of identity is a de facto value, and, unless we consciously adopt the value of serving the heart, nothing will ever change.
RW: As a professional social worker I can relate to what you’re saying. People largely don’t know that they are caught up in identity. They confuse it for reality. They think that they’re just behaving rationally. It’s a hard habit to break, isn’t it?
WW: Anything is difficult to master when you don’t know the principles behind it. How can you change if you don’t know yourself? Wasn’t that the admonishment of the Oracle at Delphi – ‘Know thy self’? But the thing that most effectively holds you above your identity is higher purpose. When we make life about survival we unconsciously invite our identity to take over the running of our life. That’s why Gurdjieff took his people on an archeological dig in the middle of a horrendous war: so they’d have a purpose higher than survival. Dante said that hell is the place of those too fixed to their fears and desires to pass on to eternity. The people that suffer are those that are stuck in survival mode. The ones that thrive and lead humanity to the next level are those tuned into a higher purpose. We have to ask ourselves, what are these times calling for and what’s our purpose in that?
RW: So what you’re saying is that we can only overcome these unsustainable structures and painful ways of living by taking responsibility for ourselves in a more engaging way. Is that right?
WW: Sure. Until now, any species could screw up as much as they liked without endangering all life on earth. That’s changed. We want to get our foundation right this time. There’s a lot riding on what we create from here. We all have a tremendous responsibility on our shoulders, whether we like it or not.
After the U.S. elections, interviewees I saw on TV were typically very hopeful about the change they thought Barrack Obama’s victory signalled. One African American gentleman, though, was more realistic than his compatriots, I thought. He said that people shouldn’t expect Obama to change everything when what had to change were the people themselves. Now there’s the truth, if you ask me.
This isn’t a time for Mandelas and Ghandis and Churchills and Dalai Lamas. We can’t afford to be standing around waiting; it’s not up to rare, isolated heroes to show us the way. This time it’s up to all of us to go within and bring forth the contribution that resides in our hearts. Imagine the surge of human greatness expressed in the world if that happens.
RW: That’s a very positive image.
WW: I think so.
Russell is a professional social worker, counselor, corporate responsibility consultant, and business manager of Magicians Way. He is a solutions expert specialising in the use of creativity and intuition
William Whitecloud is the author of Australia’s best selling metaphysical book, The Magician’s Way, and creator of the self transformation training of the same name.
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