By Carol S. Pearson.
Not long ago, after hearing a speaker warn the audience that we humans could go the way of the dinosaurs, and with the thought of extinction rolling around in my head, I happened to be with family visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York City. There I learned that birds have the same basic bone structure as dinosaurs, so it is thought that birds descended from them. I fantasized that some dinosaurs first dreamed of flying, and then a number of them managed to actually fly. Then they imagined living in something they imagined to be like trees, and waking in the morning on branches, surrounded by lush leaves, greeting the dawn with a song. And so, they evolved into birds. More recently, I learned that many birds are even more monogamous than mammals, so I entertained the thought that maybe the dinosaurs even dreamt of true love.
Perhaps the dinosaur brain did not have the capacity to dream, but humans do. As a species, we continue to say we want peace, justice, and love on earth. Despite mounting evidence, some people don’t believe that climate change is real, but no one argues that we should trash our home planet. Even with climate change, I doubt that humans will become completely extinct. However, scientists predict that if we do not take action now, large numbers of people will be in grave danger, and survival for our descendants will be increasingly difficult.
In so many areas of human life, it is becoming clear that if collectively we keep doing what we are doing, we will continue to suffer the logical consequences of our actions. Although much is good in the world, when we follow the news we see wars, genocide, poverty, sexual slavery, environmental devastation, violence, and increasing economic inequality. To achieve a better world, we need to imagine all the happy endings we can, in all sorts of forms. Alone and together, we must channel our dreams, yearnings, energies, and hard work in service to our positive aspirations if we are to bring them into reality.
One of my favorite characters in literature is Bonanza Jellybean from Tom Robbins’s novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, who asserts that heaven and hell are real and whether or not they exist in an afterlife, we experience them right here on earth. “Heaven is living your dreams,” she says, and “hell is living your fears”—and, I would add, hell is not doing something to address those that are genuine threats. The heroic path for men and for women today calls us to face hard realities without escaping into denial, and then to commit to making the difference that will result in a better future, not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
We do not have to morph into a new species to do this. The transformation I’m envisioning is not as extreme as dinosaurs to birds. It is simply an evolution of our attitudes and behaviors. When we collectively change, the world we experience also will change. And all change starts inside with our learning, as individuals, to live in ways that foster the ends our better selves want. Homo sapiens have capacities that have not yet been tapped by most of us. There are many ways of thinking about how we can use what already is pre-programmed in us to evolve as individuals. And as we evolve, we do our part to help the species evolve as well.
This is what makes us heroes and heroines: We become our best selves so that others can too.
In the next few blogs, I’ll be exploring this theme, first by considering the gifts our primate ancestors gave us of vitality and aliveness, along with the critical importance of not letting the inner primate run the show. This requires a higher degree of self-awareness than many of us have developed, but one that we all can. Then I’ll explore the importance of awakening different sources of wisdom within us—the mind, the ego, the heart, the soul, and bodily intelligence. Finally, before turning to other matters, I’ll discuss narrative mindfulness and how being aware of the stories we are telling and living can help us be happier, even within a single day. Similarly, such archetypal awareness can help us better understand the psychological patterns emerging in any given time, starting with what the rather surprising events of this (late August, early September 2015) presidential campaign reveal to us about the archetypes active in many American people at this time.