Phoenix Collective
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Phoenix Collective

Weaving a Non-Dual Civilisation — Part 1: Chasing Shadows

We live in uncertain times. The very survival of humanity hangs by a thread.

In this series, I will explore the question: What is it going to take to shift humanity away from the precipice?

I will give my account of the biggest and most important transition in human history.

In Part 1: Chasing Shadows, I will explore the situation we find ourselves in and present a model that attempts to answer the question of why our civilisation seems committed to destroying all life on Earth.

In Part 2: Unveiling the Light, I will explore what a transition to what I call a life-harmonious, non-dual civilisation could look like.

In Part 3: Returning to Life, I will share my narrative of humanity returning to life, that I think nicely captures this evolutionary metamorphosis.

How should we think about and respond to the potential collapse of our civilisation?

This is the ultimate question of our time.

But of course, in answering it, we can’t help but try to use the same old master’s tools, the same old approach, that got us into this mess in the first place.

In our modern culture, when there’s something we don’t like, we quickly brandish it a problem, try to pin it down and fix what’s causing it before more things go wrong.

This is how many people have ended up trying to respond to the ultimate clusterfuck of our time: that we are killing life all around us and most probably we’re going down with it.

They try to pin down the root cause of our problems to a particular area of life. Some say the problem lies in our lack of real democracy or in the dominance of corporate greed or our polluting technology. Others, level the blame at our metaphysical, cultural and philosophical ‘stories’ or beliefs. Others still, point the finger at our lack of spiritual development. I could go on, almost, ad infinitum.

Everyone has their pet issue to point a finger at as the ‘real’ problem, while they smile and congratulate themselves on being the only ones ‘advanced enough’ to realise it.

What I myself have realised! is that the problem of our civilisation, or what some have called the ‘meta-crisis’, cannot be pinned down to one aspect of our lives. Instead, it can be seen everywhere we look, within ourselves, in our outward behaviours, in everyone around us and their behaviours, as well as in all of the institutions, systems and culture that make up our society.

In fact, the very attempt to pin it down is one of its many manifestations.

In an attempt to have a more holistic view of what’s going on, we could take a complex systems approach that would allow us to look at the whole of our civilisation and how its parts interact to create the predicament we are in.

But even that isn’t enough!

Why? Because the meta-crisis isn’t purely to be found in the objective world that complex systems science explores. We also need to incorporate the inner subjective world into our model.

That is what I will attempt in this article.

Enter the Shadow

What will tie everything together, is what I call The Shadow. It has been described before in many names including Wetiko and The Underworld.

The psychologist Jung talked about the shadow, but I mean something slightly different. Whilst for him, the shadow was a psychological aspect of the personality, for me, The Shadow is visible in all areas and aspects of Life.

It is a particular energy, that if one becomes sensitive enough, can be detected in anything from a corporation’s audacious advert to a sly seductive glance across the dance floor.

The Shadow is any aspect of the complex living system of our civilisation that denies and rejects Life. This is when it has a purpose based on ego survival rather than on service — a purpose based on the impossible task of controlling Life in order to avoid death. Fortunately/Unfortunately death is a part of life, so ironically what is created is a living death.

You’re probably sitting there thinking: “That’s not me doing all that Shadow shit. It’s THEM!”. Unfortunately, that very act of blaming others shows your indictment, my friend. If you look closely at yourself, you’ll probably realise as I have done, that you’re life is largely dominated by Shadow. It’s quite a shock when you’ve spent most of your time thinking of yourself as a good, friendly, nice boy or girl!

I will now present a story of my imaginary friend Tim, as well as a model that shows how The Shadow manifests in its many forms throughout our civilisation.

But before we begin: don’t lose hope. Not all is Shadow. Within us all, there are parts committed to Love. And out there, there are groups and organisations trying to make the world a better place. They’re just not doing so well right now.

What this series is about, is how the Shadow gets in the way of those parts in us and those groups out there that are actually trying to change things. It’s about how we can empower the Light that does exist in the world, by bringing the Shadow into awareness, to put it in check before it’s innumerable forms destroy Life on Earth.

Whilst I will start by exploring the Shadow from the perspective of an individual called Tim, don’t let that fool you into thinking that I’ve fallen for modern culture’s hyper focus on the individual. I have to start somewhere — remember everything matters!

As you might have noticed, I will capitalise various words in these articles such as Shadow and Life. I do this to highlight that I’m relating to them in their Archetypal rather than literal form.

Enough talk. Let’s get started.

Let’s Meet Tim

Hi Tim!

Tim was traumatised by Western Civilization. Maybe his dad was an alcoholic and abused him. Or maybe he was bullied at school. Or maybe he was just caught up in the myriad ways, small and large, that trauma gets passed on from generation to generation. Some have even called our era ‘the traumacene’, making clear the link between trauma and our environmental catastrophe.

Because of his trauma, Tim’s experience of life is one of a sense of lack and inadequacy. When he is actually present, which is almost never, he feels uncomfortable and a deep sense of emptiness and separation pervades his Being. This is his hole of value: his very experience doesn’t feel valuable, it feels unpleasant. This is why he makes sure to escape his experience as much as possible — finding many ways to numb himself to his reality.

I’m now going to present a model to describe how Tim’s Shadow flows out of his hole of value and later how the same patterns show up in our civilisation as a whole. I will look at what’s going on in 5 aspects of Tim: his consciousness, his breath or life energy, his intellect, his heart and last but not least, his body. You could see each of the bolded descriptions as the process or the flow through that particular aspect. These patterns are not separate, they are all deeply interrelated and support one another. The amazing thing is that you can begin to spot them all around you in yourself and in others and start to get an eye for what is Shadow and what is not.

What’s going on in his consciousness? Well, as described, he’s continually escaping his experience. His awareness is continually on things other than the present moment. Gurdjieff, the Russian spiritual teacher, called this being ‘asleep’. You could also describe it as unconsciousness. I call it Inner Sleeping. Tim might think he’s alive, but he’s not really living. He doesn’t have his awareness in the present moment because it’s too painful to experience. This is the way of life of the average human in modern civilization, numbing themselves out of existence. Take a look at someone on the tube, most of them are not really here. They’re lost in their phones, the Metro or thoughts about the fancy restaurant they’re going to go to with their boyfriend later. But I can’t talk: I’m not really here a lot of the time. No wonder, most of us don’t notice the horrors being committed before our eyes.

From the perspective of Tim’s life energy which is powered by Breath, he is a Blocked Flow. His muscles are tense and none of who he really is can move through him and out into the world. He never experiences the joy of creating in a flow state, when the separation between him and reality might start to fade away.

Instead, Tim has many strategies, built up over a lifetime, for numbing himself and avoiding his reality with its hole of value. They are all examples of his Shadow manifesting in the world. They are all ways in which he does unconscious damage to himself and those around him and avoids taking responsibility for his life.

In his body, Tim plays out what I call Addictive Patterns. These patterns range from the obvious such as addictions to drugs, alcohol, social media, porn and sugar. To the far more subtle, like the ways that he exchanges sexual energy, keeps himself small, enmeshes himself with his partner or avoids eye contact with others. All of them help him avoid the pain of his experience.

In his heart, Tim hides himself through what I call Heart Reactivity. If he were to feel his real feelings and emotions they would be screaming out about the pain of his disconnection from himself and his reality. Instead, he lives a closed-off life, building walls around his heart to keep the pain out. In practice, these walls are his defences of reactivity, blame and judgement. When someone questions his value or superiority, he responds by lashing out with rage. This makes sure that he never gets in touch with the nerve that was touched — his real vulnerability and pain — his hole of value.

In his intellect, Tim engages in Cognitive Defending. He hides behind solidified belief structures, stories and fantasy worlds that keep him from coming into contact with the mystery: a terrifying place (for Tim) of not knowing. Whenever he meets someone, he projects onto them like crazy, coming up with all sorts of stories about who they are, that are really just stories about him. These stories act as walls that defend him from the terrifying possibility of real intimacy with others and with Life.

Here is a diagram of the full model of an individual in the Traumacene:

Tim Heads out Into the World

Now, what happens when Tim heads out into the world?

What he does is try to fill his hole of value with things from the outside. Things he naively thinks are separate from him.

His unconscious aim becomes to take from others and from Life herself. I call this his Extractive Intentionality. He probably thinks of himself as a nice guy, but what he really cares about is getting his hands on status, money and an attractive partner he can brag about to his friends. These would temporarily make him feel good and give him some respite from his continuous emptiness. This is the ‘instrumental rationality’ that philosopher Habermas argued was at the heart of Western Civilisation. It’s a rationality that is always in service of gain — Tim can’t stop plotting ways to get ahead.

How does he achieve this? Well, he uses Social Influence to persuade his boss to give him a bigger paycheck and to convince women that he’s attractive and popular enough to think about having sex with. He puts on a show to make people think he’s high status. He buys fancy clothes and a nice car. These are all part of his Shadow facade. He even tries to convince everyone he meets that a low tax, low intervention government is the way forward because he’s scared his wealth, that keeps him feeling safe at night, might be taken away.

All of his physical possessions, his house, his car and even his job are based on filling his hole of value in one way or another. Unfortunately, the only way he can have these things is by fucking over other people and the planet. This is what I call the Violent Infrastructure that sustains his life. All of it results in what game theory calls zero-sum outcomes. i.e. Tim might get what he wants but only at the expense of someone else. Here are some examples. Buying his house pushes poorer locals out of town, contributing to gentrification. Buying his new car resulted in the digging up of countless raw materials and destruction of habitats, as well as the slave wage employment of countless people in the Global South. In his job at a hedge fund, he contributes to growing wealth inequality and plays his part in the hierarchies of the corporate world.

Each of these ways of interacting has knock-on effects on others. When people come into contact with Tim, his big wallet and the Violent Infrastructure that he supports: they end up getting traumatised themselves. Because Tim doesn’t feel valuable himself, he makes others think that they are not valuable. Tim’s friends might actually start to believe that he’s better than them; that they’re no good. The workers who feed Tim’s voracious consumption struggle to make ends meet and end up bringing up traumatised children as a result. The really tragic thing is that these people will then go on to traumatise others and perpetuate the very same patterns as Tim. I call this domino effect the Shadow Flow.

The result of Tim’s preoccupation with himself and his attempt to fill his hole of value is that he has no time, energy or attention left to focus on the problems around him. He lives in what I call an Outer Ignorance of the crises besetting our times. He’s not even present most of the time, so he has no chance of noticing what’s going on around him — noticing that our world is dying. This is the glaze of ‘not my problem’ that sustains our collective fantasy that everything is going fine. This is the inner mindset of ‘Business as Usual’.

Before we continue on our journey to look at how a whole collective of Tim’s perpetuates the same patterns, I want to set a few things straight.

While, you might think from reading this, that I think it’s all Tim and people like him’s fault. Quite the opposite. The real tragedy is that Tim only acts this way because he was traumatised by civilisation in the first place. There is something beautiful within Tim that wants to come into the world. It’s just pushed far down within him. While on the surface, he might have the appearance of success, in reality his life is one terrible, painful ride of disconnection. Pity him, don’t hate him.

You might also think that I’m saying that the ‘real’ problem is in the individual’s hole of value. Not at all. The problem and the solution is everywhere. It all matters. Whilst, Eastern Meditative paths have helped millions resolve their inner ignorance, we now need a response to our time that includes both inner and outer, both spiritual and political, both individual and collective. We must work at all levels simultaneously.

Onwards fellow humans!

A Civilization of Tim’s

What does a whole civilisation of Tim’s look like?

Take a look around you!

We see the same patterns mirrored at the civilisation level.

The Extractive Intentionality of our entire civilisation creates what I call a ‘value hoover’. This means that collectively, without really being conscious of it, the purpose of our entire civilisation’s activity is to suck as much value as possible from our surroundings, to temporarily fill the holes of value of as many people as possible. The dominant narratives of our time — stories of progress, growth and innovation that we have become entranced by— simply justify the whole farce. ‘Profit’ is the fundamental aim of pretty much every company throughout the globe. What ‘Profit’ means, is extraction — it means sucking value from somewhere or someone and selling it to make more money. This is the role of Capital that Marx banged on about — it just can’t stop sucking.

What facilitates the dominance of Capital is Social Influence. These are the institutions and communication and decision making structures of our civilisation whose primary purpose is spreading the propaganda necessary to keep the machine running. Look at the corporate world, where we are persuaded to buy something literally every 30 seconds. We are advertised at from the minute we wake up, to the minute we fall asleep. Often we don’t even notice. Then look at our politics. It’s all about persuasion, lobbying and competition. It’s certainly not about finding out what people want. It’s about manipulating them into serving the value hoover. Then look at our education system. It’s about making children turn out a particular way so they can take their place in the corporate machine. It’s about making them believe the ‘history written by the victors’ that, for example, claims the British Empire was a wonderful thing. What about our justice system? It’s the same. Let’s not support people in living healthy lives, no that’s a terrible idea! Instead, let’s punish them when they step out of line, to influence them to get back into their place. Let’s make sure to make protest as difficult as possible because we don’t want anyone challenging the power of the value hoover. Hopefully you get the picture. More examples abound, all around you. What you can’t find anywhere is someone listening. No, they just keep on talking. They keep on selling you on their latest gizmo, their new politics. All bullshit.

Now let’s look at the Violent Infrastructure of our civilisation. It’s crazy making. You could pretty much pick any industry or any area of human life and what you would find are hierarchical organisations damaging people and destroying the planet. Schools traumatise us into being adaptive, force us to ignore our bodies and make sure that we spend a life following orders of ‘superiors’. The police and armed forces end up killing and traumatising countless millions. The way we produce food for ourselves ends up destroying wildlife and causing cancer. You could go on and on. A less visible aspect of our civilisation’s Violent Infrastructure are the structures of oppression that convince whole segments of society that some people are superior to others, based on random genetic quirks like their skin colour. These oppressive systems, whilst traumatising millions, have the purpose of keeping us separate, preventing us from seeing our common humanity and the needs which we might come together, in opposition to the value hoover, to satisfy. It’s another cog of the machine.

We live in an Empire of Western Neo-colonialism that’s spread across the world, pillaging as it goes. This is the Shadow Flow of our entire civilisation. The work of Helena Norberg Hodge in Ladakh in India, shows how companies infiltrate local cultures, persuading young people to begin taking on Western values thus becoming potentially profitable consumers for Western corporations. Our Empire is a globalised trauma factory.

And what’s worse is that our civilisation is totally committed to Business as Usual. It can’t even see that any of this stuff is going on. This is the collective Outer Ignorance to the catastrophe’s evolving all around us.

Here is a diagram of the full model of our civilisation:

We can use the 8 forms of capital model, which comes from permaculture, to show how these patterns lead to the many crises of our time.

Each form of capital is a store of value that the Value Hoover can’t wait to get it’s claws on. It has the ultimate aim of converting whatever value it can find into Financial Capital, just so a few people can sleep better at night, tragically avoiding their holes of value.

Living Capital is the natural world that our civilisation depends upon. But because of its very lust for extraction, our civilisation chops off the very branch that it’s sitting on. This is the chopping down of trees to make wood. The turning of meadows into supermarkets. The digging up of rare metals and the world’s carbon deposits. The ultimate aim is to suck the Life out of the natural world. But the end result is the Environmental Crisis of the climate and ecological emergency, that we see all around us.

Another form of Living Capital that ends up being exploited by our civilisation are human beings themselves. How ironic! The machine does everything it can to extract as much value as possible from the human. It puts us to work doing bullshit jobs, oppresses marginalised identities, sucks out our creativity for its own ends. Even our attention is now a resource to be monetised in the growing attention economy. It’s no surprise when humans have been sucked dry, that we see a Mental Health Crisis of staggering proportions.

What about Cultural Capital? This is the songs, stories, rituals and narratives of a community. Often this capital imbues a culture with the wisdom to make healthy decisions. And as we will see in the next post, it’s a healthy culture that helps keeps the Shadow in check. As seen in the example of Ladakh earlier, the value hoover can’t keep its hands-off these Life affirming cultures. Instead, culture becomes an arena for Social Influence where the goal is profit. Thus losing its connection to Life. Habermas described a common culture as creating a Life World that allows reality to make sense for it’s participants. He says that not only did our civilisation colonise the outer world, it also colonised our collective Life World. This is the Shadow Flow at work. It is the Life World that puts our experiences of life into perspective and gives them meaning. Without life-affirming stories to base our decisions and lives around we wander aimlessly. People start to believe that there is no meaning to life and the result is that we live in a cultural Meaning Crisis.

What about Social Capital? This is made up of all the relationships and connections in society. And of course, the value hoover can’t keep its hands off all the juicy value here either. It’s far more profitable to have people paying for things than sharing them with one another, so those relationships have to go. They are destroyed in our isolated one-family households and in our beliefs that stop us from reaching out and asking for help. The Violent Infrastructure of our oppressive systems also breaks down our relationships with one another until we find ourselves isolated in an ethnic, political or identity group, hating the ‘Others’. This leads to the Alienation Crisis which intersects with the Mental Health Crisis discussed earlier.

I haven’t covered all the forms of capital today. There’s also Spiritual, Intellectual, Experiential and Material Capital. You guessed it, the same thing applies wherever you look… the value hoover can’t keep its hands off.

Where we’re headed

If we continue on this path, and The Shadow advances unseen, we are moving towards the complete extraction of all value from Life. What our world would look like if we head down that path cannot be known. But, I imagine a world where technology reigns supreme. Where the forest has become a concrete jungle. And the human has become a robotic instrument of Financial Capital.

We didn’t believe that all Life was inherently valuable. So we lost it all.

In the next post, we will explore an alternative path.

In Indigenous Cultures, The Shadow would be kept in check. In Of Water and the Spirit, Malidoma Some from the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, describes how sometimes elements of the village would ‘go private’ by breaking the laws of nature that sustained community life and instead embracing their own Shadow worlds. It was the elders and shamans jobs to “be constantly on the alert to direct and correct these imbalances and illnesses in both communal and individual life”.

Our task now is to rebuild a new form of Indigenous Culture that can keep The Shadow in check, even in our modern world where The Shadow has vast new possibilities for ‘going private’ by exploiting the technological and scientific advances of our age. Instead, these advances could be used to serve humanity and all of Life.

Thankfully, as we will explore in Part 2: the Light has already won.

Many of the ideas in this series came out of my co-creative partnership with Jake Lawy, as well as from the work and models of sublimewe originally created by Sarasvathi Cee as well as my own learnings from the work of Possibility Management, The Diamond Approach and The Soulmaking Dharma. To these people and lineages, I am eternally grateful.

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