In his DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme recalls Teilhard’s saying that we are the universe reflecting on itself. Swimme invites us to see ourselves as the Power of Transmutation reflecting on itself in conscious self–awareness. He asks, “How can this lead to a more vibrant earth community?”
Natural selection, Transmutation, is the way form changes through time… in the universe, the birth of radiant energy in atoms changes everything; clouds change into galaxies; primal stars transmute into stellar systems with planets; the earth herself changes from molten rock into a living planet.
The universe forces itself out of one era into another. If you are a particle you have nowhere to go but into an atom…
So, what do we do when we discover ourselves in the midst of the end of one era, moving into another? How do we participate in this Transmutation?
Swimme says we need to look at the way life moves from one form to another. The earth uses a form of restraint, of judgement. At the moment when the earth begins to cool from its molten state to form a crust, there is a constraint into the form of continents. When two continents collide, there is further restraint on formerly free activity, enabling restriction and opposition that create mountain ranges. To insist that things remain the same is to insist on the end of the planet’s growth.
Another form of resistance happens when the desires of different beings are in opposition. At the heart of transmutation is the question of how to deal with obstacles and opposites. The grasshopper is constrained by the bird who eats it; the bird has to follow the grasshopper. But to remove the constraints is to upset the beauty of form. A slower grasshopper leads to a less fleet bird; a slower bird means that the grasshopper decreases its speed. The destiny of the bird is tied to the grasshopper.
Creativity is spread out over the whole community. The system has constraints, demands, judgements. The natural selection dynamic is based on judgement that leads to excellence of form and beauty. The beak of the bird developed so it might retrieve bugs from a tree. The relationship between the bird and the tree is a form of intimacy. Every bioregion has this spectacular beauty, with the integrity of the whole maintained by this power of judgement, restraint, struggle.
Until humans arise, taking the whole system into collapse through our ability to get around the constraints, the judgements, using all the powers to our own advantage. No longer does natural selection take care of the whole.
Our challenge is to become the Power of Transmutation in conscious self-awareness. We are called upon to bring restraint to human activity so that the natural selection dynamics can proceed. The powers of the universe need the human to proceed through this change. Though our laws, customs and disciplines impose restraint on human activity, they have until now taken for granted that the human is the focus. Now we need to ask for laws that enable the whole community of life to flourish. We need to say clearly, “Some things are going to lead to ruin”. We need a law to protect species for themselves.
Swimme suggests that the human person in whom the Power of Transmutation surfaces strongly has a mind that is highly critical, judgemental. The tone of this person will be highly pessimistic with a sensitivity to the dynamic of the whole, with a drive for survival as well as deep respect for law, tradition, custom. The mind of a person in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is not dogmatic, but has the ability to change in order to make it through the challenges before us. The one in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is highly–disciplined, leading a structured life, the opposite of the chaotic personality in whom Emergence is the stronger power. However, should the Power of Transmutation become frozen in a person, there is danger that the negative aspects of pessimism, cynicism and guilt might take over.
The feeling mode of the person experiencing the Power of Transmutation is that one does not fit in. There is a sense of being cut off, set aside, rejected, even wounded. Yet those who feel most cut off are the ones who feel most deeply that the universe has made a judgement that this era is over. This is an invitation from the universe to look at what life does, to see in the opposition, the wound, one’s destiny. Swimme says: You are feeling the universe is rejecting part of you. Embrace the rejection, embrace that which is attempting to eliminate those aspects of yourself that are maladaptive, the elements that are part of the era that is over: a society based on consumerism, based on destroying opposition.
The planet is withering because humans have accepted a context that is much too small. We can no longer decide only what is best for a corporation or a culture but we must move to a larger context, to the planetary level. Our decisions will affect thousands of future generations. We are the universe as a whole reflecting on itself in this particular place.
Who are the models to inspire us? We co-evolve with all other beings. The great moments of beauty in the universe become our guides, and our criteria by which to judge. We look to the future, to beings who will learn to live in harmony to enable the whole to flourish. Thus we learn to live in the context of the whole universe: past, present and future, with the energies of the planet.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that future: when a windstorm knocked out electricity in our community’s holiday place one summer, a few of us decided to stay on. Small changes, transmutations… an evening swim rather than a morning shower…. food cooked on a barbecue… water for washing dishes heated on the barbecue…. perishables such as milk and yogurt packed in an ice chest…. wading into the lake in tall boots to scoop up buckets of water to keep the toilets working…
On the second night, sitting in darkness illumined by golden candles, we watched the rose madder sunset splash across the sky, and soon after Venus became clearly visible. For a little while she was a silvery presence but as the earth rolled away to the east, Venus slowly sank below the horizon…
This beauty we would have missed had there been electric light. I remembered a snatch of poetry: “After my house burned down, I had a better view of the moon.”