“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us _universe_, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
How can we rescue ourselves and each other from the dangerous world we have created?
We seem to know so much. Our science has produced technologies which evidence tremendous power. We are able to move great objects at high velocities. Our machines perform trillions and trillions of calculations in fractions of a second. Everywhere around us our knowledge of material processes has refashioned the world of our experience. We have changed the planet and ourselves in ways unimagined by previous generations.
But all this scientific and technical achievement has also produced situations that threaten to bring us great harm – harm to ourselves and to our world. Our knowledge turns out to be severely limited. By focusing our minds on abstract, reductionist, and materialist conceptions of existence, we produced a century of physical and psychological horror on a scale unprecedented in all of history.
As we look back upon the twentieth century, we must ask ourselves, what is it about the way we have conceived of the world and our place in it which has resulted in such monstrosities in the name of reason and rationality?
Our search for order amidst the apparent chaos of life has created, on the one hand, systems of order so rigid that they have banished all forms of novelty and dissent, and on the other hand, the chaos of unending war and political strife. Even our entertainment media, which we have ostensibly created as havens from the roughness of the real world, are replete with violence and images of inhumanity.
Prodded by our fears, we have been impelled to create shells of safety and security and yet, each time, we fail to notice until it is nearly too late, we have the most dangerous thing still within the fortress. The most dangerous thing is us, of course. We have the power to multiply the natural dangers of the world a thousandfold. When we desensitize the connections of empathy and feelings of compassion for others, we lose empathy and compassion for ourselves as well.
We are learning that we must reformulate our very ideas of the world and our place within it. The end of our old science of separation, reductionism, inflexible logic, and certainty leads us ineluctably toward the new science of connectedness, relativity, complexity, and possibility.
As we learn to listen more attentively to the beating of our hearts and more deeply feel the breath in our lungs, we come closer to our common humanity. As we begin to ask the right questions, we observe the answers are already here within us. Our minds begin to move inevitably toward the evolutionary notion that empathy and compassion are the purpose and meaning of our lives…
Image: “Heart and Mind” by Tullio DeSantis, altered ink drawing, 2011.
YouTube Video: Interview with C. G. Jung