This is intended as a poetic understanding of where we are as humanity and a story to help us process the enormity of the situation we are in as a collective.
The Great Joy Cultivating Machine
Joy and connection are the two most beautiful experiences that a human can experience.
Joy is the feeling of great pleasure that arises in life. It is not an emotion or any specific content that arises within experience, it’s a state that gives your experience a tone and a sense that what you are experiencing is pleasurable.
Some of the deepest joys in life come from the darkest moments – when you get stuck in such an absurd and difficult situation that all you can do is laugh or when you love someone so much that it hurts, for example.
In fact, it is through accessing our darkness and pain that we are able to experience joy. The deeper we have experienced our pain, the more joyful and alive we are able to feel. We create this by opening a rupture or well into the depths of our being. By opening up to feeling the pain of separation, we make space for joy to arise in.
Creativity and joy are inextricably linked – if there was no separation, if we were just one thing that was complete – there would be no space for creativity to arise in. Joy is the feeling that comes from the process of free expression.
In the same way, we experience connection with things more deeply when there are more differences. If two things that are the same collide, like two water molecules, they merge into one, there is no longer a sense of connection because it has become one thing.
A sense of connection arises from the boundary of two separate things meeting.
Separation is the source of joy and connection, but it is also the cause of all dukkha. Dukkha (often translated as suffering but I prefer to translate it as struggle) can only arise if there is something separate to us that we are struggling with. It is the sense of a self, which exists separately to the rest of the Universe, that wants something different to what is happening.
Spirituality has largely concerned itself with reducing that dukkha. Finding ways to make ourselves so that we are aligned with the Universe and the experience we are having. This often involves looking down on those who have desires to go after material gains and things that will improve their lives.
But when you look at the human experience through the eyes of the Cosmos, it throws a different light on things. Evolution is fuelled by desire and life force. It is through this process of evolution that we have become ever more separate from the environment around us, and it is this that has created the space for the experiences of joy and connection to arise.
By creating humans who can experience huge depths of pain and darkness, the Universe has also created beings that can experience joy.
By creating animals that experience themselves as separate to each other and their environment, the Universe has created a way to experience a deep sense of connection with itself.
We are the conduits for this joy and connection, as well as this pain and separation.
The rate at which this evolution has happened has been absurdly exponential. For 10 billions years, gravity connected, destroyed and reconnected huge swathes of matter into vast systems of solar systems, galaxies and super-clusters. Billions of suns were created and destroyed. Unique and vast ages were passed through.
And then Earth appeared. The mystery of life arose and for about 3 billions years, simple, microscopic organisms was all there was. Through an absurdly unlikely stream of events, 500 million years ago, life bloomed.
Since then complexity has increased at an insane rate. We can understand the workings of Space and the laws of physics pretty well, which is largely what governed the first 10 billions years of experience for the cosmos, but when it comes to understanding the complexities of an entire conscious animal’s being, there are too many layer of richness and too many connections and interactions for us to be able to boil it down to simple laws.
Things we do understand, like digestion or blood-flow all exist within an infinite web of relationships with things like nutrients and diet-preferences and gut bacteria and emotional states and oxygen levels and psychology and an endless list of subtle interactions that continually feed each other and never stop. It is impossible to understand fully.
The exponential rate of growth in complexity also hasn’t just stopped with physical evolution. As human animals, we have increased the complexity of the Universe with our ability to build complex societies and design the technology that supports that.
Increasing complexity and seeing change has moved from something that happens over billions of years to something that happens over months.
There is clearly a desire for growth that has been raging through the cosmos, nature and humanity.
This growth has no doubt brought about benefits in our capacity to create physically safe environments that shelter us from the harshness of existing within nature and the laws of physics.
But in order to create the technology that was needed to do this sustainably, we’ve had to overshoot the mark. The system has become a monster of capitalism and patriarchy. We have built the Titanic.
Mr Ismay: I want to convey sheer size, and size means stability, luxury, and above all, strength.
Rose: Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr Ismay? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.
I love the James Cameron movie, Titanic. It tells a beautiful archetypal story of our time and the lines above are some of my favourite in a movie ever.
Rose is a 17 year-old woman, who walks on to the Titanic in the invisible chains of the patriarchy. She is being forced by her mother to marry a rich man she doesn’t love in order to ensure the survival and status of her family.
The patriarchal mindset (which we all suffer from) is one that sees status, productivity, strength, power, certainty, clarity and authority as more valuable and somehow better than service, presence, softness, love, surrender, meaning and flexibility.
The Titanic was a display of absurd patriarchy. Through everyone else’s eyes it was a wonder to be celebrated, Rose saw it for what it was.
Of course, we all know the story. The Titanic was a victim of its own size. It was too big to turn to avoid the iceberg. The very traits that the Titanic was celebrated for were exactly what was going to be its downfall.
When it comes to humanity, we’ve already hit the ice berg.
Even without the mess that is 2020, any climate scientist will tell you that. The ship is sinking. There are not enough life boats.
Hope and faith does not come from denying the truth of a situation, or turning away from suffering, it comes from believing that it will all be worth it somehow. That it is worth it for us to keep showing up.
For me, the hope in our situation is reflected in Rose’s story. A white, rich, first-class passenger from the in-crowd – she was supposed to be one of the winners in society but she walked on to that ship in the invisible chains of patriarchy. She met Jack hanging off the back of the ship, ready to kill herself.
She was doomed to a joyless and disconnected life, where women go to University only to find husbands, third class people are scum and the entire point of life is to increase your wealth and status at the cost of everyone else. The epitome of the dark side of a successful patriarchy.
Rose: I saw my whole life as if I’d already lived it. An endless parade of parties and cotillions, yachts and polo matches. Always the same narrow people, the same mindless chatter. I felt like I was standing at a great precipice, with no one to pull me back, no one who cared… or even noticed.
Through the tragedy of the Titanic sinking, she gets the opportunity to turn her story around.
I have always been a sucker for a good love story and Rose and Jack’s is one of the best. Two people who recognised the fire in each other’s eyes and were able to bring in out in each other.
She sees through the lies and manipulations of the people surrounding her, rejects an unfulfilling life of comfort and follows her heart to stay on the sinking ship with the penniless and inspiring Jack who has seen her and loves her for the sharp, funny, sexy and brave woman that she is.
When I first saw it as a young girl with a huge crush on Leonardo DiCaprio, I was outraged that Jack died. As an adult I have a deep appreciation for the story that is being told.
Rose arrived in New York a free woman. She had escaped the chains that took her on to the boat and learned that life is about the stories that we tell with it and the people that we love.
If Jack had survived it would have seemed as if happiness lay in meeting the one. But in the same way that money or status cannot buy us fulfilment, the answer to life does not lie in being rescued by someone who is going to meet all our desires and solve all our problems.
True fulfilment comes in the opportunities that we are given in life and the way that we approach those opportunities. We want to be useful, to contribute to society, to go on adventures and to do that alongside people we love and who love us.
This is the lesson that we, as humanity, are about to learn. Chasing status and power has run itself into a dead end. We are deeply unhappy and over-stretched.
I do not believe we can engineer our way out of this problem. We are here to love each other through it and hopefully a few of us will survive the wreckage having learned the lesson that we are here to enjoy the process of working together and connecting with each other, to make the experience of life worthwhile.
In the same way that the answer to life does not lie in power, or being rescued by the one, it also does not lie in any spiritual practice. Spiritual practices are tools that we learn to help us engage with life.
We go to school to learn the things we need to in order to function in life, like maths and language. But no matter how much we learn or how many qualifications we get, we never get to the point where we stop having to engage with being helpful in the world and learning along the way. You’re never ‘done’ with learning or contributing.
The same is true of spiritual practices. They help us deepen our connection with our selves and our lives. They can lead to profound shifts in our experience, but no matter how much practice we do, there is no final answer that can be found there. We have to connect with what is in our lives.
Spirituality has largely framed separation and differences as a bad thing. A cause of dukkha that we are trying to reduce.
It is true that there are practices that can help us feel infinitely more aligned with life and can reduce our individual suffering greatly and these are worthwhile things to be doing.
But there is a way of looking at life and spirituality, where we see our separation as what allows us to go through the pains, sorrows and joys of a human life. This opens us to a different way of being that opens us to being beautifully immersed in and connected with life.
When we are unsafe in life, the suffering is immense and painful. We believe that there is something wrong with us or the world and we experience things like self-hatred. We cannot enjoy our experience because the sense of being separate is too difficult and painful for us to be able to relax.
When we feel fundamentally safe – that we are physically safe and that we will be loved and accepted for who we are – that separation can become a source of deep joy at the beauty of how it feels to be alive and expressing ourselves, even when there are challenges.
In the same way, when we are at risk of being rejected because we are different from the people around us or our needs are too different from what our environment is providing, we experience a huge amount of pain in our differences. But when we are physically safe and we feel loved, our differences become a way for us to experience a deeper felt sense of connection with each other.
Reducing your suffering in life is an inherently self-interested approach to spirituality. It is replacing the self-interested capitalist approach of what can I get out of life, to the self-interested idea of how can I escape life by destroying myself.
Deepening your joy and connection with life and humanity is an inherently rewarding approach to spirituality. It comes from our heart’s desires of creating the things that will create deep, lasting and sustainable satisfaction in life for all of us.
It is fundamentally shifting your experience to life from one in which you are a separate being that must either win at life or destroy itself, to one in which you are a valued and beautiful piece of a wider whole who’s purpose it is to create more joy and experience more connection.
Rather than me losing a sense of self by destroying myself, we are creating a safe environment for everyone and then helping each other lose ourselves in life by easing the sense of self-consciousness and through connecting with something bigger than us.
The Great Story
We must learn to create communities where people are emotionally safe and resourced, as well as physically safe and resourced. We must learn to value the feminine traits in ourselves and others as much as the masculine traits. We must make space to listen to the stories of people who are oppressed by our societal structures.
This is how we are going to create more joy and connection in the world and reduce the amount of suffering in a more equal and fair way. How we are going to find lasting joy and fulfilling connection.
I believe that this is the journey our shared story is taking us on as a collective. We are going to learn some hard lessons about the failures of capitalism, the patriarchy and white supremacy along the way.
We cannot control how this is going to play out and we have a lot less free will than we believe. The positive side of this is the realisation that it is not your job to save the earth. Connection and shared purpose is how we are going to survive this. We are going to learn some beautiful and deeply humbling lessons about the power of vulnerability, care and love.
We are here to learn to love each other through what is about to happen. We are here to open to life in all its darkness and beauty. To learn to catch each other when we fall and to enjoy the moments when life is good. To make each other feel like we are enough and to turn life into an experience that is ultimately worth having.
One of the lessons that came out of my awakening was no matter how bad you think things are, they can always get worse. We have no idea how deep this rupture is going to be, but hopefully humanity can come out the other side with more capacity for joy and connection, which is what life is all about.