The Awakening of Humanity
Occasionally in the course of human events, a new worldview emerges that transforms society. It happened when Jesus’ disciples were inspired by his life to believe in radical transformation of the person and the world through love. It occurred in the Renaissance when the idea of progress through knowledge was born. It took place in the United States when the ideas of freedom and democracy became institutions through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It happened with the advent of the British Royal Society and the dawn of science through Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, and again among the transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, who believed that each individual is an expression of the divine, a free and sovereign person. Now, once again a new worldview is arising. This idea is the culmination of all human history. It holds the promise of fulfilling the great aspirations of the past and heralds the advent of the next phase of our evolution. It is the idea of conscious evolution.
Conscious evolution is occurring now because we are gaining an understanding of the processes of nature: the gene, the atom, the brain, the origin of the universe, and the whole story of creation from the big bang to us. We are now changing our understanding of how nature evolves; we are moving from unconscious evolution through natural selection to conscious evolution by choice. With this increased knowledge and the power that it gives us, we can destroy the world or we can participate in a future of immeasurable dimensions. Into our hands has been given the power of codestruction or cocreation.
“The most meaningful activity in which a human being can be engaged is one that is directly related to human evolution.”
As Jonas Salk stated in Anatomy of Reality:
The most meaningful activity in which a human being can be engaged is one that is directly related to human evolution. This is true because human beings now play an active and critical role not only in the process of their own evolution but in the survival and evolution of all living beings. Awareness of this places upon human beings a responsibility for their participation in and contribution to the process of evolution. If humankind would accept and acknowledge this responsibility and become creatively engaged in the process of metabiological evolution consciously, as well as unconsciously, a new reality would emerge, and a new age would be born.
Consciousness has evolved for billions of years, from single cells to animals to humans, but conscious evolution is radically new. In The Life Era, Professor Eric Chaisson of the Wright Center for Scientific Education suggested that the second great event in the history of the universe is happening now. The first event was when matter gained charge of radiative energy, which organized the explosive energy of supernovas into metals and materials that formed the material world more than 10 billion years ago. The second is when technologically competent human life gains an understanding of matter. As we learn how nature’s invisible processes work, we can restore the environment of our Earth and free ourselves from poverty and disease; we can design new life forms, bring life to other planets, and eventually explore and bring Earth life into the universe. Chaisson wrote in ZYGON: “The change from matter-dominance to life-dominance is the second of two preeminent events in the history of the universe… If our species is to survive and enjoy a future, then we must make synonymous the words future and ethical, thus terming our next grand evolutionary epoch, ethical evolution.”
Evolution or Extinction
An irreversible shift toward conscious evolution began in 1945 when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With this dreadful release of power we penetrated one of the invisible technologies of nature—the atom—and gained the power that we once attributed to the gods. This capability, combined with other rapidly developing technologies such as bio-technology, nanotechnology (the ability to build atom by atom), and artificial intelligence, if used in our current state of self-centered consciousness could lead to the destruction of the human race. We must learn “ethical evolution,” as Chaisson said. And we do not have hundreds of years in which to learn.
The response to this crisis has been an uprising of a new consciousness—almost a new kind of humanity. Since the 1960s, the metamorphosis has accelerated as millions of people have become aware of environmental degradation, social injustice, and the need for radical change.
In Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, Paul Hawken, a leading environmentalist and social change activist, examined the worldwide movement for social and environmental change. He discovered that groups working in these causes comprise the largest movement on Earth, a movement that has no name, leaders, or location and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up. Fundamentally, it is an expression of humanity’s collective genius and integral desire for conscious evolution.
As Hawken suggests, in the 1960s through the 1980s networks of people in every field and sector of society formed to respond to crises as well as to realize new opportunities. But we had no social map of our collective potential. Although there were many positive social innovations, we didn’t have a way to connect the dots.
We entered a period of confusion—a loss of vision and direction. We continued to destroy our rain forests, pollute our soil and water, and increase our rate of population growth. Our global population is still rising. We cannot continue to increase our population at the current rate and survive. If we continue with our current practices, we may destroy ourselves. Many of us have seen looming catastrophe, but few of us have realized that this crisis is driving us toward positive change, toward a quantum transformation of conscious evolution.
Let’s compare our situation with the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. When the caterpillar weaves its cocoon, imaginal discs begin to appear. These discs embody the blueprint of the butterfly yet to come. Although the discs are a natural part of the caterpillar’s evolution, its immune system recognizes them as foreign and tries to destroy them. As the discs arrive faster and begin to link up, the caterpillar’s immune system breaks down and its body begins to disintegrate. When the discs mature and become imaginal cells, they form themselves into a new pattern, thus transforming the disintegrating body of the caterpillar into the butterfly. The breakdown of the caterpillar’s old system is essential for the breakthrough of the new butterfly. Yet, in reality the caterpillar neither dies nor disintegrates, for from the beginning its hidden purpose was to transform and be reborn as the butterfly.
As Ferris Jabr wrote in Scientific American:
Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar’s life… Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth.
By applying this analogy, we can see that during the 1960s our social systems started to become dysfunctional, or began to “disintegrate,” as we experienced the Cold War and the threat to the environment, the growing population crisis, pollution, and social inequities. As people started waking up, they became imaginal discs in the body of society. The environmental movement, the antiwar movement, the Apollo space program, the women’s movement, the civil rights and human rights movements, new music, meditation, yoga, and mind-expanding substances all encouraged a young generation to act as instruments of social transformation—striving to birth the still-invisible emerging world. But if we had been offered the opportunity to prematurely form a new kind of society, we would not have been ready. We were too young, too few, and too inexperienced to bring forth a more just, humane, and life-enhancing society at that time. And often when new leaders did step forward, they were attacked by society’s immune system fighting to maintain the old social order of the caterpillar: witness the assassinations of Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The new social processes, structures, and systems to create environmental restoration, better education, universal health care, economic justice, alternative currencies, restorative justice, tolerance for social, sexual, and racial differences, and many other requirements of the coming age are just beginning to emerge, leading us towards an era of exponential conscious evolution. It may well be that our deep sense of life purpose, our callings, and our various passions to express ourselves are actually the still-dormant components of the emerging societal “butterfly,” now in the process of metamorphosis. Our attraction to join with one another in specific groups and configurations may be the prepatterned requirement to find our appropriate partners with whom to cocreate our unique components of the whole-system shift now occurring.
Not only are millions of us developing ourselves as individuals in the spiritual and human potential movements, but we are just starting to organize new social functions in every major field, including health, education, environment, and governance. Yet we still are lacking a coherent social potential movement to connect what is already working and to guide us in the conscious evolution of our communities and of society as a whole.
In the midst of this nascent uprising of wellness, innovation, and compassion, our basic social and economic systems have attempted to maintain the status quo despite the many warnings that the old ways, particularly in the developed world, were no longer sustainable. In many instances our existing systems are not humane; homelessness, hunger, disease, and poverty consume the lives of hundreds of millions of people and the environment continues to degrade. We can view the reactive and conservative ways of the past few decades as a survival mechanism—as the caterpillar’s immune system rigidly holding on to old structures until new social systems are mature enough to function.
But the fact is that millions of people are now awakening in every field, culture, and ethnic group. The imaginal discs are linking up, becoming imaginal cells, and are beginning to proliferate throughout the social body. Each person who says “I know I can be more,” “I can do more,” or “The world does not have to be this way” is an imaginal cell in the emerging culture of humanity. The social immune system is beginning to surrender as the new consciousness arises everywhere.
From this inquiry, we have concluded that a new global culture and consciousness have taken root and are beginning to grow in the world. This represents a shift in consciousness as distinct and momentous as that which occurred in the transition from the agricultural era to the industrial era roughly three hundred years ago… This change in consciousness has two primary features. First, there is a further awakening of our unique capacity to be self-reflective—to stand back from the rush of life and, with greater detachment, observe the world and its workings non-judgmentally. Second, from this more spacious perspective, the Earth (and even the cosmos) are seen as interconnected, living systems.
It almost seems as though imaginal cells are beginning to gain ascendancy. This phenomenon is vividly presented in The Integral Culture Survey: A Study of Transformational Values in America. Noted social analyst Paul H. Ray revealed through extensive research that there were 44 million “cultural creatives” in the United States alone in 1995—almost one-fourth the American population. By 2008, that number had increased to 80 million adults, or roughly 35 percent of the American population. Cultural creatives are defined by a set of values, a new lifestyle and worldview. Feeling that we are all members of one planet, they are concerned about the environment and social-economic justice. They have a different notion of relationship—one that is less hierarchical and more cocreative and participatory. They are interested in holistic health and are extending women’s concerns into the public domain. Their emphasis is on transforming consciousness and behavior in all aspects of our lives—personal, social, and planetary.
Cultural creatives are social idealists, concerned not so much with political and economic power as those in the old movement were, but rather with seeking to change our image of the world, our sense of identity. Cultural creatives originated in the great social movements of the 1960s and are now maturing, taking their stand for a more spiritualized, personalized, and integrated culture worldwide.
According to Ray, cultural creatives are the fastest growing subculture in the United States, yet most of these creative individuals feel they are alone. They have not yet sensed their connection with one another or with the pattern and momentum of the collective change they represent. Nonetheless, as Marilyn Ferguson wrote in her seminal work The Aquarian Conspiracy, “A leaderless but powerful network is working to bring about radical change in the United States. Its members have broken with certain key elements of Western thought, and they may even have broken continuity with history.”
These are the imaginal cells of the social body working towards conscious evolution. This emerging social potential movement is not revolutionary, but evolutionary. Its aim is not to destroy, but to fulfill. When the butterfly emerges, it doesn’t deny the caterpillar—it has actually consumed it! It is the caterpillar evolved. In this analogy, this movement is not an attack on another group or an assertion that “our way is better.” Instead, we recognize that we have inherited enormous resources and intelligence from previous generations and that many of those resources can be repurposed now for the social good. The movement is not here to attack but rather to transcend and include the best of what has come before and to attract that which needs to come forth for the flourishing of our human and planetary potential. Its purpose is to evolve all of us, our communities, and our world so that all people are free to fulfill their highest potential.
Today, cultural creatives are communicating ever more rapidly with one another, affirming and reinforcing the new emerging pattern of more conscious living. Thousands of transformational workshops, trainings, and teachings are appearing in mainstream businesses, churches, and organizations. Books by new paradigm teachers and leaders consistently reach the bestseller lists. Through resonance, or echoing and reinforcing one another, values of inclusivity, spirituality, attunement with other species, ecological sensitivity, and social innovations are spreading. These values are not new; many are ancient, yet they are emerging now in a new way that is vital to the survival of the whole system.
This is a call to those who are experiencing a deep motivation to be more, to find their life purpose and to contribute their gifts to the conscious evolution of the world. Since the 1960s, countless such individuals have been maturing, yet mainstream media and our political system fail to adequately acknowledge them. These cultural creatives are rarely, if ever, at the heads of corporations, governments, or traditional religions because their current function is to evolve and expand systems, not to maintain or strengthen the current power structure as it is.
Although the desire for something more is widespread, often that something is not known. We lack a vision of what we want to create. Inquiries, conferences, and symposia throughout the world seek answers to major problems, yet something is still missing—we don’t see where we are going; we have few positive visions of our next stage of conscious evolution.
Our media, which are like a planetary nervous system, are far more sensitive to breakdowns than to breakthroughs. They filter out our creativity and successes, considering them less newsworthy than violence, war, and dissent. When we read newspapers and watch television news, we feel closer to a death in the social body than to an awakening. Yes, something is dying; however, the media do not recognize that something is also being born.
A radically new phenomenon has emerged worldwide, and it is just now being more widely recognized. It is called the “noosphere” by Teilhard de Chardin in his famous work The Phenomenon of Man. The root of the word is “noos,” meaning “mind.” The noosphere is the mind sphere, the thinking layer of Earth, the “global brain,” the larger social body created by human intelligence. It is composed of all the spiritual, cultural, social, and technological capacities of humanity, seen as one interrelated superorganism. It is formed from our languages, our art and music, our religious and social structures, our constitutions, our communication systems, our microscopes, our telescopes, our cars, planes, rockets, laboratories, and more.
For Teilhard, the noosphere was actually the consciousness field of Earth. He believed that when infused with enough love and creativity, it would “get its collective eyes,” and like the nervous system developing in a newborn baby, it would open its eyes. Then we, as a newly born planetary culture, would see that we were one whole global body. As a Catholic, he called it the Christification of the Earth.
Without such a new and guiding worldview, further development of the planetary system will be increasingly distorted and destructive. If, however, we can see the glory of the noosphere maturing toward an immeasurable future for the human race—a future that attracts us, and calls forth our gifts—and if we can learn to collaborate even more effectively in bringing forward that future, we will then serve the purpose of awakening the whole body to its capacity.
The Social Potential Movement
The human potential movement began to come to public attention in the 1960s with the seminal work of Abraham H. Maslow, Viktor Frankl, Robert Assagioli, and others who discovered, nurtured, and affirmed the higher reaches of human nature. They developed techniques and practices to fulfill untapped human potential. In his seminal book, Toward a Psychology of Being, Maslow identified a hierarchy of human needs inherent in all of us. He said that we all have basic needs for survival, security, and self-esteem. When these basic needs are relatively well met, a new set of needs arises naturally. They are growth needs for self-expression in work that is intrinsically valuable and self-rewarding. Then, transcendent needs emerge: to be connected to the larger whole—one with Source—to transcend the limits of self-centered consciousness itself.
Maslow had the genius to study “well” people rather than the sick and discovered that all fully functioning, joyful, productive, and self-actualizing people have one trait in common: chosen work or vocation that they find intrinsically self-rewarding and that is of service. If we do not find life purpose at the growth stage, he reasoned, we become sick, depressed, and even violent. People in modern society, he said, are stuck between survival needs and growth needs for further self-expression and self-actualization in a culture of intrinsic meaning.
Through the human potential movement millions of us have awakened, crossing the barrier from survival to growth needs and eventually to conscious evolution. Yet, ultimately all of us want to find life purpose and meaning—a potentially huge community of people, perhaps a majority in the developed world (where basic needs are relatively well met).
The social potential movement builds on the human potential movement. It seeks to identify and map peaks of social creativity and works toward social wellness, a self-actualizing society, the same way the human potential movement cultivates the self-actualizing person. It seeks out social innovations and designs social systems that work toward a life-enhancing global society. I believe the social potential movement is on the threshold of a mass awakening, seeking to carry into society what individuals and small groups have learned spiritually and personally.
An Evolutionary Agenda: The 10 Keys to Conscious Evolution
The social potential movement is the vital catalyst to carry us through the twenty-first century and to fulfill our collective potential in the third millennium. It is now surfacing in society and is ready for a shared vision that attracts and connects us, not only with one another but also with society as a whole. The time is ripe to move toward a new, conscious, evolutionary agenda—not to reform but to transform based on the full and appropriate use of our immense new powers. This agenda is based on the hierarchy of social needs, which calls upon us to:
1. Meet basic food and shelter needs of all people;
2. Limit our population growth;
3. Restore and sustain Earth’s environment;
4. Learn to coexist with other species;
5. Learn sustainable economic development and new forms of monetary democracy;
6. Shift the vast military-industrial-technological complex toward building new worlds on Earth and in space;
7. Redesign social and economic systems to enhance human compassion, cooperation, and creativity;
8. Emancipate individuals’ unique potential and life purpose;
9. Explore and develop the further reaches of the human spirit and the universe beyond the planet of our birth;
10. Guide our radical new technologies, such as genetics, nanotechnology, robotics, and space development toward evolutionary, life-oriented purposes.
What would happen if we began to use our new scientific and technological powers within such an evolutionary, open-ended agenda? Ancient prophecies have foreseen our self-destruction, but few of us have seen the magnificence of what we could become, collectively, through the use of all our powers—spiritual, social, scientific, and technological. In the past our glorious visions of the future—heaven, paradise, nirvana—were thought to happen after death. The newer thought is that we do not have to die to get there! We are not speaking here of life after death in some mythical heaven, but life more abundant in real time in history. We are discovering and participating in the next stage of our social evolution, the next turn on the Evolutionary Spiral.
A Spirit-Motivated Process of Action for the Twenty-First Century
We now know that a pattern or design of action, also known as DNA, is encoded in the genes of every living organism and guides it from conception through gestation, birth, maturation, and death. From the study of epigenetics, we have also learned that the DNA code is a script that is influenced by the membrane or consciousness that surrounds the cell. It is not static and unchanging; it is responsive to its environment. Like the human body, planet Earth is a living system. Is it not possible, then, that there is a pre-patterned (but not predetermined) tendency, an encoded design for planetary evolution, just as there is for biological evolution? And that our attitude, consciousness, and every action are affecting that life cycle?
As there is a biological cycle, it is also evident that there is a planetary life cycle. Earth’s conception occurred with the big bang. The period of gestation included its 13.8 billion years of evolution, from its formation 4.5 billion years ago to the origin of human life. Its “birth,” or collective awakening, is happening now as we begin to realize that we are one planetary body, capable of destroying ourselves or co-creating an immeasurable future, on this Earth and in the universe beyond. And we know that 4.5 billion years from now our sun will expand and destroy all the planets in the solar system. We live precisely midway in the life cycle of our planet. We have not yet seen another planet go through this change, so we have nothing with which to compare it. But let us imagine for the moment that we are a normal planetary event in the universe and that there is a pattern encoded in our collective spiritual, social, and scientific awareness, ready to be activated and affected by our actions, when the time for conscious evolution is here, just as the imaginal discs self-organize into new bodily functions when the caterpillar is ready to transform.
To awaken our magnificent social potential, we need first and foremost to become aware of our “new story,” our evolutionary story. This story places us in the cosmos and reveals to us our vital part in the evolution of ourselves and our world.
I believe that the crises and opportunities we face today are triggering the next stage of planetary evolution and that we, as individual members of the planetary body, are now being awakened to our new personal and social capacities to participate in our evolution. This is not a plan imposed by any group or individual, but rather a design of evolution, a tendency toward a higher, more complex order and consciousness, with which we can cooperate and align ourselves to repattern our social systems and evolve ourselves.
About The Author
Barbara Marx Hubbard is a futurist, prolific educator and author of seven books, including a revised and updated edition of her seminal work Conscious Evolution. She is an evolutionary thinker who believes that global change happens when we work collectively and selflessly for the greater good. Visit her online at evolve.org