Tilba Wisdom Circle at Open Sanctuary
14th May 2022
The first Wisdom Circle at OS was held in March, where the whole theme and idea of a regular Wisdom Circle was outlined. Wisdom was seen to be, amongst other things,:
My reason for wanting to establish a regular Wisdom Circle is the belief that we in the World, at both local and global levels, are facing an enormous moment of truth. We are knowledge rich and wisdom poor. We have never known more about the ‘what’ of the world, and seemingly never understood less about the ‘how’ of the world. Our actions can now be devastatingly powerful, but we don’t seem to know how to act to save ourselves. It is as if we are entrapped in an incapacity to act together for our own good as a human race. We are like an assemblage of individuals, of parts, each beating its own drum, rather than the one human race, a Whole that is more than the sum of its parts. The enormity of the future we are facing is not getting through to all these parts. Why is this happening? What are we missing?
In that first gathering I suggested that we are running out of excuses for avoiding the Whole and wanting only to live for much lesser wholes. We are running out of excuses because our World, our little Planet Earth, is now an object in the Universe not only in our imagination but to our actual perception, in immediate experience for space travellers and through photographs for the rest of us. One of the most famous photographs ever taken, Earth Rising at Christmas, taken in 1968 was but the first of now countless photographs of Planet Earth, each enabling us to understand our ‘home’ as an object over and against us but in which we, each one of us, at the same time are part. Our world can never be the same, and unless a human colony is formed on another planet somewhere, this is it. We make this one work or we have had it! We really and truly need to balance our knowledge with wisdom. Photographs of Planet Earth floating in the Universe are symbols of an ultimate Whole we need to be living for and with.
This understanding of the Planet as a Whole that now must demand all our attention points to the importance of the 4th dot point above, making decisions with the well-being of the whole in mind. What are some of the implications of this great shift, for us as individuals, for us as Australians, for us as largely descendants of European cultures in the new world, and so on. But also for us as organizations, businesses, governments. There is a paradigm shift here that has the potential to transform.
More than that, are there other Wholes as well we need to be more aware of, perhaps of at least equal importance waiting to emerge, that are implied I believe in the Whole that is our Planet Earth. For instance, if we can look at Planet Earth and admit to ourselves that we are all human beings needing to live together if we are to survive, can we also see that we are all participants in the one Story of how we got here. This brings in the 5th dot point above, deeply understanding the human and cosmic situation, mankind’s experience, and human nature. Let me unhesitatingly suggest that this Story is another essential Whole to become more aware of in finding greater wisdom. I suggest that these 4th and 5th points might well be the key points in our list that in turn help to enable the other points that make up Macdonald’s understanding of Wisdom.
It doesn’t stop with Story. When Copernicus provided data that supported the idea that the sun and the planets did not go around Planet Earth but rather we all went around the Sun, a new sense of World began to dawn in European consciousness, at least in imagination. The word World was in fact emerging in the developing English language to translate the word Cosmos in Greek. It meant literally the Age of Man. We began to believe the World could be mapped long before it could be photographed. Mercator produced one of the first maps of the World. This change in perspective or concept was part of the general move toward our increasing sense of self as individuals, that we each stood over and against the world and it over and against us, as individuals; that we are microcosms of the macrocosm. Just as all the parts of our being constitute a whole, so all the parts of the World constitute a whole. We mirror each other. So you and I, we are all Wholes to be taken seriously as well, and not only parts. Wholes within wholes.
Understanding ourselves as Wholes in both space and time is ideally the focus of all three great poles of human experience and exploration, science, art and religion. Each focus is from a different point of view. But currently, and for some time, these three poles have been fighting and misunderstanding each other, just as people generally have been fighting and misunderstanding each other. Science has developed scientism, religion fundamentalism, and art surfacism. We have been progressively losing a sense of the depth of our being and our connection with the Cosmos, something many Indigenous peoples still have.
There have been many who have been pointing these sorts of things out, some in a general sort of way such as Jo Marchant in The Human Cosmos, others in a profound way such as David Bohm in Wholeness and the Implicate Order and other works. We can learn from them in coming to understand our situation better, and the need for Wisdom to balance Knowledge. One thinker in particular is coming to the for at the moment, Iain McGilchrist. He has just published his magnum opus The Matter With Things following an earlier book The Master and His Emissary. We will be dipping into these two books in the Wisdom Circle in gentle bites for some time.
Where I think McGilchrist is genuinely very important and helpful is that he brings together the spiritual and psychological with the material, in other words Mind with Brain, Body with Consciousness, Action with Spirit. In the whole of the modern period in our European traditions these have been irreconcilable, if not rent asunder. He has done this by returning to the differences of function between the two hemispheres of our brains, something that became popular 40 to 50 years ago but was then discredited by neuroscience as a reaction. McGilchrist, as a neuroscientist and psychiatrist and thinker, is saying, in effect, ‘lets get the baby back and let the bathwater go; in understanding the way the brain works will help us understand our minds and consciousness and how these have evolved to our current situation’.
All this might sound a bit heavy. Don’t be put off. My intention, and those helping me, is to make it all interesting and digestible, and more importantly tie it into the practice of silence and contemplation and prayer, a finding or re-finding of depth, in understanding who we are and where we have come from on this little Planet Earth; and our options for the future, globally and locally.