In a time of social and ecological crisis, what can we as individuals do to make the world a better place?
CHARLES EISENSTEIN is a teacher, speaker, and writer focusing on themes of civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution. Since 2010, he has been invited to speak in over one hundred cities in US and around the world.
He generally charges people expenses but no fee, leaving it up to them to give him something if they feel the urge. This appeals to his ideal of generosity and “living in the gift.”
In the weeks leading up to 2014 UPLIFT festival, UPLIFT Ambassador Chip Richards caught up with Charles to explore his work and most recent book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible… and to see how we all might gain a little more access to that world.
The following are excerpts from the conversation:
UPLIFT: Charles, it’s great to connect. Before we dive into what you’re up to now, I’d love to get a little sense for the path that lead you to this moment. Wind us back a little and share with us one or two of the key milestones in your life that have lead you to do the work that you are doing.
Where does the journey begin?
Charles: Lately I’ve been remembering the time when I was with my dad. I was eight or nine years old and we were looking at a flock of birds. He told me about the Passenger Pigeons, whose flocks would darken the sky for days at a time… and how they were all extinct. That just struck me with a feeling of indignation and grief and wrongness. I don’t know if that feeling originated in that instant but it stuck with me in a way, and it inoculated me against accepting the world that had been offered to me as normal for my participation. Little moments like that told me that it’s not supposed to be this way. Playing the game. Going through the machine.
I was inoculated by experiences like that, which eventually burst alive later in my life and drove me to seek to serve that more beautiful world that I knew was supposed to be.
UPLIFT: It’s amazing how these little moments are planted into our consciousness like seeds that eventually sprout into a path of action or clear direction in life.
Charles: And I think everyone has that knowing. That the world is supposed to be much more beautiful and alive and authentic and gentle. But that knowing usually gets crushed in various ways.
If the world is meant to be a more beautiful place, how did we get where we are?
Charles: That’s a long story that I spent like a decade trying to understand. What is the origin of the wrongness? Maybe it’s capitalism, maybe it’s greed and something bad inside of ourselves. Maybe it goes back to agriculture or education. Why have we veered onto this path? Eventually (and I hesitate to make such a long story this short), what I came to is that humanity has gone on a journey of separation that generates all the crisis that we see around us, and that is now propelling us like a birth crisis into a reunion with all that we’ve become separate from.
We’ve been enriched by this whole journey and now humanity is going through a coming of age ordeal, which is, on the one hand, good news. This is how it’s supposed to happen. It’s also a little scary because in a real coming of age ordeal your world comes apart. Everything you thought was real and normal and permanent and solid – even your identity, who you think you are – all of that dissolves so that you can take on a bigger identity.
And sometimes you don’t make it through the ordeal… So I think our planet is going through that right now. And part of that journey is the descent into despair, where you realize that it’s impossible.
UPLIFT: As a story teller, it sometimes appears to me like we are at an “inner most cave” moment in the collective “Hero’s Journey” of humanity. Just like the deep challenges and crisis that our heroes face in story (the challenges that we would never wish upon them – the ones that seem insurmountable), these are the moments that ultimately propel us all to become who we really came here to be.
Charles: A lot of the recent information about near term extinction and all that kind of stuff, when you really get deep, especially into the ecolological crisis, you realize that – according to what we’ve learned is possible – it’s hopeless. According to what we’ve learned about how change happens in the world, it’s basically hopeless. Things are actually going faster and faster in the wrong direction. To divest ourselves from that version of what’s possible is what’s now necessary.
Because what is possible is far beyond what we’ve learned is possible.
How do we go beyond what we’ve been taught is possible?
Charles: In order for that to happen we have to face the futility of the methods we have been using to try and create change in the world. Because very often the methods we have been using are the methods of war, methods of control, methods of domination. These are written into not only our problems but also the way we are trying to solve our problems. To let go of that sometimes requires that we just have to be stopped, and enter that space of “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know how this world works. I just don’t know.”
UPLIFT: When I think about the biggest turning points of my life they almost all emerged out of some sort of a shattering of what or who I thought I was… and beyond the futility of “I don’t know” there was something on the other side. A new spark that wasn’t not based on everything that lead up to it.
Charles: I think on a cultural level we are also reaching that moment of humility.
How do we gain access to new possibility without shattering everything else?
Charles: One of the poisons of the spiritual world, or the consciousness world is the idea that some people are more spiritual than others. That there’s a linear progression and that those who really try hard or do the work are more advanced. I’m not saying that there’s never a time to work on oneself and engage in self improvement, but there are certain moments in the transformational process where it’s not up to you. Where it’s happening to you, and you have to surrender to it. But even that is not a prescription because when you try to surrender on purpose, that’s fake surrender.
UPLIFT: Right! Both the words “try” and “on purpose” don’t really mix with real surrender.
How do we surrender without “trying”?
Charles: There’s almost no advice to give. I think that the transformation that we’re going through is deeper than “how to”. It’s not another thing to do. It’s something that’s happening to us. That doesn’t mean that our work in service of this transformation is useless, but it’s not on the level of how to.
So where do we start?
Charles: One thing I write about a lot is disrupting the story that holds us. Providing experiences for each other – love, forgiveness, generosity – that don’t fit into the world of separation. Even telling stories about these things. It’s not like you now know what to do. It’s not like you’ve received instructions. But something in you has changed.
I think that the value of UPLIFT and of gatherings like UPLIFT is that people go there and something happens to them. They take something in and having taking that in, they become a different person than they were before. They become somebody who will naturally think different thoughts, say different words and take different actions, even if they didn’t come out of it with a list of new thoughts words and actions. But something’s happened and they are a different person now. And they bring that spirit with them and become an infectious agent of that spirit, implanting that spirit in other people, without even knowing “how” to do it.
UPLIFT: You are speaking to the heart of UPLIFT! I love what you said about interrupting the story and it’s almost as though there is a natural current ready to guide our path, but we are so wound up in “how it’s supposed to be” or “how it was” that we need to interrupt that story long enough for the real current to flow through. And places like UPLIFT really do facilitate that. Cause that shift such that what people experience is, “when I leave, my whole world feels and occurs differently to me.”
Charles: I go to these events and I don’t feel so crazy anymore. Because the normal society is telling me I’m naïve, irresponsible, insane in some way and it’s nice to be with people who say, “No, I’m living this too.” And to be around people who can hold me in this new story so that I can then hold in it them too.
Click below to watch the whole interview between Charles Eisenstein and Chip Richards.