By Michael O'Callaghan

Tibradden (35k GIF)

It happened at dawn, whilst watching the sunrise on a mountain by the sea in Ireland. On the summit of Tibradden lies a megalith – an ancient monument of stone. It was placed there five or six thousand years ago by a Neolithic people who worshipped the Sun. In the earliest surviving Irish manuscripts, known as the Mythological Cycle, they are called the Tuatha Dé Danaan – the People of the Goddess Danu – whom I have described in the first section of this text. Interestingly enough, they saw the Sun as the giver of life and the healer of disease. Contrary to the dim vision of our stone-age ancestors which is widespread today, these people were perhaps simpler than us, but neither stupid nor self-destructive.

In Europe, for example, when I was a kid at school in Switzerland, we were always taught that before the civilising influence of the Roman Empire and the origins of science in Greek logic, our ancestors were barbarian, brutal, and barely human. Such ethnocentric prejudice is, of course, as widespread as it is ridiculous: a rudimentary knowledge of anthropology reveals that during the pre-urban phase of social evolution, people were able to develop a sustainable relationship to their local ecosystem, and a sound psychological awareness of their relationship to the cosmos as a whole. Because of this, our ancestors were able to survive and prosper for hundreds of thousands of years. The next fifty years of our current urban/industrial civilisation are less certain. And just as we project a negative image onto our own ancestors, many people in the industrialised countries do so concerning the great majority of the human race which lives in the developing countries, decrying their frugal lifestyle and financial deficits as proof of their inferior ability. But then again, the U.S.A. is now the greatest debtor nation on Earth...

A common response to the various global problems people face today in the developed countries is a sense of hubris, a feeling of arrogance arising from the considerable scientific and technological accomplishments achieved in the West during the last four centuries. It remains to be seen whether the attitude which got us into such a mess can also get us out of it. Certain things like national deficits, ozone holes, and toxic wastes dumps aren't going to get any smaller until we make some serious changes in the way we see the world. Since the visionary experience which I want to describe involved a psychological transformation of my own world view, including a very humbling awareness of complete dependence on the larger ecosystem that surrounds us, it is not easy for me to put it into words without sounding like some kind of fool. In order to convey the inspirational effect it had – and continues to have – on me, I will not venture a linear description, but will try a musical approach, like a proper Celt, in spiral fashion. To begin my story, let me now tell you something about the physical and cultural context of my experience, before getting to the heart of the matter.

First off, people in Ireland live somewhat closer to nature – and have thereby retained a more intimate connection with their psyche – than most of the other inhabitants of Europe, who have been psychologically urbanised these past two thousand years. As I mentioned earlier, by a quirk of fate which brought them to live on the remotest western island off the Eurasian landmass, the Celtic tribes of the Emerald Isle had the historical good fortune to escape the predatory conquests of the Roman Empire, whose centralised city-state economy, ecological resource depletion, militaristic politics, and proto-fascist suppression of individual responsibility became a significant leitmotiv for the next two thousand years of Western civilisation. Thanks to this isolation, as we have seen, the mythology of Ireland constitutes a cultural continuum through which we can obtain a sense of that forgotten time before cities began to grow upon the land. For this reason it provides a useful background to see the present in perspective.

Irish mythology remembers our stone-age ancestors in positive terms. It refers to the People of the Goddess as the "Lords of Light", and describes them as a supernatural race of wizards who descended from the sky. As I mentioned earlier, they were also called the "Good People" or the "Faery Folk", and were said to have "left their bodies" when challenged for possession of the island when the warlike Celts arrived on the scene in the middle of the second millennium BCE. According to this very ancient myth, they thus disappeared off the face of the Earth, by going into it. Again, this underground Land of the Shídhe was conceived as a hidden world beyond time, where the immortal ones still exist, and could often be seen by sensitive individuals in special moments and quiet places. Some aspects of this neolithic culture were later adopted by the Celts themselves, whose worship of the Sun – under the names of The Good King Dagda, Lug, Baal, and Ard Rí Ghréine; (the High King of the Sun) – survived intact right up until the introduction of Christianity in the fifth century of the present era. Even today, people in rural parts of Ireland will point out the megaliths as the abode of the fairies, and warn the passing city folk and tourists not to disturb their habitation, by ploughing or digging of any kind...

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In his book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, the anthroplogist W.Y. Evans-Wentz, who made a field trip to Ireland in 1908 and 1909, reports his informants' claim that their great-grandparents "saw" the fairy people regularly and considered this quite natural. (58) They also told him that since then, the fairies had grown shy and were rarely seen anymore. They explained that the various upheavals associated with the Industrial Revolution had made the Good People wary of humans and all their noise and clatter. Perhaps the strongest folk-memory of these People of the Goddess to have survived is the ancient shamanic feast of Aoíche Samhainn, otherwise known as All-Halloween. On this first night of the Celtic New Year, as my grandfather, Senator Joseph O'Doherty, used to tell me when I was a child, the passageways connecting our world to the Land of the Immortals open up, and troops of fairies, thousands of them, shoot up out of the ground from their dwelling places underneath the megaliths and fly in great lines through the sky to converge on the Hill of Tara, the traditional Central Kingdom of the ancient five provinces of Ireland, and historical seat of its High Kings. Here, deep beneath the ruins of the royal palace, the King and Queen of the Fairies have a palace of their own, and host their annual ball, which is a far better bash than the one above.

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Curiously, Halloween happens to occur at the end of the "magic mushroom" season in Ireland. This little psychoactive plant Psilocybe semilanceata, popularly known as the Liberty Cap or Witches' Cap, is eaten by thousands of people who gather it in the fields in late Summer and Autumn. The fact that eating it produces a pleasant visionary state of consciousness for a few hours, strongly suggests that the preceding piece of folklore may be one of the rare Indigenous shamanic traditions to have survived in Europe from Neolithic times. (59)

But the Irish, having been converted from the Old Religion to Christianity, persuaded themselves that such Pagan goings-on are the work of the Devil. They then re-made the old feast into All Souls' Day, and tried to protect themselves from their own projected fears by lighting fiercely-carved pumpkin lanterns in their cottage windows, lest one of the visitors from the other world decide to drop in for a wee visit. On the other hand, the Celts have always believed that the supernatural power of poetry, healing and music was a gift from the Good People. In recent centuries, this tradition was handed down especially amongst the traditional harpers and pipers, who would risk excommunication from the Church of Rome and go to the old megaliths on purpose; for these brave musicians esteemed it a great privilege to listen to the fairy music – or better still, to be "taken by the fairies" and "fly" with them to the other world, since the music there is said to be the most beautiful on Earth, and one can pick up some great tunes to play for the folks back home. Music, you see, was at the very heart of Irish culture, and it is a well-known fact that the main reason that the authority of our Druids was held greater even than that of the tribal King or Queen, was due to their extraordinary musical prowess.

In the first century CE, for example, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that

"In matters of war too the Druids and singing bards are readily obeyed, and this by their enemies as well as their own people. Often, in fact, when battle lines are drawn and armies close ground with swords and spears poised, they will step out into the middle and stop both sides as if enchanting wild beasts. Thus the spirit yields to the arts, and Mars reveres the Muses." (60)

But I digress. "The most important thing to remember", my grandfather emphasised " – if ever you are lucky enough to be taken by the Faery people yourself – is not to let the magic of the music, the splendour of the festivities or the beauty of the women seduce you into lingering too long in the other world. As a precaution, take your leave before the break of day. Otherwise, you run the risk of finding that although you thought you had only been away for one night, whole centuries may have actually elapsed during your absence and you will have become a very old man, and your beard will be long and white and all you family and friends will long since be dead and buried!" At any rate, this shamanic tradition of "otherworldly" experience was passed down in Ireland from Neolithic times until the present, as Joseph Campbell put it, as a "Celtic counterpart of the image of the Kingdom already here: the interface of the two worlds, Eternity and Time." So much for the mythology.

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Whoever they were, these stone-age People of the Goddess have long since vanished in the mists of time. But we have scientific evidence that they were avid watchers of the night skies, for they have left us an archaeological legacy of tens of thousands of artworks in stone which withstood the turbulence of history and adorn the Irish landscape to this very day. (61) These megaliths come in various shapes and sizes, including raths, dolmens, menhirs, cairns, stone circles, tumuli, barrows and passage mounds, some of which are elaborately constructed and up to several hundred feet in diameter. Within these monuments, hundreds of stones are engraved with astronomical petroglyphs, constituting the largest known collection of Neolithic art in the world.

The most interesting thing about these megaliths is that they are usually aligned – with extraordinary geometrical precision – to the cosmic motions of the sun, moon and stars. As the Irish astro-archaeologist Martin Brennan has shown in his excellent book The Stars and the Stones, (62) they form "elaborate chronometers and calendars for the measurement of time and for the synchronisation of hunting, herding and agricultural activities to the ecological rhythm of the Earth's seasons, and to the longer cycles of astronomical epochs". In other words, these works of art are designed to function as models of the cosmos.

Equally fascinating is their location on the landscape, for they are frequently laid out along ley-lines which criss-cross mountains and valleys with uncanny precision, even where no direct line of sight is possible. Major sites are surrounded by satellite monuments, and are often the focal point of numerous ley-lines which mark the alignments of other sites both within view and beyond the horizon.

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The most famous of Irish megaliths which has been excavated so far is the giant cairn at Newgrange, on the banks of the river Boyne (the Goddess Boánd) in County Meath. Its Irish name, Brú na Boinne, means the House of Boánd. This monument which has been radio-carbon dated to 3,250 BCE, is shown in the pictures above and left. It measures over 100m. in diameter, and contains a 19m. passage leading to a tall central corbelled chamber, thought to be the oldest roofed chamber in the world. This is surrounded by three side-chambers. At the moment of sunrise on the Winter Solstice, a beam of sunlight enters inside the cairn through the aperture which you can see above the entrance in the photo on the left, and penetrates down the passage all the way to the central chamber where it illunimates a triple-spiral petroglyph, shown below.

It came as a surprise to find that the builders of these megalithic monuments may have used a system of proto-Pythagorean geometry based on the Megalithic Yard, and that they developed their astronomical skills so as to be able to compute the complex variation of the lunar ecliptic known as the lunar "wobble," which was not rediscovered by science until the sixteenth century! Like the humble Chinese abacus which can perform surprisingly complex mathematical computations, these megalithic instruments were capable of yielding rather more sophisticated results than might appear at first. Some scholars claim that the geometrical nature of the data which these instruments provide makes it possible to see for oneself that the Earth is round! At any rate, the Irish megaliths have now been radio-carbon dated to between 5,200 and 7,800 years ago, and are thus by far the oldest observatories of their kind – antedating Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Egypt, and the astronomical monuments of Babylon, Mesopotamia and Sumer by entire millennia.

Well, to get back to my story, and to the physical context of my experience: local folklore has it that the cairn on Tibradden is oriented to the exact direction of the sunrise on the Summer Solstice. On the eve of the 21st. of June, 1972, curiosity drove me to take a look and see for myself. Along with a few friends, I made a little midsummer night's astroarcheological field trip to this mountain with a view.

At first, all was darkness and blazing stars. Gradually, the brilliance of the galaxy faded in anticipation of the sun. In the dim penumbra, I could now barely make out the outline of the cairn, hard and pale against the dark and dewy heather: a low, womb-shaped mound of rocks, with an opening that faces North-East, out over Dublin Bay and the sea beyond. This cairn is technically of the passage-mound variety, smaller in size but similar in plan to Newgrange. In the case of Tibradden, unfortunately, the roof (which once covered the central chamber and the passage connecting it to the outside) has been vandalised, so that both the passage and the chamber itself are now fully exposed to the heavens, although the basic astronomical alignment of the passage remains the same. Above, the morning star now twinkled brightly in the firmament. Behind, the moon slipped silently away beneath the hills. We lit a bonfire, silently waiting for the dawn to come.

Picture of the cairn at Tibradden (35k GIF)

This was the Summer Solstice, the astronomical turning point when the Sun rises at its most Northerly position on the horizon, and flies highest in the noonday sky: the longest day of the year. The morning breeze was honey-sweet with the intoxicating scent of yellow gorse in bloom; everywhere around me, the purple heather made a dewy velvet mantle covering the Dublin hills and Wicklow mountains which rise, in great round thrusts of blue and purple amethyst, as far as the eye can see. The ancient Greeks sailed here to trade amber, silk and saffron for Wicklow gold, some of which still remains in the treasury at Mycenae.

Michael O'Callaghan at Lough Bray 1972)

It is a pristine wilderness of steeply curving hillsides, sweeping moors, sparkling waterfalls, fantastic ferny glens and tumbling trout- and salmon-streams: a haven for the asphodel, the Rowan-berry tree and herds of great red deer, a home to the spiral-horned mountain goat, the peregrine falcon, the grouse, the wren, the fox and hare. In its quiet valleys – Glenasmole, Glencree, Glenmacnass, Glendalough, Glendasan, Glenmalure, the Glen of Imaal – stands of Scots pine, hazel, and birch abound. Aristocratic country houses are set on green lawns amongst thickets of flowering rhododendron. (63) Plump pheasants browse in the chest-high bracken of primeval oak woods. Its turf bogs come alive with fleetly flying snipe and the plaintive cry of the curlew. Its isolated cottages and sheep farms bear hedges of the whitethorn and hawthorn, sacred to the Druids.

Its villages – Enniskerry, Roundwood, Laragh, Aughrim, Tinaheely – are full of legendary pubs where one can sip a hot whiskey with lemon juice, cloves and honey on a snowy winter's afternoon, or while away long summer evenings to the lilting music of jigs and reels played on the fiddle and the Uileann pipes. Its rippling silver lakes – Lough Bray, Lough Tay, Lough Dan, Lough Ouler, and the two lakes of Glendalough – their mossy green banks lush with the promise of blueberries and mushrooms, are graced by visitors from Africa and Asia: flights of wild geese, mallard, teal and whooping swans on their seasonal migrations from Arctic Siberian tundras to the estuary of the Zambezi river in Mozambique. In short, it's very beautiful. Somewhere in the sky above, a lark began to sing.

I looked down to the sea. In the twilight below me lay the sleeping city of Dublin, its sprawling, glittering lights curled round the bay like the phosphorescent body of some vast electric organism washed up from the deep. Seen from on high, it did indeed seem fair, although like any city now, its apparent beauty and glamour must be evaluated in light of the fact that it lives and grows at the expense of its surrounding ecosystem, (64) whose resources it depletes, whose wildlife it kills, whose native people it dislocates, whose topsoil it erodes, whose rivers it pollutes, whose ocean it poisons, whose sky it fouls with chemicals and smoke. The sea-breeze, blowing in over the city now, carried a sulphurous smell up to me in a great grey curling wave of smog. Images of the city fluttered through my mind: I had lived there once myself, but had soon left with five or six of my closest friends as pilgrims on the proverbial Journey Back To Nature, seeking ecological refuge, local self-reliance and peace of mind in this lovely mountain wilderness. I had soon grown sad, however, to find that our lovely glens and lakes suffer from environmental degradation and pollution produced not only locally by ourselves in Ireland, but also by unknown strangers in distant lands across the sea. These global imports include the fallout from acid rain and industrial emissions from factories in the Midlands in England and the Ruhr Valley in Germany; a quarter ton of Plutonium illegally poured into the Irish Sea from Britains' nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield in Wales (as a consequence of which, according to a report of the British House of Commons, the Irish Sea is now the most radioactive one in the world); toxic chemicals dumped in Ireland by various multinational corporations who find it cheaper to dispose of their waste here rather than in their home countries; and – this was the straw that broke the camel's back – a dose of deadly Caesium blown half way round the world from Hydrogen bombs exploded by the government of France on the atoll Muroroa in the South Pacific, where the food chain is contaminated and a thyroid cancer epidemic ravages the infants and children of French Polynesia. Was there no escape? Seeing the slow destruction of this living countryside was like watching one's loved one being raped, without being able to defend her. I felt very frustrated, but the protests of the local environmental movement seemed ineffective and I had no idea what to do. I certainly didn't want to be part of the ecologically-irresponsible city life, but had found no solace as a passive spectator in the dying wilderness either. So beyond my curiosity about the ancient cairn, I had also come to this mountaintop on a kind of pilgrimage, looking for inspiration on the path of life. Gradually, the ring of light on the horizon gathered itself into a crimson brightness.

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Majestically the Sun rose: over the sleeping city, way beyond the silver sea, her golden orb of fire appeared through the passage in the ring of stones – in perfect geometrical alignment with the very spot where I stood at the centre of the cairn.

This experience of a Neolithic Solstice sunrise observation – involving the orbital motion of the Earth around the Sun, the voyage of sunbeams across a distance of ninety-three million miles of space, the orientation of the monument to the precise observation of an astronomical event that occurs for only one brief moment in a whole year, the positioning of the megalith six thousand years ago in time, and the re-enactment of the ritual Celtic pilgrimage to a Midsummer Night's meeting on the mountaintop – impressed itself to the depths of my soul. It gave me a renewed appreciation of our biological connection to the Sun.

I realised that this carpet of blooming heather, every blossom, every leaf, every tree, every living creature in the entire landscape around me – the whole planetary biosphere – is totally dependent on the energy of the star.

As her rays reached out across the land, illuminating the gilded stones and warming the chill off my face, I felt certain that the People of the Goddess who had designed and built this astronomical observatory, must have worshipped the Sun because they understood, in some deep primeval way, that she is indeed the energy source of all biological activity on Earth.

How strange, I thought, that we forget this basic truth of our relationship to the cosmos. Of all the living things in sight, only the city is out of harmony with the rest of nature, in the sense that, as long as it remains unconscious of the destruction it inflicts on its ecological life-support system, it cannot establish any kind of sustainable relationship with it, and must continue to break the fundamental rule of biology: that a species which destroys its own environment ultimately destroys itself. Viewed from beyond the thin layer of twentieth century time-space, it is obvious that the nomadic settlements and small tribal villages of our pre-industrial ancestors survived for millions of years because they were, by and large, ecologically sustainable. Cities, on the other hand, seem to have been addicted to more and more resources right from their origins just a few thousands years back. In anthropological terms they are completely newfangled constructs, hurriedly thrown up, for the most part, by kings intent upon expanding empire, or by their colonists, or in the last couple of centuries in the frenzy of the Industrial Revolution by urban planners, real estate developers, businessmen and ordinary citizens who had long since lost their instinctual awareness of their dependence on Nature.

D.H. Lawrence put it succinctly:

"What we want is to re-establish the living organic connection, with the cosmos, the Sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the Sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen." (65)

Then, as if in a dream, my consciousness became projected outside of time, and I beheld Dublin as the Universal City. It now appeared transformed, no longer a static thing but a live, evolving organism. (66) In time-lapse mode I saw it grow, expand, explode, metastasise like cancer, spewing itself forth like some grimy excrement, its foul suburban offshoots creeping toward me up the hillside. This megalopolis now appeared as a veritable monster in the guise of a devil that devours the land and sea, menacing the creatures that dwell there, a parasite consuming the Earth and poisoning the planet. I heard the rush-hour traffic rumble, the sirens cry, the jet planes roar, the people shout and scream, the wildlife die, the human spirit fade and flicker. I thought of all the suffering, the greed, the violence of conquests and revolutions and wars, and felt dismay. But of course this city was also my self, I in it as much as it in me. It was indeed my city, for my grandparents and parents and I had lived there, and if it was somehow out of touch with nature, then so was I, for I too had lost my way and certainly had no idea how the urban monster could be tamed. I had tried to escape its concrete stranglehold, had fled for shelter to the beautiful Wicklow mountains, had learnt to keep bees, grow organic vegetables, recycle wastes and return the compost to the soil, only to find my trees and rivers dying of acid rain, my rich topsoil fouled by chemical fertilisers and pesticides, my subsistence farmer neighbours ruined by agribusiness competition, my wild meadows paved over for suburban housing lots, my peers growing cynical, my people demoralised, my country more and more in debt, my species seemingly bent on self-destruction, and the sky darkened by the menace of radioactivity. I had finally reached the impasse: here I was, gaping into the jaws of the tiger. I felt completely and utterly stuck. And I knew it.

And if there be no escape from the ecological imbalance of our civilisation, no mountain valley nor distant isle that is immune from the fallout and the fear, it occurred to me that the physical survival, economic prosperity and psychological well-being of Humankind therefore now requires a very large-scale rapid cultural learning process through which we could adapt to the realities of our new global environment from within the cities themselves. For such a public educational endeavour to have even a remote chance of success, one would first have to first engender a completely new type of communications institution: a global cybernetic feedback loop delivering a two-way flow of eco-social information that would make our urban centres' invisible connection with nature conscious again, so that the inhabitants of cities – who are expected to have doubled from their present number in the next 25 years – might understand the devastating consequences of their effect upon nature, and see for themselves what they can do to correct the imbalance which now threatens to destroy the biosphere and to annihilate us all. This would undoubtedly be the largest educational process ever launched: it would require international co-operation on a very grand scale; it would challenge our deepest assumptions about political and religious identity; it would cost a lot of money; it would obviously be difficult. And it might fail. But it seems worth trying, for as Fritz Schumacher so aptly put it "If man wins the battle against nature, he will find himself on the losing side!"

But then, I wondered, are the people who run the world's governments, trans-national corporations, banks and other great institutions, capable of realising it is in their own best interest to help underwrite the costs of such a project as an investment in their own future? Would they see that promoting a sustainable civilisation is worth the effort? Or would they remain trapped in the obsolete "win-lose" paradigm and mistakenly perceive the advantage to Humankind as a loss to themselves? You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. What if the cynical view were right, and we are just some biological aberration, a sociobiologically determined species of compulsive ego-tripper living against the odds in an entropic Universe, rushing to the precipice of chaos... Compared to the urban monstrosity before me, however, the bounteous beauty of my mountain ecosystem now appeared illuminated – a self-organising miracle as fair and lovely as the flower of Paradise itself. I thought of the Biblical myth of Eden, and the Fall... Are we really doomed – forever exiled from the Garden – because we're fundamentally evil? Or is the notion of absolute "evil" just the unconscious shadow of a still awakening planetary consciousness, projected onto the Universe – a psychological illusion in the mind's eye? As Farid Ud Din Attar, the fourteenth century Persian poet-saint from Nishapur, said:

"If you destroy in yourself the ego for a single day, your darkness will be lighted up."

And then, as I looked into the rising Sun, something amazing happened. It seemed as if the star became a mirror, and falling through this looking-glass I found another Sun within myself. This is impossible to describe in words, for the effect was dazzling.

In this ecstatic condition, I had the delicious feeling of being utterly at one with nature, no longer a separate, "skin-encapsulated ego" but a living extension of the biosphere in human form that could simultaneously look back upon – and identify with – the larger portion of its global Self, "outside looking in," as it were. I could now temporarily see beyond the confines of my limited ego, and look back in and through my personal past, and into our collective biological past as well. From this transpersonal dimension the everyday human part of our consciousness appeared like the blossom of a great tree that knows nothing of its roots that extend deep into the hidden earth below. From the depth of my soul, I knew that we really are just the most recent level in a four-and-a-half billion year old continuum of consciousness, an evolutionary arpeggio of Sentient Being whose logarithmic sound resonates harmoniously throughout the whole timeless yearning of creation, a vast multilevel autopoiesis whose successively simpler levels of cumulative unfolding lead back, through animal and plant and stone, connecting each individual and species to ever-widening circles of phylogenic belonging, to encompass the complete noosphere of our living Earth – Gaia – which obtains its livelihood in the vast, cold, and empty realms of space by basking in the nourishing radiance of our mother star the Sun.

There's an extremely ancient Irish incantation, attributed to Amergin the Druid (67) , who is said to have been the first of the Milesian Celts to land in Ireland, around 1,500 BCE. It's definitely the oldest item in all of Irish literature, and I want to quote part of it here in English translation because it conveys this transpersonal experience of immanent interbeing so well:


I am the wind on the ocean
I am the rolling wave
I am the murmur of the billows
I am the bull of seven battles
I am the falcon on the rock
I am the dewdrop in the Sun
I am the lovely flower
I am the wild boar
I am the salmon in the pool
I am the lake in the plain
I am the power of art
I am the point of a lance in battle
I am the God who creates the fire in the head

Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who points to the Sun?

In the simple clarity of that inner dawn, my faith in the future of life on planet Earth was renewed, for I now saw Humankind – as Bucky Fuller said, "emerging from the womb of History", albeit still embodied in the urban centres of its industrial phase, and still as confused as any new-born baby – yet a vast colonial life-form of human individuals whose built-in common sense is surely the greatest untapped resource in the world today. The potential of the people! Like a new-born infant, we have so much to learn – especially to trust our own Self, to overcome the fear of making mistakes, and to resist the stupid habit of always trying to modify each other's behaviour, which as history shows, always backfires in the end. As Gregory Bateson remarked, "We try to prohibit certain encroachments, but it might be more effective to encourage people to know their freedoms and flexibility and to use them more often." (68) No need for us to always try to intervene, control, to carry out our political activities through force, violence, intimidation, propaganda, invasion, conquest, torture, revolution, terrorism, subversion, secrecy, espionage, deception and war, to pillage and plunder the Earth's resources and brazenly blast off from orbital battle-stations in Promethean attempts to fuel the machinery of civilisation by militarising the "High Frontier," strip-mining asteroids in space, and starting an eternally uncontainable scenario of cosmic warfare by unleashing the genie of Star Wars on our children's children's children. It became irrevocably clear to me that should we continue to indulge this pathological urge for total control, the result would certainly be chaos. As Lao Tsu said: "The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering."

As plain as the sunlight in my eyes, I could see that the power to solve our global crisis is immanent and waiting to be activated – within our civilisation, within our cities, within our psyche, within our soul, and one does not need to gain vast wealth or political clout to make it happen, since it already lies dormant within us all. But of course this realisation cannot be forced, nor can its truth be proven, since the ineffable experience of transcendent unity is, by definition, beyond the linear argument of logic and the limitation of mere words. We need to trust, if you will, in what each of the organised religions has called by its own different name, without falling into the trap of mistaking the menu for the meal, and thinking that "my religion is better than your religion." The Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao. This built-in, self-organising principle (69) is to be found everywhere within the cosmos, within ourselves, within each other, and thus also within our "enemies" as well. And in order to acknowledge, in a public and political way, this global Self, we need to find a myth and symbol – a universal symbol for the whole of Humankind – to evoke its immanence and let it guide our path.

Thus I came to feel that on the path of evolution, the great obstacle we face is not external, but internal. As Bucky Fuller used to say, "the human being is a fantastic piece of design! It is completely wrong to think he is meant to be a failure!" If we consider the human body/mind as a sort of biological computer, it's obvious that the "hardware" is not the problem, for we couldn't have made it through these four billion years of evolutionary trial-and-error, from single cells in the sea, through amphibians in the marshes, mammals on the land, primates in the trees, and thus to hominids discovering language and their burgeoning humanity, if we were not essentially endowed with a built-in capability to inhabit – and evolve – into progressively larger and more complex environmental niches on this planet. Our problem is not some "sociobiological" fatal flaw genetically hard-programmed into the "hardware" of our bodies and brains; our problem is in the "software." We simply haven't got a viable global software yet, a global culture. And since ours is the first generation in human history to have to adapt to the reality of a global environment, it's up to us to create it. A widespread, shared response to the malaise of our Apocalyptic age is urgently required before we literally annihilate ourselves. And if such planet-sized understanding seems logically out of reach, we must seek it instinctively, like a child its mother, or forfeit all hope for our children's future...

Furthermore, we already have the tools to do the job: our globe-girdling communications network – the Internet, World Wide Web, video earth-monitoring satellites, Live Aid-sized television and radio broadcasting capability, dish antennas, desktop publishing, fax machines and electronic mail systems – is all the basic infrastructure we need to enable people to model the world in their home, relate to it as a whole system, and foster the needed global understanding.

If we are clear-headed enough to comprehend the enormous creative capacity of this technology as a cultural learning tool, we could use it to make our interaction with nature conscious, to make the relationship between global issues and the individual explicit, and to inform and empower men, women and children to play their part in helping to create the societal transition to a sustainable civilisation before it is too late. In short, to dissolve the information blockage that stands in our way. And we can do it within our lifetime!

As we begin to obtain a world view that can empower us to really understand the vast untapped economic, environmental and social benefits waiting to be gained by co-operation toward this mutual goal, we might stop blaming each other for all that is wrong in the world and get down together on the real work that so urgently needs to be done, and which now requires a level of cooperation without precedent in history. As Confucius said:

"When people share a common goal, their natural tendency is to cooperate in realising it."

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This experience thus formed a turning-point in my personal life, and the inspiration for my work as an artist. I believe its transformative effect was due primarily to the context in which it happened, i.e.: the time and physical setting of the location, and the mindset of the observer – in this case, someone who was sincerely trying to make sense of a no-exit situation, and who was well prepared by having read most of the literature about non-ordinary states of consciousness which was in print at the time. When I came down from the mountain, I re-entered the same absurd world situation as before, but now found myself perceiving it in a new way, for it seemed somehow subtly transformed from terrible danger to tantalising opportunity. Since then I have met many kinds of people and seen many lovely and terrible things, living and travelling through Europe, Asia and North America, but the feeling has grown stronger with time. Whether skin-diving off a tropical coral reef in Sri Lanka, hearing the Muezzin's call to prayer in the desert town at Kandahar, Afghanistan, cooking supper with Tibetan villagers in the Himalayas, working with archival film footage in Hollywood, or communicating from my laptop in New York over the Net to Japan, I see our troubled world interfused with an opportunity of mythological proportions in which each of us, for better or for worse, will play our part.

You see, I no longer feel like a passive spectator of gloom. As an artist, my painting gave way to an exploration of the creative possibilities that exist outside the frame. Context is where it's at! It was then that I became interested in designing information environments, which, as Gene Youngblood put it, could "reflect the observer's consciousness on the process of his own perception."

I believe that in order for Humankind as a species to adapt to its new global environment, we will need a mutually agreed upon-representation of it, that is not only coherent, but which also makes explicit the fact that it is only a representation. Clearly, such a mutually agreed-upon global world view does not yet exist, and its co-evolutionary creation is the political, religious, and artistic challenge of our age.

It is equally clear that the most effective way to facilitate the development of such a world view is to use our communications technology to symbolise and compress the cybernetic integrity of our complex global environment into simpler contextual representations that can fit inside the limits of human attention-span, and thus empower people to make the connections for themselves. I am really convinced that we can use our communications media to dissolve the global information blockage, and to nurture a context of information in which the body-politic can heal itself from its present illness in a self-organising way, as individuals and organisations find out for themselves what they can do to make a difference. If, as Shakespeare wrote, "life is but a play, and this world's all a stage," then – if we could but create the appropriate stage/situation/context – even the impossible might happen, people could resolve their conflicts, and the whole turbulent industrial transformation of society might produce a happy ending.

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My experience that morning on the mountain thus inspired me to undertake a work of information-art called the Global Vision Project. This is a cumulative series of participatory media environments cybernetically designed to evoke a more integrated picture of Humankind and the Biosphere as a whole system. The project unfolds as an international, learning-oriented, educational publicity campaign designed to promote the idea of a sustainable civilisation as a global goal. The underlying aim is to draw the viewer's attention to the pattern the connects the world situation to our own way of seeing it.

Because this goal is a universal one, I am have designed the project in a way that involves the creative participation of organisations and individuals from around the world, who share the dream of a sustainable civilisation and who are pioneering the development of its practical aspects in a variety of different fields.

The Project's first media product is Sustainability, an educational package of films, a DVD, a book and online resources forming a positive vision of the future seen through the eyes of leading thinkers, scientists, artists and musicians from around the world. This is essentially a prototype for a global educational curriculum, for television broadcast and videocassette distribution to schools, universities and organisations working on global issues. It will also serve as a promotional tool to recruit a trans-disciplinary network of organisations for an international participatory planning conference for the Project as a whole.

The second proposed production is a musical feature film called Global Vision. Conceived as a Collective Self-portrait of Humankind – a subject without precedent in art or motion picture history – this will not be a documentary but a spectacular piece of informative entertainment for large-scale theatrical release. In a nutshell, the film is a metaphor and symbol of Humankind coming to see itself as a whole. This would then be used as manifesto and fund-raising tool for the ultimate goal of the Project, the Expo.

The Global Vision Expo is conceived as completely new kind of decentralized multimedia world's fair. This very large-scale interactive event would take place simultaneously in about a dozen cities around the world, forming a rapid cultural learning environment involving the creative input of thousands of universities, international agencies and Non Governmental Organisations from different countries. It would capture the attention of the world's major media, and provide a useful catalyst for the international public to participate in the transition to a sustainable way of life on Earth. Set for early in the 21st. Century, the Expo would be a sort of planetary rite of passage – in which those who wish might find empowerment to implement some of the real work that needs to be done as we cross into the Solar Age.

Taken as a whole, the Global Vision Project has been strategically designed to provide organisations working on global issues with an extraordinary opportunity to join forces, combine their insights, integrate their outreach, and deliver their message of a positive future more effectively to the global public. It's purpose is not to instruct or to preach, but rather to help catalyse to flowering some of the seeds of the emerging global culture now within our midst. And even though it is ambitious, it can begin very inexpensively and build upon its own momentum as it unfolds in time. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.

Of course in this age of greed and famine, when art has become a financial commodity, and millions of homeless people roam the streets of the wealthy countries of the world, cynics may be tempted to dismiss out of hand any project that has the word "vision" as part of its name. In psychological terms, a vision that comes to an artist may, if he or she is lucky, be a symbol from the collective unconscious. The message is the thing, not the messenger. The vision I had was, for me, a numinous, unspeakably beautiful experience. Such experiences are always personal, but far from unique. There is an immemorial tradition, from remote Palaeolithic times down to the present, of ordinary men and women who, through shamanistic visions, "big dreams", artistic insight, religious ecstasy, or flashes of intuition, obtain a glimpse of their own culture from beyond the confines of its existing world-view, and who thus perceive the particular predicament of their present time in relation to the sacred topography of the timeless Cosmos... Jung described the function of such visions as culturally healing events that expand the horizon of human potential, both on the personal journey of individuation and in the collective unfolding of the psyche into greater awareness. As Lawrence Durrell put it,

"A civilisation is simply a great metaphor which describes the aspirations of the individual soul in collective form – as perhaps a novel or a poem might do. The struggle is always for greater consciousness."

On a personal level, my experience that morning on the mountain definitely magnetised the arrow of my life's direction, gave me courage in moments of difficulty, and kindled the fire of an enthusiasm which I will carry with me until death. Yet I remain a person with doubts and needs just like anybody else, and I am certainly no prophet or guru.

As an artist, though, I do want to express my conviction that now within our reach is a safe evolutionary niche that has the potential to be far more beautiful – and much more easily accessible – than most people believe to be the case. As Yeats wrote, "In dreams begin responsibility." When the Muse seizes one's soul, he or she has no choice but to yield. I think I know what Vincent Van Gogh meant in a letter to his brother Theo. He said he felt like a man sitting before a great blazing fire at home on a cold winter's day, whose greatest wish was that someone would knock on his door, and come in to warm their bones and admire the beauty of the flames. But the travellers on the road outside could only see a little wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, and they passed by on their cold way with no idea of the splendid opportunity they were missing. Ever since that morning, the idea of the Global Vision Project has burned like a fire within me, and the need to express it has only grown stronger.

Refreshed as from a sleep of centuries, the idea entered my head as freely as the sunshine, which is priceless and which has no price. To the people of the Goddess, the power of the Sun can heal the world. Maybe they had a wisdom we have lost, for the sun indeed shines on all the people of this Earth. Its image thus has universal meaning, and as a symbol is particularly appropriate for the global age. In its external aspect, it stands for unlimited solar energy and the many advantages waiting to be tapped by making the transition to a post-industrial economy based on renewable resources. It its inner aspect it balances the historical task at hand by reminding us of the inner Self whose light is the only reliable guide we can depend on through the turbulent years ahead. Also, if we turn our backs on the potential of solar energy, we may incur the sun's divine wrath, as it were, by frying ourselves through a combination of the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer. By linking the process of personal individuation to the historical process of social evolution, the sun seems an appropriate symbol that could have meaning for Humankind coming to see itself as a whole.

Well, there you have it. Please do not take my metaphor literally, or you might think I had some kind of "supernatural" revelation, in which case you may be disappointed. If you like, think of it as a reminder, discovered by a passing artist stumbling on some ancient stones left upon a mountain by his ancestors many thousand years ago. Perhaps it was just in my mind's eye. One thing I know for certain, that old artwork up on Tibradden points to the Sun. If you go there at dawn on Midsummer's Day, you can see for yourself.

At any rate, I am very thankful for the experience, but since the gift is not mine to keep, I pass it on to you, and invite you to help me realise it, for we who live in the shadow of the Apocalypse must find the courage to look the Devil in the eye, and recognise our own darkness reflected there. Only then can we heal the wounds of history, and accept our new responsibility as custodians of the Earth's future, and as the stewards of the whole biosphere, instead of trying to maintain our ridiculous posture as God's "chosen people", the "defenders" of this hemisphere, or as the "proprietors" of that piece of the map. And if the dream of the Solar Age is still only a gleam in your eye, please do not doubt that dawn is on her way. She is beautiful. She will nurture our children forever, if you let her sunshine in, for as the old Zen proverb says,

He sees only the winding of the path
And the twisting of the stream.

He does not know that already
He is in the Land of the Immortals.