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December 12th, 2019

I just want you to relax. That’s my job.
Relax and dream up a good life!

Jim Carrey

There’s a lot of talk today about what’s wrong with the world. Maybe you’re worried about your own problems. What if there’s actually nothing wrong? What if the only problem is thinking there is one?

Most people have heard FDR’s famous line, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Is that true? Imagine you are having a nightmare. If you knew you were dreaming, would you still be afraid? It’s as if FDR is saying, “relax, it’s only a dream.” Could it actually be helpful to think of the world in this way?

Maybe I can’t convince you that you’re dreaming, but consider the real-life success of Jim Carrey. In a 2014 commencement speech, Carrey shares what he has learned.

You will only ever have two choices: love or fear… I’m just making a conscious choice to perceive challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way.”

Where fear sees problems, love sees opportunities. Love makes lemons into lemonade.

Most of us today think of love as something impractical. Does being more productive sound impractical to you?

The same is true on a global level. As physicist John Platt put it in 1964, “the world has become too dangerous for anything less than utopia.” Or 44 years later, Eckhart Tolle:

A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: evolve or die.

That’s not a problem; it’s an opportunity.

How do we become more loving and less fearful? For most of us, it’s a tricky proposition. After all, if you take FDR’s pronouncement literally, that’s still being fearful. Why is it so hard to understand, much less accept, that there is nothing to fear, even fear itself? Who among us believes that things are perfect right now, exactly as they are?

It’s hard to accept things as they are because the idea of “wrongness” is built into our culture. We see life as a problem to be solved. No problem, no progress. I’m not so sure.

For 25 years, I’ve lived the life of a hunter-gatherer. I forage a good deal of my food. For fifteen years, I sold wild food (mostly mushrooms) to over fifty restaurants. Now my company teaches others to forage; about 2,000 people a year.

My atypical occupation has given me an “outside” perspective on human culture. And mostly what I see is fear.

In the past 10,000 years, hunting and gathering has been almost entirely replaced by agriculture. Farming, in fact, is what gave rise to civilization. But  being “civilized” isn’t really about what you eat or how you get it. It’s not about whether you live in a city. It’s about whether you live in fear.

One time a close relative, assessing my atavistic avocation, concluded, “you’ve gone backwards!” Really? There’s at least one respect in which civilization can hardly be considered “progress.” Domestication has made us more fearful, not less. Remember that love is fear’s opposite. If you gain the world but lose love, then like King Midas, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Civilization began about 10,000 years ago and has accelerated ever since. The odd thing is that, for our first 300,000 years, which is how long we’ve been human, nothing much changed. We barely “progressed” at all.

Why not? Did stupid cavemen just not know any better? Or did our ancestors know something we don’t know?

If you’re happy with your life, “progress” is not a priority. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? The question the forager asks is, do we have to grow food, or does food grow itself?

Prehistory has sometimes been called The Golden Age. Some believe life was actually better then. Is this nostalgic notion, like the Garden of Eden, just a myth? To the best of our knowledge, and contrary to popular belief, the Stone Age, compared to civilization, was paradise.

I’ve never heard of “The Great Indoors.” Has 10,000 years of civilization been a tame goose chase? Can we turn down the heat before our goose is cooked?

Another term for fear is fight-or-flight. The opposite, much lesser-known term is calm-alert. To be calm-alert is to be attentive but not hypervigilant. Humanity’s chronic hypervigilance, on the other hand, is said to stem from a “negativity bias.” After all, they say the one who watches out for the tiger is the one who survives.

But that’s only true to a point. The person too focused on tigers overlooks 100 other concerns. Besides, our instinctive vigilance is meant for acute dangers, not the chronic worries we apply it to today.

Is chronic fight-or-flight really necessary? Is it really helpful? You might think, hell yeah; we’re in a state of emergency! After all, look at climate change, immigration, or whatever else you are afraid of. Even if unnecessary fear is what got us here, so the thinking goes, it’s necessary now.

But if this is an emergency, and fight-or-flight is just low-grade panic, then in an emergency, is panic ever helpful?

Let’s take a personal scenario. Let’s say you just found out you have terminal cancer. The doctor tells you you have six weeks to live. Is that a problem? Or is everything OK?

We can actually ask people this question: people in this exact situation. Terminal cancer patients, fearing their own death approaching, have taken psychedelics, often just a single dose, and been “miraculously” cured of their fear. This can also happen from years of meditation, or from being “saved.” It can happen from anything because it’s not miraculous; it’s natural.

There’s a story Ram Dass tells of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. One time, some devotees arrived, begging the master to save a dying friend. They wouldn’t leave until he finally threw them a banana, saying, “give him this; he’ll be alright.” They fed it to the man and he died. Was he alright?

If we want to survive the 21st-century, the question we need to answer is not “how do we get out of this mess?” but “how did we get in?” To answer that, the question I’m posing is, is it really a mess to begin with? What if things are fine just the way they are?

If a toddler makes a mess, is that a problem? Is there something wrong with the toddler, or is that just what toddlers do?

I once left a toddler alone with a hammer and an antique plate. What was I thinking? No, you don’t want me babysitting your child.

What I’m saying is that if humanity is at the toddler stage, of course you don’t leave us alone with a hammer. But more importantly, you don’t expect us not to use it.

We are not wrong for destroying the world any more than a child is wrong for being a toddler. Everyone, at every age, is always doing the best they can. That also goes for every human “injustice,” as cruel as it may seem.

Seeing any action (or thought) as “wrong” is counterproductive. Not only does it not help, it makes things more difficult. It doesn’t make things “worse” because the same goes for situations.

Circumstances are never “wrong.” Every situation is always the best it can be. Nothing is ever a “problem” in the sense that it should be different, or that if things were different, they would be “better.” The idea of “progress,” when based in fear, is self-defeating.

The truth, as I try to see it, and as I think Carrey and most spiritual teachers maintain, is that life is always perfect. Not only perfect, but getting better.

There is indeed a “better” world. It’s one in which more needs are met for more people. But that’s very hard to gauge. To take a step forward, we sometimes have to take two back. “God works in mysterious ways.” Besides, it’s this trust in God, or Life, that’s the issue: not the circumstances, but how we perceive them. The real question is, is life good?

At this point, humanity has the hammer, and we’re busy pounding away. Like they say, when your favorite tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And we can’t just take the hammer away. For it’s not anything “out there,” it’s our own mind. The hammer, the original tool, is conceptual thinking. We have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and there’s no going back. The only way back is forward; the only way out is through.

The first concept is “me.” Most of us have heard that the ego is the problem. But if there’s no problem, the ego is not it.

The formation of the ego is part of a universal process called complexification. This process is Life itself: the life of the universe.

There’s nothing wrong with the process that came up with us; it’s just how it is. Sooner or later, we grow up to recognize it. This is what coming out of fight-or-flight means. It’s what it means to really feel, “Thy will be done.” This is surrender, trust, faith, enlightenment, unconditional acceptance, love… they all mean the same thing.

The hammer, then, is not the problem. In fact, it’s the solution. Now we can consciously understand what’s going on. Now we can choose our way.

When you look out over your life, instead of seeing roadblocks, can you see building blocks? Can we embrace the “problems” of the world in this way?

We bitch about our difficulties along the rough surface of our path, we curse every sharp stone underneath, until at some point in our maturation, we finally look down to see that they are diamonds.

Frank Jude Boccio

Intelligence is often defined as flexibility, that is, ingenuity or creativity: using what you have to make what you want, often something new. Instinct, on the other hand, is seen as rigid, predefined. But if intelligence is just thinking, then ideas can also be rigid. Beliefs are structures. Thoughts are forms too.

What transcends both intelligence and instinct is intuition. “The heart knows things that the mind does not begin to understand.” Like Hamlet says, the world is far more amazing than we even dream of. Let’s take a look.

Scientists are generally not considered crazy. Yet it’s generally agreed among scientists — in this case, physicists — that space has at least ten dimensions, and possibly many more. How many of us think in those terms?

What difference does how many dimensions we live in make? A world of it. Dimensions are often used to show “degrees of freedom.” If I put walls all around you, but you can fly, those walls can’t box you in. If you have freedom of movement in three dimensions, you can’t be trapped with just two.

By the same token, if you are stuck in three dimensions, then I can put you in a jail cell and you can’t escape. But if you have freedom of movement in four dimensions, then you can just walk out of that jail cell through that open fourth dimension: through a hole we can’t see. I could lock a diamond in a safe, and if you have freedom in four dimensions, you can just reach in and take it.

This is what intuition can do for us. It’s what, I believe, can explain what in near death experiences is known as a “life review.” In a life review, you see your whole life “flash before your eyes.” This could simply mean seeing four dimensions from the perspective of five: in other words, having a “bird’s eye view.”

When we step into that bigger world, we open up a new realm of possibility. And you don’t have to die to get there. Maybe moving in more dimensions is what Carrey means when he says we don’t have to walk through the fire; we can leap over it.

Things can change in an instant. We can enter another dimension. Again, Tolle:

When you are in touch with that dimension within yourself — and being in touch with it is your natural state, not some miraculous achievement — all your actions and relationships will reflect the oneness with all life that you sense deep within. This is love.

When we rise in love with the world, we wake up: not out of the dream, within it.

The child believes everything is real. The adult believes some things are real and some things are not. To finish waking within the dream is to realize that nothing is real. Everything is imaginary. It’s all a dream.

It’s all a dream means there’s nothing to be afraid of. It doesn’t mean that nothing matters. It means we get to choose what matters. Enlightenment is the freedom to choose a world that meets more needs, that is more wonderful, that is even more perfect than it is now.

This is what it means to be free.