Do our virtual conversations help or hinder the delicate symphony of knowing and unknowing that is wisdom? As the trend towards the transference of life to online platforms escalates in response to the coronavirus enigma, it may be are we approaching some kind of virtual peak. What might we find on the other side?
As I’ve slowly approached what might generously be called my ‘middle-age’, the proverbial penny has been dropping with increasing regularity around the question of ‘What is wisdom?’ Wisdom, like humility, and like God for that matter, is an intrinsically elusive thing that cannot be put in a box; in fact, once you think you’ve ‘got it’, you most assuredly have not. I’m not making any claims for myself as a wise person, except to say that wisdom has been calling my name, whispering in my ear. She has been asking me to be her servant in a world where she doesn’t get much of a look-in, and where increasing polarisation is leading to a violent and deafening cultural cacophony.
Our world is crying out for wisdom. Wisdom is that rare but omnipresent ‘third way’. It is triune consciousness. It is what arises in the space between apparent opposites, between the forces of affirmation and denial, the yes and the no. Can it even exist, I wonder, in our vapidly binary social media culture, where all we are really exchanging is bytes of information? True dialogue, hearts meeting together in connection with the earth beneath us, soul-to-soul, presence-to-presence: this is surely the place where wisdom dwells. It is also in the quiet voice emerging through the silence of a recollected heart; and in the flash of insight and communion in the moment when the wind stirs the silver birch tree and the tiny wren dances in the slipstream…
Just as music is an exquisite and mysterious dance between sound and silence, between the black dots and the empty white space, so too wisdom is a delicate symphony of knowing and unknowing; it is the way of paradox, parable and poetry. In these energetic fields, wisdom, like a graceful visitor, appears, unbidden, with unexpected gifts.
Can our virtual conversations be in service of wisdom? Information per se is not intrinsically bad, information expands our consciousness, in certain ways, and it increases particular kinds of knowledge. But it is just one way of knowing, and it seems clear to me that – in these times – we need to learn and to name its limitations. We need to find our way into other ways of knowing, ways that have been lost, sidelined, excluded, forbidden, ignored, repressed, subjugated for Far Too Long.
I’m aware of an irony, if not a blatant contradiction within me on this subject. I am quick to critique virtual communications as an inadequate and even, at times, sinister simulacrum of the real thing. And yet, here I am adding to this dissonance in the holy name of wisdom. Of course, as with most things, there’s both a light side and a dark side to this conundrum. On the plus side, the internet has undoubtedly brought us into an unprecedented sense of being part of a world community, conscious as never before of the radical inter-dependencies that exist between us at every level.
Before the invention of the internet, Jesuit theologian and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin foretold an evolutionary thrust towards global consciousness, for which he coined the phrase ‘noosphere’, meaning literally, ‘mind-sphere’. This concept of the noosphere is based on a theory that life on earth is comprised of two co-extensive unities, one constituting the entire biological system, or the biosphere; and the other being the mind, or consciousness itself. According to de Chardin, this noosphere, as it becomes more and more joined up, will ultimately transform the biosphere (for better or for worse) and he predicted it will do so at a peak mystical moment in the future, which he referred to as the Omega Point.
The internet has undoubtedly played a part in birthing us more fully into an expanded consciousness along these lines. I wonder, will we need the internet when we reach the end-point predicted by de Chardin, what some speak of as the ‘singularity’, that cosmic place of arrival and beginning? Wisdom teacher and mystic Cynthia Bourgeault suggests we are already in the midst of what she calls a ‘phased step-down’ of internet technology, as we increasingly learn to access a more enduring and sustainable form of global inter-communion. This exists in the imaginal realm, at a subtle, energetic level and, according to Cynthia, it is the only truly authentic worldwide web. Cynthia compellingly portrays this “energetic communion” as a “quantumly more powerful bandwidth… [linking] not only all beings of this planet, but also beings in all realms…”1
Bring it on. Yes please. I would very much like to phase-out my internet participation in order to surf the tide of mystical inter-communion. I think I’m on the way, if my growing weariness with online-everything is anything to go by. I sense our over-saturation with online media may be reaching a peak as a result of the increasing transference of life from real to virtual, a trend that has been massively ramped-up during the coronavirus lockdown. Perhaps we are approaching another kind of ‘jumping off place’ with all this. In the meantime, as we continue to put in place the energetic foundations which would enable us to let go of our ‘safety inter-net’, we continue to be hooked-in, to some extent.
I’ll leave you with a reworking of Kahlil Gibran’s words on the subject of houses which speaks to the blessing and the curse of the virtual world, and which I think contains a glimmer of what lies beyond both our online and our concrete walls.
Would that I could gather your computer screens and mobile devices into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow. Would that the valleys were your Zoom rooms, and the green paths your Facebook news feed, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments. But… these things are not yet to be. In your fear your forefathers sought to bind you in a virtual world, and that fear shall endure a little longer. A little longer shall your screens separate your hearts and minds from the true communion of open fields and gathered souls.Based on the chapter ‘On Houses’ from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Coming Next: Who is Julian?