by Charles Eisenstein

The Age of Separation, the Age of Reunion, and the convergence of crises that is birthing the transition

Storyteller Consciousness


I hope in the last two chapters that I have illuminated something of the magnitude of the changes that will follow the transition to an Age of Reunion. If anything, I have understated them. The end of separation will penetrate far deeper than the forms of money and property, technology and medicine, work and education, but eventually will transform the very psychological infrastructure of the discrete and separate self: symbolic language, number and measure, linear time, and dualistic religion. Already we see how play refuses the linear measure of time and the discrete separation of subject and object: we lose ourselves in play’s timelessness and become “an organic agent of the universe’s own creative process.”

Now it would seem, based on the arguments of Chapter Two, that representational language inescapably separates us from that world of play, and casts us into a divided realm of object and label, self and other. We could perhaps return to the lingua adamica,[50] abandoning representational language and all the technology that rests upon it. For let there be no mistake: language is more powerful than, and prior to, any other form of technology. Almost anything we accomplish in today’s world, we accomplish through language. We present ideas, we make requests, we describe possibilities, we warn of consequences, we call others into action. Of course, there are some things you can accomplish without language, such as building a tepee, but nothing that requires the coordination of human activity. Activities such as running an airport or building a microchip absolutely require systems of arbitrary symbols, numbers, and the marking of time.

However, I have argued in this chapter that technology need not be unnatural, nor depend on the doomed maintenance of a separate human realm. The destiny of humankind, in the coming age, is to extend nature into a new realm. We don’t need to go back to the Stone Age. As long as waste equals food, as long as it embodies nature’s cyclicity and does not pretend to linearity, as long as it enacts the dynamics of the gift rather than the program of control, then the human realm, separate no longer, will itself be natural in every sense of the word. And the communication system of this new realm is the technology of symbol. In it, the role of language is closely analogous to the role that hormones, neurotransmitters and other signaling molecules play in the body. It is unnecessary beneath a certain threshold of social complexity. It is essential to the physiology of the multicellular metahuman that has sprouted today from the Gaian body. This section will describe an emerging conception of language that, though representational, returns us to its true origin and purpose. Language can be an instrument for humanity’s cocreative play with the universe.

The shift in the application of language parallels the shift I have described in the role of technology in our relationship to earth. You see, quite often the purpose of our words is not actually to communicate, but to control. I have witnessed myself in situations where it seemed that every sentence I spoke was part of some devious stratagem to engineer other people’s perception of me, to get what I wanted, to block their efforts to control me, to project my identity, to maintain my turf, or to create a world in which I could see myself as good and right. Each sentence so contrived was actually a lie—if not in its semantic content, then certainly in its unconscious intention.

The purpose of a lie is at bottom the same as the purpose of the technology of separation: to manipulate and to control. And as we have seen in Chapter Two, most words today are some form of a lie. Can we envision, then, a transformation in the technology of language that parallels the transformation in material technologies described in this chapter? The technology of Reunion seeks full participation in the unfolding of a higher natural order. It attempts not the control of nature, but its fulfillment; not the abrogation of natural cycles, but their extension. It brings the separate human realm back into harmony with the rest of reality. How do these qualities translate into the technology of language? Can we imagine a human realm of representation that accords with nature’s laws? The Age of Reunion will not mark the demise of representational language, merely its return to its proper place as a conscious play, a device for a marvelous creative game.

Elements of just such a technology are emerging today from diverse sources. Ideas like Brad Blanton’s radical honesty, Tamarack Song’s truthspeaking, Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication, the neurolinguistic programming movement, and Haim Ginott’s principles of parent-child communication are coming together to create a language of truth. But the key to understanding the role of language in creating a more beautiful world, a world that rejoins the long-sundered human and natural realms, is to go back to its origin and true purpose. I mentioned it in passing in Chapter Two, when I said that perhaps the origin and true purpose of language is to tell stories. I would like to unpack this statement now to reveal its full import.

Language is the instrument by which human beings play with time. The lingua adamica, by way of contrast, is a communication of the present moment. It is about you and me, right here, right now. It does not and cannot judge, interpret, plan, or speculate. It does not recognize past and future, nor can it coordinate human activity beyond a very small scale. Language is different. Language can do all these things because it creates a separate map of reality that we can manipulate and play with. We create stories; then we act them out. When the stories are held in common, they coordinate our actions and allow us to stamp the stories’ image onto physical reality. Herein lies the creative power of language.

Let us not underestimate the power of the new technologies of language. We might be tempted to dismiss them as mere niceties beside the juggernaut of destruction that consumes nature, culture, beauty, goodness, and earth—until we remember that genocide and ecocide alike are ultimately products of perception and communication. No single human being has the physical power to render whole forests to sawdust or whole peoples to slavery. He does so only through language. Our stories in the social realm translate into experiences in the material realm. We wreak our destruction only because we know not what we do. Language has separated us from reality and cut off our love from its natural object.

One possible solution, of course, is to abandon representational language altogether, just as some would return to the Stone Age, and use only a lingua adamica that does not distance us from reality and in which it is impossible to lie. However, I reject that option for the same reasons I reject the abandonment of technology generally. The gifts of hand and mind that make us human exist for a purpose, no different than the gifts of any other animal. Language can be an instrument for healing. I said that no human being has the physical power to render whole forests to sawdust or peoples to slavery, except through language. True. Yet it is equally true that no human being has the power to heal whole ecosystems or free whole peoples, again except through language. Did Gandhi have some superhuman ability to enable him to free India? Did Rachel Carson launch an environmental movement with anything other than the power of her words?

Contrary to the imaginings of the techno-utopians, no new material technology is required to usher in an age of peace and abundance. Scarcity and war are products of our way of relating to each other. The Age of Separation is the result of the story we have built, a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Can there be any doubt of the creative power of word? No mystical principle is necessary to see this. This book has explored the “separate human realm” that we have created through our technology and through our symbols. Because the former rests upon the latter, we could say that the entire ascent of humanity is built from symbols. The entire world of modern human experience is built upon a story. Such is the power of word. What is property, for example, but an agreement? What is money, but another agreement about the meaning of yet other symbols, pieces of paper and bits in a computer? What is time, but an agreement as well that something we have constructed means something? The coordination of human activity, necessary for anything beyond Neolithic technology, rests on a shared interpretation of symbols. It rests on meaning, and these meanings together comprise our story about the world.

Objects of fantastic unnatural complexity, such as the New York City skyline or an integrated circuit chip, arose in a very brief instant of geological time from a wholly organic matrix. It is primarily to language—shared systems of meaning—that we might attribute these miracles. Today, as I have observed, it will take a miracle to save human civilization. The near-certain future of the planet is plain to see. Only a miracle as great as a microchip can alter our grim course. And the only way I know to generate such a miracle is the same way we generated the first one: by implementing a new story. We have told and retold and endlessly elaborated the story of Separation. Now it is time to tell a different one.

The Age of Reunion, however, entails more than a shift in stories. That has happened before. I have stated that the separate human realm never was really separate. We never were really independent of nature, and our linear consumption never was really linear. We have lived in an unconscious pretense. Similarly, the problem with the language of the Age of Separation is that the story-telling has become unconscious. In our confusion, we mistake the separate realm of words for the reality it is supposed to represent. When we forget that our stories are in fact stories, we end up helplessly lying to ourselves and the world, because the map is always a distortion of that mapped. Words by nature of their abstraction are inexact, a degree removed from the particular objects, processes, and feelings to which they refer, leaving us therefore to infer what the other person really meant, and opening the way for misunderstanding. Moreover, the nature of this abstraction and distortion is not innocent, but infuses our every communication with an unconscious mendacity that abets the regime of separation.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when the effect of our stories’ enactment—the stamp of their image onto physical reality—is the opposite of what we intended. So the economists’ stories of economic growth and market development, all told in the language of words and numbers, create a reality of misery and poverty when enacted. Politicians in their war rooms, with all their talk of enemy combatants and collateral damage in pursuit of freedom, security, and the good, create a reality of violence and horror. We have taken the unreal to be real, and then tried as hard as possible to live in the unreality we have created. Reality keeps breaking through, with an intensity now that brooks no denial. Our stories are coming apart.

The story of the Age of Reunion is more than just another story using the same technology of symbol. The fundamental difference is that our story-telling will become conscious. Instead of confusing it with reality, we will use language consciously to create reality—to create stories and act them out. In order to do that consciously, we will become acutely aware of what hidden assumptions are embedded in our choice of words. We still might use words like “the environment”, but we will do so with full realization that no such thing actually exists separate from ourselves. The same for other words whose hidden assumptions I’ve observed in this book: the “is” of identity, which says that two things can be the same; the word “exists”, which implies an absolute Cartesian reality; distinctions like “matter and spirit” or “human and nature” which artificially divide reality into two parts. In fact, all words encode a lie, and all representation contains misrepresentation. Nonetheless, we will still use words and other forms of representation in the Age of Reunion. We will not, however, delude ourselves into living in that lie. We will never again lose ourselves in the story. We will apply words carefully and consciously, and hold onto their meanings lightly.

Let us call this approach storyteller consciousness. Instead of seeking to describe a reality already out there, we will be aware that we create reality through our story about it. In science, storyteller consciousness means being aware of the creative nature of theories and experiments, whose very language encodes deep assumptions about self and universe. In technology, it is to see our choices as a way to define our relationship with each other and the rest of life. It asks the question, “Who are we creating ourselves as?” The forms and institutions of politics and government will change most radically of all, as we begin to disbelieve in our labels, categories, and abstractions, and come into contact with human reality. All of these forms and institutions are themselves stories. America is a story. France is a story. The law is a story. Words and symbols, that is all, with no more meaning than what we agree upon. Our mistake has been not in telling stories, only in thinking they are real. When we let go of that, we will be able to play with them consciously and let them go when they no longer serve us. I think there are stories that will serve the world much better than the ones we have right now. But I leave it to others to tell the story of a future politics and government aligned with what I have already described of the Age of Reunion.

Over thousands of years, the creative play of story-telling has come to enslave us, and we have lost the storyteller’s consciousness. Finally we are awakening, as the effort to maintain the pretense overwhelms us. We cannot maintain the story any more. The story of linearity, the story of separation, the lonely story of a discrete self marooned in a world of other. The story that we are not storytellers, not authors but mere reporters, describing what is, reacting, managing, controlling. We are awakening from that story now, the story that we are not the authors of our world and of our lives.

Indeed it is in our personal lives that the enslavement to unconscious stories has been the most devastating. We live in a fabricated world of interpretation that we mistake for reality. We live in a world of judgments and imposed meanings. Maybe Dad shouted at me a lot, and since I was three I made it mean that I am bad. She left you, and you interpreted it as a betrayal, and made it mean you are unworthy of love, and so you find yourself holding on, manipulating, controlling. We live in our stories, which then create events to justify themselves and strengthen our enslavement.

The origins and multitudinous variations of these stories are beyond the scope of this book; often they are extremely subtle and, because they conform to larger cultural stories of self, wholly invisible. Like the broader, cultural stories, they enslave us only to the extent that they are unconscious. I am advocating the enlightenment and not the abolition of our stories. Yes, we can come back to the present moment, the present experience, and release all judgment if we so choose, just as we can return if we choose to the lingua adamica. However, we are not meant to stay there. We are meant to foray into three-dimensional reality, space and linear time, and to create beauty with their tools. We are meant to create meaning and create stories. I am not advocating that we surrender our existence as time-bound material beings, just as I do not propose that we abdicate the gifts of culture and technology that make us human. No longer, though, need we be enslaved to those meanings, to those stories, or to our technology. To enter the Age of Reunion is to awaken to our power as conscious creators.

Although I do not claim to have mastered them, I would like to share with you some principles that have been personally useful to me in becoming the conscious creator of my stories. After all, the collective transformation I speak of will only come through a coalescence of many personal transformations. In this book I have mentioned three cultural stories that many of us have deeply internalized. The first is the Newtonian world of force and mass, which manifests in our personal lives as a feeling of compulsion and powerlessness. In language it appears in words like, “have to”, “can’t”, “must”, “should”, “I will try”, and “you made me”. The second is the Cartesian split of ourselves into body and soul, a good part and a bad part. It manifests in life as a constant struggle of self-denial and perpetual sacrifice of the present for the future, producing a battle against desire and the imposition of the civilized and conditioned over the natural and the wild. In language, it again manifests as “should” and “shouldn’t”. The third story is that of separation and scarcity. Manifesting in phrases like “can afford to”, it disbelieves in our connection to the universe and all life that brings our gifts inevitably back to ourselves, which would make control and domination are unnecessary.

Even naming these stories and observing them in operation already makes them less powerful. However, I have found it useful to deliberately undo them through the way I speak to myself and others. We can use words in ways that deny the stories that enslave us, and thus accelerate our freedom. For example, Marshall Rosenberg suggests rephrasing every “have to” sentence as “I choose to… because…” Here is a personal example. I used to say, “Even though I hate it, I have to give grades.” When I rephrased it as “I choose to give grades because I am afraid I will lose my job if I don’t,” everything became much clearer. I realized that my job was much less important to me than my sense of integrity, which for me personally was violated by giving grades, and so I decided to leave academia. By thinking in terms of “have to” we surrender our power. The very words carry within them an assumption of powerlessness. Another substitution I’ve been making is to replace “you should” with “you could”, and “I should” with “I can” or “I want to”. You can also experiment by abolishing “I will try…” from your lexicon, especially the lexicon of your internal dialog, and replace it simply with “I will…” If you are true to your word, you will think very carefully before agreeing to anything. “I will try” can be a cop-out, a polite way of saying you won’t actually do it. It also encodes an assumption of helplessness, a world of external forces that thwart our creativity. All of this deserves a much more thorough discussion than I am giving it, but that will have to await a future book. For now, simply observe that a wholly different way of thinking underlies “I can”, “I choose to”, and “I want to”. The story of powerlessness cannot be told with them.

Here is another kind of empowerment, relating to the second internalized story I mentioned. In contrast to my personal age of reason that I described in Chapter Three, I no longer attempt to justify with reasons everything I do. Instead I say, “I did it because I wanted to.” What! That’s not allowed, is it? We can’t follow desire, can we? That resistance to desire is another manifestation of the body-soul division. The good part, the higher part, the spiritual part—the mind and the will—must master the bad part, the fleshly desires. Sacrifice now for a future reward. It is just another variation of the mentality of agriculture, channeled through religion and education, that still dominates us today. Yet Heaven remains forever just around the corner.

Traditional cultures recognized an importance to stories beyond mere reportage or children’s entertainment. Story-telling was also a sacred function that carried the spirit of the people and created their world. It is not only the sounds of the lingua adamica that have a sacred generative power; our stories do as well. Today we wield that power unconsciously, thus creating unintended effects. We do not know our own power, the power of word. In a way, all speech is a story, because all speech creates a new addition to the world of representation. All speech therefore bears a generative power, just as the Native Americans believed, because we enact that world of representation. We live our story, we stamp it onto the world. Why, then, do our words seem so impotent today? It is because, just as our great immersive cultural stories and ideologies are invisible to us, we use words unconsciously too. It is not conscious lying that is weak, it is unconscious lying. A deliberate lie is still a conscious act of world-creation. Many if not all of the disempowering forms of speech described above are unconscious lies. If you would like to restore to your words their generative power, you must treat them as golden. One weakening form of speech is swearing. “Fuck.” What are we really saying when we make a sacred life-creating pleasure into a vulgar term of deprecation? “Damn.” Do we really wish eternal torment on someone? No, we are speaking unconsciously. Other weakening forms of speech include gossip, small talk, and various forms of negativity. I won’t go into detail here, but I invite you to consider: what world-creating story are we telling when we speak like that? For words to truly be powerful, we must align them with our creative intention. Only then can we create the stories of our lives.

Unconscious lying sabotages our credibility to ourselves and others. If we cultivate the habit of speaking truthfully and treating our word as golden, then when we declare great things, they will come to pass. The more we realize the power of our words, the more mindful our speech becomes; the more mindful our speech, the greater the power of our words. We condition ourselves to our words always coming true, and foster a deep confidence in the magical creative power of our speech.

Whether on the collective or personal level, storyteller consciousness is inseparable from the new sense of self that defines the Age of Reunion. It depends on a blurring of the defining distinction of the Age of Separation, between the observer in here and the objective world out there. It will emerge spontaneously, in tandem with the crisis-induced disintegration of the illusion of separation. The story of powerlessness and separation simply won’t be captivating anymore! In its place we will have a story of connectedness, of interbeing, of participation in the all-encompassing circle of the gift. And part of this story is actually a meta-story, a story about stories that invests all of our stories with creative power and motivates us to be conscious in their telling.

If I have been vague about what this will actually look like in the future, it is probably because the society that may be built around storyteller consciousness centuries hence is so unlike what we have today that I hardly dare describe it on paper. Instead of the present demarcation between drama and real life, future society will consist of stories within stories within stories, plays within plays within plays without any sense that one is “for real” and one is not. Life will be all play, and all play will be in earnest. We might commit to some of these stories as deeply as a human being can commit to anything, as passionately as the greatest artist cares about his greatest masterpiece. Each life will be a masterpiece, and some of our collective projects will span generations and alter the fabric of (what we call) reality. This will be the eventual fulfillment of the Age of Reunion, when we come into full, conscious co-creative partnership with the universe itself. In the meantime, in the next century or so, great storytellers will emerge to inspire us with beautiful and believable stories of what life can be, visions of the world we can create. Those stories will have roles for each of us that draw upon our gifts and develop our potential. It is happening already. Have you heard the casting call? A beautiful life is being offered, if we can only find the courage.

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[50] In case you have not read Chapter 2, the lingua adamica is humanity’s original language, the &language of Adam&. Properly speaking it is not a language at all, but the cries of the human animal.

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