by Charles Eisenstein

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

Eulogy and Redemption


What, then, of the victims? What shall we say to the men, women, and children whose ruined lives have followed in the wake of our “ascent”? Should we not lament the billions of passenger pigeons whose flocks once darkened the skies? Should we not mourn the dodo, the great auk, the American chestnut, and the millions more now following them to extinction? What of the elder bushes, a century old, keystone species of a fantastic ecology torn up and paved over to build a new road? What of the forests turned to deserts? The native children shot for sport by white settlers? The women tortured and burned alive as witches for practicing herbal medicine? The schoolchildren today, cajoled, coerced, and medicated into spending the Kingdom of Childhood behind a desk, in a room, standing in line? The coal miners of 19th-century England, emerging decades later stunted, broken, and destitute from the mines? The babies deprived of the breast? The women raped, the men tortured and killed, the children watching the soldiers who did it? What can we say of the concentration camps, Auschwitz, the Gulag, the unspeakable hardship of the men sentenced to a lingering death at hard labor? What shall we say to the victims of communist purges, and to the families sent a bill for the executioner’s bullet? What of the black man beaten and lynched, and a picture postcard of the event sent to his mother? What shall we say to the starving children, past the point of hunger, bodies falling apart? And what shall we say to their mothers? And what of the children working working in toy factories, rug factories, chocolate plantations? The countless assembly line workers, their human creativity reduced to a few rote movements, producing empty consumer junk out of toxic materials destined sooner rather than later for the landfill? The betrayal after betrayal of the Native Americans, people massacred, lands cheated, religion outlawed, culture purposefully destroyed? The cancer victims of a poisoned world? The slaves long ago who labored on the Pyramids? Contrast a life carrying stone to the life of a hunter-gatherer, and the bargain we have made becomes clear. In this, the first monument to the Machine, the folly and the horror of our ascent is clear: an exchange of life for labor to erect a useless edifice.

No authentic peace with the world can be achieved in ignorance of the facts. Read books like A Language Older Than Words, Night, Gulag Archipelago, The Dying of the Trees, The Lost Language of Plants, Evolution’s End, Trail of Tears, Rebels Against the Future. We must be utterly clear about what our civilization has wrought. If we, like the technological Utopians of the Industrial Revolution justifying the mines and mills, maintain that the sacrifices of the victims are a necessary and worthwhile price to pay for our ascent to a higher state, then we must be be clear on what that price has been. The price of Separation has been no other, and could be no other, than the furthest possible extreme of evil.

That the Reunion I have spoken of, the rebirth at a higher level of consciousness, could only come through resolving and integrating our age-old course of Separation is not a justification of its evil, no more than a criminal’s remorse or a victim’s forgiveness justifies the crime. Nonetheless, there is another way to understand the suffering of Separation’s victims.

Some years ago, a man I know very well was obliged to dig up a splendid burdock plant that grew outside his home. He had been asked to dig it up before, and in a semblance of compliance had halfheartedly sheared off the leaves, leaving the root intact. This time his wife supervised him to ensure that he did it right, that he dug it up root and all. Every moment his heart was heavy, but his fear of his wife’s anger was enough to overcome his reluctance and prevent him from standing up for his integrity. Something changed that day; in his words, “Our marriage has survived many onslaughts because it had a strong, deep root, and now that is gone.” The plant had kept coming back, it wanted to grow there, but the man imposed his will, which was not even truly his own, onto nature. He got nature under control. The fate of that burdock plant, the process by which it was destroyed, is really no different in essence from the worst extremes of ecocide and genocide. In both there is a perceived necessity, a fear that overcomes our goodness, and a destruction of the innocent. But later, after the marriage went through a tumultuous period, he realized that the burdock had given him an important teaching that only its self-sacrifice could have delivered. It was a teaching about boundaries, integrity, communication, and change, and he had a clear sense that the plant chose to grow there precisely for that teaching.

Donna Gates, the woman who developed the Body Ecology protocol for curing autism, once told me that she has noticed a similarity among autistic children’s households. Beyond the proximate factors of vaccines, mercury, antibiotics and other body ecology disruptions lies a deeper reason for autism—a purpose, not a cause. She believes that these children have in some sense chosen to be born into their circumstances as a way to bring a great gift to their parents and families. Of course, few parents see autism as a gift—having an autistic child is like having a permanent infant who requires intense care and never grows up. In many cases, normal life becomes impossible as the demands of the child consume all leisure time. Life ambitions give way to the demands of caring for another being without thought of recompense.

Reread that last sentence. Isn’t that precisely the prescription for joy that the saints have given us through the ages? Perhaps these children are noble spirits choosing their incarnation as a way to help us understand what is important in life. Donna has observed that autism strikes disproportionately in households where life was otherwise smooth sailing, in which the vacuity of modern goals and priorities would otherwise never have become apparent, at least not until time and youth were exhausted. Many autistic and otherwise “mentally retarded” children possess an undeniable spiritual quality about them: the description “special” is not merely a euphemism. When they are healed of autism this quality remains: they are often remarkably selfless, content, compassionate, affectionate, and emotionally mature. In one sense, yes they are the innocent victims of modern birthing practices, medical practices, pollution, and dietary ignorance, but from a higher perspective they fulfill a noble purpose in our society’s healing.

We often think of misfortune as some kind of punishment for past evil, a theme which runs through religious thought both East and West. In the East it is the idea that present suffering represents the negative karma generated through past misdeeds; in the West we have the image of Yahweh striking down the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, threatening Ninevah for its “wickedness”. However, the self-evident fact that it is often the innocent who suffer the most demands all kinds of theological contortions, from past lives to original sin, from future rebirth to Heaven and Hell.[9] How else to explain the sweet, innocent babies in the children’s cancer wards? If we are not to resort to blind, pitiless, purposeless chance, we need another explanation for the innocence of our victims. Perhaps they are great souls, meeting the huge necessity for innocent victims that our civilization has wrought. “I will go,” they say. “I am big enough. I am ready for this experience.”

We might look on whole peoples, cultures, or even species in the same way. While we might understand the decay of our civilization as a just dessert for the violence it has perpetrated, how can we explain the destruction of the beautiful indigenous cultures of North America (or any continent you care to choose)? What sin against God, man, or nature could justify their violent extinction? True, some were supposedly warlike and unfriendly to outsiders, but many amazed their first European contacts with their childlike trust and easy generosity. None of them, not even the most warlike, perpetrated anything comparable to the human and environmental ruin that are the handiwork of Machine civilizations. We might just as well try to explain how three-year-olds dying of cancer actually deserved it. No, if we are to believe in a purposeful universe, we must look elsewhere for an answer.

The answer I offer you is that all of the people, cultures, species, and ecosystems that we have destroyed constitute, together, a medicine for the great disease of our civilization, the disease named Separation. It is in the nature of the disease to destroy what is beautiful: to convert reality into a data set and life into money, with all the violence that such reduction of life implies. In the process of separation and eventual reunion at a higher level, selfless beings who already live in non-separation are structurally necessary. They, like the burdock root, like the autistic children, have taken on a noble and magnanimous role. The cultures, species, and people we have extirpated have delivered to us a teaching and a medicine.

The cultures we have destroyed have not vanished without a trace. Anything we destroy leaves its imprint on our own spirit, whether on the personal or cultural level, automatically becoming a future medicine when it emerges into conscious experience. Please do not misunderstand: I do not mean to exculpate the victimizers because, after all, the victims volunteered for it. Nor do I mean to depreciate the magnitude of the crime or the tragedy. Nonetheless, their sacrifice was not in vain.

Because all acts of violence leave their imprint in the perpetrator, the perpetrators ultimately will suffer violence equal to that they have inflicted. Perhaps that is why Jesus, facing his tormentors, said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” He understood what they were in for, the oceans of remorse they would need to traverse before arriving at peace. Etymologically, remorse means to bite back; Jesus saw that what they did to him, they were doing to themselves. Studies of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder find that the most seriously disturbed are not those who have witnessed or suffered violence, but those who committed it. “Soldiers who were in low-intensity battles but had killed someone suffered higher rates of PTSD than soldiers who experienced high-intensity battles but did not kill anyone.”[10] As researcher Rachel MacNair puts it, “Despite all the killing we’ve done, the human mind is not designed to kill. Portions of us get sick when we kill. Killing is against our nature.”[11]

Enormous forces must be applied to render a human being into a killer, someone who could cut down forests, tear up land, or kill innocent people. To do the things we do requires that we be removed from our natural-born state of wholeness, enchantment, connectedness, and biophilia. To commit the heinous violence of our culture, even in its muted, indirect forms such as consumerism, we must first be mangled ourselves. We perpetrators are the end products of a spirit-wrecking machine thousands of years in the making, that has battered and wounded us almost beyond recognition. Our healing happens through our victims, just as my friend’s healing required that he destroy and mourn the burdock plant.

Our Separation, our ruined wholeness, our Fallen state leads inevitably to acts of violence. Violence is a symptom of a wounded spirit. And the medicine for this disease is precisely the consequences of that violence. The process of acknowledging and mourning what we have done is itself healing. To simply withhold opportunities for violence from a wounded person is not a sustainable solution. Something has to bring it to the surface, and something eventually will.

Does this mean that I can excuse myself from all the hurt I’ve caused in my life, thinking, “Well, my wound drove me to it, and I needed to do that to recover”? No. The healing comes only through the realization, “My God, what have I done?” It is the remorse that is healing. On a cultural level, then, it is healing for us to face up to the crimes of our civilization, the dirty secrets of our past. Living in denial of the bitter facts only perpetuates more violence and prolongs our state of separation and suffering. The truth is coming to light now, as we acknowledge what we have done to our planet, its cultures and people. This is another sign that the Age of Reunion is nigh. Yes, many segments of our society are still in denial, choosing to live with the imprints of the wounds they have inflicted upon the world, not knowing that world and self, I and thou, are not really separate and that no amount of control can keep the consequences eventually seeking out the perpetrator. The denial cannot last forever. The continuing pain of the festering wounds, which cannot be hidden forever, will eventually make the truth impossible to ignore or deny.

Once upon a time the Great Spirit spoke to the world. The Great Spirit said, “The world is sick. Millions of people have separated themselves off from life, and their suffering grows with each passing year. Soon they will utterly destroy themselves and all that is good. They need medicine, but I warn you, most of the medicine they take they will destroy most horribly. Who is ready to be the medicine?” And the Spirits of the Tribes said, “We are ready.” And the spirits of the forests said, “We are ready.” The spirits of the frogs said, “We are ready.” The Earth herself said, “I am ready.”

Martin Prechtel once said, “The redwoods are perfectly happy to go extinct.” I know another man who described a long conversation he had with redwoods under the influence of LSD. The redwoods told him they were sad for the people chopping them down, and hoped they would stop doing that before they destroyed themselves. The redwoods know the enormous, inescapable price to be paid for destroying such a magnificent being for the sake of mere money.

All the life and beauty that has been destroyed, cut down, paved over, exterminated, raped, imprisoned, and enslaved has given the world a great gift. I sometimes ponder the Trail of Tears, so named not for the tears of the Cherokee, for there were none, but for the tears of the crowds of whites that gathered to watch them pass dignified and unbroken. That image is burned indelibly onto the national psyche, and it will never let us rest until we have healed our own separation, softened the callousing of the soul that enabled us to commit such a crime. Nations and cultures, not just individuals, bear the self-inflicted wounds of their collective crimes; karma is not just an individual phenomenon. National salvation will only come when we face up to the ugliness of our own past and feel the mirror image of the pain of every slave lashed, every man lynched, every child humiliated. One way or another, we must weep for all of this.

The suffering of Separation’s victims is never in vain. From separation comes violence, which then reverberates in the soul of the perpetrator to form the seed of the separation’s healing.

I hope this is of some consolation to those of you who are among the victims (and that is all of us; we are all among the victims and perpetrators both). Usually the eventual healing and redemption is invisible to us; part of the suffering, in fact, is that it seems purposeless. The victims too experience a complete alienation, a loneliness intrinsic to all suffering. The image comes to mind of Christ on the cross: “Father, why hast thou foresaken me?” In this archetypal story, the Redeemer experiences the same extreme of separation from God—separation, that is, from all that we are and can be—that drove his tormentors. Do not think that the redwood, the burdock, the murdered, enslaved, and ruined, go without agony. Let us not underestimate the suffering of this world. Each of them partakes in Christ, making the ultimate sacrifice so that we might become whole. And you, dear reader, are no exception. Love and appreciate yourself as a noble being, born into this vale of tears for a sacred purpose. None of your hurts were in vain.

One way or another, we must weep for all this. What goes for the crimes of humanity, nations, and cultures goes as well for us individually. Even as we appreciate our nobility and tend gently to our wounds, so also must we lament the violence, the scarring, the ruin of the Other that has sprung from our separation, if ever we are to become whole. The Boddhisatva Path, to remain in samsara until all beings are free, is more than a noble sacrifice—it is an organic necessity.

The full integration of the pain from the life of separation is what impels us back toward wholeness. One way or another, the pain will be felt. We can either wait for it to come to us, like an addict determined to get a fix at any cost, or we can go to it. Perhaps if we can see the futility of control, the futility of perpetually postponing the consequences, then we will have the courage to face them. It is said that no addict truly enters recovery until he or she hits bottom; however, it is equally true that “bottom” is different from person to person. At some point the addict decides no longer to evade the pain of a shattered life, wrecked family, sick body, or ruined career. He feels the accumulated agony, mourns what is lost, tries to make amends. Sometimes he succeeds in doing so before all is lost, before all friendship, all wealth, all health has been converted into money for the fix. Perhaps we humans will do so as well, and begin making amends to the world we are ruining before all beauty, all goodness, all wealth, all life is consumed.

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[9] Actually, I believe in all of these, with the qualification that concepts such a reincarnation and the afterlife mean something quite different outside the context of linear time and the discrete, separate self.

[10] This finding is ascribed to Rachel MacNair, Yes! Magazine, Winter 2005, p. 22.

[11] Id., p. 23

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