Over the last couple of years I’ve made several references to my belief that there is hope for the world, although I’ve been reluctant to get into what I believe that hope is. To talk about it, I need to introduce an idea that is virtually unknown in our modern world of hyper-materialism. I don’t know how widely known the idea was within the older cultures of Asia, but I first learned of it from their books. It isn’t Eastern, though, nor is it merely an “idea.” It’s a universal reality. And because it is real, we do know of it, but only at a folk or intuitive level.
The principle is this: There is a great force that rises and falls like a tide throughout history. At times, the tide is high, and at times the tide is low. It isn’t something science can measure, for it’s not material energy. In Western philosophical terms, it’s noumenal, meaning that it cannot be perceived by the ordinary physical senses. In contrast to modern Western philosophy, which holds generally that we cannot know anything about the noumenal realm (and which has become increasingly skeptical that such a realm even exists), some ancient Eastern schools of thought maintain that it is possible to directly perceive this force if we make the right kind of effort. Depending on the culture and the system used, this energy goes by different names and its workings are described in different ways. But it doesn’t have a name. And because the deepest levels of the spiritual realm are beyond rational thought, any description is simply an image intended to lead one toward a direct experience of that which cannot be described or explained. The I Ching represents it as the alteration between the forces of yin and yang. In English, we might call it “life force” or “spirit.” It’s the vital force in history and in every individual life. When the tide is low, life seems murky and confused. When the tide is high, we have access to a clearer, brighter mind. The fundamental, pure ideals push upward and animate those of us who have not closed the door to the inner self. (This generally means “the young,” I think—although anybody can have access to it.) This differs from Western ideas of change, which, from what I can tell, assume that psychic energy is constant and that change arises from material and sociological pressures. Unlike the ocean’s tides, the spiritual tides are not regular and can’t be predicted. Each time the tide rises, its surface features are absolutely contemporary, addressing what’s relevant in the here and now, while, at the same time, connecting seamlessly with the deep, the constant, the eternal. The most recent upwelling of this tide happened during the period we call the 1960s. I was too young to know, but my sense is that it actually began its rise in the mid-to-late 1950s, although I have seen that there were people being pulled into position even earlier. The tide peaked in mid-1974, at which point it began to recede—an event to which I was a conscious witness.
It’s impossible to know when this upwelling is going to happen next or what it will be like. It’s beyond our control. It is great help—the only real help there is. When it does come—and I often feel that we’re past due, although that idea doesn’t really make sense—I expect it will be like a tsunami. We need something that strong. There will be those who resist, who hate the tide, and many of those who hate the tide will consider themselves religious, upright individuals. But to hate that tide is to hate the Spirit—or God, whatever you want to call it. It will be vastly disruptive, and we’ll be forced to make the heavy changes we don’t feel the energy or inclination to make now. And it won’t last long. It would probably exhaust us if it went on for too long. But it will be our chance—perhaps our last chance—to steer away from the self-destructive course we’ve been on. Nobody could have predicted the 1960s from the 1950s, and it will feel that way again. (Where is all this coming from?) But it isn’t about a “return to the Sixties, man.” It’s about something timeless that happens recurrently throughout history. I, for one, long for the day.