The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

The first time an Ashaninca man told me that he had learned the medicinal properties of plants by drinking a hallucinogenic brew, I thought he was joking. …But he was not smiling.”

The Cosmic Serpent is a fascinating exploration of the links between DNA and molecular biology by anthropologist Jeremy Narby. While doing fieldwork in the Amazon Pichis Valley, the Quirishari told him that their incredible knowledge of plants and biochemistry was given to them by the plants while under the influence of ayahuasca. Narby was sceptical at first, but then became increasingly drawn into a quest to understand how this was possible. The book recounts this quest as a compelling investigation that pushes him to the limits of rationality and forces him to question his scientific training.

Learning to Fly: How We Can Change the World

In this final part of the series I want to look at how we can put all these ideas into practise. There’s no point reading a book like Active Hope and then not doing anything – the clue is in the title, after all!

Humanity is undergoing a radical shift in consciousness that will enable us to transform our way of life. We are poised on the edge of a new world. Industrial civilisation has grown as far as it can and in the process has brought us to the brink of destruction. We need to change our whole approach – not just what we do but also the way we think, what we value and how we see ourselves.

Imagining the Future

How much time have you wasted staring out of the window today? If you want to be productive, then the answer should be – a lot!

Freud dismissed daydreams as infantile wish-fulfilment, but now we know they actually make us more creative and productive. Daydreaming allows the unconscious to come up with solutions to problems, often while we’re busy doing something boring, like the washing up or our day jobs. One study has shown that our minds wander 47% of the time while we’re awake. (It’s probably higher in my case, especially when I’m meditating 😉)

Slow Down: How to Travel in Time

It’s nearly Christmas! (It was when this was first posted 😉) Yes, I know it’s only September but it won’t be long before the shops are bedecked with shiny plastic tat and soon-to-be unwanted presents. When I flip to a new month on the calendar I always have the same thought: “Where did the time go?

Time seems to move faster each year. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I always feel like I’m running to catch up. I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Even when I actually manage to be productive, I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels, going nowhere fast.

Team Spirit: The Power of Community

Do you feel lonely? If the internet is to be believed, we’re currently suffering an epidemic of loneliness. Many are keen to blame social networking, but it might not be that simple.

A recent survey by Relate in the UK found that a significant minority of people had no close friends and rarely felt loved. This kind of bean counting is always suspect as you can never know if people are telling the truth. What one person defines as a friend, another may see as an acquaintance, so some of us may be more lonely than we’re willing to admit.

Transcending Conflict: A New Kind of Power

The world is power mad. The game to get and keep power drives history, ruins lives and despoils the land. It’s easy to feel powerless when we look at world events and wonder: what can one person do to change things?

We need a new way of looking at power and a new way to feel powerful. If we can do that, we may find more ways to change the world than we think possible.

Self and World: Who are you?

It is a remarkable fact that a life lived entirely from the ego is dull not only for the person himself but for all concerned.” – Carl Jung

When the scale of the environmental crisis we’re facing seems overwhelming, it can be helpful to remember we don’t always see things the way they actually are.

We see things as we are.

This has a profound effect on what we believe we can accomplish. If you believe you’re a tiny little person, isolated and alone, battling insurmountable odds, it’s enough to make you want to give up in despair. But this view of the self isn’t based in reality.

What ails thee? Transforming Pain

We’ve all done it: you feel terrible, like a zombie in training, and you run into a friend who asks how you are. ‘Fine!’ you reply, grinning like your brain has been removed and secretly wishing you really were a zombie because then maybe people would leave you alone and stop asking how you are…

It works the other way too. When you ask someone how they are, do you really want to know? Do you want them to regale you with the intimate details of their malfunctioning bowels, lavishly illustrated with a PowerPoint presentation?

I didn’t think so.

Pain makes us uncomfortable, and not just physically. When confronted by a reality we don’t like, we tend to turn away and pretend everything is fine. Even in a life-threatening situation, people will look the other way if they see others doing the same.

Living in Gratitude

If the news and miscellaneous madness of the world is getting you down, there’s one guaranteed way to cheer yourself up: Gratitude. In fact, gratitude could be seen as a kind of elixir of life. Do you want to be healthier? Practice gratitude. Want to reduce stress, boost your memory and improve your relationships? Practice gratitude.

Responding to Crisis: the Spiral of Transformation

Watching the news these days can be a shattering experience. Daily we are shaken by the images of broken bodies and desperation playing out in Gaza, Iraq, and around the world. It can leave us feeling helpless. What can we do? Is making a donation really enough?

We are privileged to live in relative safety and peace. I can walk down the street without worrying (too much) about being attacked. My flat will not be bombed. I will not starve. I will not have to watch my family being massacred. If I don’t like what I see on the news I can switch the TV off and do something else. But the images stay with me. I am haunted by death. I must find a response. I must do something. But what?

Spiritual Revolution: The Story of Our Time

Following my short review of Active Hope by Joanna Macy, I wanted to take a closer look at The Great Turning and the important changes we are living through now. Civilisation as we know it is on the brink of collapse and the choices we make today will have profound repercussions into the future.

How to Survive a Spiritual Emergency

Think you have to be religious to experience a spiritual awakening? Think again. Many people, like me, start out entirely secular. I didn’t believe in anything, was a proud and apparently rational atheist until the rug was pulled from under my feet. All it can take is a little boredom, a little dissatisfaction with the paucity of the material rewards offered by consumerism, a little frustration with daily life, for the searching to start…