Emergence of the Contemplative Shaman — Part One, Ch 1: Staring Down the Crisis of Hyperindividuality (and not blinking)

With cognitive skills unsurpassed in the Terran biosphere, humanity represents the local crest of an evolutionary wave of subjective, individuated awareness within the ocean of Life. We are by far the most refined apertures through which the universe can know and study itself, at least in our neck of the cosmic woods.

This wave, however, can and will crash as it rises too high and outstrips the support of its base, which is the vast social network of civilization and the matrix of verbal data preservation it builds. We who have thought ourselves into insular, independent existential units are thus also in danger of thinking ourselves to death.

The social organism called Homo sapiens is both the creator and creation of this verbal matrix –the identity that defines our individuality and holds it in place, after all, is a product of the matrix of language and social institutions that previous generations built, starting with the family that provides us a name. If we do not have this socially-constructed ID badge, we feel oddly orphaned by life, worse than a nameless creature of the wild that never supposed it should have an ID badge, and has adapted just fine to living without one. We, on the other hand, are self-domesticated animals, dependent upon communication to survive, upon language to communicate, and upon social institutions to hold the verbal matrix of language in place.

But social stability and the material prosperity of civilization creates more opportunity to cultivate individuality, which in turn produces individuals who no longer see themselves as products of the society nor, increasingly, as aspects of nature. As the technological envelope of a society is pushed to ever-higher thresholds of complexity and seeming dominion over our ecosystem, this Siamese twin alienation from everything that grounds the individual in its greater social and ecological contexts eventually results in a corrosive egocentric delusion called hyperindividuality.

A society of hyperindividualists no longer functions like a single organism, but as an aggregate of parts each looking out for its own interests, cooperating only as they see fit as means to their private ends –a society of sociopaths, in other words.

Imagine if every cell in your body thought of itself as an individuated being that wanted to do its own thing and “marched to its own drummer,” unwilling to die and be replaced, so on and so forth. This is an extreme but not inaccurate model of how a hyperindividualistic society functions. At a more moderate level where empathy and solidarity of being and purpose are still present, hyperindividuality might manifest as a pandemic of self-concern, in which the “self” is a collective that extends only enough to cover each of the various factions, cliques, and other in-groups engaged in intractable conflict –perhaps, a body where the left hand and right hand are completely at odds and cannot cooperate to perform even the simplest tasks.

Generally a sociological term, it is also important to consider the mutual cause-effect relationship on the psychology and self-image of a hyperindividualistic society’s base unit. We in the Cartesian West, and especially in exceptionalist America, tend to take for granted that our self-image is exactly what we are, and any human archetype, aside from the rugged individualist breaking free from social constraints who is the hero of all our movies, is just a less actualized version of ourselves. Perhaps this was once true, as the history of every emergent manifestation of liberalism suggests and the evolutionary theory behind pan-Perennialism proclaims. But if it is possible to be over-actualized,  as a society full of individuals who are scared to death of dying for lack of any consistent idea of what follows, arming itself to the teeth while suspending every other liberty and yelling “Don’t tread on me!” at each other, 21st century America is pushing that envelope into dangerous territory, and the world is falling over itself to follow suit.

To put it more precisely: the hyperindividuated Homo sapiens is an organism experiencing the nightmare of an imagined alienation from the Nature that (as pantheism teaches us) [1] constitutes its actual body, a schism between the perceptual self (ego) and actual Self (Nature). Eventually, the human reaches a psychological tipping point at which its individuality no longer serves its best interests, and something has to give. There is widespread evidence that much of Western civilization (which increasingly means “global” rather than any place of origin or cardinal direction), with its epidemic of hyperindividuality, is barreling past this tipping point, and falling into an existential panic in which self-annihilation is a distinct possibility.

As a pan-Perennialist, I propose that the study of philosophical and religious history will show that there is no reason to fear this coming cataclysm, that we are progressing forward as needed despite all indications otherwise, and that, often unbeknownst to us, the tools we need to thrive in the next epoch are forged in the funeral pyres of the old.

Like humanity itself, an ontological philosophy (a category of thought that includes theology and non-theistic spirituality) is both a direct effect of the forces that bring it into existence and a latent cause of its further development. By tracking this transhistorical development of what is essentially, for better and worse, humanity’s looking glass image of itself in a cosmological context, pan-Perennialism offers a  “meta” perspective of the evolution of our self-identity –and, perhaps, an Ariadne’s thread to lead us through the labyrinth of our unsustainable egocentricity.

For if our concept of self –and concurrently of what constitutes the “other,” or our environment– is not in fact shifting arbitrarily but is evolving toward an objective Truth, two likely corollaries would follow: 1) The way out of our current existential conundrum is to continue pressing forward into the not-yet-known, not to retreat into more familiar modes of consciousness (such as tribal identity or religious revivalism), and 2) A knowable baseline of Truth exists –Reality itself– and is with us throughout the labyrinthine journey of evolution even as we are blind to it.

In the words popularized by Carl Jung [2], “Bidden or unbidden, God is present,” and the proverbial cat is out of the bag regarding the assumptions of yesterday about what that means. We mustn’t look back, but courageously forward to a new holistic layer of understanding that only a clarified picture of our past can provide, for we are products of that past, charged with the responsibility of using it to create the humanity of the future.

We cannot halt the tide of “me-firstism” inundating the world’s social institutions and gobbling up its resources. But we can harness its energy and vault forward into a new level of non-dual perception that replants the human self-concept in its pre-conceptual ground, with a shared rhizomatic root that some call God, others call Nature, while others simply acknowledge its namelessness with a variation of “Thou art That.” It is the very fact that hyperindividuality brings us to this reckoning point, where disintegration into madness is possible or even likely, that integration into direct knowledge of the Self is also possible or even inevitable for some, because survival will mean adaptivity to a new kind of self/Self-knowledge, and there is nowhere to go from here but forward to the Source.

An emergent species of human —Homo intuitus— is the theoretical result, and clearing the path for her is the work of the contemplative shaman.


[1] “So then, who are you? The organism is inseparable from its environment, so you are the organism-environment. You are no less than the whole universe. Each one of you is the universe expressed in the place you feel as here and now. So when you feel that you are a lonely, isolated, little stranger confronting all this, you have an illusory feeling because the truth is the reverse. You are the whole works.”–Alan Watts

[2] VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT (bidden or unbidden God is present) is commonly attributed to Carl Gustav Jung but it is actually a statement that Jung discovered among the Latin writings of Desiderius Erasmus, who declared the statement had been an ancient Spartan proverb. Jung popularized it, having it inscribed over the doorway of his house, and upon his tomb.

Emergence of the Contemplative Shaman

Part One

Chapter 1: Staring Down the Crisis of Hyperindividuality (and not blinking)

Chapter 2: Ego is to Self as Money is to Wealth

Chapter 3: The Road of Excess

Published by Waldo Noesta

Enough about me. Let's talk about you....

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