Author of the Month

Daniel Pinchbeck, Author of the Month for November 2009

The Intention Economy
By Daniel Pinchbeck

For November Author of the Month at we would like to welcome author/researcher Daniel Pinchbeck. Daniel is the author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. He is the editorial director of Reality Sandwich and This month the Forum offers a sampling of Daniel's written work for your consideration and discussion on the message boards. We look forward to a fascinating and enlightening back and forth.

Links to his websites are here and here

While exploring shamanism and non-ordinary states, I discovered the power of intention. According to the artist Ian Lungold, who lectured brilliantly about the Mayan Calendar before his untimely death a few years ago, the Maya believe that your intention is as essential to your ability to navigate reality as your position in time and space. If you don't know your intention, or if you are operating with the wrong intentions, you are always lost, and can only get more dissolute.

This idea becomes exquisitely clear during psychedelic journeys, when your state of mind gets intensified and projected kaleidoscopically all around you. As our contemporary world becomes more and more psychedelic, we are receiving harsh lessons in the power of intention, on a vast scale. Over the last decades, the international financial elite manipulated the markets to create obscene rewards for themselves at the expense of poor and middle class people across the world. Using devious derivatives, cunning CDOS, and other trickery, they siphoned off ever-larger portions of the surplus value created by the producers of real goods and services, contriving a debt-based economy that had to fall apart. Their own greed - such a meager, dull intent - has now blown up in their faces, annihilating, in slow motion, the corrupt system built to serve them.

Opportunities such as this one don't come along very often, and should be seized once they appear. When the edifice of mainstream society suddenly collapses, as is happening now, it is a fantastic time for artists, visionaries, mad scientists, and seers to step forward and present a well-defined alternative. What is required, in my opinion, is not some moderate proposal or incremental change, but a complete shift in values and goals, making a polar reversal of our society's basic paradigm. If our consumer-based, materialism-driven model of society is dissolving, what can we offer in its place? Why not begin with the most elevated intentions? Why not offer the most imaginatively fabulous systemic redesign?

The fall of capitalism and the crisis of the biosphere could induce mass despair and misery, or they could impel the creative adaptation and conscious evolution of the human species. We could attain a new level of wisdom and build a compassionate global society, in which resources are shared equitably while we devote ourselves to protecting threatened species and repairing damaged ecosystems. Considering the lightning-like speed of global communication and new social technologies, this change could happen with extraordinary speed.

To a very great extent, the possibilities that we choose to realize in the future will be a result of our individual and collective intention. For instance, if we maintain a Puritanical belief that work is somehow good in and of itself, then we will keep striving to create a society of full employment, even if those jobs become "green collar." A more radical viewpoint perceives most labor as something that could become essentially voluntary in the future. The proper use of technology could allow us to transition to a post-scarcity leisure society, where the global populace spends their time growing food, building community, making art, making love, learning new skills, and deepening their self-development through spiritual disciplines such as yoga, tantra, shamanism, and meditation.

One common perspective is that the West and Islam are engaged in an intractable conflict of civilizations, where the hatred and terrorism can only get worse. Another viewpoint could envision the Judeo-Christian culture of the West finding common ground and reconciling with the esoteric core, the metaphysical purity, of the Islamic faith. It seems - to me anyway - that we could find solutions to all of the seemingly intractable problems of our time once we are ready to apply a different mindset to them. As Einstein and others have noted, we don't solve problems through the type of thinking that created them, but dissolve them, when we reach a different level of consciousness.

We became so mired in our all-too-human world that we lost touch with the other, elder forms of sentience all around us. Along with delegates to the UN, perhaps we could train cadres of diplomats to negotiate with the vegetal, fungal, and microbial entities that sustain life on earth? The mycologist Paul Stamets proposes we create a symbiosis with mushrooms to detoxify eco-systems and improve human health. The herbalist Morgan Brent believes psycho-active flora like ayahuasca and peyote are "teacher plants," sentient emissaries from super-intelligent nature, trying to help the human species find its niche in the greater community of life. When we pull back to study the hapless and shameful activity of our species across the earth, these ideas do not seem very farfetched.

In fact, the breakdown of our financial system has not altered the amount of tangible resources available on our planet. Rather than trying to rejigger an unjust debt-based system that artificially maintains inequitiy and scarcity, we could make a new start. We could develop a different intention for what we are supposed to be doing together on this swiftly tilting planet, and institute new social and economic infrastructures to support that intent.

From Ego to We Go

When I was in my twenties, literature was my ruling passion, and my heroes were writers like Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller. I longed to emulate the passionate intensity of their prose, and the "negative capability" which infused their characters with recognizable life. When I passed through the crucible of my own transformational process, I lost interest in novels and discovered a new pantheon of intellectual heroes. These days, I find the same level of electrical engagement that I used to find in novels in the works of thinkers whose central theme is the evolution and possible extension of human consciousness. This varied group is made up of mystics, physicists, philosophers, cosmologists and paleontologists - the roster includes Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Edward Edinger, Jean Gebser, Teilhard de Chardin, F David Peat, Sri Aurobindo and Gerald Heard.

For me personally, most contemporary fiction, like most current film, has an increasingly retrograde quality. In their efforts to make their audience identify with a particular drama or trauma or relationship saga, these products seem almost nostalgic. We live in a culture that continually seeks to entertain or at least distract us with an endless spew of personal narratives, whether paraded on lowbrow talk shows or parsed in literary novels. If you step outside of the cultural framing, you suddenly become aware of the mechanism that keeps us addicted to the spectacle - and, above all, hooked on ego. Our entire culture is dedicated to inciting and then placating the desires and fears of the individual ego - what the media critic Thomas De Zengotita calls "the flattered self."

Although they use different language to define it, the various theorists on the evolution of the psyche all agree that the crux of our current crisis requires that we transcend the ego. They suggest that the stage of material progress and scientific discovery we attained in recent centuries is not the end of human development, but the launching pad for another stage in our growth. However, this next stage differs from previous phases in one essential way - it requires a "mutation in consciousness" that can only be self-willed and self-directed. According to this paradigm, it is as if physical evolution has done billions of years of work on our behalf, to get us to this point. Right now, it is our choice whether we would like to go forward, or fall by the wayside like untold millions of other species, who over-adapted to one set of conditions, and could not recreate themselves as their environment changed.

In his influential book, Pain, Sex and Time, the British polymath Gerald Heard defined three stages in human evolution - physical, technical and psychical. "The first is unconscious - blind; the second is conscious, unreflective, aware of its need but not of itself, of how, not why; the third is interconscious, reflective, knowing not merely how to satisfy its needs but what they mean and the Whole means," wrote Heard, who believed we were on the cusp of switching from the technical to the psychical level of development. As we enter the psychic phase, we shift "from indirect to direct expansion of understanding, at this point man's own self-consciousness decides and can alone decide whether he will mutate, and the mutation is instantaneous." Originally published in 1939, Heard's book has just been reprinted in the US; it was James Dean's favorite work, and inspired Huston Smith to turn to religious studies.

Despite its antique provenance, Pain, Sex and Time remains "new news" for our time. Heard viewed the immense capacity of human beings to experience pain and suffering, and the extraordinary excess of our sexual drive compared to our actual reproductive needs, as signs of a tremendous surplus of evolutionary energy that can be repurposed for the extension and intensification of consciousness, if we so choose. "Modern man's incessant sexuality is not bestial: rather it is a psychic hemorrhage," Heard wrote. "He bleeds himself constantly because he fears mental apoplexy if he can find no way of releasing his huge store of nervous energy." Heard foresaw the necessity of a new form of self-discipline, a training in concentrating psychic energy to develop extra-sensory perception, as the proper way to channel the excess of nervous hypertension that would otherwise lead to our destruction. He thought that we would either evolve into a "supraindividual" condition, or the uncontrolled energies would force us back into "preindividuated" identifications, leading to nationalist wars and totalitarian fervors, and species burn-out.

A sign I saw at last year's Burning Man put it succinctly: "From Ego to We Go." As the climate changes and our environment deteriorates, we are being subjected to tremendous evolutionary pressures that could push us beyond individuation, into a deeply collaborative mindset and a new threshold of psychic awareness. Seventy years after Heard's manifesto, whether or not we want to evolve as a species remains an open question. But the choice is in our hands.

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