Louis C.K. and the Democracy of Consciousness

That wise philosopher of our modern age, Louis C.K., has caused quite a stir on the web recently by confessing in an interview with Conan that he didn’t want to get a smart phone for his kid.  He told Conan: “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something – that’s what the phones are taking away.”

What’s amazing about the interview, though, is what came after this.  In a deeply insightful expression of inner angst, Louis C.K. told the entire world what it feels like to experience that ultimate sense of what Buddhists call dukkha – the unmitigated dread of being alone in the universe.

Underneath everything else in your life, there’s that thing – that forever empty – you know what I’m talking about? … That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone.  You know, it’s down there, and sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car and you start going, “Oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone…” Like it starts to visit on you.  You know, just the sadness, life is tremendously sad… That’s why we text and drive… People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own, because they don’t want to be alone for a second, because it’s so hard.

Having diagnosed the existential predicament of the human condition, Louis, our urban sage in  disguise, then goes on to offer his millions of viewers a way of living with it and achieving well-being:

Just be sad, just let the sadness… and I let it hit me like a truck… and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch, I cried so much and it was beautiful.  Sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments.  And then I had happy feelings, because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness.  So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness…  The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with the phone… You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kind of satisfied with your products, and then you die.  So, that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

Go for it, Louis C.K!  What’s so bizarre about the whole episode is that it’s delivered by Louis with a humorous tone and a smiling face, and virtually every sentence is received by the audience with a burst of inane laughter.  What does this tell us about the state of our modern society?  Should we be grateful to Louis who so skillfully uses humor to tell the most profound truths to the world?  Or should we be despairing of the fact that our modern media encourages people to laugh at such expressions of inner truth and then just go back to whatever video game they’re playing on their cell phone?

What I appreciate so much about the whole thing is that Louis C.K. has done such a great job in describing what in Liology I refer to as the Democracy of Consciousness – the inner arena of consciousness that can honor all the feelings that arise in us – good and bad, easy and difficult, loving and hating – recognizing that giving voice to them all is the only way to reach the state of true integration as an organism: what the ancient Chinese called cheng.

An important part of Liology, I believe, is that it shows how ultimately that feeling of existential loneliness is not based on the reality of existence.  It’s something brought about the by the cognitive barriers created by our conceptual consciousness mediated by our prefrontal cortex.  By recognizing the ultimate interpenetration of the li within ourselves and between ourselves and the rest of the natural world, we can permeate those barriers with connectivity, and feel in to what it means to be fractally connected with the entire universe.  Through a true integration of consciousness, it’s possible to deeply recognize, in the words of that other sage, Zhang Zai, that:

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and such a small creature as I find an intimate place in their midst.

Here’s Louis C.K.’s 4-minute episode:

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Are radical ideas becoming mainstream?

Will our global civilization still be around centuries from now?  Only if some of the more radical ideas currently being discussed can become the mainstream thinking of people around the world.  That’s the only way in which the global forces currently pushing us towards environmental catastrophe can shift direction and offer humanity a hopeful future.

A remarkable report published by the German Advisory Council on Global Change called “World in Transition, 2012” suggests this is already happening.  The  authors believe that a global consensus is forming that supports a sustainable approach to our environment and is willing to prioritize choices that enhance the quality of life rather than economic growth and increased consumption.  Here’s what they say:

There is ample evidence… to suggest that the core values of a large part of the world population include the protection of the natural environment…. There appears to be a relatively wide, cross-cultural consensus that the prevalent way of doing business should be embedded in higher-ranking goals of sustainability, environmental conservation, and climate protection, or generally in aspects of a more caring and careful resource management. To put it another way: anyone supporting sustainability is not, or no longer, swimming against the tide.

If this were true, this would be one of the most important shifts in global history.  It would imply that the overwhelming force in the world that has propelled globalized capitalism and ever-increasing economic growth at the expense of our natural environment and sustainability is being subsumed by a force for hope that’s pushing in the other direction.

Environmental degradation: scrutinized rigorously in the report

Environmental degradation: scrutinized rigorously in the report

Not that the report is already claiming victory for a sustainable future for our world.  They carefully scrutinize all the different factors that are driving us towards the cliff: climate change, environmental degradation, ocean acidification, lack of freshwater, and lack of any agreement among governing bodies that could keep our global warming to less than 2 degrees.

What we need, they say, is nothing less than a Great Transformation – a new, revised social contract where the nation state is no longer the “sole basis for the contractual relationship,” recognizing the “disproportionate distribution of resources” in our world today, and giving increased consideration to the natural environment.

How will we get there?  We need “a new storyline,” to further develop human civilization, with changed narratives, guiding principles and meta-narrations, including a radically different relationship with the natural world.  Instead of the old paradigm of “conquering nature,” we need to recognize that we ARE nature – we are only conquering ourselves.

It is my hope that liology can help by offering a framework for this new storyline – a framework that integrates both science and spiritual wisdom to recognize that the deepest spiritual fulfillment a human being can experience arises from the understanding of our intrinsic connectivity with the natural world – both within ourselves and all around us.

One of the more astonishing things about this report is that it’s coming from an “independent, scientific advisory body to the German Federal Government.”  It’s heartening to realize that this is the kind of advice that the German government, responsible for the fourth largest economy in the world, is hearing from its appointed advisors.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

And here’s a presentation I gave last year on Humanity’s Changing Metaphors of Nature, which includes a suggestion for a new metaphor of nature as “integrally connected organism.”