Looking toward the mayan prophecies, daniel pinchbeck begins a year-long monthly column counting down to 2012 and beyond
As the author of a book on ancient prophecies centering on the year 2012, I am considered an expert on all things catastrophic and Armageddon-ish. Many people link me with apocalyptic forecasts of an imminent end of the world through fire, flood, alien assault, or nuclear freak-out - according to The New York Times, Woody Harrelson caricatured me in Sony Pictures' big-budget disaster flick 2012. Harrelson played a prophet of doom obsessed with world destruction via earth crust displacement. I find this an ironic twist of fate, as my pet theory is quite the opposite.
Instead, I propose our post-industrial, postmodern, post-everything civilisation is undergoing rapid transformation, leading to an upgrade of human consciousness within a new paradigm. Currently our planetary environment is melting down, while the global financial system teeters on the verge of collapse. How we respond to this situation will depend upon how flexible we are when confronting chaos and novelty. Charles Darwin wrote: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." If we are open to a future that is far different from the past, we may find that the transition will bring about a far more authentic, inspiring and extraordinary state of affairs.
In past works, I told the story of how I started out as a sceptic and cynic, a journalist writing for magazines like Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine. In my late-20s, I hit a massive spiritual crisis where the world seemed utterly meaningless. I believed that, however we tried to twist, shout, or writhe, life terminated in an indifferent, absolute void. In the depths of despair, I recalled my psychedelic trips from college and decided to explore them professionally. I got assignments to go to West Africa, taking the psychedelic root bark iboga in a Bwiti tribal initiation, and to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where I drank the bitter ayahuasca potion with elder shamans of the Secoya tribe.
A series of trips into visionary netherworlds eventually convinced me there was a vast psycho-cosmos our modern society rejected, out of fear. Beyond luminous hallucinations of hyper-dimensional geometries, multi-eyed deities and giggly pixies, I also had a series of psychic or paranormal experiences that fell outside the explanatory matrix of the belief system of modern science and our oh-so-confident "rationality". In the end, I was compelled to take the worldview of archaic shamans, occultists and mystics seriously, to recognise there were unseen or super-sensible dimensions of reality accessible to us, if we dare to search for knowledge.
At the same time, I discovered that many traditional and indigenous cultures have a set of prophecies about the time we are in - such as the Classical Maya of Mexico and Guatemala. Brilliant astronomers and pyramid builders, the Maya looked toward December 21, 2012, as the end of a 5,125 year "Long Count" that ends with the reunion of First Father, the sun, and Cosmic Mother, the galactic centre, at precisely 11:11am GMT. This once-every 26,000 year astronomical conjunction meant, for them, the end of one World Age and the beginning of the next - a time of destruction, purification, regeneration and new creation.
In this monthly column leading up to the year 2012, we will explore the prospects for reinventing human society in a time of transition through a new realisation of purpose and meaning, a new participatory ethos. We need to step back from the onrushing dissolution to understand how we got into into this mess, and how we can change direction. As Wangari Matthai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for starting a movement that has planted 45 million trees in Kenya, notes, "The word 'craving', so implicated in the physical exploitation of our environment, indicates psychological desperation and spiritual weakness. It illustrates a want that goes beyond simply filling one's belly or satisfying one's thirst." In order to survive, our species has to graduate from insatiable consumerist craving and choose self-limitation and self-sufficiency.
Luckily for us, we weave culture out of language, story and memes, and these can change quickly. Today, the vast majority of people don't realise they have been programmed by mass media and school to be apathetic and cynical, distracted and detached. As the planetary emergency deepens over the next years, some people will awaken - perhaps a mass awakening will take place.
The new story I propose to you is this: we have reached an evolutionary threshold for humanity - a shift from the physical to the psychic phase of our species' development, from competition to collaboration, from ego to "wego". As we overcome despair and apathy to take responsibility for the fate of the earth, we will shed our narcissism and alienation to become planetary activists, inspired expressions of the Gaian mind. We will never look back.
Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and the just-published Notes from the Edge Times. He edits realitysandwich.com and is featured in the new documentary, 2012: Time for Change