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A lot of people look to Barack Obama as the enlightened leader, the psychopomp who will lead the world away from the brink of catastrophe and into a new era. I see him in a somewhat different light. I see his election as the American expression of a global shift in consciousness that is already well underway. He may or may not be able to fulfill his promise of hope in any specific policy area, but the fact of his election speaks to a dramatic sea-change in the global Zeitgeist.

An individual in crisis may experience a sudden transformation or awakening as a response to an intolerable situation. The current crisis of civilization is starting to impact hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe, especially since the world was plunged into the economic crisis that is further compounding our accelerating ecological, environmental, energy and social crises. The sense of imminence created by this convergence is causing enormous numbers of people to wake up and wonder WTF has been going on while we dutifully lived out the consumerist dream. While we were sleeping that dream seems to have become a nightmare as the materialist utopia we were promised morphed into a cruel, life-destroying hoax .

This uncomfortable awakening is manifesting in a massive, unpredicted global change, as reported in Paul Hawken’s seminal book "Blessed Unrest". A spontaneous global movement consisting of two million or more small, independent, grass-roots groups, working on local environmental, social justice and spiritual issues of all kinds, is spreading like an Australian wildfire through every city in every country on the face of the planet. It is the largest, most diverse, most autonomous, most exuberant, most hopeful movement humanity has ever produced.

This enormous number of individual groups, each composed of a small number of individual people, is unconsciously shifting the consciousness of the entire human enterprise. As they do that they are also fulfilling three roles that are crucial to the short, medium and long term future of humanity:

  • They are acting as "Gaia’s antibodies". They arise spontaneously in response to local symptoms of dis-ease, and work to try and fix the local problems causing the symptoms. They take information, but not direction, from outside their local areas. As there are apparently so many of these groups, their action is somewhat analogous to the operation of an immune system.
  • They will act as the seed stock for a critical set of sustainable values. These groups tend to share a set of values — cooperation, consensus, nurturing, recognition of interdependence, acceptance of limits, universal justice and the respect for other life — that are precisely the ones a civilization would need to become sustainable. As the groups are so widely distributed and are not bound into a single organization, the movement is very resilient. That resilience maximizes the probability that some groups will survive to transit these values into the surrounding culture, no matter how many areas on Earth experience various changes up to and including collapse. Just as seeds sprerad their genetic material into the new plants they become, these groups act as seeds to spread their own cultural memetic material — their sustainable values. The space for these values to grow will be opened up as the guardian institutions of the old value system rupture due to the converging crisis.
  • They may act as humanity’s imaginal cells. Imaginal are the cells that accumulate in a caterpillar’s body toward the end of its adolescence and trigger its metamorphosis into a butterfly. Here’s a description of the process:

    When a caterpillar nears its transformation time, it begins to eat ravenously, consuming everything in sight. Tiny cells, that biologists actually call “imaginal cells,” begin to appear in the caterpillar’s body. These cells are wholly different from caterpillar cells. At first, the caterpillar’s immune system perceives these new cells as enemies, and attacks them. But the imaginal cells are not deterred. They continue to appear, in ever greater numbers, recognizing each other and bonding together, until the new cells are numerous enough to organize into clumps called "imaginal disks".

    When enough imaginal disks have appeared (which is only a few percent of the caterpillar’s body weight), the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed. Attaching to a branch, it forms a chrysalis—the enclosing shell within which the caterpillar’s body then become a nutritious soup for the growth of the butterfly.

Will these groups actually promote a broader shift in consciousness? There is evidence that this is already happening. Paul Hawken estimated in 2003 that there were 150,000 such groups world-wide. Late last year the estimate was over 2 million. The growth is truly explosive. Many, many people are being captivated by their messages of hope and healing.

There is a global miracle taking place in front of our eyes, one in which we are all being called to participate.

6 Responses to “The Global Movement that Barack Obama Isn’t Leading”

  1. Lourdes Resperger

    Thumps up to this article. I loved it.
    And yes, I also agree that this last elections were symbolic of the Global shift that has been takng place since years back. People are awakening from the human dream and finding out that they do have the power to change the course of history. Chosing Obama whose campaign had a touch of human dignity and the well being of the suffering class, was one sign of this. However, Obama’s attentions has still to be brought to the dangers of Monsanto and the GMOs at large. One cannot serve two Gods at the same time and this will be a tough choice for Obama to make.

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  2. Jeremy Myola

    Great post Paul!
    Having been an ADD child drugged with amphetamines, I’ve always questioned the system I didn’t fit into. Through my journey I’ve listened to many educated people and I have realised that the world is being manipulated by the ‘so called elite’. They control every aspect, the UN, governments, finance, health, energy, media, science, food, war, starvation and most of all our minds. The world is rigged, it’s the 1%’s fictitious reality. They have all the money and now they want power. ‘Total global domination’, and we’re now enslaved to their games.

    Humanity has come to a defining moment, we have 2 very different paths to choose from. They want us to continue to be divided and live in a state of fear. However we can live in a world of peace, happiness and abundance. Free from dept. Where our air, water, land and food will have no toxins. Mother earth will heal herself. But firstly we must love ourselves and then all others.

    The universe is changing we are ending the age of false egos and entering the age of consciousness. Listen to the heart, have love, have unity, question everything and awaken. I love you all. Jeremy

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  3. Kyle

    Hi Paul. I’ve been reading your website “Approaching the Limits to Growth” since finding it in 2008 when I first read “Population: The Elephant in the Room.” When I read this article when you published it in 2009, I remember it having a profound catalyzing effect that led me to investigate a few of these movements, and ultimately to completely change my viewpoint on where change comes from, and how I can help bring it about. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years now, and I’m very very happy to see your message being spread into the permaculture community. Keep up the good, powerful work.

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  4. Marianne Winfield

    I find your idea of people as ‘Gaia’s antibodies’,seed stock and imaginal cells, fascinating. Kyle mentioned your website which I’ve just looked at. I wish I’d dicovered it before. I like the way you’ve listed your articles into Factual, Hopeful, Less Hopeful, and Abandon Hope…!
    I’ve been trying to work out a balance between being realistic about the problems and yet preserving a sense of optimism and potential personal effectiveness. Reading your articles will be a great help.
    You end with “There is a global miracle taking place in front of our eyes, one in which we are all being called to participate.”
    Indeed there is and everyday as I walk out to my gardens to nurture and harvest nature’s abundance, I also spend hours on the internet discovering the truly phenomenal (indeed exponential) spread of small grassroots activities throughout the world. An abundance of applied goodwill, informed design ( permaculture), optimism and a sharing of products, information and ideas
    It feels to me like a sudden springing of new seedlings across a degraded and polluted landscape. I am really beginning to get a sense of hope that a tipping point of awareness and subsequent activity and connection will be reached in time.

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  5. Paul Chefurka

    @Lourdes: I get the distinct impression that the social dynamic in the USA is changing fairly dramatically right now. I think for many people Hurricane Sandy was the wakeup call. Because it happened in the closing days of the campaign, I think it has come to symbolize the challenges Obama faces. The choice that Americans made speaks to their dawning recognition of the truth of what the world is facing. Does Obama have the strength, courage and awareness to move on it? Maybe. Does he have the political horsepower and maneuvering room? Probably not. The interests you mention are not on our side, and they will do what it takes to prevent any shift in this direction. It’s like the whole country has turned into a John Grisham novel.

    @Jeremy: There are so many aspects of our present situation we might choose to characterize it. In the final analysis they’re all telling us the same thing – that our globalized industrial civilization is in an unsustainable position at every level, whether physical, cultural, or spiritual. Things that can’t continue, don’t continue. I think more and more people are waking up to the possibility that a multi-level shift is inevitable – one with a lot of undesirable consequences. Not wanting to sound too apocalyptic here, I will say that the cultural and spiritual shifts are going to be fascinating to watch, and I’m looking forward to them with some interest. I’ve never encountered so many people who understand why we must shift from the ego to the heart, and are working in their own ways to be the change.

    @Kyle: Thanks for the kind words. I love hearing from people who’ve found what I do useful. I deliberately didn’t make my site a blog for a variety of reasons, so I don’t get too much feedback. Unless someone takes a fancy to my work and re-publishes it, which I’m delighted to say has happened here. The permaculture community is a natural home – fertile soil, you might say – for many of my ideas, and someone here has decided to give the site a liberal sprinkling of them. I’m very happy to see that.

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  6. Paul Chefurka

    @Marianne: YES! That’s exactly the feeling I’m talking about! There’s a gathering force focusing around the ideas of consciousness and transformation. It’s happening across the planet, but is manifesting at the level of individuals and clusters of direct personal relationships

    Each expression of it is as different as the person expressing it, but there seems to be a common theme. I haven’t been able to encapsulate that theme in a pithy aphorism yet, but it has to do with awakening to the interconnectedness of everything, and realizing the power of personal consciousness – or something like that. The closest I’ve come yet is this: “A single connection is the quantum unit of the sacred.”

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