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What's Really Happening? An Introduction to A New Republic of the Heart

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Terry Patten
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An excerpt from Terry Patten's new book "A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries."

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What's Really Happening?

Our times are strange and wondrous--so strange and so wondrous that they far outstrip our comprehension! Even as we are verging on world-changing breakthroughs in science, technology, consciousness, cooperation, and leadership, we're also verging on catastrophic breakdowns of our planetary ecology, as well as our cultural cohesion, economic and social order, and, of course, our politics. It is wild, significant, inspiring, and terrifying that this is all happening simultaneously. We are clearly approaching a moment of truth.

We need the guidance of higher wisdom. Fortunately, all of humanity's highest wisdom traditions are in conversation as never before. And yet the circumstances that have sometimes enabled wisdom to guide the human future seem to be eroding underneath our feet. Our collective nervous system is surging with adrenaline, jolted again and again by breaking news and visions of apocalypse as well as technological utopias and dystopias.

What's really happening? Where are we headed? Is human civilization really coming apart? Will we all come together as never before? What does that mean for us personally? What can we do? How can we "be the change we want to see in the world"?

In 2016, while I was writing early drafts of this book, the average planet-wide surface air and ocean temperatures were the warmest ever recorded for sixteen consecutive months--and extreme weather events continued to increase in size and frequency. At the same time, a backlash against liberal democracy, immigration, and globalization spawned a worldwide political crisis, and our planetary ecology and climate were (to put it mildly) not the dominant popular priorities.

Although I feel chilled to the bone by some of what we might be facing, I am also uplifted and inspired to behold our most dramatically positive possibilities. It is becoming a clicheÌ to state that we're in a race between consciousness and catastrophe. So my focus is not on laying odds. It is on the inner work that can enable us to do the outer work of navigating this time of transition in the best ways possible.

Some colleagues and I have discovered some crucially helpful insights and practices. I believe they can lead us to a grounded, positive, authentic way of relating to our predicament and our opportunities. These insights and practices might help get us through the years ahead. More important, they might even help us take giant steps into a collective transformational process that can actually change the human game in the ways many of us have sought to all our lives.

Such a game-changing transformation would be something like what was, in ancient times, symbolized by a precious jewel. Buddhists have called it a "wish-fulfilling gem." Such a diamond cannot be formed except under titanic pressures. Sudden, dramatic evolutionary progress often takes place under conditions of extreme tension, when pressures require rapid and dramatic adaptation. When new conditions disrupt ecological balance, other crucial environmental factors change, and they force new faculties and behaviors to emerge.

We are seeing this happen to the planet--but the same thing is happening to us. As the planet is pushed to its limits, so too are we. While the changes being triggered ecologically are threatening in many ways, their effects on us, even when they do harm, may well also produce the evolutionary pressures that will form something like a diamond, a qualitative structural transformation of the elements of our very character. It will demand everything of us. That means we must accept responsibility for human evolution itself--and that this evolutionary transformation must take place not over eons, but rather as an accelerated "punctuated" socio- cultural transformation.

Evolution has shown its ability to find astonishing expressions under the right circumstances. It has always proceeded against overwhelming life-and-death odds, but right now we are in the midst of a collection of interconnected challenges and opportunities of unprecedented scope and intensity. If evolution proceeds in fits and starts, with long periods of relative "equilibrium" punctuated by turbulent periods of rapid evolutionary innovation, those of us alive today are right in the center of the action.


Two compelling and mutually conflicting metanarratives, each with conflicting views of our predicament, are in competition among intelligent observers. The first is optimistic. It is a narrative of continual survival, adaptation, transcendence, and progression. In this view, our technological and cultural advances are entering a period of game-changing exponential acceleration. Our increasing collisions with planetary limits, and the unfolding catastrophic consequences of our unsustainable behaviors, though very real, will finally sober us and force us to change our collective habits, and we will have new means to ease the transition. Circumstances will teach us wisdom and set us firmly back on a positive evolutionary path into a marvelous unchartable future.

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Terry Patten is a philosopher, teacher, activist, consultant, social entrepreneur, and author. Over the last fifteen years he has devoted his efforts to the evolution of consciousness by facing, examining, and healing our global crisis through (more...)

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