After I finished giving a lecture at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, an American rabbi approached me. “I’ve been following your work for some years now,” he said, “and you’re doing something very important. You are defining a new position for spiritual aspirants, uniquely suited for the time we are living in. You’re calling all of us to assume a position of ‘radical indeterminacy’ as the very goal of our spiritual practice.”
“Radical indeterminacy” perfectly captures the position of what I call the “new enlightenment,” or Evolutionary Enlightenment, which is based upon a growing recognition that the human experience is in fact a small but not insignificant part of a cosmic evolutionary process that began almost fourteen billion years ago. It’s the all-important awakening to the fact that this process is actually going somewhere.
From energy to light to matter to life to consciousness to self-reflective awareness, evolution is going somewhere, and it at least seems that we are the very leading edge of the entire process. By we, I do not mean our unique personalities but our uniquely human capacity for complex consciousness and cognition. No other forms of life, including mammals, have the highly developed capacity for self-reflection that we do. Indeed, it appears that the entire deep-time developmental process only gains the capacity to become aware of itself through the evolved intricacy of our human brains. The implications are enormous. As far as we know, we are the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of the entire creative endeavor.
It is only in our most evolutionarily enlightened moments that we directly experience the truth of the fact that we are all truly on a cosmic journey. When we literally begin to feel the telos, or directionality, of the entire process moving in and through our own nervous system, this is when we directly experience that movement as a vertical impulse in our own consciousness, way beyond our egos. We see that where we are headed is never static or predetermined. In every moment there is the possibility for something new. That’s what “radical indeterminacy” is, when we glimpse for ourselves the limitless nature of our own potential to evolve infinitely and forever. When we are actually able to feel that miraculous potential vibrating within our own selves, we immediately realize what is possible . . . if only we were willingto get out of the way.
We have all been given a measure of free agency by the creative process. Getting out of the way means no longer using that measure of freedom in psychological servitude to the whims of the personal ego or the conditioned perspectives and unenlightened values of the cultural self. It means liberating that freedom to be used in the service of the energy and intelligence that has been driving the whole process from the beginning of time. That miraculous part of you and that part of me—what I call the “evolutionary impulse”—is always and only reaching towards that which is new, that which has not yet emerged, but could, if only we would get out of the way.
The evolutionary process is going somewhere and now we, maybe for the first time in history, can decide with more conscious awareness than ever before where it’s going. When we make the effort to identify more with the vertical energy of the impulse to evolve than with the horizontal pull of the personal ego and cultural self, everything changes. We transcend the enormous weight of our own predetermined conditioning and open ourselves up to the liberating experience of that part of the cosmos that is trying to evolve through us in every moment. We make ourselves available to that powerful telos, and when we do we become profoundly transformed. Now our attention has shifted from the conditioned past to the ever-ecstatic immediacy of the possible, here and now.
This simple yet profound shift of attention is when we inwardly assume the position of radical indeterminacy. We do this so that what has come before will no longer be able to obscure the emergence of glorious new and as-yet-unmanifest higher potentials.
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