Noetic Now

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by Claudia Welss

“To be or not to be—that is the question.” (And then, the joke continues, the man lost in the motel asks himself…“or is it 3C? 4D?") A common interpretation of this famous Shakespearean quote is that Hamlet was contemplating suicide, but wasn’t sure if death would actually be preferable to the alternative: Would it be the end of his troubles or the beginning of something potentially worse? Others interpret that death in this case might actually represent a third alternative to Hamlet; the first, “to be,” referring to a life of action, and the second, “not to be,” referring to a life of inaction, perhaps even of silent surrender.

People interested in noetic sciences often ask tough questions, the answers to which (if there are answers) can have profound implications. What strikes me here is that if we consider death a third option in this question, then the real choice is between the other two—and it’s a personal choice that may make all the difference for the collective. Have you ever heard someone say, “Hey, if we blow ourselves up/melt ourselves down and become extinct, the planet will finally be able to heal itself, so no big loss.” I’ve heard people express that opinion—some out of compassion for an Earth being destroyed by unsustainable human behavior, but others as a justification for lives of inaction, for business as usual, or simply acquiescing to the inevitability of “what is.”

It feels safe to assume that most of us agree that the loss of our species (or some large portion of it) would be a devastating one. Yet at this unprecedented point in our history—when we are complicit not only in the extinction of other species but perhaps in extincting our own—this debate has found its way into our conversations. For those of us recognizing the primacy and vast untapped potential of consciousness, the debate goes even deeper: What would such a setback mean for the evolution of consciousness itself? If we are the most conscious life form on Earth (as far as we know, although this may also be debatable), do we not have some responsibility to it? “To those whom much is given, much is required.” We’re finally realizing that the human species has responsibility as stewards of Earth and for other forms of life, but what about for consciousness itself? The choice then is not simply between action and inaction, but more urgently between action that’s transformative and action that is not, the former expressing or promoting a higher consciousness. In this dynamic, action and consciousness have a symbiotic relationship, each encouraging the other in the desired direction.

Choosing to engage in transformative action is a choice that permeates all aspects of our lives. We start to recognize the folly of simply doing something to avoid inaction—because we feel we must do something—and of waiting until we can declare, “My consciousness has finally been transformed!” before we get to work.

Fortunately we have amazing examples of ways that people are taking collective action both out of a heightened consciousness and in order to positively transform themselves and our world. “Four Years. Go!” is one such example. Four Years. Go! is not as much a new organization as a new global organism dedicated to assisting humanity in moving from its current alarming trajectory toward one that is environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling by 2014 (that's the “Four Years” part). It’s a movement to mobilize collective will for effective action for the good of the whole, inviting and empowering people and organizations to do their part to enable a shift through transparent, inclusive, autonomous, and collaborative action (the "Go!”). Here’s why I think this goal-directed, action-oriented coalition is of special interest to those convinced that a crisis of consciousness is the root cause of the myriad crises humanity is facing today: Four Years. Go! recognizes that significant, systemic changes in the world will not sustain unless we ourselves fundamentally change. So while behavioral change is the aim, the primary targets of Four Years. Go! are the values, worldviews, and levels of consciousness—the states of being—that give rise to our behaviors. That's where the real action is.

  • Anonymous Icon

    SpiritoftheNewWorkplace Sep 02, 2010


    Always nice to see a beautifully-expressed call to action. I enjoyed several of your ideas here, especially the waiting to act until one's consciousness to finally transform. Good stuff.

    - J

  • Neon1 Sep 12, 2010

    My first consideration of this question had to do with awakening from a life after many years of being someone other than who I was naturally becoming. Decades of remaining on a path I’d chosen in my youth, but which had long since stopped contributing to my growth, caused a serious identity crisis. Was I to continue to be that person to whom everyone had grown accustomed and whom they were relying upon? Or was I to courageously discover and then become who I really am?

    Soren Kierkegaard pictured my dilemma more than a century ago when he pointed out that the most common despair is to be in despair at not choosing, or willing, to be oneself; but that the deepest form of common despair is to choose “to be another than himself.” I had chosen in my youth to be a certain someone, but the time had come for that person to evolve. The evolution required the sacrifice of family and friends, but was worth the pain.

    So, it’s interesting that the question: “To be or not to be?” is again stirring me to awaken; this time to discover who I am as a verb, and not just as a noun. The timing is right also because I believe that these last ten years have finally taught me who I am, and now it’s time to “be” the fullest embodiment possible of that person.

    Thank you for the insight, Claudia. I’d thought this question, “To be or not to be” had been settled for me, but now it has a new meaning. I have discovered who I am, and now I must fully become him and fulfill his destiny.

    Funny also that the organization you mentioned points to the year I retire as a time when change will coalesce. Yes, it will!

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