Illustration from THE WUMP WORLD by Bill Peet. Copyright (c) 1970 by Bill Peet. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
For those willing and able to consider a new story, the current challenges to and shifts in human consciousness promise exciting opportunities for personal and planetary change.
About the Author
Articles in This Issue
Re-writing the Story of Who We Are
by Lisa Reagan
America celebrated its first Earth Day in 1970, the year in which my favorite children’s book, The Wump World, by the beloved writer and illustrator Bill Peet, was also published. I discovered The Wump World in a mountain of books my mother helped my little brother and me haul home from our local library. After my first read, I searched anxiously for The Wump World every time we visited the library, looking forward to sitting for the umpteenth time with the story of the “Pollutians,” who invaded the green, pristine world of the furry, doe-eyed “Wumps” with their ideas of industrial progress. In the simple, colored-pencil illustrations, the hapless Wumps retreat into underground caves until the Pollutians finally declare to their leader that they can no longer live in such a polluted world; they were sick from their lifestyles and had to find another planet. After the Pollutians took off in their spaceships, the Wumps emerged from their caves to a “dead” landscape of concrete buildings, smoke-filled skies, and paved-over earth.
The book’s message about pollution did not escape me or my first grade classmates, as most of us displayed “Turn Off Your Lights” stickers on our light switches and watched Iron Eyes Cody, the Native American in the “Keep America Beautiful” commercial, cry on his horse while overlooking a littered cityscape. It wasn’t the book’s obvious message – pollution is bad, and we need to do our part to stop it – that I found fascinating, though. It was the last page that held my rapt attention: A solitary Wump, stares at a sidewalk where a single, green-leafed plant had pushed its way through a small crack in the landscape of gray rubble. Perched on a crumbling wall, the Wump’s unmistakably happy smile seemed to impart a secret . . . or a promise.
I would race to this last page each time I read The Wump World, needing the reassurance that the Wump, the leaf, and I shared there – the secret knowledge of something else that was true, something greater and more real than irrational dedication to industrial progress at the expense of our own health. What was that something else, whose power would eventually heal the Wump’s world?
The Influence of a Worldview
At this moment in time, four decades later and on the heels of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – one of the largest man-made environmental disasters in human history – it feels as though much of humanity is staring at the last page of The Wump World and wondering, with no way off the planet (though some are working on it), how we might begin to enter into a relationship with the consciousness, the healing life force, represented by a humble, green leaf? How do we heal our world and our bodies – our on-loan, animated Earth suits – which depend upon the health of the planet? Where do we find the will to let go of an old story – “We’re Pollutians, and this is what we do” – and choose to write a new story, one that features human beings tapping into their innate potential, pursuing conscious relationships with all of life, and working together to cocreate a healthy world?
Our stories about ourselves – who we are and what we are capable of becoming – are influenced primarily by our worldview, which shapes our lived reality. The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) defines worldview as “the beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions through which one filters their understanding of the world and their place in it.” Whatever the story is – created, told, and retold in a habitual, self-perpetuating cycle – it influences our choices and behavior. This is true individually as well as collectively. To evaluate the wisdom of a worldview and to better recognize its influence, it helps to identify some of the assumptions embedded within it.
In 2008, IONS published The 2008 Shift Report: Changing the Story of Our Future, the second of two such reports exploring the impacts of our belief systems and worldviews on individual and social well-being. It described the current dominant Western worldview as driven by the following assumptions:
- Growth is good; more is better.
- Economic wealth is the truest sign of progress.
- The “market” is the most reliable measure of value.
- Individual selfishness serves the common good.
- We live in a world of scarcity.
- Humans are superior to other creatures.
- The Earth is ours to exploit.
- The world can be divided into “us” and “them.”
- People are intrinsically bad.
- Technology – or God – will save us.
The first report in the series, The 2007 Shift Report: Evidence of a World Transforming, had this to say about the old story, that its purpose has been fulfilled and is no longer useful: “Materialist science represented an evolutionary leap from a mind-set that relied on religious authority for verifying truths to one that valued an objective search for knowledge. In this global age of rapid change and transformation, it is time for another such leap…[to] include the rigorous study of subjective, inner experience, a renewed appreciation for meaning and purpose, and a recognition that the world of consciousness is far more mysterious and influential than we have ever imagined.”
Getting Out of the Box
What are our greatest obstacles to assuming authorship and authority for creating a new story, a new worldview – and therefore a new world? There are many, of course, at every level of human organization, but one such “obstacle” is also the means to our transformation: our brain, the one thing we possess and have the power to control. But as Dr. Andrew Newberg states in Born to Believe, “The brain is a stubborn organ. Once its primary set of beliefs has been established, the brain finds it difficult to integrate opposing ideas and beliefs. This has profound consequences for individuals and society and helps to explain why some people cannot abandon destructive beliefs, be they religious, political, or psychological.”
A 2004 study at Emory University illustrated how our brains become entrenched in preconceptions that defy all reason. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers studied the brain activity of a group of partisan Republicans and Democrats, asking them to rate and compare a series of contradictory statements made by both John Kerry and George W. Bush. Not surprisingly, the Democrats felt that statements made by Bush were more contradictory, and Republicans felt the same about Kerry. But the way they arrived at those conclusions was illuminating.
“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” said Drew Westen, director of Clinical Psychology at Emory. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up. . . . Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and the activation of positive ones.” In short, “Partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data.”
The 2008 Shift Report takes note of this study, concluding, “[I]t appears that we avoid the discomfort of contradictory facts when they challenge a particular decision or belief – denial equals emotional homeostasis. This observance has a strong bearing on how one confronts an existing worldview and considers ways to change it. Those who accept the maxim, ‘Growth is good,’ for example, will resist other perspectives even in the face of evidence that such a conviction may be slowly killing us. The media is complicit in reinforcing such entrenched assumptions, and the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy becomes an enduring characteristic of the cultural soup.”
Two years after IONS published The 2008 Shift Report, the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico riveted the world’s attention with an ecological crisis whose impact has yet to be fully measured and whose ripple effect is expected to continue for decades. In 1971, the same year that Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell envisioned IONS, Joseph Chilton Pearce presented humanity with a guide to transcending toxic, irrational cultural conditioning in his book The Crack in the Cosmic Egg: New Constructs of Mind and Reality. This now seminal work argued that our notions of the world form a shell of culturally reinforced, rational thought, which in turn creates a vicious circle of reasoning that robs our minds of power and prevents us from reaching our true potential – that which lies beyond the crack in the fragile eggshell of our known world. Ironically, it was the cracks in the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico this past spring that attempted to break through calcified neural nets and institutionalized ignorance. The year 2010 may go down in history as the year denial was no longer a functional way for Americans to live their daily lives.
The consequences of our 500-year-old model of consumption, profit, and externalized costs in the form of environmental degradation and natural system collapse are mounting. The old story we keep telling ourselves, based on the assumptions listed above, is evaporating, leaving in its place the frantic question “What comes next?” To those whose belief systems resist new plot lines to guide them through the inevitable global transitions, it might indeed feel like the end of the world. But for those willing and able to consider a new story, the current challenges to and shifts in human consciousness promise exciting opportunities for personal and planetary change.
Embracing Our Potential
Right now we are like the Wump who turns her attention from the devastation of the planet to the hope for a better future. What will our new story tell us about ourselves and our world? Chilton Pearce believes an individual’s worldview must be integrated; it cannot exclude what has gone before but must appreciate all perspectives and possibilities. It must, in the spirit of integral philosophy, “transcend and include.”
“Our imagination cannot set out to find the cracks in the cosmic egg until someone lays the egg,” he writes in Crack in the Cosmic Egg. “New representations for reality, new ideas, new fabrications of fantasy searching for supporting logic must precede the final ‘discovery’ by which verification of the notion is achieved. It has been claimed that our minds screen out far more than we accept, else we would live in a world of chaos. Our screening process may be essential, but it is also arbitrary and changeable.”
In his 2009 book, Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (and a Way to Get There from Here), coauthored with Steve Bhaerman, Bruce Lipton writes that “the real challenge for the individual is to practice evolution, to learn the lessons of the old stories so we no longer need to repeat them, and to remind ourselves that the critical mass of humanity involved with this evolution will change the world from the inside out. We are living positive future, practicing Heaven, and designing a bridge across which the whole of humanity will walk. . . . This is our love story, a universal love story for the entire Universe – you, me, everyone, and every living organism too.”
This fall, thought leaders, health practitioners, and parents engaged in the consciousness movement will gather in Washington, DC, to share their research, insights, and tools for creating a new story. The focus will be on cultivating our inner world while working together through collaboration and community outreach to redefine our role in a vital and evolving universe. Speakers at the“Celebrating the Shift to Conscious Choice” summit include the following:
- Cassandra Vieten, PhD, Director of Research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and author of Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child's First Year
- Bruce Lipton, PhD, author of The Biology of Belief and Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There from Here and an internationally recognized leader in bridging science and spirit
- Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of The Crack in the Cosmic Egg and The Magical Child and a leading figure in the study of human consciousness and child development for more than a quarter century
- Joe Dispenza, DC, whose book Evolve Your Brain explores “the biology of change”–that when we truly change our mind, there is physical evidence of change in the brain
(For a complete list of the more than forty conference speakers and to register, visit www.familywellnessfirst.org.)
I am grateful to my mother for those frequent trips to the library, where I could delight in the magical experience of reliving The Wump World, as if for the first time, and joyfully share the Wump’s secret. In the end, when we stare past the concretized beliefs in our own minds, we will witness the truth of life’s possibilities and our innate potential shining through the cracks.