Is there an optimum human population on this planet?

When I was growing up in the 1970’s, people were concerned about overpopulation, what the earth’s “carrying capacity” was, and where we were in relation to that capacity. It seems that the dire predictions of the times did not come true, and the world population has now (May 2016) roughly doubled since 1970.HumanPopulationGraph

Estimates vary, but the current population is around 7.4 billion people, and many scientists think the earth’s carrying capacity is between 9 and 10 billion people. At the current rate of population increase (83M/yr) we will exceed 9 billion in 19 years; But the birthrate is thought to be declining, and taking that into account, it is predicted to happen in 22 years (2038). This is a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms and within the lifetime of many who are alive now.

Carrying capacity is an interesting concept, and seems to imply that the planet’s sole purpose for existence is to provide resources for humans. I think that there is another concept we would do well to develop: At what human population level could we live sustainably with the planet and it’s other life forms?  What is the Maximum Optimal Human Population (MOHP)? I will make the possibly outrageous assumption that MOHP is greater than zero.

How would we know that we have exceeded the earth’s MOHP and are heading toward the planets carrying capacity? I submit a partial list here based only on my own intuition and observations. It seems that all of these are at least partially true today:

  • Massive natural habitat destruction
  • Massive species extinction due to predation and habitat destruction
  • Dwindling natural resources (fish and animal populations)
  • Dwindling mineral resources (oil, metals, etc.)
  • Human societies waste products fouling the air, land and water

Within human societies as the paradigm of continuous growth falters I would expect to see:

  1. Increased Social Unrest
  2. Some parts of government preparing for further increases in social unrest through the militarization of police and other agencies.
  3. Instability of governments and social institutions
  4. An increase in public and private debt as we try to sustain the unsustainable.
  5. Instability of financial and currency markets
  6. A breakdown in the value systems supporting continuous growth
  7. A lack of opportunities for young people
  8. The young and disaffected search to find meaning outside societal norms with mixed results
  9. An increase in scapegoating especially in politics where each party blames the other and implies that all our problems would be solved if it weren’t for that other evil party and their misguided governance.
  10. Stress and anxiety within businesses, relationships and institutions resulting a quickening of change
  11. Wealthy people working to protect their own interests
  12. People turning inward toward their spiritual interests and their personal lives and friendships while ignoring the world as a whole.
  13. A general malaise within the population and an increase in depression rates.

I’m sure the above is an incomplete list, and I would welcome additional items especially from those with exposure outside of the United States who can give an international perspective. Do you think we have exceeded the MOHP and what do you think a good estimate is of the value?

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What is a conscious relationship?

A dear friend asked that question on facebook a few days ago. She created a private group and invited 80 or so people just to talk about this question. I was reluctant to respond, not because I had nothing to say, but because I had so much to say and it would take a lot of time and energy to say it. But the question still burned it’s way into me, so here I am with my long answer to this important question.ConsciousRelationship

In and around the area in which I live, Boulder Colorado, it seems everyone is trying to be a conscious person and engaging in (or looking for) conscious relationship. It’s become “a thing” in these parts. In that way, it has become a label, or even an attainment; something we all want. I can say that a conscious relationship is a relationship between two conscious people, but that is not very helpful and pushes all of the interesting aspects of the question into the definition of a conscious person.

I would like to start with looking at the nature of the mind, which has both conscious and unconscious elements. The superpower of the unconscious mind is that it can process vast amounts of information automatically. The automatic nature of this processing is both necessary and it’s downfall.

The superpower of the conscious mind is that it has the power of choice. It is limited in the amount of information it can process but that processing is not automatic; we can choose our engagement with that information. The unconscious mind presents the conscious mind with the information that it deems relevant based on it’s automatic processing, as well as presenting any information that the conscious mind asks for. So what are the kinds of information that our minds can be aware of?

I find it useful to categorize this information into two broad streams, each of which is further divided into two streams:

Somatic Stream

Physical: Sensory information

Emotional: Emotions and feelings, including the gut feelings/cellular wisdom that is perhaps transmitted via the parasympathetic and/or enteric nervous system.

Conceptual Stream:

Mental: Thoughts, idea’s and hypotheticals

Mythological: Beliefs and stories.

I would like to define a conscious person as someone who can be aware of and disidentify with any of this information. A conscious person will still have emotions, but when the emotion arises, they experience it without identifying with it. In the same way, a story may arise within the mind, but a conscious person does not identify with that story. The more conscious the people in relationship can be, the more conscious the relationship can be.

Within a conscious relationship, both people are capable of experiencing what arises somatically and conceptually, but since they don’t identify with what arises, they can exercise the conscious mind’s superpower and choose the engagement with what arises. If I saw my relationship partner talking in an intimate way with someone else, it might trigger a fear of abandonment and an associated story that I am not good enough. If I’m a conscious person, I can experience that somatic and conceptual arising without identifying with it, and thus choose my course of action in response to my present moment experience.

Both the somatic stream and conceptual stream can be handled at the conscious or unconscious level. What is most interesting to me is the way in which our conceptual models influence the automatic processing of information within the unconscious mind. For example, if I have a belief that eagles represent an omen in my life, then my unconscious mind will prioritize any sensory information about eagles to present to my conscious mind. In this way our conceptual models filter what information the conscious mind sees.

This is why I think it is not enough to be a conscious person; I think it’s helpful to use our conscious awareness to deconstruct unhelpful beliefs and replacing them with better beliefs. Sure, these new beliefs are not without their own peril, acting as they do to filter information from the conscious mind. All of our conceptual models are merely projections into the underlying non-conceptual reality and thus are not true in the absolute sense. However, the test of our conceptual models is not whether they are true or false, it is whether they are useful. Our unconscious minds operate on our conceptual models, so doing away with conceptual models is not possible if we want to function in anyway in life. When you operate a vehicle, you are utilizing conceptual models built up during your life; models you were not born with. There is too much information to process for our conscious minds to be able to manage all the aspects of operating a vehicle, or do pretty much anything else. As I type these words, my conscious mind doesn’t know which fingers to press to select the letters on the keyboard, yet my fingers (mostly) hit the right key. So we are in the beautiful and dangerous situation of needing to have conceptual models in order to function, while at the same time these conceptual models are by their very nature flawed.

It often happens in life that something happens that shatters our world view, thus doing great damage to the conceptual constructs we have been using to function. It’s no wonder this often creates an existential crisis that makes it difficult to function. The very models we have been using are in shambles, and we need to construct new and better models in order to move forward. These types of crisis are difficult but also represent a great opportunity for the expansion of consciousness.

No conversation about consciousness would be complete without looking at the shadow and how it gets formed. I will use myself as an example of this.

Growing up, there was a deficit in the quantity and quality of love and affection in my life. This led me to a belief that there was something wrong with me, that I did not deserve to be loved. My adult self knows that any lack in my childhood had very little to do with me and a lot to do with my parents and their own issues and stresses, but that doesn’t change the existence of the model within my mind. I’m not looking for any sympathy here; in my admittedly limited experience, 90% or more of the people I know seems to have some variation on the “I’m too this” or “I’m not enough that” theme, though most would not admit to it. And some of  the remaining of people seem to have the narcissistic belief that they deserved to be loved no matter how badly they behave. We are such an interesting species.

My belief that I was flawed in someway and not deserving love was part of my conceptual model. And I wanted to hide that I was so flawed, thinking that my flaws would prevent anyone from loving me. All of that thinking went into my shadow and I could not even let myself be aware of my belief in being flawed.

These type of shadow issues become really important in relationships and often drive people’s behavior. It’s not just the shadow dynamic is operating unconsciously but that it is actively engaged in blocking awareness of itself. If we want to be as conscious as possible in a relationship we need to do some shadow work and understand our own inner dynamic. Your task it not to seek for consciousness, but merely to seek and find all the barriers you have built against it (yes, I am riffing on the famous Helen Schucman quote).

This idea of the shadow has an ironic relationship for those of us who identify as conscious beings having conscious relationships. Once it becomes part of our identity, then there is a temptation to push away or deny anything which might indicate we are not fully conscious, thus driving it into the shadow, not a very conscious way of being.

So am I a conscious or unconscious being? If you are following along here, you might guess that my answer is yes. I have a mind, which has conscious and unconscious elements. I am always a combination of the conscious and unconscious elements. You can only be as intimate with another human being as you are first intimate with yourself. In order to be intimate with yourself, you need to be capable of being aware of the entire somatic stream of information as well as the entire conceptual stream of information, without identifying with those elements. None of us can be fully conscious of all this information all at once, nor it is desirable to try. We need the automatic processing of the unconscious in order to function. The very idea of “conscious person” or “conscious relationship” contains within it a flawed model of how our minds work. However it can still be a useful phrase if we know what we mean by it. For me this is all about our capacity to disidentify with the objects of our awareness.

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The Tragedy of Gender Roles

The older I get, the more aware I become of the pain and suffering caused by gender roles. They seem to cut both genders off from true power and the ability to experience the joy and beauty of life. When I was younger, I was too busy trying to live up to these expectations to question them. As I’ve gotten older, I just don’t have the energy to live in the box anymore – it’s my favorite thing about the aging process.the_birth_of_tragedy_by_mysticcharm

The males in our culture (and many other cultures) get socialized to be invulnerable. We are supposed to always know what to do, and never show weakness. The females in our culture are socialized to be “sugar and spice and everything nice”; to cheerily cater to the needs of others while ignoring their own needs. Men get to show anger. Women get to show vulnerability.

While it may seem like men have the better deal – after all, they can access their own power – the power they have access to is only shallow power (many women seem to know this about us). The deeper forms of power don’t come from us, they come through us. To allow this kind of power to come through requires that we surrender and become vulnerable to something greater, which men are prohibited from doing. As an inventor, artist and dancer, the most powerful expressions I’ve experienced have come from surrendering to something beyond myself.

Women have permission to be vulnerable, but not to express power, because power is not “nice”. However, because women can access vulnerability, many feel the deep power moving within, but feel prohibited from expressing it; like their spirit is in chains. Women have been given half the key to accessing deep power; while men have been given the other half. Women can feel it but don’t have permission to express it, men have permission to express it but can’t feel it.

The recognition of this deep power is encoded into our guts and into our bones; we know it when we see it; we write stories about it. To access this deep power requires that a person step out of their gender role, even if only temporarily.

Our ability to feel sadness and our ability to feel joy come from the same place inside: they arise from our ability to be moved by life. Men are not allowed to feel sadness because it’s seen as weakness; a weak man is no man at all, and ‘unworthy’ of love. Women are not allowed to feel sadness because it’s not nice; it’s seen as selfish and not feminine, and makes her ‘unworthy’ of love. But to avoid sadness requires that one shut down the ability to be moved by life, since that’s it’s source. We thus cut off our ability to experience the joy and beauty of life. Sadness and joy are two sides of the same coin.

The tragedy of these gender roles is that we are told we must comply in order to be loved by others. We all want to be loved, so we comply, and in complying, we cut ourselves off from the very things that people actually fall in love with. We don’t fall in love with cardboard gender role simulations, we fall in love with the living, breathing, vulnerable and powerful reality of our beloved’s deeper being. It’s time that humans of both genders team up to create a freer, more powerful, more joyful world.

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The Language of All Creatures

People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you said it. What you said was written in human language, while how you said it was written in the language of all creatures.

Part of the reason we love our pets is because they speak fluently the language of all creatures. They can sense someone who is out of balance or with ill intent, no matter what words they are speaking. We humans get more easily caught in the web of words.

The words we use don’t always match with what we are saying in the universal language, and not usually because we are trying to deceive. If we use positivity as a way to avoid our pain and disappointments, then what we are saying in the universal language is about our fear of facing these things.

We would do well to learn to listen and speak in the universal language. Call it the language of energy if you like, it’s the only language that the whole universe can hear. I trust what is said in the language of all creatures more than I trust the words spoken. It’s a mark of spiritual maturity when our human words and our energy are in harmony.

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We find that which we seek

The law of attraction seems to state that if you think the right thoughts, you will get the right results in your life. This seems the ultimate in hubris and would tend to make someone a control freak. Life is not under the control of our thoughts. Who among us controls the weather or the economy or even your spouse? If you can control these things, I have a few requests for you. How about ending genocide, rape and child abuse?

Our thoughts are powerful things, and have a huge impact on how we experience life; some people seem to do well in life and get the things they want, and others flounder. How can we explain this?

Life is so full of information that our conscious minds cannot process it all. We must filter it down to a manageable level, and we do that by deciding what needle to look for in the haystack of information; everything else we filter out. If we look for confirmation of our worst personal mythology, we will find it. If we look for the silver lining within the black clouds of our troubles, we will find it. You can look for the good in others, or you can look for the weaknesses, or you can see both. It’s all there.

Maybe the truth behind the law of attraction is the law of selective filtering. That doesn’t make this a weak or unimportant effect in our lives, it is very powerful. We will meet both blessed and wretched things, so find a way of being that allows you to live a fulfilled life whatever comes your way. If your philosophy requires only the blessed things for your happiness, you will be surely be unhappy.

Instead of trying to control all your thoughts in order to influence what manifests, examine instead how you interpret the things that happen to you. How do you see the meaning within the events? We can set our filters up to tune into many different frequencies, and each frequency will have it’s own effect.

“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts”. – Marcus Aurelius

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Yoga Is Not One Thing

Being a yoga teacher and with many friends involved with yoga as a practice, business, and philosophical system, I often encounter rants about the dumbing down of yoga within our culture. “This McYoga is not real yoga!” they seem to say. The implied message is that we should round up a posse and ride them out of town. While they make some good points and I admire their earnestness, I shudder to think that there would be some sort of yoga police running around enforcing a yogic orthodoxy. Whose orthodoxy should be enforced?

If there is one thing that has become clear in my yoga philosophy studies, it’s that yoga is not one thing. It is perhaps the longest running philosophical conversation on the planet, and spans thousands of years from at least the Vedic period into current times. Within it there is monotheism, dualism, pantheism, panentheism, and atheism, and perhaps other ism’s as well (Fanaticism? Narcissism? Perish the thought!). As I understand it, Buddhism was formed in part as a reaction to yogic thought, so one could argue that it’s part of the conversation as well.

Yet most of those I know, including most yoga teachers, seem to regard yoga as some type of monolith, like it’s one thing and we should all agree on what that one thing is. Any serious academic study will reveal that it is simply not the case.

Do we really need to decide between McYoga and the Yoga Police? If we choose either, we end the conversation. Now that yoga has become so popular in the western world, it behooves us to educate ourselves about the conversation so far, and then engage deeply with our own educated minds and experienced hearts to further the conversation. The first step in my view is to subvert the idea that yoga is one thing. It’s not, and if it ever is one thing, the conversation is over.

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Wild Things

We come out of the womb as Wild Things, with a diverse set of untamed energies, some of which are contradictory, and all of which are part of our life force. Through the socialization process, these energies get tamed, inhibited, or locked up, so that we can appear consistent in our presentation of self; i.e. so we can be an adult. This type of consistency shrivels our vitality, giving free reign to only a small fraction of our life force. Since life force is what animates the body, I think these socialized inhibitions might make us age faster than we otherwise would.

We spend the first part of our lives getting socialized to damp down the Wild Things, and then spend the rest of our lives wandering in the dark trying to find them again. Authentic spiritual practice can help us to find and reclaim them. If your practice is inhibiting your life force, it’s not really spiritual, even if it is religious.

The greatest spiritual practice for me has been dance. It bypasses the mind, and in the right environment, can allow all these suppressed facets of who I am to emerge and be reclaimed. Our essential nature is not one thing, it is many things: we are multifaceted beings. There is no need to be consistent, and no need to be entertaining, the only need is to be authentic to what is; to embrace our Wild Things. To be truly whole, we must embrace our contradictions.

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