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Awakening Individual And Social Intelligence

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Awakening Individual and Social Intelligence

It’s late morning, a typically hot summer morning inland in California. But a fine breeze blows through the brown hills, and it takes the edge off the heat, making the hike enjoyable.

Under a spotless sky, desiccated winter grasses shimmer a golden tan in the breeze. A careless match, or even a spark from an engine, could ignite a fire. I passed a charred area on the way in, which was obviously quickly extinguished.

A coyote left its scat on the trail in four places. The turds are as dry as the dirt around them. The message is clear: this is my home, not yours, human.

I climb up to within a hundred meters of the dark volcanic rock along the rim of the canyon, walking slowly. Again I feel the spirits of Native Americans who made this beautiful canyon their home for hundreds of years. The plentiful oaks provided a basic staple, though one requiring a great deal of effort of harvesting, pounding, and leeching to make them edible.

Descending from the trail back toward the gravel road, I clamber down a steep and narrow section between huge granite boulders. Below them, the faintest trickle of water flows by, keeping a patch of grass green for as long as it lasts during the rainless months. In the silence of the canyon, that single note of the trickle of water contains all the music of the world.

Sweating and hot, I end the walk at the stream. I quickly strip down and slide into the cool water, floating down on the gentle current, swimming back a number of times. The light reflects and refracts off the multi-colored rocks on the streambed.

True meditation is the most important thing, since without it the rapidly increasing darkness in human consciousness will suffocate even the strongest spirit. Quieting and emptying the mind is the source of peace and insight, as well as the fountainhead of our own uniqueness as individuals.

To my mind, the awakening of intelligence in human life has two dimensions, individual and social. On the primary, individual level, passive, self-knowing observation is the foundation of method-less meditation, in which the movement of thought and emotion stops with sufficient attention.

When the inner foundation in the individual is poured moment to moment through self-knowing, the social dimension can be accurately addressed. After all, we are social creatures. Besides continuously learning in relationship to others, we have to plan, organize, and build in innumerable ways with other people. Even contemplatives living in a monastery have to cooperate and organize their daily activities with their fellow contemplatives, in order to maintain the practical life of the monastery.

So if self-awareness is the basis of an intelligent individual life, what is the basic principle of an intelligent social order?

Has an intelligent social order ever existed? As far as I can tell through my studies of human history and prehistory, perhaps a few indigenous societies achieved a dynamic balance, but if any pockets of societal intelligence still exist, they are quickly being overwhelmed by the juggernaut of consumeristic globalization destroying the planet and all people. America is easy to blame these days because of its rapacious corporate globalization and ridiculous political policies. But it’s absurd to maintain, as the European Central Bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, said recently: “The U.S. is the U.S., the euro area is the euro area. We are in different universes, with different fundamentals.”

The ideal of social pluralism is as unworkable as the ideal of political multilateralism. Over-valuing and institutionalizing differences of language, culture, religion, ethnicity, and nationality only produce greater fragmentation and hinder actual cooperation between people.

Cooperative space is not a given; it must be created. Just as space within the individual for awakening meditation has to be diligently opened every day by taking time alone to observe oneself, so too the space for intelligent social activity has to be attentively created.

For shared insight to occur, differences of language, background, religion, nationhood, etc. must be held in abeyance, with the intent of questioning together. A keen awareness of one’s beliefs, opinions, and attitudes allows one to hold them lightly, and thereby, explore continuously with others of different perspectives. (That does not mean that hard-won insights of reflective people have the same value as the conditioned views of intransigent persons on the Right or the Left.)

If the meaning of being human is to be conditioned, whereas a human being is an unconditioned person, then the human race is in a transitional stage between humans and human beings. Since all people are more or less conditioned, that will always imply a direction, not a division.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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