My nonfiction book The Alchemy of World and Soul is finally available at Amazon US and Amazon UK. It’s a essays, contemplations, and meditations on spirituality and global transformation in the 21st century. You can read more about it on the description page. It’s a project I’ve been working on for almost exactly 15 years.
From September 1999 to September 2000 I had the extraordinary good fortune to be paid to travel across most of the continental United States for a year as a tour manager of a corporate exhibit. As we traveled from city to city, I became increasingly interested in how America was changing and in what direction it was headed. It was impossible not to notice the ways that cities which were once quite different and unique had begun to resemble each other almost entirely. It wasn’t merely the fact that outlet malls were springing up everywhere, like weeds on what used to be fertile farmland, or that the suburbs were rapaciously expanding without constraint while the centers of long established towns were becoming ever more deserted. It was that America was becoming, in many ways, a homogeneous caricature of itself. The same ubiquitous coffee shop at every corner, across from the same office supply store, down the street from the same giant bookstore and cattycorner to the massive hardware depot. And everywhere one looked: cars, cars, cars. For a portion of the trip I was actually obsessed with figuring out how one could eliminate the need for cars, as they seemed to create as much distance between people and places as they were intended to eliminate.
The course of the journey eventually led me to contemplate the direction the rest of the world was embarked upon, as it seemed that much of the planet was is the process of attempting to emulate our “success.” It was appalling how impersonal, and in many ways inhuman, our living environments, and hence our lives, were becoming. I began to wonder how the rest of the world was being altered as we marched into the new millennium. How was the transformation of the world affecting and transforming us personally? How could our personal transformation affect the world at large? What sort of humans did we want to be, and how could we become them? What kind of world were we creating, socially, culturally and environmentally? What sort of world did we really want to create and how could we go about constructing it?
These questions were the starting point for a whole host of others and the beginning of an adventure to find the answers to them. While I had encountered the term globalization frequently in the popular press, I began to investigate its real meanings, and its impact on not only the United States, but upon all the nations and peoples of the Earth. Additionally, although my spiritual journey had only just begun, I proceeded to examine the impact of the individual spiritual path upon the world at large.
Eventually, the tour ended and the financial rewards provided me with the opportunity to take a year and a half sabbatical to research and write the book that would eventually become The Alchemy of World and Soul. I had no intention of writing a work of nonfiction when I left for the road, particularly not one about spirituality and globalization. But, much like falling in love, it was something I felt compelled to do, and which fortunately, I found immensely enjoyable. Like a relationship with a loved one, the creation of this work has forced me to grow in ways I had not anticipated. The writing process became an attempt to produce a guide to understanding the global civilization that is being created and the further reaches of human nature. The research brought me to subjects that I had long pondered as well as many that were entirely new. My growth as a person throughout this writing process was grounded in an exploration of how the many different aspects of the world were inextricably interconnected, specifically how the transformation of the outer world, or globalization, and the transformation of the inner world, or spirituality, are entwined.
Driving back and forth across the country for a year informed my ideas about where this nation is headed, and by extension the direction that the rest of humanity will take, but the ideas in The Alchemy of World and Soul are informed most concretely by three things that are bound up quite tightly with one another. The largest influence on my thinking has been the work of integral philosopher Ken Wilber. Reading his books A Brief History of Everything and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality radically altered the way I looked at the world around me and the way I thought of myself. I had always considered myself to be a spiritual person, in much the secular fashion that I imagine most modern people tend to do; vaguely and with no clear definition of what I meant. I became an agnostic early on in my youth, and even though my mother was the choir director of our small rural church at which I sang each Sunday in my off-key adolescent voice, I had no real faith in the words of the hymns, even if I did remain enchanted by the melodies. As I became a teenager I found myself unable to believe in any religion that proclaimed it had the answers when there were obviously so many others proclaiming the same thing. However, I never lost the sense that there was something special about the universe and our place in it. I remained open to the idea that while the world’s religions couldn’t all be right, they might not be all wrong. Wilber’s work helped me to describe spirituality in a concrete way and led to subsequent readings that guided me in putting this new understanding into practice. His writing introduced me to the teachings of the world’s wisdom traditions, those mystic philosophies that form the recurrent core of the various religions. It is here that the major faiths agree, in general, if not in exact detail. The notion that spirituality had been explored and examined closely by women and men from different times and places throughout history, and that they were all describing a direct realization of the Divine, ignited my own passion for spiritual pursuit. Eventually, the deepening of my spiritual quest would lead to me to becoming a Buddhist, (and much later to join an interfaith seminary and become ordained), but initially it forced me to examine the universe and myself in a new light.
This process of looking in a new way, with new depth, at all of life, is the second influence on The Alchemy of World and Soul. My ever-deepening spiritual practice was then augmented by the third influence on my writing; that of my own inherent nature as a generalist. The research prompted by these three influences led me from spirituality and religion to globalization and world economics. They took me from world government and environmental issues to complexity theory and the psychology of personal development. They lead me through Eastern and Western philosophy, from ethics to the nature of consciousness. They forced me to consider a vision of the future exploring computers, robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology. As the research progressed, I found that I was trying to examine, as completely as possible, the whole of existence from every available level of depth and meaning.
As my inquiries into these disparate subjects continued, I discovered I was writing something that was in many ways unique. Most investigations of the world dare only to explore one to two subjects from no more than one or two perspectives. I was attempting to create a book that would explore a minimum of fifteen different primary subjects from as many as four to eight layers of depth. Early on it became clear to me that only a fool would attempt such a feat, as it would inevitably run into the thousands of pages. Admitting my foolishness, not to mention my lack of time and resources, I struck a compromise. The Alchemy of World and Soul would stretch its reach as far as was feasible, encompassing this fuller vision I was striving for, but it would be constructed in a manner that would allow me to present my views in as short a form as possible. The central theme running throughout is that in order to direct humanity toward a more desirable future we need to transform not only the way we view the world, but also the way we live in it individually and collectively.
No single work could accomplish such broad reaching goals, and do so with the specificity that would be demanded, without becoming unreadable, if not impossible to lift. This is why the book is organized as a collage, as an attempt to lead the reader toward the ideas, issues, authors, and works that would provide a deeper appreciation for its propositions. This is not to say that The Alchemy of World and Soul does not present a coherent and in-depth exploration of its themes, simply that the reader should not expect to be able to read only these pages and have a full grasp of the subjects at hand. No one book can provide a complete understanding of our multifaceted world. The best that a work of this nature can hope to do is provide either a deeper examination of the interrelatedness of one aspect to the whole, or provide a clearer picture of that whole from many perspectives. The latter is the course I have chosen.
This book is a big gumbo stew that should be savored as much for the meal that it provides as for the indigestion it hopefully creates. I say hopefully because, I honestly believe that we require constant challenges to our way of seeing the world if we are to have any hope of learning how to view it in all its glorious depth and fullness. The Chrysalis Age is intended as a guide to creating such challenges, and promoting our own personal and spiritual transformation as well as the transformation of the world we live in. This can only be accomplished through effort, persistence, and patience. Every single one of us, every human on the face of the planet, needs to be plumbing the depths of their own soul, as well as the depths of the world around them. The various aspects of globalization, as well as the rapid development and spread of technologies more powerful than anything we have ever witnessed, demand the full participation of each of us in turning these energies toward the benefit of all humanity. Though this proposition seems fantastically improbable, I believe that it is eventually possible. However unlikely it appears given the current state of affairs around the globe, it is conceivable that each of us can transform the way we perceive the world, thus transforming the way we live in it. This cannot be accomplished swiftly and will require more hard work and diligence than we have ever applied to anything in the history of our species. Nevertheless, it will be a demanding labor with an end result more significant than any other endeavor we could pursue. It will result in the changing of our lives, and through our efforts, the lives of all generations to come.
This has been my guiding desire throughout the creation of this project. My heartfelt intention has been to help myself and everyone else change the way we see the world and ourselves so that we might actually transform both for the better. I believe it is possible for everyone in the world because I have witnessed this transformation slowly taking place within myself. It is a process that is still unfolding gradually and it is one that I suspect will never be fully complete. However, it has produced a radical alteration of the way I view the world within and without. The process of writing this book has constantly challenged me to look at the world and myself from new perspectives. In its essence it has helped me to see that these two worlds are really one. I can only hope that the readers of the book will be provoked into the same reaction, and that they in turn, like a human catalyst, will help to provoke this reaction in others. If we choose to, we can transform the world, just as we can transform ourselves, for the benefit of all.