A Q&A with Craig Hamilton
Question: “You often say that we need to evolve ourselves to address the problems facing our world. But isn’t this preaching to the choir? It seems like the people who need to evolve most are those who are enslaving others and creating atrocities. And they would never be interested in this work. Are you saying that if we evolve ourselves it will help those others to evolve?”
It’s a good question, and my answer is both yes and no. It’s “no” in the sense that I’m not suggesting that if you, as an individual, evolve your consciousness and bring an end to the ignorance, ego, and conditioning in yourself then somehow all the tyrants of the world will suddenly feel a wave of love and stop being tyrants. I’m not saying that.
But what I am saying is that humanity, as a species, needs to evolve. From one perspective, all the crises of the human condition are, in a deeper sense, the result of our lack of evolution. Everything that’s wrong with the world comes from our primitive human nature and the fact that we haven’t collectively evolved beyond it yet.
We could just keep trying to fix all the world’s problems from our current level of consciousness. And that’s a good thing to do. We want to try to fix as many problems as we can, as quickly as we can. We always need to be addressing the practical needs of our moment.
But maybe there’s something else required here, too. Maybe some of us actually need to be willing to be the pioneers who are willing to evolve into an utterly different kind of human being. I don’t mean we’re going to look different. I’m not talking about further biological evolution. I think that the name of the evolution game now is the evolution of consciousness and culture. It’s the evolution of human nature.
What do I mean by “human nature”? There’s a kind of fundamental attachment to security, safety, and certainty that drives so much of human behavior. In a sense, when we’re talking about the ego, we’re talking about the fundamental need to feel safe and secure. It’s a need to know what’s going to happen next and have a sense of certainty in the face of all of the overwhelming complexity and challenges of life.
The ego is trying to create an unrealistic sense of security in an insecure world. This leads to a lot of distortion and much of our self-centered behavior.
The point is that we’re not very evolved yet. And when I say “we,” I mean pretty much the whole human race. Even the handful of people who are really enlightened and evolved, are still in a process of evolution.
I’m not talking about getting to some idealized finalstate of perfection. I’m talking about getting over our resistance to being part of an unfolding evolutionary process. This means getting over our need for stasis,security and certainty. This includes waking up out of our rigid sense of self, which defends itself from any information that would challenge it.
There’s a whole matrix of maladaptive behaviors that human beings are playing out. And I’m not talking about those unevolved people over there. I’m talking about us. I’m not saying there are good people and bad people in the world. I’m saying the human race, as a whole, is not very evolved yet.
The human condition is still rooted in all kinds of deeply primitive programming that is not suited for the world we’re living in, nor is it suited for the world we want to create. So a big part of evolving the world is this deep interior work of evolving ourselves.
This means that as an individual, I need to be willing to face, in excruciating detail, the ways that I’m still participating in the same inner patterns that are causing all the problems in the world.
It’s easy for any of us to look out at the world around us and point out thousands of cruel, oppressive and violent injustices that are happening every day. What I’m suggesting is that each of us needs to also look deep into our own psyches and look honestly at our own behavior to see the ways in which we are driven by the very same unevolved impulses that are at the root of human cruelty and oppression. In what ways are we living from the same sense of scarcity, fear and selfishness that drives people to oppress and harm others in order to get more for themselves? living from a sense of scarcity and fear of not having enough which then drives people to oppress one another in order to get more for themselves?
This is something that most people have a very hard time facing, because the fact that we are participating in the same dynamics that lead to oppression and cruelty means that we can’t be totally sure what we would do if push came to shove.
When human beings come under extreme pressure from circumstances, they will regress to much lower levels of development than they’re able to maintain when things are going well. Social psychology experiments have shown that if you put ordinary, decent people into high-pressure, difficult circumstances, even they will do atrocious things to one another.
You’ve probably heard about the Milgram experiments where people were asked to perform electric shocks on each other to test their obedience. Most people followed through, even to the point where it seemed like the other person was about to die. And they were doing it just because somebody in a lab coat told them to.
Then you have the Stanford Prison Experiment where they put ordinary people in a mock prison and assigned some to be guards and others to be inmates. When pressure was applied, the guards started acting awful and tyrannical and even beating the inmates.
History also gives us repeated examples of how ordinary people participated in all the great atrocities and genocides of the last century. Those weren’t just a bunch of bad people who got together and did bad things. They enrolled the support of all the normal people. All the ordinary, average, upstanding citizens rallied and joined in the blood fest. How could that happen?
I hope that none of us will ever experience situations like these and none of us probably will. But my point is that the only way you can know for sure that you would not participate in something like that is to go down to the deepest level of these dynamics in yourself and cut out the very roots of those behaviors. That means have you come to a relationship to life where you’re not actually motivated by fear. I’m not talking about healthy fear like running away from a charging tiger. I mean never falling prey to irrational fear.
I’ll give you an exercise, and anybody who’s moved by this question can engage this on your own:
Look out at the world and identify a handful of the most despicable, atrocious things that human beings do to one another in this world. Then drill down a level and ask: what motivates them to do that? What are the patterns of thought? What are the emotional patterns? What motives are arising in them and driving that behavior?
Then ask yourself, “Where in my own life do I respond to those kinds of motives? Where in my own life am I still participating in that same inner dynamic? Even if I’m not doing anything you would say is bad or awful or evil? To what degree am I still in the sway of that same conditioned habit pattern of humanity?”
Maybe you look at one example and realize that it’s rooted in a certain kind of selfishness. It’s putting self before others. That’s really what’s driving that awful thing those people are doing—greed or selfishness. You can then ask, “Where in my life have I ever put my needs before someone else’s? When have I put myself first at the expense of others?”
When you start to map out these dynamics, you start to realize, “Oh, the whole human condition exists in me. I’m not separate from the people whom I’ve deemed bad, the ones who are causing all the problems. I’m part of the problem. Sure, I’m not the worst part of the problem. But I’m still part of that whole dynamic. I’m still an unevolved human being who reacts to things in ways that are irrational, inappropriate, unhelpful, and anti-evolutionary. It’s all going on right here.”
From this perspective we can see that if we want to evolve the world, that means we can do it through evolving ourselves. We can start right where we are. We can consciously work to open up to the awakened, deeper dimensions of ourselves and learn how to face into and then leave behind other parts of ourselves that are really no longer useful.
In doing this, we end up becoming more evolved human beings who truly are driven by a completely different set of motivations. We’re no longer under the sway of that old momentum that’s been moving in us since the beginning of time. That momentum comes to an end and a new momentum begins.
We can never take for granted where we are on that path. There’s nobody who gets to say, “Oh, I’m not included in that. I’m already enlightened enough. That’s not me.” We all have to live with humility in the face of our human condition and then do our work to gradually evolve into something else.