During the past 24 hours or so, I have been surrendered to the atmosphere created by Charles Eisenstein, who visited Bloomington for two events, a larger public event at the public library yesterday, and one in a seminar room at IU this morning. I first encountered this man, via a little video of him, “The Revolution Is Love,” filmed at the New York City Occupy encampment in 2011, during those first heady days, and was stunned by his combination of common sense and uncanny capacity to press the pulse of the throbbing heart of these times.
Ever since then, I’ve reposted articles from him whenever they feel appropriate, and even experimented with the gift economy via a neighborhood Gift Circle, thanks to what he calls in his latest book “Sacred Economics.”
Here’s his latest common-sense:
Charles Eisenstein: “On a planet where the ecological basis of life is unraveling, and we are still bombing each other? That is insane. It is time to grow up.”
So, I was obviously very happy to be able to listen to Charles Eisenstein and to meet him in person, and find it uncanny that he visited Bloomington only one week after Guy McPherson did. Though both are big system thinkers, and aware that the end of an age is upon us, McPherson’s scientific predictions about near-term extinction are literally worlds apart from Eisenstein’s more optimistic, teleological view of humanity as entering a time of reunion, after thousands of years of separation.
Seeing and feeling Eisenstein in person was a revelation. As a writer, his work is eloquent, integrated, detailed, and incorporates vast sweeps of history, often in a single paragraph. Yet, as a thinker, “on stage” at the library, his talk was halting, with many stops and starts, and finally, after 20 minutes, he just gave up, and said he needed to try something else, that for some reason he was unable to speak in a flowing manner, that he saw many “dead-looking” faces, and so he knew he needed to stop.
Let me say that I very much admired him for this, for noticing what was going on inside him and outside him, for actually paying attention to it, and shifting gears as a result. Very unusual.
The talk was supposed to last two hours, and while parts of it, even when he started up again, this time in response to people’s questions, were coherent and interesting, the entire two hour period felt sort of flat, as if the energy field that would have allowed him to flow and us to receive, and all of us to be enlivened by the exchange, never quite coalesced. He wondered if the difficulty had to do with the different kinds of people gathered there. And I think it did. We came with differing expectations. I recognized some people from the local Occupy camp; I imagine a few were professors, or students, and a few others were, like me, radicals living on the edge and experimenting with regeneration of different kinds. Or as Charles labeled us, only half joking, some are “old hippies,” some “cynical anarchists,” some “spiritual yoga types,” etc. Probably all of the above.
In any case, some in the audience of these very different kinds of people, about 30-49 altogether, started to trickle out after the first 45 minutes or so, and I have a feeling that even those who remained stayed in part because it would be impolite not to, and besides, we all knew that we were there for a reason; that something inexpressible in us, some unmet need, is being activated by the acceleratingly volatile events of these times. Those of us who knew his work before we arrived, realized that Charles Eisenstein is one of the few public intellectuals whose work is not just brilliant, deeply researched and original, but that it exhibits a heart-felt response to that unmet human need.
The potluck afterwards was convivial and fun.
This morning’s event felt very different. This time about a dozen people, and all of us already “in the field,” harmonized, despite our differences. We had survived the first session at the library despite its incongruities; so we were deeply ready for the morning session. And though Charles’s speech was still halting, and slow, as if there were times when he was rethinking the way he would compose his next sentence right then and there, this time we were all riveted to his unusual way of looking at his subject, which was mostly, economics, the usual economics, sacred economics, and the evolution of the notion of the “commons.” And his talk was deeply informative, not in the manner of me being able to tick off points now, but in the manner of having now immersed myself more deeply in the subject of economics as the transactional activity of humans, how it presently works, I see possible avenues towards both enhancing and increasing the commons as well as “fixing” even the money economy so that currency will flow rather than get stuck, and of course, flow more equitably.
I especially appreciate the way Charles looks at a subject by — and I use his term — “excavating” the assumptions we use to think about it. That reminds me of myself, especially during the days in the early ’70s when, for my Ph.D. dissertation I embarked upon the uncharted seas of I what I called then “investigating my own assumptions,” and ended up leaving the entire mind-set of the western world behind. And then, of course, to recover my “sanity,” (which is, after all, in essence, a set of mutually held unconscious assumptions) I had to return to the fold, somehow; had to, as Plato said, re-enter the cave after having seen the light of the sun. I’ve been attempting to show people still looking at shadows on the walls the way out of the cave ever since. Not so much because I want to enlighten them, as because I want company!
Charles Eisenstein, and those who attended especially the seminar this morning, qualify as “company.” I felt good, connected, deeply ensconced in our common longing for a new way of living on earth, as I biked home afterwards.