Culture and Human Capacities

Part of my work has been to study, collect, and apply a portion of the inventory of human capacities as they have developed around the world under different environmental and social conditions. How Africans walk and think and celebrate spirit, how the Chinese teach and study and paint, how Inuit people experience vivid three dimensional inner imagery, how the Balinese learn to perform any manner of artistic endeavor so rapidly and with such high craft, how a tribe along the Amazon raises happy and non-neurotic children, why certain children in India raised amidst traditional music develop extraordinary skill in mathematics–these are capacities no longer limited to place and culture. In this new world of hybrid vigor, all these potentials once nurtured in separate societies are now available to the entire family of humankind.

In this time of much change and the compounding of complexity, we need to use capacities that we never knew we had–or ones rarely used or even lost, perhaps, since childhood or the childhood of the race. We might refer to these capacities as evolutionary accelerators. They serve to propel us from beneath the surface crust of sleepy consciousness and our own human nature and biology. They serve, too, to help us get beyond the shuttering of our local cultural trance so as to have the courage and capacity to nurture the forms of the possible human and the possible society. For there is no question but that we are patterned and coded with potentials few of which we ever learn to use. It is as if we had in our body and mind a vast orchestral range of a million keys, and we have learned to play but a small fraction. The journey to discover what these missing keys are and how they can be used is what my life is all about.

I have tried to bring this model to schools throughout the world with varying success. In Asian countries which were once part of the Raj, one must first lift the prison gates of nineteenth- century British education (which the Brits themselves have long abandoned). I have tried to convince both teachers and government administrators that the old medium is no longer adequate to the new messages beaming at us from the world and time. Now, in the new millennium, we can no longer be educated for the year 1926 or earlier. Yes, we must continue to learn to read and write and cipher, but we also need to embrace an education for liberating the ability to imagine, to dream, and to expand the limits of the possible. We require education at its edges, education that guides us through the munificence of our capacities and inspires us to become stewards of this most critical time in human history. My life has been a search for the education that would nurture this goal and make it happen. And the places where I learn the most about how to do this is in other cultures.

In studying culture, I discover that yes there are basic things you must look at for it is culture that probably defines our humanness, that defines who and what we are and what we care for. It is culture that mediates the cosmos to the community, that mediates the cosmos to the brain, to the soul, to the very depths of who and what we are. Culture–that is, art, religion, poetry, dance, cooking, education, myth, spirituality, games, styles of dress, rituals of passage, sexual preferences, rituals of passage, science, play, courtship, sports, music, language, ways of defining work, storytelling, gesture (as well as inner gesture), and recreation. It is all of these that mediate the great patterns of archetypal evolutionary charge to the human social grid of reality. Cultures are the organs and enzymes of the body of society.

Where there is a culture there is always an open moment, there is always the availability of ourselves to be coded and gifted from the Deep World. How often have you listened to a piece of music, done a dance, stood in awe before a sculpture, and felt the Deep World available to you? Without the grid of culture in society we would have no availability to the Depths, or very little. Where culture is trivialized or leveled, then little can come through unless we go beyond culture into absolute silence and deep listening to the cosmic culture and its music and messages.