But it’s nothing like the end of the world visualized by any of the usual suspects. It’s different in four ways.
1. THE APOCALYPSE IS HAPPENING IN SLOW MOTION.
It has been going on for decades and will continue to unfold for many years. Sudden, sensational punctuations arise now and then to expedite it, but for the most part it ferments continuously in the background. Most days bring no emergency that is beyond our capacity to bear, but the cumulative effects of the transfigurations that relentlessly weave themselves into our lives have turned every one of us into heroes whose courageous endurance dwarfs the valor of legends like Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Arthur, and Joan of Arc.
2. THE APOCALYPSE IS FOR THE MOST PART INVISIBLE.
Here’s the most extreme evidence: Few of us have registered the fact that we’re in the midst of the largest mass extinction of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs. This is the conclusion of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, a professional society of 5,000 scientists. Think of it: About 40 animal and plant species are dying off every day–a rate unmatched in 65 million years. Shouldn’t this be a recurring headline on the front page of every major newspaper?
But the work-in-progress that is the apocalypse is not always cloaked. Now and then a riveting event transfixes our collective emotions, driving millions of us deep into a visceral encounter with the ongoing collapse. For a brief interlude, the covert, slow-motion upheaval explodes into plain view. In recent years, no event has done that more dramatically, at least for Americans, than the mass murder on September 11, 2001.
3. THE APOCALYPSE IS AS MUCH ABOUT REBIRTH AS BREAKDOWN.
The English word “apocalypse” is derived from the Greek word for “revelation.” In the esoteric spiritual traditions of the West, “apocalypse” has also come to denote a great awakening.
The apocalypse we’re living through can be described by all three meanings of the word: as the end of the world, a revelation, and an awakening. Disintegration and renewal are happening side by side; calamity and fertility; rot and splendor; grievous losses and surges of invigorating novelty. Yes, the death of the old order is proceeding apace; but it’s overlapped by the birth pangs of an as-yet unimaginable new civilization.
The devastation and regeneration often have no apparent link. But in the case of 9-11, they seemed to be meshed. I received many e-mails from people testifying about how the terrorist assault was a weird kind of gift. In the aftermath, their petty worries evaporated and they stopped wasting time on low-priority, dead-end desires. Roused by an electrifying clarity of purpose, they began to live the life they’d previously only fantasized they wanted. And they had direct perceptions–gut-level, intuitive gnosis–that We Are All One.
It’s as if millions of people had a simultaneous Near Death Experience and harvested the epiphanies that typically come to those who have peered over to the other side of the veil.
Here’s another example of catastrophe and regeneration arising from a single set of events, suggested by Caroline Myss in her book Energy Anatomy. China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet in the 1950s resulted in the exile of the Dalai Lama, which ultimately brought that great soul’s influence, along with his elegant brand of Buddhism, to the entire world with a breadth and depth that would never have happened otherwise.
4. MOST OF THE TIME WE EXPERIENCE APOCALYPSE NOT THROUGH BIG, BAD EVENTS LIKE THE SEPTEMBER 11 MASSACRES, BUT THROUGH THE DETAILS OF OUR PERSONAL LIVES.
The sweeping but gradual revolution, the agonizing decay of the old order and breathtaking bloom of the new, are framed in the storylines of your most intimate dramas. Again and again over the years, you’re pushed to a brink that challenges you to either rise to the occasion or else surrender to demoralizing chaos. The crises may come in the form of divorce or illness or job loss, or even in less dramatic events like a misunderstanding with a friend or the inexplicable waning of a once-passionate dream.
Seeded inside each of these personal turning points is the crux of the evolving global apocalypse: You get to choose whether you’ll adjust by taking a path that keeps you aligned with the values of the dying world or else a path that helps you resonate with what’s being born. In effect, you get the chance to vote, with your entire life, for which aspect of the apocalypse you want to predominate.
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The apocalypse is being brought to you by the time you dreamed you signed the Declaration of Independence with your non-dominant hand as you ate fresh Peruvian figs flown to you on the backs of albatrosses.