Thoughtline  October 1999

Cooperation by Tom Carney


Going to the High Sierras each summer has become something of a ritual for my family. One of the things I like most about these jaunts is the experience of the sheer beauty of nature. There is something special about the high country in Yosemite. It is a land of dynamic juxtapositions, a combination of rock and water, of cliff and glade, of soft beauty and sheer grandeur—of a quiet that is so still that it is deafening. The atmosphere is charged with energy that one can actually hear. A new and completely different panoramic vista appears around every bend and tugs one’s attention from the inspection of a Mariposa lily or a group of pussy-paws or lupine or shooting stars. Beauty abounds on a scale that runs from tiny to sky size.

To wake up at one or two in the morning and to go outside and look up is a complete surprise, a wonder of indescribable proportion. When seen through eight to ten thousand less feet of atmosphere than one is usually looking through, and no light pollution at all, the night sky—the stars and the Milky Way—is literally shocking. In the daylight hours, enormous towering white clouds appear to be alive and intelligent as they follow mysterious, but somehow purposeful, paths across a sky so blue it is hard to believe.

When the clouds mass and block the sun, turning day to practically night, a whole other horizon-wide drama of epic proportions unfolds. Claps—explosions of thunder that shake the ground—and rain and hail and huge long brilliant bolts of lightning are the players. After fifteen minutes or an hour or two, holes open in the clouds and a new act of ethereal beauty of pastel light and color starts. For a conscious and observant person, the play only stops when one falls asleep. These are the things I see: symmetry, organization, harmony, cooperation—all parts of beauty. I get positively high, mystically high. I lose contact with the planet and flow into the whole thing, see it whole, see it one. So far, I have always managed to return and, after each adventure, I am able to see this stuff a little better.

The very first talk I gave at a Community Meditation Meeting, twenty-some years ago, was on cooperation. Cooperation is a very complex or abstract or distant concept. It is right out there, just beyond reach. The great illusion of separation is so strong, or still strong enough, so that, when I bring my mind to bear, it is still very hard to see through some of the paradox and contradiction I encounter when looking into this concept.

Recently, I revisited Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. It was instructive to become reacquainted with this seminal book. It helped me to realize what the screen or net of competition does to human vision. Let me quote a passage from Darwin. It is from The Origin of Species, Chapter III, "Struggle for Existence." This book was published in 1859.

The elder De Candolle and Lyell have largely and philosophically shown that all organic beings are exposed to severe competition. ... Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult—at least I have found it so—than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet, unless it be thoroughly ingrained in the mind, the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.
Charles Darwin
The Origin of Species
Chapter III, "Struggle for Existence"

From this viewpoint, there is battle, destruction and death on every hand. All natural processes of change and growth are seen in terms of war, conflict, destruction. Rather than simply being struck by lightning, a tree is killed in a perpetual war between the sky and the forest. Sheep grazing on grass are actually killing or destroying the life of the grass in a war the grass is waging with the sheep. The very rocks are at war with one another.

Life is, at best, a temporary condition that will be ended. The most that one can hope for, if one is lucky, is that the end will come with a minimum of pain and suffering.

One interesting point here is that Darwin is a relative latecomer to this view. This was the common perception of most natural, social and political scientists for centuries and, I suspect, before he did any of his research, Darwin had, like most people, accepted without thought or question the notion that competition was natural law, was the driving force of life. All he saw was what he looked for, or expected to find.

The notion that competition is the driving force of the life process has been put forward for a very, very long time. The vast majority of the presentations of both ancient and modern history, for example, are histories of mankind’s wars framed in the context of competition, in an A-versus-B context. Competition, we had come to believe, is the way things are. As Charles Darwin unquestioningly states, "All organic beings are exposed to severe competition."

Competition is natural. For literally centuries, virtually every stream of human-generated data repeats or symbolizes, or in some way is based on or emphasizes, this view. In the Western World, at least—and, from what I understand regarding its history and development, to a large but perhaps lesser extent the Eastern World also—human beings have been raised on competition. We have been taught to compete for everything we might have wanted or needed, from physical basics like food to psychological basics like self-esteem, recognition, love. Gender was not, is not, a factor in this teaching. Little girls are taught to compete just as thoroughly as little boys.

In his famous book, The Origin of Species, Darwin observes that the fact of competition must be "thoroughly ingrained in the mind" in order to just see the world the way it really is. In the case of human beings, this principle is not only at the core of our own minds, but it permeates our entire social structure from family and community existence through national and international existence. (Nations, including the United States, quite forthrightly construct their foreign policy on what they call self-interest.)

I think that the process of ingraining over the past several thousands of years has been so successful that the vast majority of people on the planet—including, unfortunately, ourselves—operate, live, act on the principle of competition without even being conscious of doing so.

Darwin was a great naturalist and scientist. The myriad of details that he piles up like mounds of sand to justify his conclusions in his several amazing and wonderful books are, in fact, facts.

When I went to the high country this year, I carried Darwin’s conclusion with me. I went with the specific purpose of collecting material for this talk. I made a minute inspection of meadow and mountain, of stream and lake, of flower and stone. I peered at everything I encountered with one point of focus. I was looking for the evidence of competition that Darwin and many others see everywhere.

In the prelude to this talk, I gave an overview of what I usually see when I look at nature, and what I saw this year, too. But this time, I specifically looked from the point of view that Darwin said we had to have "thoroughly ingrained in the mind." I saw everything he mentions … all of the facts of life as Life unfolds in nature.

I looked very carefully. I saw the boulder dividing the rushing stream. I looked carefully to see if the boulder was at war with the stream. When I looked at a field of half-open bright blue and deep green Brewer’s lupine laced with crimson and bright yellow crimson columbine and soft pink pussy-paws, I peered closely to see if the lupine was actually trying to strangle the pussy-paws and crimson columbine or whether the columbine and pussy-paws were in league in some way and infiltrating the lupine.

I carefully observed the Mariposa lily and noted that it grew in areas where there was less water and more sun, but that the lupine preferred the wetter, shaded areas of the glens. I pondered on the possibility that the sun was really trying to dry up the area so that the Mariposa lily could march triumphantly into the lupine turf.

I saw a largish worm, chrome yellow with broad Kelly green bands, or maybe it was Kelly green with broad chrome yellow bands. I wondered if that made a difference. It was lunching in a small field of purple and yellow shooting stars. A little later, I saw a family of grouse or quail, a mother and six or seven chicks. The mother was tearing up an old log and everyone was lunching on the insects that inhabited it. I sat down and tried to see these episodes as attacks by the worm and the bird kingdom on the flower and insect kingdoms. I wondered what the grouse would do if it had seen the Kelly green and yellow worm.

While I was pondering this, I recalled an annual drama that I had been witnessing in my own back yard for years. Every year, I watch the drama of the turtledoves, mockingbirds and crows play out on the roofs and in the trees of my immediate neighborhood. The crows do their level best to eat the eggs and nestlings of every and any other bird they can. This is a fact, and I must admit that something in me revolts at the crows. I have a definite emotional attitude toward them. I do not like them. They are bigger. They are like bullies, and they sound unlovely. It makes me sad and angry at the crows when I hear a mockingbird crying over the loss of a nestling. I think about getting rid of, of killing, the crows.

The mockingbirds are wonderful flyers, and they are perfectly marvelous musicians. As for the turtledoves, there is nothing more wonderful than to lie in bed on a gray, cool, June morning while listening to and pondering on their message. "We love you," is what I hear. This is one of my very favorite things. It makes me glad to be living in a body.

This drama of the mockingbirds and crows is an example of the paradox I mentioned. Where in this set of facts is cooperation?

At times, I can almost see this particular drama in terms of war, of competition, but it is because of my emotional attachment that I see it this way. Are the mockingbirds, turtledoves and crows really at war with one another, locked in a battle for survival? Are crows really ugly bad guys that rob other birds’ nests with malicious intent to destroy and murder?

I do not think so. I think, rather, that there are cycles and harmonies at play here that we are not seeing—not seeing, because we are not looking. Our view is through a concept that preconditions what we see. I am convinced that seeing natural life processes as forms of competition—as wars in which only the fittest survive—is wrong.

Furthermore, I think that this view prevents us from seeing what is truly going on. This "ingrained" view generates, or at least helps keep alive, the great illusion of separation and actually prevents us from seeing the REAL.

I am convinced that a person or a nation that looks out and sees as a normal and natural state of affairs a world at war—a battlefield on which there is a struggle for existence in which only the fittest survive—is in serious trouble. This is a person or a nation who sees itself in an impossible situation, pitted against every other person or nation he encounters in a war which he eventually realizes at some level, if he is at all intelligent, he cannot win. He cannot win because, sooner or later, someone or some new nation that is bigger, stronger, will come along and destroy him.

Consequently, those in power at any level in the human relationship structure tend toward rulership rather than leadership. They work to maintain the status quo and their own power, making sure that no new, more powerful idea or person comes along to supplant them. Thus does competition actually retard the evolutionary process.

It is a sad fact that most humans see reality in exactly these terms—in terms of competition. They make decisions on this basis.

The dictionary defines psychosis as a major mental disorder in which the personality is very seriously disorganized and contact with reality is usually impaired. This sounds extreme but, in my view, we have actually learned to see psychosis as normal. Is my desire to kill the crows to protect the mockingbirds rational?

One of the striking things in the quote from The Origin of Species that I cite above is Darwin’s comment about how he must constantly work on himself to keep the notion of competition "ingrained" in his mind in order to remember that what he is seeing out there is not the wonder of harmony and symmetry—which all of his natural intelligence and instinct is reporting to him—but a battlefield, a war zone in which species is pitted against species in a struggle for existence in which only the temporarily most fit will survive until they are replaced by the next group of more fit. Darwin actually had to override what his heart was telling him in order to buy into this perverted view of reality.

With such a vision of reality "ingrained" into the very fabric of human existence, the wonder is not that humanity has been constantly at war for the past thousands of known years of history; the wonder is that we have survived and grown at all.

My guess is that this competitive view of reality is the Great Illusion. It is generated by seeing form rather than life as real. When we look out on the material world from the point of view of the Soul or Spirit, we can see that forms are but the veils through which Life manifests. We know that change, evolution, development of consciousness, is constant and constantly requires new forms. We can begin to see that the world of material existence is not a battlefield upon which an unending and brutal war is raging, but a manifestation of an inner harmony and cooperative flow of spirit and matter which gives birth to countless forms from amoebas to galaxies, all of which are alive in the sense that they are in incarnation, and all of which are going to die or pass out of incarnation. But life never dies, mockingbird never dies, lupine never dies, you and I never die. All these forms, including the ones we presently inhabit, are but temporary houses for Life, for Soul. And we, the Soul, must move on "to a more stately mansion."

People who do not learn from the mistakes of history, it is said, are bound to repeat them. How true. So a close study of why "A" won or lost is undertaken to ensure victory next time. Very few people ever think that the mistake was not what we did or did not do, but the notion that "A" needed to compete with "B" in the first place.

If there is going to be a "New Age"—and there is—one of the very basic developments that must occur is that the principle of cooperation replace this psychosis-engendering concept we call competition. We must learn to see nature from a new perspective, from a life-based rather than a form-based point of view.

This will come about gradually, I think, as more and more people get in touch with their own source of life, the Soul. I think that cooperation is actually impossible without some sense of identity with the Soul. Competition is a normal result of the Great Illusion, of materialism, of form focus. Cooperation is only possible when people can see beyond the forms Life takes—to Life itself.

The concept, cooperation, is among the most misunderstood of all concepts. The word is thrown around a lot. What it usually means is that the one in power wants everyone under him to do everything just as he wants it done, no questions asked.

That will not do for a New Age. In the New Age, cooperation will become synonymous with two words that are special to disciples. Those words are sacrificial service.

Cooperation is the cornerstone of the arch of manifestation. At the very center of manifested existence, the concept of cooperation radiates like a brilliant star.

In closing, let me focus on Virgo. There is no better example of cooperation than the drama of mother and child, and Virgo is the quintessential symbol for cooperation. Her word is, "I am the mother and the child. I, God, I, matter am." (Esoteric Astrology, p.284.) Djwhal Khul tells us that, from certain angles, Virgo is the oldest sign of all. This is understandable because, without the cooperation of the Father and the Mother, there would be no manifested existence. "The keynote which embodies the truth as to the mission of Virgo most accurately is, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’" (Esoteric Astrology, p.252.)

Tom Carney