May 23, 2024

Inner Peace: The essential challenge of our times

one planet Inner Peace
One planet, one people, one family, by Sally McKirgan.
May 18, 2022

The global crisis is an outer reflection of the challenge, paradox and mystery of the human condition

By Edward Hirsch

The current crisis does not seem to be just another crisis but something like a meta-crisis, and it calls for a response on that level — that is, like a meta-philosophy rather than just another philosophical or spiritual position or political or economic policy. The global crisis is an outer reflection of the challenge, paradox, and mystery of the human condition itself, and attending to the latter is meant to go to the root of the matter, the radical foundation in consciousness. If it is to be more than just philosophical, or just a spiritual realization that comes by “grace,” it needs to be grounded in spiritual practice. The essential response must meet our times, and yet if it is to be foundational and essential, it must be for all time, beyond time, or again, it must meet the timeless foundations of this very moment and every moment.

It is in the mystery — of existence itself, and especially in terms of the human condition, which is the form in which we know of this mystery — that we must meet the challenge of our times and the human condition. It is the embracing of the paradox of transcendence and immanence, which has been called “in but not of.” Not a fixed position (“in”), but also not an avoidance of positions (“not of”). We can recognize the problem of such an embrace that is inherent in a consciousness that is too limited. For example, if we hold to transcendence in reaction to immanence, we will be wary of opening to the latter for fear of getting caught, limited, stuck. And if we hold to immanence in reaction to transcendence, we will be wary of opening to the latter for fear of disorientation, the loss of all our values, meanings, etc.

We need to embrace the mystery, both in consciousness itself and in the courage called for in the midst of living a human life. Failure to embrace that mystery consciously will give rise to extremes. For example, the extreme of nihilism embraces transcendence in a lower octave, simply surrendering, not caring, releasing all honoring of responsibility and finitude. And the extreme of fundamentalism embraces immanence in a lower octave, which expresses caring, concern, responsibility, seriousness, righteousness, in a rigid way of adherence to rules and doctrines. We need a larger understanding, a greater consciousness, if we are not to fall into these extremes. And these extremes are not just found in extreme forms that we can easily marginalize. For example, we can be nihilistic in small ways of not caring, not paying attention, and we can be fundamentalist in our rigid adherence to the mainstream, collective mind-set of consensus reality.

In relation to the mystery, we can embrace it in a nihilistic way in which we surrender rationality and common sense and lose ourselves in a sense of awe, wonder, and unknowing. And we can react to mystery in a rigid rationalistic way that mirrors an extreme of scientism, or we can react in a rigid non-rational way that mirrors an extreme of religiosity that enforces dogmas that cannot be questioned.

We need to transcend rationality as well as include it. Do we need to be enlightened or have some decisive transcendent experience or revelation before we can open to that? In a more transcendent sense, perhaps that is needed, but in a more immanent sense, it is the obvious and evident truth of the human condition, the common sense that perhaps is not so common. We could say that everyone knows it, deep down; it is just that they don’t pay attention to it.

In a similar way, everyone knows about beingness; it is just that it is so obvious that people either are completely oblivious to it, or when they attend to it, it tends to be a merely abstract idea. Spiritual practice is a way of trying to duplicate what is given by grace, which is unearned because it is already our deepest nature. Spiritual practice can’t cause what is already, but it might create conditions where the Open Secret becomes evident.

Ed Hirsch facilitates small weekly gatherings in presence, making use of an embodied system of guided practices. Email him at Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (

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Bert Etling

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