While helping my 11-year old son study for a history test on the Stone Age and early human civilization, a few thoughts occured to me that I would like to share with you.
The framework of my thoughts began with the fact that the Stone Age ended and "history" began approximately 5000 years ago (3000 BC) when humans began recording things on papyrus, the early form of paper.
Communities and civilations had also formed because man had learned to create tools and agricultural techniques that enabled him to stop wandering for food. As a result, man's nomadic ways gave way to communities and civilizations as schools, governments and religions came into existence.
Wandering Ends, Wondering Begins
Now we exit the 6th grade history lesson and enter my philosophical observations. Most academians agree where advanced thought began and philosophy was born -- approximately 500 BC. It was this time, give or take 100 years, that the great ancients in the West--Socrates, Plato and Aristotle--and the great ancients in the East--Lau Tzu, Confucius and Siddhartha Gautama Buddha--formed the foundation of a new era of thought and consciousness extending to today. It was also during this time that significant portions of religious texts, including the old testamant of the Bible, were written.
My primary observation here is how this 5000-year span of time is divided into two striking segments: It took 2500 years, from 3000 BC to 500 BC, for mankind to stop wandering and to begin wondering: Instead of using most of their energy and time wandering the earth to find food, humans were wondering, "Where did I come from and why am I here?"
What Happens When Wondering Ends?
Now consider the next 2500-year period, from 500 BC to today. Knowledge and religion built upon the ancient philosophers and religious leaders of the previous 2500 years as thought and consciousness expanded dramatically. However, the tremendous advancement in 20th and 21st century technology has paradoxically enabled humans to stop wondering. It is rare today for any person to ask "Who am I?" or "What is the meaning of existence?" and if these questions are ever asked, the answers and implied meanings are already there.
All that is needed is to look at a newspaper, magazine, billboard, television, computer screen or hand-held device to find answers: "You have no identity until you buy these clothes, this car, this house and get this career; then you will be somebody! Oh, and the meaning of existence is to have more things tomorrow than you have today; and if you are not able to fulfill this dream, you may at least find the means of passing it along to your children. However, the world is so terrible now, your efforts to progress are probably not worth the time. So go on and buy some things and you'll feel better for a while."
In 5000 Years: Nomad to Nothing... What's Next?
What will the next 2500 years bring? If, as Plato once said, "Philosophy begins in wonder," one might logically conclude that philosophy ends when we stop wondering. Not only has man made for himself a world of convenient, time-saving luxuries, he has also created a world where it is possible to exist without thinking his own thoughts.
But all hope is not lost! Alas, we have 2500 years of wisdom upon which to draw from and to stand upon. We can learn lessons from the greatest teachers in the history of mankind; and from this timeless wisdom, we may awaken to our own meaning and purpose.
"You spent the first half of your life becoming somebody. Now you can work on becoming nobody, which is really somebody. For when you become nobody there is no tension, no pretense, no one trying to be anyone or anything. The natural state of the mind shines through unobstructed -- and the natural state of the mind is pure love." ~ Ram Dass
The overriding lesson here may be summarized best by noticing the paradox of modern technology: We can harness its power to find ourselves or we may be subjected to its power to lose ourselves. Begin taking steps toward authenticity now by turning down the noise of the outside world and by tuning into the inside world.
To use a technology term we all understand, it is time to de-program; we are all constructed from something; it is up to us as individuals to deconstruct. Most or all of our hopes and dreams have been planted in our minds by outside sources--family, friends, politicians, media messages, social conventions, and so on. The true and authentic Self is what remains once you have identified and removed what is not Self.
It seems as if mankind has been working for 2500 years to "be somebody." To progress forward and to evolve for the next 2500 years, I humbly submit to you, dear reader, that we all do our best now stop trying to be somebody and begin trying to "become nobody." All of this is not to say you must be something different than you are today. However, it does mean that once you recognize illusion for what it is, the illusion dissolves.
You are not made of things; your true identity is not your clothes, your car, your house, or your career. The real you is nothing, not something; you are empty, you are naked. Once you realize this, you are enabled to receive, you are free, because, as Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, "Only in that which has emptiness can a new thing take place."
"Not all those who wander are lost." ~ J.R.R. Tolkein
It seems we may have had a better grasp on ourselves as human beings and as individuals when we were wandering and wondering. It's time for us all to begin this wandering and wondering again.