Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | June 13, 2011

Wendy Brown-Báez Reviews Cosmosophia

Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth

reviewed by Wendy Brown-Báez

author of Ceremonies of the Spirit and transparencies of light

As a teacher and writer, I was particularly struck by this quote: “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” There was a time when we sat around the fire and told stories, stories we learned from our ancestors about where we came from, stories about the people in our village to explain their behavior, stories of great deeds to inspire or terrorize us, stories to explain the mysterious and inexplicable, stories that pointed to spiritual truths. Stories “speak directly to our sense of meaning” writes Theodore Richards, as well as create bonds between us.  “Humans make their world through the stories they tell,” Richards reminds us. He writes that in order to find meaning in these stories, we create myths: “A myth allows us to use our imagination to complete the story that observation began.” He goes on to say “Mythology does not merely explain or describe the cosmos, it invites us to participate in it.” He reports that in contemporary Western culture we are experiencing distance not only from story but from consciousness of our own inner wisdom, “In the absence of story told by the fire, the only voice we hear at night comes from the television, telling us that our lives are meaningless and will not improve unless we consume more and more.”

There is no doubt that human beings are in crisis. We are, as Theodore Richards explains in his book Cosmosophia, experiencing a humanitarian crisis, an ecological crisis, and the crisis of meaning. Richards invites us to participate in a process that will guide us through this crisis and awaken our potential, a process that had evolved from his years of spiritual training, his explorations in mystical traditions of diverse cultures, and his poetic capacity of employing metaphor to transform paradox into harmony.

Richards writes, “I begin this book with a study of the current crisis not to advocate a pessimistic view of the world—but to convey an understanding that the world is birthing something new, unexpected and beautiful at this moment. We are failing to fulfill the central role of the human being in the world—to find meaning in human terms…. Our choices now affect the very sustenance of life on the planet. We are witnessing, for the first time, the confluence of human history and cosmic history…I argue that the work that is required now is nothing short of a collective mystical experience…for all of humanity.”

Richards then goes on to defines this mysticism as the creative act of communion of our individual identity with our cosmic identity.

Eventually we each come to question why we are here, either through significant moments of transition such as birth/death or during moments of solitary contemplation when we discover that there has to be more than our senses tell us. Richards begins with the basic question, “What unique contribution of expression can the human give this Universe?” and continues with, “There are many answers …how we answer the question defines us, tells us who we are. No individual can create this myth alone; it is created collectively and dialogically through the communal process.”

In shamanic traditions, when a person experiences trauma or crisis, it is believed that the soul can be lost or left behind or flung away. Richards calls the collectively reimagining of the myth that will call back our souls Cosmosophia, from the Greek words Cosmos (order) and Sophia (wisdom). It refers to the wisdom that is inherent in our unfolding Universe. As ancient philosophical writings teach, wisdom comes from remembering our true nature. And part of that remembering is to remember our inherent unity. Cosmosophy, he explains, is a discipline and an approach to life that creates a worldview that connects us to each other. Through the four limbs, or understandings, of cosmosophy, it is possible to birth a new myth, a way for the community of individuals to come together to form a living culture and to participate in that culture as an awakened collective. The ethics of cosmosophia is compassion: instead of each individual acting in self-interest, compassion is a radical re-visioning of the self. “An expansion of one’s identity to the point where one sees the joys and sorrows of others as one’s own.”

I love Richard’s explanation of how this new myth will succeed. “The shape that a wisdom-based civilization would take depends on how we define wisdom. While many would say that wisdom is a trait unique to the human or given to the human and only the human by God, I would suggest that wisdom is an attribute of the cosmos. That is, wisdom is the inherent capacity of the Universe to create meaningful relationships. It is the wisdom of the cosmos that enables the stars to form through the coming together of particles; it is through wisdom that an ecosystem functions; and it is through wisdom that humanity can create meaning out of world through culture, language and the arts.”

Richards articulates how we have come to the mythic worldview we currently have and walks with us carefully through the mystical wisdom teachings of the major world religions. But what he invites us to do is to hope for and envision a myth that will deepen our understanding of the way the universe is intended to be our source of soulful joy and our inheritance of unlimited potentiality. There is no better time for this message to be heard.

Bio: Wendy Brown-Báez is a writer, teacher, performance poet and installation artist. Wendy has published poetry and prose in numerous literary journals, has published a full-length poetry collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, 2009) and a chapbook transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, 2011). She has performed her poetry from Chicago to Mexico in cafes, cabarets, schools, community centers and galleries. Wendy received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants to teach writing workshops for at risk youth and currently is the after school writing instructor at Face to Face Academy.


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