Eden: Trouble in Paradise


I was twenty-nine years old and had just experienced the most crushing defeat in my career as a street-theater media activist. While coalescing in bed for the next couple of weeks, I became overwhelmed by the dire situation looming over the entire globe. Mass hunger and poverty still ravaged the “third world” without any real global efforts to solve the problem. Constant wars, military domination, and regime rule plagued nations on all continents. Transnational corporations were infiltrating borders, extracting, polluting, and profiting, often without regard to the lands or the people they exploited. The poles were melting at an alarming rate, threatening to flood our heavily populated costal regions, pushing back swarms of people into already resource-strapped lands. Our life-giving rivers and oceans were heavily polluted with metals, toxic waste, and pesticide runoffs, while a half century of industrial fishing had wiped out over ninety percent of the world’s big fish population. Polar bears now had traces of Teflon in their bloodstreams, residents of Beijing were wearing gas masks to work and the Amazon Rainforest, “the lungs of our planet,” was getting wiped out at eighty to ninety thousand acres a day. With six billion of us consuming, polluting, and reproducing, the world’s ecosystems had plunged into serious distress with 30,000 species going extinct each year – that’s three species every hour. Our small blue ball was dying off and burning up in what was now being called “The Sixth Great Extinction.” [1]

How could this have happened? With all our computers and superconductors and information systems, you think we would’ve figured some of these problems out by now? What was the underlying impetus behind all of this devastation and suffering? It had to be bigger than any one person elected to office, perhaps even bigger than all the governments, militaries, and corporations combined. Maybe it was something more all-pervasive, yet very subtle, like a subconscious thought or belief system that ran our dysfunctional world? In a somewhat desperate attempt to stumble upon an answer, I began to trace the timeline of wars, bombings, slavery, slaughters, genocides, ethnic cleansings, pogroms – all the hardships and suffering of history. I found myself intuitively drawn to the various empires, and I traced these institutions of dominance and subjugation back and back until I finally landed at the most unexpected place of all – the very beginning. There it was, staring me straight in my disbelieving eyes – The Garden of Eden. “Could all our problems stem from this one event?” I wondered. “But this is just a fable, right? An old story?”

I began to rehash the myth. In the beginning, Adam was happy in the garden. He ran around eating fruit and living with the animals, but he got a little bored so out of him came a woman to help pass the time. God permits the new couple to eat from all the trees in the garden, except for one, the Tree of Knowledge, which to be honest, sounds a bit like a set-up. Eve goes on a hike and a wily serpent tempts her with a nice juicy apple, which she generously takes back to her man. They each partake in a few sumptuous bites, but the fruit kicks in like a smart pill, and they suddenly recognize themselves as naked for the first time, separate from nature and obviously from each other. They hide in the bushes but God finds out, and next thing you know, he exhibits some tough love by kicking them out of the garden forever. And that’s the end of the easy life. Adam and Eve now have to find their own apartment and get real jobs toiling in the fields to eek out a meager living.

My eyes widened re-reading these pages, as if I were seeing a deeper significance to this story for the first time. What if this wasn’t just a fairy tale to beguile church-goers, but a sort of code to help us understand where we came from and how we got to where we are today. I felt an intimate relationship with the authors of this tale, as if they had encoded the Bible’s opening passages for curiosity seekers just like me. I started thinking of myth as a knowledge system from which the ancients could impart wisdom, much like we use the limits and benefits of the scientific method to understand our world today.

It didn’t take me long to come across a basic conclusion that a number of scholars have conjectured about the Garden of Eden – that the story relates to two significant events in history. Before astrophysics, Hubble Telescopes, and Doppler radar, we explained the universe through storytelling. In the beginning, “darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” And then, wallah! From nothing came something and we have the first and greatest event in cosmic history – The Big Bang. Of course, in the tale we witness the creation of the stars, the moon, the sun, as well as the water, sky, and animals of Earth. And then God creates a very peculiar creature – the first human. But this one is different than what we know of today. This human was created in “the image of God” which seemed to be both “male and female,” a complete, energetically balanced human being. It wasn’t until later that a lonely Adam was created from dirt and then split into two separate beings – man and woman. From this, we get the duality of the universe, the feminine/masculine (yin/yang) poles or charges that keep currents of energy flowing across space and time. As the snake of wisdom (more on this later) descends down the Tree of Knowledge, the homo sapien component of the universe becomes self aware, recognizing a perspective of incompleteness, separateness, or “nakedness” in the material world

The serpent, a creature that sheds its own skin, has served as a symbol of transformation throughout global cultures, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that in this story, the snake is the instigator of a major shift in human consciousness. He challenges Eve to test out a fresh perspective on reality. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” he says. “You will not surely die… For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 2: 1-5). Upon eating the fruit, Eve and Adam’s eyes open to an entirely new insight on the world, an amazing and yet frightening one filled with separation and danger. Fear comes into existence and Adam admits to God, “I was afraid because I was naked so I hid.”

This new sense of consciousness is captured in a wonderful conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers in the video program, The Power of Myth:

Campbell: “The Garden of Eden is a metaphor for that innocence that is innocent of time, innocent of opposites, and that is the prime center out of which consciousness becomes aware of the changes.”

Moyers: “But if there is in the idea of Eden this innocence, what happens to it? Isn’t it shaken, dominated, and corrupted by fear?”

Campbell: “That’s it. There is a wonderful story of the deity of the Self that said, ‘I am.’ As soon as it said, ‘I am,’ it was afraid.”[2]

God helps out his two new creations by making them “garments of skin,” then says, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.”

But wait a minute. Who is he talking to when he says “one of us”? Are there more Gods out there? This is no small enigma. It’s a question brought up right in the very first book of the Bible. God seems to be referencing his colleagues. And perhaps more important than that, Adam and Eve, who were naïve creatures of the garden, can now perceive duality in the universe and are just one tree away from living forever and becoming “one of us.”

Could there really be a “tree of life” and what does it represent? Was this what Ponce de Le?n trekked across another hemisphere looking for, and was this something that could be found in external reality, if it actually existed? If this tree signified another change in perspective, what could that new vision possibly be? All I knew is this tree seemed extremely tough to access because after kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden, God left cherubim and a flaming sword behind to guard its powers.

Adam and Eve’s theft of divine knowledge reminded me of the famous Greek myth where Prometheus steals fire from the Gods and hands it over to humans. As punishment for this sneaky act, he is chained to a rock where his “regenerating liver is eaten daily by a vulture,” mimicking the same repetition of suffering we see in the Garden tale. I began to see Prometheus’ story as a mythological representation of the integration of fire into hunter-gatherer communities for cooking, sharpening weapons, and such. These societies were bringing a strange and heavenly power, which they must’ve witnessed in amazement during lightning storms, into their daily lives. Analyzing this myth brought me to another fairly common hypothesis about the Eden story – that it also represents what’s considered to be the most significant social and scientific development in all of human history – the first agricultural revolution and the beginnings of Western Civilization.

The Garden can be seen as symbolizing a tribal model of existence. Adam lives in leisurely harmony with the cycles of nature amongst the abundance of the “birds of the air” and “beasts of the field.” But after gaining new wisdom from the apple, God commands the following: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 2:17-19). Adam is no longer living in cooperation with the ebbs and flows of the natural world, but he now has to struggle to survive from the means of his own labor, eating “the plants of the field.” This all begins to make more sense when you look at the setting of this dramatic event. Genesis 2:13-14 names the four rivers of Eden – the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. The last two rivers place the Garden right in the middle of “The Fertile Crescent,” the birthplace of civilization in what we now called the Middle East.

The Agricultural Revolution that occurred around ten to twelve thousand years ago pioneered the Neolithic Age, which featured a major transition from tribal models of communal living and nomadic hunting to permanent settlements that allowed for higher populations and increased technological developments. Land ownership comes into play, creating greater and greater inequity within communities. This phenomenon happens almost immediately after the expulsion from the Garden. As the popular story goes, Adam and Eve have a couple kids in exile named Cain and Abel. In the brothers’ first scene, we find them toiling away with the new agricultural technologies of their time – Able with domesticated animals, Cain with crops. God can almost be seen as enacting the role of a landowner, taxing them with offerings. When Abel pleases God with a more honest return, Cain gets jealous and the rest, as they say, is Western history. Individualism and fierce competition within communities drives the new economic models while the simple act of planting seeds eventually leads to the development of city-states, then nations, empires, and even the multinational corporations you see today. As it turns out, scientists believe the agricultural revolution kick-started most of the extreme mass die-off of The Sixth Great Extinction. No wonder we called this single event “The Fall.” We were all living after original sin, the first separation from God and nature.

I studied the Garden of Eden story as if it were a seed in itself, a thought-system or operating platform that has sown discontent throughout civilization as it expanded across the planet. From this one traumatic point comes forth a deep sense of separation, abandonment, scarcity, guilt, and judgment that spreads out across the entire globe. After opening their eyes in the Garden, humans perceive themselves as alone, separate, competitive, and fearful, struggling to survive in this harsh world of natural and social selection. We consider ourselves guilty of sin, if only on a subconscious level, and live our lives according to laws that determine “right and wrong” for us. Binary thinking comes into play – male/female, us/them, nature/civilization. The Earth and its cycles are now separate from us and in our alienation we kill our own mother with the technology we fashion from her resources. The feminine is blamed and denied its power, setting forth thousands of years of patriarchy: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Time now runs on a masculine, linear scale as warring egoic power structures expand without much consideration to our fellow humans and our surrounding environment. And the individual is left to fend for itself, struggling in a separation consciousness that often falls into the trappings of hate, jealously, anger, disappointment, greed, and guilt as it hurries forward, running away from its own fears and inadequacies, still feeling “naked” in the world.

Had a destructive virus taken over the entire grid of our planetary mind? If so, my old mode of activists’ tactics would be useless at creating a dent in the problem. In fact, it seemed to be part of the problem. As wise old Einstein used to put it, “You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the problem.” What this required, I thought, was a full-scale Galileo-type paradigm shift. When that 16th century astronomer pointed out that the Earth rotates around the sun, it didn’t just change the way we looked at large objects floating in the sky, but every particle in our daily lives. The whole universe became relational, and for once, we weren’t the very center of it.

As a retired media activist, I honestly had no idea how to go about looking for a paradigm shift. I dabbled online, asked around, and kept my eyes open. I debated and discussed with my friends in the activist world but many of them thought I’d gone completely loco. “Garden of what?” “Abandoned by God?” “Scarcity models of thinking?” “Paradigm shift?” “Are you turning religious?” The last question always got to me. As a skeptical secular materialist, I didn’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of dogma or unexplained phenomena but there was a part of me that believed these old stories knew something that I didn’t.

I decided intuition was my biggest clue, so I followed my instinct more and more and it led me onto strange web portals and around obscure mythic corners and down mysterious historical alleyways until several months later, I ran smack into a dead-end brick wall. How naïve and fruitless this search had been. What was little old me thinking? Nobody ever goes around finding paradigm shifts?

That’s when the old Chinese curse, “may you get what you wish for,” happened to me. On my thirtieth birthday, some friends had lured me out to a dance party in a warehouse in Brooklyn. It was one of those urban tribal affairs with performers decked out with temporary henna tattoos and gypsy warrior clothes spinning blinkie poi balls in the air. One of my favorite djs, Bassnectar, was dropping some electrifying beats and everyone was swimming and swooning in its ecstatic pulse. I jumped into the sweating crowd and immediately loosened up with the silky grooves. I lost myself in the quick sultry rhythm, dancing away all my thoughts and concerns of the previous few months. Bassnectars’ long hair bounced with the cheers of the crowd and I moved, swayed and shook until I was one with all of them, forgetting everything in that one moment in time.

Then a thought suddenly formed in my mind. “I miss my first girlfriend. I wonder what she’s up to these days?” And at that exact moment, a woman came up to me, saying that I looked like her first boyfriend, that she missed him, and wanted to say hello to me. When she left, another thought snuck in, “Maybe I need to open up to my shaman side more?” I’m not sure where that came from or what my shaman side was but at that moment, Daniel Pinchbeck, a friend and author of Breaking Open the Head: Psychedelics and Contemporary Shamanism, came over to talk about his recent projects. When he left, I thought of another old friend, one I hadn’t seen in months. It wasn’t but a minute later that I felt a pat on my shoulder, and low and behold, it was him. Throughout the night, thoughts kept coming to me and then they would almost miraculously manifest minutes later. This continued to happen until I got a taxi home.

While lying in bed in the early hours, a strange thing happened. I was thinking over the bizarre coincidences of the night, when a high-energy presence, a sort of angelic feeling, drifted over to me. I was tired and groggy and shook it away, not thinking much about it. The presence hovered over me, gently covering me with soft warm energy. One thought suddenly entered my mind, “Oh, yes, you could see things that way too.”

I immediately sat up and tilted my head to the side. To my surprise, the whole room had shifted dramatically. Every object around me suddenly looked bizarre and foreign, as if it were part of an entirely different universe. Bright, glowing energy fields now flowed all around the room, radiating out of the light stand, the armoire, the work desk, the floor, the ceiling, and especially along my arms. The whole room looked nothing but miraculous – suddenly filled with beautiful flowing luminescent energy.

“What was the presence that came to me?” I wondered. “Who turned all these lights on?”

I held my hands up high to view a brilliant blue glow shining all around the surface. When I pressed my fingers together, then back apart, the iridescent energy between them pulled away like taffy. I then tried what my sister has now dubbed “the Wolverine” – putting the tips of my fingers together and then watching the bright glowing trails of white light linger in the air as I pulled them in opposite directions. I marveled at the luminous energy ball I could form and grow just by cupping my hands together. But the biggest surprise came when I got up and stumbled over to the mirror. All around my head and shoulders were wondrous blue-green layers of light, energetic fields of color flowing and shifting a couple feet away from my body, hovering like a beautiful ghost or specter. I suddenly realized that this perspective on reality had been there all along, but until now, I had somehow been entirely unaware of it. How could that be? What other secrets lay out there, just a hair beyond our normal periphery? Gazing at the ethereal lights glowing in the mirror, my eyes opened wide in complete disbelief and my whole body began to shake with a frightening mixture of awe and terror.

Had I bitten from a new apple? I was seeing the whole world naked for the first time.

 

Creative Commons Image: “Bob and Laura in the Garden of Eden” by greens n cornbread on Flickr.

[1] Niles Eldredge, “The Sixth Extinction,” ActionBioscience.org, http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html.

[2] Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, (New York, Anchor Books, 1991), 59.