Personal Alchemy: The Power of Individuals Over Institutions

SkyscrapersEthan ‘Indigo’ Smith, Contributor
Waking Times

I recently left the steadiness of California to embark on a continental book tour. I, like any writer I suppose, have untapped reservoirs of hope rooted in the conviction that I can change the world, so I left the mountains, my friends – everything I’ve known for many years – in a van packed with only the most basic sustenance – food, books and a sweet but demanding canine.

Traveling across the country offers a unique observation point into society’s wells and ills. And from this new liberating perspective, as an outside observer, it soon became apparent that we have essentially become a culture based on ideals and practices of separation.

No matter where I go, I first see the gold in everyone. I acknowledge and greet the people I see and I have met some of the most beautiful people just by being open in this way. But what astonishes me is how frequently I have reached out to people with two and even three simple, friendly greetings — only to be ignored. It is as if these people are afraid to engage, going to extreme lengths – even denying my very existence – to retain their sense of separation.

Living for the City

Part of my reason for taking off on the road was to personally communicate with individuals; to engage with people about my books on a tertiary level, but more importantly, to share ideas about human consciousness and the environmental degradation of nuclear experimentation (two interrelated topics I have written about extensively).

  • One of the things that stuck me from this new outside perspective, however, is that as a culture, we have collectively sacrificed our sense of personal connection in favor of the perceived structural ‘security’ of spiritually-disconnected collectivism. We are, in essence, living for the city.

    Postmodern cities are as a whole anti-natural constructs; the metaphorical “concrete jungle”. They are designed to protect our shells from being penetrated by communication; to create a culture of comfort that runs like machinery, with or without our personal input, and allows people to exist without ever needing to truly interact or connect with another human being. Increasingly the larger markets offer only self-checkouts – a talking computer – so we don’t have to communicate with anyone or happen to exchange any energy or ideas. In a mindset ruled by ‘economy of scale’, human interaction is not considered an economically viable part of our social existence. Rather, we adhere to an institutionalized schedule so as not to be interrupted with human contact or new ideas that might actually make us think.

    Even the parks are as close to paved-over as one can get, the manicured lawns offering little natural integration and few spaces for people to come together – only space to be separate. Common leash laws not only prevent dogs from becoming socialized and inhibit their social nature, they encourage their human carers to live separate-mindedly, maintaining their isolation and ‘protecting’ them from ever having to have any dialogue – to actually connect – with rogue individuals, or to experience the ‘chaos’ of unimpeded life force.

    Institutions or Individuals?

    Eleanor Roosevelt is famously quoted as saying: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”.

    And indeed, stagnant minds discuss nothing.

    If we are divided, we are conquered. If we consider ourselves separated from our community (great and small) and from our natural environment, we lose the empowerment that communication – that connection – provides.

    The power of communication in any manner is enormous; words have the power to change the world, and personal exchanges are the most resonating form of communication. Nothing is more powerful than looking another human in the eyes and speaking, and hearing, truth. This is the reason that The First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights is the First — because the pen is truly mightier than the sword. There are five distinct parts to the First Amendment which spell out five inherent rights of freedom, and five stages essential to free, inspired and patriotic action: think, seek, speak, stop, act. It is these freedoms that are the key to asserting individualism over institutionalism.

    And yet, everywhere I go, there are intricate infrastructures designed to support institutions, and institutional priorities, while practically nothing is available to support individuals. There are parking meters every ten feet, but no benches to sit on and no water fountains to drink from. There are franchised fast-food restaurants displaying amazing architecture, but the food they sell lacks substantive nutrition, made from genetically modified ingredients designed only to enhance commercial (institutional) performance. And there are countless ways to spend money and acquire possessions, but very few places for people to meet and connect and share ideas.

    The body is there, but the soul is missing.

    The same is true for the rest of our society, and indeed the rest of the western world. Individuals have come to prefer the falsely-perceived safety of institutionalization over the freedoms of individuation. As a society, we prefer to live under the wing of government and corporation rather than spread our own wings and take flight on our own, adhering to a paint-by-numbers existence over self-determining sovereignty.

    This was not always the case, and I’ll safely predict it will not remain the case, for everything is in constant flux – including our society. There is a fantastic transition taking place right now. There are so many informed indigos, conscious keepers and righteous rebels out there that there will inevitably be change, the most dramatic of which will be the rise of individuation over institutionalization.

    “If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything” ~ Claude McKay, writer and poet


    All institutions lean toward empowering themselves, and other institutions, and disempowering the individuals that live in total dependence under their wing. The individuals within institutions act as the institution they are under; they do not think as individuals, perform as individuals, or develop as individuals. Rather, they succumb to collective thinking, working for the benefit of institutional illusions. They are paid to leave their humanity at the door.

    So, to put it simply, if you are not training, you’re being trained. If you are acting on behalf of the institution more often than acting on behalf of your unique individual impulse, you begin to lose your Self and become institutionalized.

    The Hopi People of Arizona eloquently described this predicament when they encountered institutionalized individuals for the first time. They referred to the institutionalized Europeans who arrived on their shores as ‘two hearted’, as they recognized that who succumb to greed and ego, who lose the conscious connection that can only exist in the moment – had a second ‘heart’ to feed that could never be satisfied; a cold empty heart that devoured everything before it; an institutional heart, which constantly seeks, but never finds, fulfilment in the ‘masculine’ ideals of power, competition, conformity, nationalism, violence and war while forsaking the ‘feminine’ virtues of sustainability, individuality, co-operation and nurturing.

    Because of this two-heartedness, we have collectively lost our way. We live today in a sea of pollution and systemic corruption. We have created a monolithic culture of separation, where we yield to institutions and afford them the divine right of kings. We allow those institutions to determine for us the options available in our lives. The natural elements of our very existence, such as having a food and water supply and somewhere to live, have been commercialized right under our noses – so much so that many of us see no other option. We are born believing we are indebted to these manmade structures, and spend our lives paying others for the privilege of life itself.

    Personal Alchemy

    Personal alchemy is the sole domain of individuals, for individuals. It is tremendously difficult to step away from the mediation and control of institutions, but it is possible. It starts by ceasing your support for the status quo and living your truth without compromise.

    In order to be live as an individual, according only to your own personal alchemy, choose practices which fulfil your heart and promote self-development. Practice tai chi chaun, meditation, yoga and breath work. Practice your art. Practice singing and dancing. Practice stepping out of line, confronting institutional thinking, and speaking your truth. Practice being open to everyone around you, leaving your heart authentically open to the experiences that an unregulated life offers.

    To see the authenticity in others we must be authenticity. Practice seeing the gold within people, and look beyond their conditioned, disconnected behaviors. See others as their authentic golden self, in their truth, not just as they would have you see them. Through the power of unobstructed communication, individuality and human connection, we will reclaim our lives and create a future that values life, not just lifeless social machinery.

    “It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry.” – Buckminster Fuller

    About the Author

    Activist, author and Tai Chi teacher Ethan Indigo Smith was born on a farm in Maine and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before migrating west to Mendocino, California. Guided by a keen sense of integrity and humanity, Ethan’s work is both deeply connected and extremely insightful, blending philosophy, politics, activism, spirituality, meditation and a unique sense of humour.

    Ethan’s publications include:

    For more information, visit Ethan on Facebook.

    **This article was originally featured at Wake Up World and re-posted here with permission.**

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