Contrary to Harold Camping’s prediction, the world didn’t end today. That, of course, didn’t stop the media from covering this alleged story ad nauseam, nor did it stop the internet from spreading it like a particularly virulent disease (to be fair, a good percentage of the net-chatter was mockery, but we often mock that which we fear). We’re all, it seems, obsessed with Doomsday. Just turn on your TV and watch Nostradamus predict the end of the world on the History Channel while the Weather Channel does its best to terrify us by predicting disasters that “could happen tomorrow.”
The news broadcasts—from NBC to CNN, NPR to Fox—are all about throwing mountains of coal into our collective furnace of fear. Disaster looms around every corner, from the recalled headache pills in our medicine chests to the terrorists swarming our shores to annihilate us. Some of these fears are rooted in reality, of course, but our mass media loves to put it all under a magnifying glass till these events are hideously distorted: the better to scare you into raising their ratings. Abandon hope, all ye who watch this channel.
Our pop culture has become fear culture: the action movie blockbuster has, more and more, become a gruesome parade of endless wreckage and loss of life, often on a global, if not a galactic, scale. End of the world scenarios play out with such regularity in films and video games and, yes, comic books (my hands are far from clean: I’ve destroyed my share of universes over the years) and it’s no wonder that, when some operatic preacher begins predicting that we’re all going down in a ball of fire (well, some of us: the lucky few will be lifted up to Heaven by a God who apparently enjoys playing favorites), everyone stops and takes notice.
But what if Camping was right? What if the world did end today and some of us just didn’t notice? (A moment while you scratch your head and wonder if my last brain cells have parachuted out on a suicide mission.)
I’ve written before about the idea—explored, in differing fashions, by both mystics and scientists—that the universe is just dreamstuff: an infinite ocean of primal energy that’s only given form by our perceptions. In other words, it’s all an illusion, tailored to, created by, the individual consciousness: every one projecting our dream-universes into the Void. From my perspective, I’m manifesting the entire Creation, including you; from your perspective, you’re manifesting it all, including me. (Which means, essentially, that right now you’re reading your own words, not mine.) And with each choice we make, each mental step we take, each thought we send vibrating out into that ocean of energy, we birth new universes, an infinite stream of shimmering bubbles blown through the wand of our minds. (Of course, in the end, it's all God dreaming through us and as us, but that's another essay for another time.)
So imagine Camping and his followers, all profoundly invested in this idea of Judgment Day and the Rapture, focusing their collective will and imagination (just like our old friend Green Lantern) on that ocean of energy and manifesting it. Today, this very morning, they all found themselves raised up by the hand of God, soaring off into the Heaven they’ve always longed for. Because that’s the dream they chose to manifest.
For those of us who didn’t buy into this dream, well—we’re still here, and we’ve dreamed up a Harold Camping who’s a failed prophet. (I don't think this invalidates the faith of Camping and his followers—but it is further proof that God is far bigger than any one belief system.) But where do we go from here? Perhaps Camping has done us a valuable service. Perhaps this mass focus on the End Times is a reminder for all of us to step back and ask a fundamental question: What kind of world are we dreaming into being? A world of suffering, where war never ends, where famine and disease and natural disasters dog us till it all really does “happen tomorrow”? Or will we dream something better: a world, a time, when peace and abundance, cooperation and compassion, flower across the planet?
The Golden Age, it’s been called.
Yes, doomsday scenarios have been around for as long as the human race has existed—they echo through all religions and spiritual paths—but they’re usually connected to paradise scenarios: humanity reborn, either on Earth or in Heaven, into a new and glorious order. From suffering comes redemption, from the ashes the Phoenix rises. My problem is I've never had much faith in a God whose method of redeeming us is through annihilating us. Why destroy the planet just to raise it up again? Why inflict all that suffering?
Back in the mid-eighties I wrote a Doctor Strange graphic novel—co-plotted and illustrated by my old friend Dan Green—called Into Shamballa that explored that question. In it, Doctor Strange is ordered, by a group of spiritual sages called the Lords of Shamballa, to weave a spell that will obliterate three-fourths of mankind and usher in a new Golden Age. “A cataclysm beyond imagining,” they tell Strange, “will leave the world a ravaged wasteland, burying the Old Humanity and birthing the New.” Doc is resistant but, at first, simply assumes that these Cosmic Sages know more than he does; so he travels the globe assembling the multi-part spell. In the end, though, he can’t do it; he refuses to do it—until he has an inner realization (prompted, he believes, by the inner voice of his guru, the Ancient One) that transforms his perspective completely. The spell is completed and, to the astonishment of the Shamballese Lords, the world remains intact. No Apocalypse, just another morning on Planet Earth. “I saw,” Strange tells the bewildered Lords, “that your ultimate cataclysm will take place, not without...but within. The purge you foretold will occur in every heart. The fires you foresaw will burn in every soul. The Golden Age you predicted will come to each man in his own time.”
An interpretation that made far more sense to me. But something still didn’t sit right: Why, I eventually came to wonder, is this inner purge even necessary? Why does every soul have to burn in fire, even if it’s only an internal one? I saw how attached I’d been to the old model, the old belief that we’ve got to pay the price if we want to get the glory; but the universe (via the inner voice my own master, Meher Baba, who, strangely, was known as the Ancient One long before Dr. Strange creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko coined the name) finally dragged me, kicking and screaming, toward a more positive view; a perspective that said we can unfold through joy as easily as we can grow through suffering. More easily. (I don't claim to have mastered this path—not by a long shot—but just walking it has been transformative.)
Ten or so years ago I read a book by Gregg Braden, The Isaiah Effect, that explored a similar idea. What if, Braden wrote—and I’m totally paraphrasing here (and, I hope, not distorting his point)—the ancient prophecies weren’t talking about a sequence of events (destruction, then rebirth; End of Days, then New Beginning)? What if they were talking about a choice? An opportunity to step over Harold Camping’s Apocalypse and walk straight through the gates of the Golden Age? Braden talked about the power of our collective consciousness to initiate global transformation—a valid and valuable goal—but I think it goes even further than that. If this world is literally a dream (and I believe, to the core of my being that it is), then isn’t it up to each of us to become lucid dreamers and choose the most beautiful dream we can? To manifest the Golden Age—not in some distant future, not in some faraway Heaven, but here and now?
In concert with God (in whatever form you see Him, Her or It), we make a choice, every hour, every minute, every instant, about which cosmos we want to dream into being. And each choice spins out a chain of events, a new world, a virgin universe.
Which means that today actually is Judgment Day.
So what’s it going to be: the Apocalypse or the Golden Age? Heaven-on-Earth or endless Hell? Which newscast are you going to anchor, what story are you going to tell, what movie are you going to direct? Judgement Day is in your hands. You can take everything I've written literally or metaphorically, but, either way, it's up to you to make your choice, create your cosmos, dream your dream. I’ll go off and dream mine and, with a little luck and grace, perhaps our dreams will intertwine and manifest an even larger dream, a greater dream than we can individually imagine. As Into Shamballa's narrator observed at the end of Doctor Strange's adventure: “Remember: the Golden Age is now. Remember: We are all, each and every one of us, the Lords of Shamballa.”
©copyright 2012 J.M. DeMatteis