An Unknown World

An Unknown World Notes on the Meaning of the Earth  by Jacob Needleman

An Unknown World

Notes on the Meaning of the Earth

Jacob Needleman

“The next stage in the evolution of life on Earth depends on the intentional inward effort of man.”

Jacob Needleman’s An Unknown World leaves some powerful impressions. First, of the clarity that can come from the experience of a natural disaster – in Needleman’s case, the 1989 California earthquake. After a lifetime of contemplating the true nature of the earth, he suddenly felt for the first time what we all need to learn about this globe we are living on, this globe we are living with. In a single moment, with the ground shifting below his feet, he experienced the stark reality – “The earth is a living being.”

The earth is indeed unknown to us. As Needleman says, the question of our relationship to the earth has always been and will always be at the heart of all serious human thought, of “all real philosophy, all authentic religion.” And yet the real “unknown world” he is talking about is the world within. The world in which the knowing that occurs has nothing to do with the intellect. The world so many great thinkers have recognized as the most reliable source of truth.

“. . . There needs to be recognized a large invisible element in human consciousness comparable in its importance to the dark matter and dark energy that we are told comprises all but a small percentage of the known universe . . . it has to do first with the role of feeling . . . ‘inner empiricism,’ as contrasted with the sense-based ‘external empiricism’ that is the bedrock of the scientific method.”

The attention Needleman calls to this inner knowing, the knowing we have all experienced, is just one of the potent messages of this book. He also makes a compelling case for our relying on this knowing as we continue to ask the enduring questions about the “conscious purpose” at the heart of the universe. The purpose that lives in each of us and that it is in our power to access.

Turning within, trusting the eye of the soul, he insists, is not only the way to free ourselves from the “level of consciousness in which egoistic emotion dominates our lives,” it is also the way to come to know our deep interdependence with the ground beneath our feet and the air we breathe, with the water and plants and animals that share our world. The unknown world, both within and without, he asserts, is calling upon us to recognize our purpose in the vast web of life.

“What may be unique in our contemporary culture is the near absence of ideas and methods of living that call us to this struggle to awaken the heart, not just for a moment of silent objective seeing – as in moments of great crisis – but as a persisting force and ideal for the whole of our lives. What we and our Mother Earth need, and what has been needed since Man first appeared, is the energy of awakened and awakening men and women . . . The next stage in the evolution of life on the Earth depends on the intentional inward effort of man.”

The Gleam of Light Team

An Unknown World
Jacob Needleman
2012, Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin

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