Culture on the Couch: Western Civilization’s Journey from Crisis to Maturity

by Anodea Judith

Sooner or later, we all have to grow up. We’ve heard this a thousand times, as if it were a fact, as certain as death and taxes. Continue to put one foot in front of the other and you will eventually get there, wherever “there” might happen to be. Ideas of maturity vary, but most people assume it will just happen by itself, like ripening fruit, with time as the only necessity.

If only it were that easy! Would that we could endlessly play in the sun and hang passively on the vine for our ripening, until the day when we finally let go and return to earth. Would that we could play innocently in the Garden of Eden, with benevolent parents to protect and guide us, as we imagine it might have been in times of old. Or would that we didn’t have to grow up at all, and could live in the endless pursuit of our pleasures, following our whim from moment to moment, without limitation or responsibility. Ah but these are longings of a former time.

The world of our ancestors was indeed simpler. People grew up, but with fewer choices, their path held more certainty. Follow your duty, do as you’re told, and everything will work out. There were challenges of course, but the external world was expected to continue, just as it always had. Mother Earth would provide for our needs, and Father would set the rules. Growing up meant that we surrendered gracefully to authority and became obedient members of society. Conformity became more important than doing the grueling work of finding our true Self. “Maturity” in those times lacked authenticity and meaning.

Today we face a far different reality, and facing this reality squarely is one of the tasks of growing up. The parental free ride that has given us abundant resources since our earliest infancy is, alas, coming to an end. We who are alive today are saddled with a responsibility far greater than any of our ancestors have faced: the task of saving four billion years of evolution from the possibility of extinction – nothing less than the task of caring for an entire planet. This is not a job for children.

Most people know the litany: global warming that could cause worldwide famine and displace hundreds of millions from their homes; war and terrorism that escalates with ever more dangerous weapons in the hands of power driven leaders or their discontents; disappearing oil reserves that threaten economic collapse; rampant consumption that exhausts resources, environmental decline polluting air, water, and land, with unsustainable energy, economics, and politics expected to govern an exponentially growing population. A grim situation indeed.

We also know that these dire circumstances reveal a deeper crisis of morals and meaning. Depression and chronic illness are epidemic. Economic values serve self-interest above the public good, with the dollar being the deciding factor in almost everything we do. Meanwhile our public media distracts us with sensationalist “Reality TV” shows that have nothing to do with reality – and certainly not the reality that is begging for our attention.

The father figures that we worship, empower, and pretend to elect all too often turn out to be government officials embroiled in scandals, Catholic priests that molest innocent children, gurus who exploit their followers, or swindlers out to make a buck. The archetypal father’s shortcomings are revealed to all who care to look, stripping the role of its numinosity and power. This psychological patricide requires the child to find its own values and wisdom.

The roads that have led us to this point, laid down with the best of intentions, are now leading us astray. With the mother goddess long gone from memory, and the father falling from grace, we have no choice but to give up our passive powerlessness as children and step into our true authority as adults. We are being asked to stand up, speak up, and drum up a reality that has never before existed.

Saving four billion years of evolution is a task for a species on the verge of godlike powers of both creation and destruction, equally capable of either. Today’s problems are the evolutionary drivers, the contractions of the birth process, that will spawn an awakening so massive that history has no precedent. For the planet itself is our teacher and initiator, taking us through a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, and from an organizing principle based on the love of power, to one based on the power of love. This rite will challenge every facet of life, both individually and collectively, asking each of us to undergo the task of of self-reflection, individuation, and the spiritual growth necessary for maturity.

Cultural Adolescence

One need only turn on the news to see adolescent behavior raging through all ages, races, creeds, and genders. Creative but disrespectful, powerful but reckless, narcissisticly obsessed with our looks, insisting on immediate gratification of our whims, and bursting with libido, we are sorely lacking in social and environmental conscience. Like teenagers thoughtlessly cleaning out the refrigerator while entertaining their friends, human populations are insatiably consuming the once vast cupboards of oceans and forests in the attempt to satisfy gargantuan appetites. And why not? Hasn’t Mother Nature always kept the cupboards well stocked in the past, free to her children, just for the asking?

As adolescent children face the abrupt halt of their biological growth, they must take their prodigious life force and learn to grow in a new dimension. At best, this dimension is spiritual, growing towards deeper understanding of themselves and their world. But if this passage is blocked or distorted, adolescents act out recklessly, often harming themselves and others. Without understanding the longer view of life, they can destroy essentials before they learn their true value. In the case of adolescent suicide, this can even be their own life.

To become adults, adolescents who have previously been nurtured, cared for, and educated by elders must learn to provide for themselves, and others in turn. They must learn about the meaning of life, the structure and order of the world, and their purpose within it. Yet they are also compelled–by the unique life force within them–to question and change that structure as they grow into it. It is a tumultuous time, as any parent knows, and there are days when we may look at our teenagers with exasperation and wonder if they will ever grow up. Yet we have no choice but to move forward as best we can, and hold a container for their process.

Just as adolescence marks the end of physical growth, our human population has grown to its adult size and can no longer continue to expand in the physical dimension, producing more bodies at an exponential rate. We have reached (if not surpassed) the carrying capacity of our biosphere. World population has doubled in the last half-century, climbing from 2.5 billion in 1950 to over seven billion now. Just for perspective, this means there has been more population growth in the last half-century than in the four million years since the earliest humans walked on their hind legs! From the depletion of top soil and underground aquifers, to diminishing oil reserves; from the disappearing forests to the greenhouse gases that are raising global temperatures; from urban smog, to waste disposal; from the billions who live in poverty to the epidemic diseases that threaten life–every facet of human and non-human society is impacted by our unchecked population growth. Controlling that growth is a facet of maturity.

It is not only population growth that must be curbed, but the way that we view progress and success. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, progress has been measured by growth. The success of a company is usually defined by its expansion, not its social contribution. Growth is measured in terms of more products, bigger markets, larger infrastructure, and ultimately greater profits. Whether that means building more housing developments, expanding roads and highways, infiltrating indigenous cultures with Western products and lifestyles, or simply crafting a way to make more with less–our “industrial growth society” must place its value on something other than growth before we exhaust our life support systems. We are quickly discovering that growth-based futures don’t have a sustainable future.

Yet, just like an adolescent, growth has been the driving force of our biology since its earliest beginnings. Prehistoric nomads focused on images pertaining to birth. The Bible tells us to go forth and multiply. From the farmer’s apple tree to the corporate sales charts, growth symbolizes success. In the earlier eras of our collective childhood, this was entirely appropriate. That’s what children do – they grow constantly from birth to adolescence. Like the infamous ship, Titanic, it’s not easy to turn such a colossal system around–even when we see the iceberg up ahead.

But now we must harness that creative urge to multiply and point the evolutionary arrow in a new direction – toward spiritual growth, education, and wisdom. Such potential has never occurred before in our evolutionary history. It signals an extraordinary need for responsibility and a driving imperative to wake up. But even more, it calls for an awakening of the heart. For the values of the heart are what sustains relationship, and our future depends on successful relationships: with each other, with nature, with all that are part of this glorious earth. The puer society that is consuming our world with its rampant consumption and delusions of grandeur needs to find its sacred ground in the Earth, acknowledge its denied Shadow, and balance the archetypal energies of Masculine and Feminine. This is unlikely to occur without entering deeply into a profound healing process.

Culture on the Couch

If we are to reach planetary adulthood, we must heal our wounds, both individually and collectively. We must reclaim the ancient Mother and redeem the archetypal Father. We must face our collective shadow of domination and greed. We must find structures that support our spiritual natures, with disciplines to strengthen mind, body, and most of all, to deepen our soul. We can learn to live authentically, with fully embodied lives and mythically inspired visions.

As individuals enter their own healing process, they open new possibilities for action. As we apply these healing principles to our collective existence, the culture itself begins to heal. No one can do it alone, and the good news is that no one has to. The one and the many work together as a complex field of mutual influence and co-evolution.

The possibilities that await us are unknown, but we are guided by profound archetypes of wholeness – the thrust of the evolution towards greater realization and consciousness. What we are now is a mere shadow of what we can become – in every sense of the word. A glorious banquet awaits us on the other side of this transformation. But the doors to this banquet will only open when we have the ability to walk through consciously, peacefully, and with a maturity that is worthy of parenting the future.

What lies ahead is beyond our imagining, nothing less than the dawning of the next age of civilization, the ability to create Heaven on Earth. We can take the reins from the decaying patterns of the past and hitch them to an evolving vision of the future. The world is in our hands. The journey toward wholeness is now thrust upon us as a collective. We can all be a part of this process. In fact, that’s the only way it will happen.

The only myth that is going to be worth talking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not this city, not these people, but the planet and everybody on it… And what it will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have dealt with—the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos. . . And until that gets going, you don’t have anything.

Joseph Campbell

About Anodea Judith, PhD:
Anodea Judith, Ph.D. is the best-selling author of numerous books on human transformation (“Wheels of Life”, “Eastern Body-Western Mind”, “Creating on Purpose”). She is known for her pioneering thinking and visionary perspective on the human condition with an ability to captivate audiences everywhere with potent visual presentations. Her most recent book is “The Global Heart Awakens: Humanity’s Rite of Passage from the Love of Power to the Power of Love”. For more information, please visit