book review

Jay Griffiths articulates what it’s like to live in modern techno-time better than anyone else I’ve read on the subject, and gives a sense of what we’re missing — no mean feat to write so eloquently from both inside and outside one’s own culture. She is by turns brilliant, say, when describing forest time, and exasperating, devolving at times into diatribe and rant. She is lucid bordering on genius in picking out the historic strands of the cultural shift toward linear clock-time. It would be very difficult to read this book quickly or to digest it all the first time through.

Hmmmmm. OK, for the first 3/4 of the book, I happily suspended disbelief and enjoyed the well-paced narrative. But there was a particular plot twist where my suspended disbelief reasserted itself, and it seemed to me that the plot unraveled into the various strands of what the book is trying to be: 1) a hard-to-put-down thriller; 2) a slickly packaged exortation to believe in the possibility of changing the world by changing consciousness. Although I was rolling my eyes at the petered-out remnants of plot by the end of the book, I also went to the Institute of Noetic Science website and found some interesting material on meditation, mind-body practices, and scientific research on whether various religious practices such as prayer and healing work — the kind of nonfiction I’ve been reading anyway. So The Lost Symbol was a mixed bag. Brown is an expert at catching the wave of zeitgeist. If he keeps writing novels he might want to aim for smaller waves that lend themselves to tidier plots.

December 21, 2012, is like Y2K in that no one knows what exactly if anything to expect. Why expect anything? Based on my reading – not extensive first-hand research, but a sense of what various experts are saying – our earth, the sun, and the center of the galaxy will align on that day. People imbue that fact alone with varying degrees of significance. What’s more, the ancient Mayans, who had one of the most sophisticated calendar systems the world has ever known, anticipated 2012. It’s the end of the “Mayan long count,” when several separate cycles come together, which only happens every 5,000 years or so. Now, assuming everyone’s math is correct, I think we should at the very least take the day to honor the accuracy of preinstrumental astronomy, and to be appropriately humbled, and perhaps even to be curious about how they did it.

Naturally, a big cosmic event, complete with ancient wisdom, is a wonderful projection-catcher, a celestial Rorschach test. We don’t have any idea what will really happen, but what people say will happen tells us something about them. And we seem to be in dialog between religion, spirituality, and science, needing metaphors and stories to live by that accommodate a scientific worldview, and the full spectrum of human possibility and responsibility.

The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies and Possibilities, published by Sounds True, is a collection of essays about what we might expect, written by a highly credentialed group of new age and spiritual prognosticators. A few are true believers or have studied Mayan calendrics in detail. Most seize the opportunity to expound on their ideas about how humans could function better, individually and collectively. Many of the essays incorporate various scientific findings or snippets of data, but use these as a departure point, rather than the backbone of a rigorous analysis.

I found myself several times really hoping that the authors are right – that somehow on the winter solstice in 2012, humanity will be elevated. We’ll rub our collective third eye as it blinks open on the darkest day of the year, and will begin to see hope and possibility where we may previously have seen despair. We will love our brothers and possibly even tolerate our coworkers. The noosphere will come into its own and a field of enlightened human consciousness will envelop the globe in healing energy. Sounds good. I’ll show up, stay sober and think happy thoughts.