12/21/12—The End of The World—Or a New Beginning?

EarthFor those of you who follow the ancient Mayan Calendar, the world ends on December 21, 2012.   For those of you into end-time predictions of any sort, a planet named Nibiru (sometimes called Planet X), supposedly discovered by the ancient Sumerians, will pass close to the Earth and wreck havoc and devastation on us all.  Theories ranging from a super massive black hole at the center of our universe, a global geomagnetic reversal, or a formula named “Timewave zero,” each holds claim to be the singularity of infinite complexity that will change the world as we know it.   And let’s not forget many of the world’s religions that predicted an apocalypse for several millennium.  While it may be easy to dismiss these theories as nothing more than “end-time hoopla,” is it possible there is something deeper going on?  Perhaps if we take a minute to look as the reasoning behind them all, we may find a SMART perspective that offers both hope and opportunity.

Who is the type of person who believes that the world is going to end? According to a poll taken in May of this year by Reuters, approximately 15% of the worldwide population believes that the world will end in their lifetime.  A large portion of them believes it will happen this year.    The survey covered 16,262 people in more than 20 countries and showed a wide variety of perspectives with approximately one person in ten who admitted to “experiencing fear or anxiety about the impending end of the world in 2012.”

What countries believed it the most?  France was the lowest at 6%, while Turkey and the United States were highest at 22%.   Keren Gottfried, research manager that conducted the poll for Reuters said that people with lower education or household income levels, as well as those under 35 years old, were more likely to believe in an apocalypse during their lifetime, or to have anxiety over the prospect.  Gottfried went on to say, ‘”Perhaps those who are older have lived long enough to not be as concerned with what happens to their future.”  Or maybe, those of us who are older than 35 have lived through a number of previous predictions that proved to be false.  Anyone remember Y2K?

But why do so many people believe this in the first place?  An Associate Professor of religion named Lorenzo DiTommaso, from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada says one theory is that such precise predictions feed the human desire to know the unknown.  He says, “Sociological studies have shown that people who tend to enjoy an apocalyptic world view also seem to be the kinds of people who seek out explanations of the world. Envisioning a better time past the evils of the world provides a very powerful way of understanding the world and all its problems.”

Richard Landes a medieval historian at Boston University has another theory.  He relates it to a child working a drawing.  As the work continues the child makes one little mistake after another.  Eventually the mistakes accumulate until the picture doesn’t look anything like he or she planned.  Then, in a fit of anger or frustration, the kid scribbles wildly and destroys the entire picture. Likewise, in times of trouble, challenge or worry, many people crave the chance to trash the old and start over with a new blank piece of paper.

According to Landes, most religious versions of the apocalypse are related to justice, vengeance and violence.  However, the more new age, syi-fi or environmental approaches tend to provide the psychological need for certainty, renewal or feeling in control.  And we don’t seem to be outgrowing that need any time soon.  Landes says, ““There are so many dysfunctional families, modern conditions are more and more atomized. The modern world protects us from a lot of pain.  The cocoon of civilization allows us to make fun of people who believe in this stuff.  Carl Sagan wrote once that we all think we’re so rational, but that it’s a thin crust.  I believe the ‘apocalypse virus’ will constantly mutate to survive, remaining dormant just until the time is ripe.”

And let’s not forget cognitive dissonance.  If the facts, like a failed prediction of end times prove we were wrong, our minds are extremely creative in arriving at a plausible explanation.  Our brains motivational drive to rationalize any discrepancy in our belief system is incredibly resilient.   In many cases, rather than admit we were wrong or made an error, our belief actually grows stronger in a similar direction as a way to allow us to feel good about ourselves and absolve guilt.

Another explanation for our human fascination with doomsday is a combination of both the ego and a fear of death.  Most people who believe in apocalyptic scenarios believe it will happen in their lifetime.  In fact, a Pew Research Center Poll found that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus will return by 2050.  Surely if Jesus returns or the world is destroyed, then the finality of individual death and dying seems less impactful.

J. Allan Danelek, author of 2012: Extinction or Utopia confirms the above and offers two additional explanations.  He says that many are attracted to the escapist fantasy or the promise they provide to people who are living lives of quiet desperation. He says, “Boredom is a powerful incentive to believe the unbelievable, if only as a distraction from the ordinariness of day-to-day living.”  But the major reason that Danelek believes that people embrace the doomsday scenario is that it makes them feel important and that they are “in” on some great cosmic secret.  Then, by being in the know about the secret, they are able to be a part of the select or special group that will transcend the catastrophe.

It is obvious that any belief in the end of the world provides plenty of benefits to the believer.  But what if you prefer a more optimistic perspective?  What are some of the other predictions that are proposed to occur around the 12.21.12 date?  Author and speaker Alberto Villoldo says the real Mayan prophecies are not about the end of the world, they are instead, “the beginning of the world. According to the Maya, humanity first appears in the planet on December 21, 2012. So we’re still proto-humans. We’re still half cooked.”

Other authors and books like Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth have been predicting a transformation for the last 20 or 30 years.  Their interpretation is a focus on transformation and an interior shift in consciousness, with less (if any) emphasis on a physical change. Still, like many who want to believe in the end of the world, the common theme is the idea that this extraordinary change will occur in our lifetime and those who believe it most will help to bring it about.

Which is correct?  The end of the world or a new beginning?  This is similar to where in my last blog post I reviewed the movie, The Life Of Pi and asked, “which is a better story”?  Clearly we all have a need to make sense of the world we live in and find a way to explain the uncertainty and circumstance we see around us.  But are we choosing a story that someone else told us, or one that brings us the greatest joy, peace and compassion?

         Another way to consider the question is to approach it by asking ourselves three questions:

  1. If we spend a lot of time considering the 12/21/12 possibilities—is that a distraction keeping us from living our best life right now?
  2. What is the story we have been telling about that date and as Carolyn Myss asks, “What is the benefit we get?”  Do you feel better about yourself by thinking you have it all figured out?  Does feeling that you know something special about what’s going to happen make you feel more special?  Know your payoff and then decide if it is worth it.  If not, change the story.
  3. Marianne Williamson says that we are motivated by either fear or love.  If you tell your 12/21/12 story to someone else—is it a story of fear or love?  Again, if you prefer to have it another way—change the story!

As always, SMART Living 365 reminds us to stay conscious about our choices and decisions.  It also acknowledges that we all crave meaning and purpose—but that we often go about it in strange and/or interesting ways.  Ultimately, every single night when we go to sleep we are surrendering to an unknown tomorrow.  Something tells me that when we go to sleep on the night of 12/21/12.  And just like when we awaken every single morning of our life, we have the choice when we open our eyes about whether it will be the end, or a new beginning.

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