A Conversation with Brian Thomas Swimme – The New Cosmic Story

We at “The Center for Knowing Home” (a new educational project of The Whidbey Institute launched by Fritz Hull) are excited to welcome Brian Thomas Swimme back to the Thomas Berry Hall at the Whidbey Institute this Summer! 

My name is Marilyn Strong, I live adjacent to the Institute and was a member of the covenant community that supported the early work of the Institute, (formerly known as The Chinook Learning Center) and for six years was Director of Education here. 

Brian and I first became acquainted in 1986 when I took time away from Chinook to attend Matthew Fox’s Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality in the Oakland, California foothills to get my master’s degree and deepen my knowledge and skills in working with adults in spiritually based education. Brian’s class, called “Cosmos as Primary Revelation,” was the highlight of my nine months of study. The course was based on Thomas Berry’s twelve principles of the universe, and because of Brian’s infectious enthusiasm and joy as a teacher and as a human being, my life was irrevocably changed. 

Fast forward to February 2023, Fritz Hull had just published his book, Wild Idea: The Whidbey Institute Story, and we were heading into the Whidbey Institute’s 50th Anniversary. Brian had just published Cosmogenesis, the first of his books in which he has told some of his own story in relation to the story of the Universe, (combining autobiography and cosmology) and how the impact of this New Cosmic Story “deconstructed his mind and then reassembled it.” Some of his stories took place during the years that I was on staff at Chinook, 1982 to 1988 and many of the characters that he talks about I had had the privilege to know, study and work with. For me, reading the book felt like coming home, full circle, and I wanted to reconnect with him. To my delight, he and his wife, Denise, agreed to come to The Whidbey Institute to see the beautiful new campus, to visit and become reacquainted with Fritz and Vivienne Hull, some of the staff and board of the current Institute and those of us working to bring “The Center for Knowing Home into being. From that visit, a new collaboration was born.

Marilyn: In reading your most recent book, Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe, I was surprised to learn that your first introduction to the writings of Thomas Berry, was in 1979, when you were at a “crossroads” in your life, and you came for an overnight retreat on the Chinook lands. Can you share with us, briefly, what that crossroads was, and how meeting Thomas Berry changed your life? Is the fact that this happened at Chinook part of the reason why you are feeling drawn to teach here again?

Brian: I was wondering whether my life was on the side of good or the side of evil. I had recently learned that fifty percent of the physicists in America were employed by the Pentagon. And I had just been told by one of my favorite colleagues that he was going to Los Alamos to work on nuclear weapons. 

In the midst of this, I came upon the work of Thomas Berry in Chinook’s publication, “Warm Wind.” Here Thomas celebrated science as having found a common creation story that will, over time, serve efforts to unify the fragments of humanity. As we learn the story, we begin to fathom what it means that each and every one of us, whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, American and Chinese, come from the stars. I was completely electrified with this thought! And Yes, the fact that this all took place at Chinook is the reason I am returning to the Whidbey Institute this summer. 

Marilyn: Why is the New Cosmic Story so important for our time?

Brian: Consider the 200,000 year story of humanity. We started off living in groups of a couple of dozen humans during the paleolithic. In the neolithic we learned how to live harmoniously with the thousand people in our village. We might fight with other villages, but within our own culture we were more or less harmonious. Soon after we jumped to cities with a million or more, which is a vast achievement. At the present time, we are at the final leap. From living in our different nation-states to recognizing that we’re all members of the same community, the Earth community. 

We can see how this will take place if we consider Russia and Ukraine. Like most modern humans, Russians understand themselves in terms of their country’s origin and development. They have their own heroes and their own political history, quite distinct from what the children of Ukraine learn when they are growing up. Teaching these various cultural stories is how every nation-state deepens the bonds of its citizens. But now we know that the story of reality extends far beyond the history of any particular nation-state. It goes back to the origin of time. As the new cosmic story takes hold around the planet, the kinship and interrelatedness of all humans will be strengthened. We have to proceed with real confidence that over time, these massive wars will be a thing of the past. 

Marilyn: After you taught at the Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality, (ICCS) both in Chicago, IL and in Oakland, CA, you went on to teach at the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS) for 30 years. In what ways has your teaching of The New Cosmic Story evolved over the years?

Brian: As a cosmic storyteller, I’ve continued to develop over the past half century. In simple terms, I started out in the world of mathematics. When I arrived at a thorough knowledge of the equations of mathematical cosmology, I began to wonder about the relationship between physical science and the wisdom traditions of Earth, especially of the West. Then the day came when I moved into a third phase, the one I’m in now, which can be described as an investigation into how my own consciousness changed as I learned to dwell in the new cosmic story. The whole arc was the movement from science to wisdom to personal experience. 

Marilyn: I have been studying and teaching about the re-emergence of the Divine Feminine for most of my adult life. In your mind is there a correlation between the return of the feminine and the New Cosmic Story?

Brian: The re-emergence of the Divine Feminine and the emergence of the new cosmic story are equal partners in the transformation taking place throughout the planet. Breakthrough work in the new cosmic story has been carried out primarily by women. Rachel Carson ignited a new form of consciousness that recognized the interconnections of all things. Jane Goodall broke the lock objectification had on the Western mind with her radical acknowledgement of the personhood of all primates. And Barbara McClintock, who won a Nobel Prize for her discovery, celebrated imagination and intuition as equal partners with scientific rationality. The new cosmic story has interconnection, personality, intuition, cooperation, and compassion as its central truths, all of which are associated with the feminine dimension of human beings.

Marilyn: I know that you are eager to share the “spotlight” at this coming event with others who have come together to collaborate with you. Can you elaborate on why this seems to be important to you at this time in your life?

Brian: I’m fascinated by the way collaborations are a form of love, even of love-making. I think one of the greatest mysteries is the way we come to know ourselves through relations with others. It’s so odd. Right now there are strangers out there in the world who, should you meet and fall in love, will reveal to you depths of yourself you did not know. Isn’t that peculiar? Even if it is, it’s also a great thrilling adventure.

Marilyn: It also appears to be important to you that this event includes experiential offerings, embodied rituals, and cosmic ceremonies as well as intellectual and scientific presentation and discussions. If so, why?

Brian: In the midst of these horrible wars, confronted by such hatred and evil, we begin to understand how crucial it is that we re-invent humanity. That we become a new species. A new understanding is necessary but that alone is not enough. We need to transform hearts and bodies, as well as minds. The radical discoveries that led to the new cosmic story will light you up for a lifetime, and this fiery beginning needs to be grounded in ceremony, music, and rituals done within a community. The fastest way into the work of becoming a new species takes place with ritual that reaches into soul and heart.

Marilyn: I appreciate your genuine humility in honoring your mentor, Thomas Berry, in the work that you have done. However, I believe you to be someone who has bush-whacked your own unique cosmological territory and that you have been on your own amazing trajectory. Can you talk a bit about the ways in which you have arrived at your own unique perspective, which, being in the spirit of the times, may complement Thomas Berry’s work? 

Brian: Thomas Berry had a profound impact on me, at every level. We worked together on various projects and always in a spirit of harmony. The greatest compliment he gave me was when he said we were like one mind distributed in two bodies. Nevertheless, each of us had unique ways of living and thinking. A lot of what I’m writing these days touches on the very question you ask, Marilyn. A quick answer would be to say that Thomas was a classically trained scholar with an Apollonian personality, whereas I was less sophisticated and more Dionysian.

Marilyn: You are one of the most positive people I know. You have been studying, writing, and teaching about the Universe Story for the past 50 years, and about the need to, in Thomas Berry’s words… “reinvent the human at the species level.” Given the progression of the degradation of the planet’s biosphere and the on-going loss of species during this time, what enables you to continue to be positive and hopeful about the future?

Brian: You do, Marilyn. You and the others I collaborate with. As well as the people I read about. All of you have one thing in common. You see through the insanity of our time to the emergence of a new kind of human being and a new harmonious world. Together we’re going to do this beautiful work!

Attend A New Cosmic Story with Brian Thomas Swimme and Guests – Register Today!

April 30, 2024

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Comments

  1. Aileen Greer says:

    Hello,
    I would like to have details of the “Summer” visit from Brian Swimme, the date, the registration process does not appear to be available yet? Also, costs and how to
    apply please?

    Thank you,
    A

    1. Whidbey Institute says:

      Hello Aileen,

      Please visit our event page for details and registration: https://whidbeyinstitute.org/event/1301/a-new-cosmic-story/

  2. Wonderful love to attend

    1. Whidbey Institute says:

      We hope to see you here.

      Visit event page for details and registration: https://whidbeyinstitute.org/event/1301/a-new-cosmic-story/

  3. Moon Dickson says:

    Wonderful interview! I feel nourished and inspired.

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