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The True Meaning of 2012

Next time you pass byon a theater marquee, try to reflect on the true message symbolized by those numbers. The real message is a call to action based on the knowledge that we can transform ourselves.
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The movie 2012 has generated a tsunami of controversy over an ancient Mayan prophecy. We can thank Hollywood for stirring up our interest. Perhaps we needed a film loaded with global destruction and special effects to awaken our collective consciousness to this time of transformation. However, the theater version misses the true meaning of the message those great mathematicians and visionaries intended us to hear all those many centuries ago.

As I head off this week into the Mayalands of Central America, co-leading (with Llyn Roberts) a couple dozen people on an expedition that will delve deep into the significance of this ancient legend, I am struck by the signs that we are indeed poised to experience events foretold by the Mayan prophecy. But do not expect them to resemble the mayhem displayed in the movie.

Although there are many different interpretations of this prophecy, the one most widely accepted by the Maya teachers I know is taken from the Popul Vuh, the Mayan creation myth. Far from predicting a Hollywood-style doomsday, it holds out the possibility of positive transformation. In its simplest form, the people overthrow an egotistical regime characterized by exploitation and deception and replace it with an enlightened and compassionate one. In the process, the people have to surrender their own egos and endure material and environmental hardships.

December 21, 2012 was identified by the Mayans as the time when this transformation will become most obvious. It was an auspicious date for them because their astrologers predicted that at that moment the sun would move into alignment with the center of the Milky Way. Modern scientists, not the Mayans, offer theories that are the basis for the film's thesis that the earth's climate and magnetic poles may be changing.

My book Hoodwinked explores the deep underlying causes of the events that have now sent the U.S. and the entire planet spiraling toward the very things the Mayans foretold -- economic and environmental collapse -- and what we must do to reverse this process.

The real cause of our current meltdown is predatory capitalism -- the mutant form of an economic system that encourages widespread exploitation to benefit a small number of already very wealthy people. A new geo-political system has emerged; today the CEOs of big corporations, rather than governments, control human and natural resources around the globe, as well as politicians and the media. Their arrogance, gluttony, and mismanagement have brought us to the perilous edge. In their relentless drive to amass ever greater fortunes, they have polluted our air, water, and earth, relegated countless numbers to the ranks of the unemployed, and doubled the gap between the few who live in mansions and the many who are malnourished or starving. They exemplify that egotistical regime described in the Popul Vuh.

When I wrote Hoodwinked I was not thinking about the 2012 prophecy. Yet, now, as I prepare to visit the incredible cities these ancient people built, I realize that in an odd sort of way my writing is part of a tradition that stretches back to those Mayan visionaries.

We have indeed entered a critical time in human history. A tsunami is rapidly building on the horizon. Every person on earth is connected like never before, through the Internet and cell phones. Most of us have come to understand that we are perched on a shore that is threatened by a mounting wave of economic and environmental disaster.

We have only three years left until December 21, 2012. Whether or not you believe in this Mayan prophecy, we can all agree that we must turn things around. We must abandon our gluttonous, exploitative ways in favor of lifestyles and systems that will bequeath to our children and grandchildren a world they will want to inhabit. By definition, we simply must become sustainable.

You may want to take a moment, next time you pass by 2012 on a theater marquee, to reflect on the true message symbolized by those numbers. The real message is a call to action based on the knowledge that we can transform ourselves. It echoes down through the centuries from a people who built the magnificent pyramids that continue to enthrall and mystify visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula and who also created one of history's most accurate calendars -- the one that ends in 2012.

John Perkins is former chief economist at a major international consulting firm. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Hoodwiniked and has written many books about the Maya and other indigenous cultures, including Shapeshifting, The World Is As You Dream It, and Psychonavigation. His website is

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