Why do we so often say “here’s what I think” – when we know that we all have several kinds of thinking going on inside us, and are therefore capable of a whole range of different responses to any one particular idea or situation?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we often represent ourselves (even to ourselves) as only one part of our thinking. I think this is a form of self-harm, not only because I love human quirks, contradictions and eccentricities, but also because for many in the modern world, one part of ourselves which is often silenced is the spiritual. And we wonder why we’re so unhappy!
This song-in-a-day came to me without any planning – wrote the lyrics bit by bit in between synth takes – but when it was done I was surprised to see that it reflected the way we can sustain two different currents of awareness at the same time. Might even suggest they can be harmonized! (though I assert no warranty as to the practical ease with which this might be achieved). ;o)
Time away from pleasure and normalcy, extended isolation, and stress without a predictable end-point is a traditional recipe for torturing individuals, going back quite a way in history. Knowing that everyone else is experiencing some variation of the mix does change the experience – we all know we haven’t actually been singled-out for punishment – but on low days, it’s not hard for our minds to begin to wonder in a way that damages our ability to conjure or locate happiness.
Toughening-up is one natural reaction, turning into a rock to survive a trial – softness can return when the storm has passed. But we give up a lot when all the hatches get sealed.
I talk about politics, philosophy and spirit in strong terms, and inevitably I offend some people who are dear to me. Some even mistake my strong talk for a fundamental disagreeable streak, a form of ego, or some sort of play for dominance. Electronic media do support a great deal of this sort of thing – which is why I avoided them for so long, trying instead to engage people with slower paced more thoughtful and considered essays. Problem is – no one reads anymore. If I want a chance to have and encourage a broader conversation, I have to engage with people in ways that their lifestyle allows – hence, podcasting, photo-essays, art-rambles and songs like this.
There are quite a few things which I could say to explain how I can do something that takes such a familiar form, with very different goals and motivations – but the absolute clearest way to convey the truth of it, is in a two-fold statement that seems at first, to contradict itself.
- I am truly joyous – filled with wonder and sometimes ecstasy over the whirling potentials, even those which will never be realized
- and I am already dead.
Weirder still, I could not have achieved the first (along with a profound release of creative energy and clarity) without finding myself faced with and ultimately embracing the second.
Consciousness is a very complicated subject, so is ego and self-image – but there are some things about both which most of us have noticed in others, and sometimes even been startled to see in the mirror. Consciousness frequently gets locked into patterns of words and how they relate, and forgets that those words first stood for complex realities in the world. Ego has all sorts of needs – one of which is validation, one popularity, and another competitive victory. When the two of these get combined with strong emotions, we can get trapped by word ideas and feelings which are both absolutely imperative and utterly impossible. Our brains are damaging our hearts and souls, by fantasizing a power they have never had.
We’ve all seen this. People who we know are good, interested, caring and sincere, whose caring turns to worry, while their compassion turns to bitterness and anger. Who feel helpless, because they can’t personally see how to solve problems on a scale that would also challenge a deity. Who judge themselves wanting, for being unable to accomplish the impossible.
I’ve always been a cerebral person – I love books, essays and scientific papers – radio talks and lectures – I devour news and history, science and philosophy. I read spirit and religion, anarchy, economics. I want to understand. But a couple of decades ago now, that clever word-manipulator part of me completely hit the wall. Before that point I was able to construct functional hope from my intellectual ideas. I mean hope of human survival, rich culture and much greater justice.
This was always a very small odds hope, to be sure – because I have always tried to realistically factor-in war, economics, the environment and our many shifting cultural ideas. But then I was forced to recalculate my view with a new and much greater value for the power and inertia of human foolishness. That small hope collapsed and my reason – which I had long considered the chief power source for my industrious, curious and optimistic approach to life – failed.
Since that time I have been running on my firm conviction that my reason is very poorly informed and is probably not using the right frame for best understanding anyhow. I must rigorously reject the very best conclusions of my rational thought as incorrect. And I should add that I include my psychological and philosophical understanding in ‘rational’. HG Wells was incredibly close – but it turns out that the way the future looks is that every one of us is both Morlock AND Eloi. So foolish and dreamy we are incapable of the practical work of rebuilding or even maintaining that which we inhabit – and yet deadened alienated helpless wage-slaves also. Spirits broken – emotional cannibals. Nothing pleases a wide crowd more than an auto da fe – even now – though we generally prefer an electronic pile-on pyre in the modern era.
And yet and yet – what do we see whenever we walk? We see new hope, new families, new students, young workers, thinkers, builders, teachers, scientists and artists who all want to add understanding and compassion the world. Spirit keeps moving all who will be moved. Reason never was the driver for that, it only pretends to be.
I have to say that at first it was very uncomfortable for me, to surrender the idea of the dominance of my ‘rationator’ – but as I have adjusted to working from gratitude and wondering, instead of adversarial and egotistical insisting, a whole lot of things about my reasoning have improved considerably. I see (and also laugh at) flaws in my own reasoning more easily, and no longer defend them, but instead embrace the new learning being offered by any correction (and make many friends who might once have been forced into being adversaries – simply by my intransigent attitude). I also reject flattering ideas wholesale, with the greatest of ease – that part of my ego just isn’t in the ring anymore – and those plays are so close to universally deceptive/exploitative as to make a blanket rejection efficient, even if there is some small loss of potential uplift.
Being much more willing to be wrong – and without righteous justification, or any external faceless force to blame, happens to make my estimations and projections correct a lot more often – but that’s a happy bonus, the point is really not tactics or winning.
The most unexpected intellectual value I’ve found, since putting most of my weight on my spiritual foot, is that as soon as I became okay with the idea of not-knowing a much greater range of things, I found myself able to mentally interrogate a far more subtle constellation of ideas.
Not just looking for adversarial hard truths, but also seeking important partial or as yet undigested truths which add nuance, witness and the texture of experience into what are all too often taken as oversimplified and ‘purer’ word-ideas – even when we all know on some level that human beings somewhere are forever being tested by our notions. Offstage victims.
And with the embrace of not knowing and weighted doubt – the surrender of the idea that I was supposed to personally fix the world – I have also come to understand a few things which are profoundly true in ways which are more important than our chattering symbol (tool) addicted monkey brains ever slow down enough to acknowledge.
However we get there, and however it is framed inside us – the constant heartbeat of gratitude and wonder (which is really just another way of saying genuine humility before the unknowable gifts of universe) adds joy and humour to our lives – deepens friendship and love – and even adds layers of meaning to our struggles and grief, which can help us transform them into new motivation, learning and caring.
There is no legal proof of this – and Camus showed that even philosophers trip themselves up and get hurt along this path. The proof is experiential – or perhaps I should say experimental – as in – try it, you’ll like it!
On the other hand, if you are feeling the weight of injustice on your own shoulders, and need personally and urgently to do something to divert the incoming asteroid, don’t feel bad if this state is still inaccessible to you for now.
Way too many gurus talk about their discoveries about enlightenment without emphasizing the extremities which drove them to the point where they NEEDED that new learning. Very few people grow in big ways through willpower alone, let alone mere preference (why so much self-help is a con). Almost always, life faces us with something we haven’t ever learned to cope with, and we have to decide – do I retreat in fear and take the pain inside – or do I learn something new and grow?
We shouldn’t even feel bad when we make the fear and pain choice there – sometimes we’re just not ready to step into something new and challenging – and as much as we want our friends to feel better, we can’t force them into that state. As perhaps my all time favourite Sufi line says “Affection does not produce capacity.”
What we can do for our friends is remind them that pleasure and joy are still there for anyone who will have them (not ceaselessly, but regularly) – so are friends and fun – love and play – art and music – connection, striving and discovery.
We can also demonstrate that surrendering impossible and ultimately masochistic concepts of duty to instead take on our own infinitesimal and yet unique role in the all-giving play of universe is not a betrayal of principle, but it’s full realization. We aren’t here to be robots, warriors, or earning units – we are here to LIVE – and that means trying to show respect for our potential, and also helping our friends reach and develop their potential. Making the world better, most humanely and directly.
Thinking is great too – don’t get me wrong – and I remain a junkie for all sources of understanding. I even still have foolish and vain ideas about the (yes, still crushing) weight of my duty. Just, like that old joke about can you read music? – yeah, but not so much that it gets in the way of my being!
Let’s face it folks, the intellectual reductionist analytical adversarial model has many strengths – and one can indeed learn an awful lot from a well-conducted autopsy and dissection. But absolutely nothing whatsoever in that fantastic trove of ‘rational’ discovery is about life.