(This is another of my ‘thinking out loud’ posts on non-duality. If the subject doesn’t interest you, you might want to skip this one.)
cartoon by the late, wonderful Charles Barsotti
About 18 months ago I began a journey, intended to help me handle stress better (something I struggle with a lot), exploring the subject known as ‘non-duality’ (or non-dualism), which some define as the realization that there is no ‘separate self’ (or ‘separate’ anything) — everything is part of a oneness (which some call ‘consciousness’ or ‘spacious awareness’ or ‘infinite presence’, others call ‘your true self’ or ‘true being’ and yet others call simply ‘all there is’, an infinite eternal unknowable no-thing that is also everything.
I began that journey with Liberation Unleashed’s Ilona Ciunaite, and I hung out there for several months, trying to ‘just look’ to see the self as illusory. I then checked out Eckhart Tolle’s videos and book The Power of Now, and then moved on to the videos of other non-dualists (Adyashanti, Mooji, Jon Bernie, Rupert Spira, Jim Newman, and Tony Parsons, in roughly that order). This seems to have been a progression from a more accessible to a more radical non-dual message, and the more radical the expression, the more it has resonated with me.
Here’s a transcript of the Tony Parsons video linked above, that articulates his ‘radical’ message on non-duality:
Separation is the root of all seeking. As tiny children there is simply being. There is no one. Life happens. Regardless of whether a child cries or seems hungry, there is just pure being. And then a moment comes when that tiny being identifies itself and becomes a separate person. At that moment of separation, there is a contraction back into the sense of being limited in the body. “My boundary is this skin, and everything else is separate”. From that moment on there is seeking, and a sense of something lost. ‘Being everything’ is lost in that moment. And being a separate person, an entity looking for everything, begins. From that moment on there is only seeking — until there isn’t.
And that seeking is endless. People we see in the world — wanting to be rich, to have lots of lovers, to have power or whatever they want — all desire is the longing to come home. And home is wholeness, home is being everything, which is our origin.
So oneness arises as wholeness and then plays the game of becoming separate. So the whole key to liberation has nothing to do with the apparent separate person. We grow up and we feel separate, and we learn from our parents and teachers and priests and bosses and spouses that we are definitely separate, live in a separate world, and there is absolutely no doubt that we have a choice, we are a separate individual that has free will and can choose to make our lives work, or not. So what you see in the world is a desire to make people’s lives work, when what people are really doing is trying to fill this sense of loss.
Most people spend their whole lives living like that, trying to fill that sense of loss. For some making money, being powerful etc. isn’t enough — there’s still a sense that there’s something missing. So they look for what’s missing — in religion, in therapy, and in the search for ‘enlightenment’, but all this time there’s an absolute conviction that they’re a separate individual with the choice to fulfil this sense of loss. And when you go to an enlightened ‘master’, you’re naturally attracted to the ‘master’ who still presumes the fundamental idea that you are separate, and that you ‘need’ to meditate or self-inquire or ‘give up the ego’ in order to find what you’re looking for.
And all of that is the ignorance. That’s how the game continues. Religion is the seeking, through ‘individual choice’, for something that already is. What we’re looking for already is this. But all the time there is someone seeking, this can’t be seen. The fulness we seek is timeless and the seeking is in time — “It’s going to happen when I’ve meditated”, or “The answer’s going to be on the next page of this book.” “I’m going to find it one day.” There’s that constant agitation of looking for this. Sometimes it’s gratified for a short while and it seems everything is complete. But that gratification is short-lived and is soon replaced by the longing for and seeking of this.
That gratification and wholeness can never be found until there’s no one looking. It can’t be found by the individual, because the individual function is to look for that. When there’s no longer a seeking, that which is sought, is seen. But it is seen by no one.
So we’re here today to rediscover the key to wholeness. And the key to wholeness is that there is no one. So this is a very simple message, and a very difficult one — difficult because it’s about your death, the death of the individual. It’s about moving beyond the idea that there’s anyone sitting in this room who can ‘do’ anything, beyond the idea that there’s anyone — any separate entity — in this room.
And it’s coming to realize that what’s happening right now, is happening to no one. There’s no one that this is happening to. The whole sense of being separate is that everything that’s happening is happening ‘to’ you, and that everything ‘you’ do affects that and ‘attracts’ what happens.
Liberation is the realization that all there is, is this, is what’s happening, and it’s happening in emptiness. So that all that’s sitting in this room is emptiness. There’s a body that feels, there’s a mind that thinks, but it isn’t anybody’s body or anybody’s mind. It is just what’s happening.
This is so simple that it totally confounds the mind. So what we’re here to talk about is totally beyond understanding. It can’t be understood. You’ll never understand your way to ‘enlightenment’. Nobody ever has. There is no such thing as an enlightened person. Already, all there is is liberation, all there is is enlightenment, and in that there are people looking for it.
So we can talk together and it’s possible that something will be seen, but it won’t be ‘you’ that sees it; it will just be seen. And also energetically, as there has been a sense of contraction (me, I am this body), there can be an expansion, a dropping of that sense of contraction and a moving out into free-fall, into boundlessness, into the unknown. The idea that ‘you’ can know and ‘you’ can do it simply drops away and suddenly there’s a wonderful, free but dangerous place called everything.
It’s very simple: All there is, is this. That ‘thisness’ is totally physical, all the five senses are speaking to you right now. Through all the five senses the beloved is waving and saying “I’m here already. You don’t need to look for me. This is already what you’re looking for. This is it. I’ve never left you. I’m the perfect lover. I’m here already and I sit here watching you looking for me.”…
We don’t function in duality. In the dream we think we do. In the dream we’re absolutely sure ‘we’ choose this and avoid that and do that and not that. This apparent choice ‘we’ don’t do — it is done. You don’t go in and out of duality by choice. There is only what is. Everybody in this room is being lived. There is just life happening in this room. There’s no choice, no will, and nowhere to go, nowhere that anything has ever been. All there is, is this…
It’s not something to ‘get’. Liberation is actually a loss of something rather than a getting of something. The loss is the one that’s trying to get it. When there’s nobody trying to get it then suddenly it’s realized that it already is that. This is it. There’s nothing to ‘get’. Choice and doing apparently happen, but nobody has ever done anything. There’s no responsibility, nothing to forgive. It’s just happened. Breathing is happening. Seeing and hearing are happening, but nobody is doing it. This [pointing to himself] isn’t doing it. There’s nobody doing it. Isn’t that amazing?…
It feels dangerous to the person, because it’s the end of apparent individuality. For the individual who thinks they’re in control of their life, that fallacy that you’re the ‘managing director’ of your life, and can make it continue, falls away, and that feels risky…
There is something that I call ‘liberation’, and with liberation, it’s all over, there’s no one, there’s just life happening, but previous to that there can be an ‘awakening’, a sudden realization that there is only oneness, and then for a while, subtly the seeker comes back and wants to own that. So you can’t say how long it lasts. Awakening and liberation can happen at the same moment, or after a few weeks or longer.
Awakening is not gradual. Awakening is totally immediate because it’s timeless. There’s a seeker looking for oneness and then suddenly there’s nothing. There is no time. There is only this.
The idea in the mind that if you meditate long enough you’ll get to it, is ludicrous. That’s what keeps the story going. The whole idea that there’s something to do to find this is a total denial that already, all there is, is this.
No lovely fluffy Om One Consciousness, just ordinary ‘all there is’, without the veil of the illusory self to make it personal. No Path, direct or otherwise — with no control, no free will, there is no pathway or process or practice or program for the individual person or self to get there, and no ‘one’ to pursue it in any case. All-there-is is beyond the comprehension of the limited, separate, personal, illusory self, as is any understanding of how ’all-there-is’ is that, or happens, or any understanding that there is no ‘why’ , no purpose— it just is. ‘Abiding’ and meditating and inquiry and contemplation won’t help, and may even hinder this realization.
So why keep listening to these ‘hopeless’ messages? Why attend a meeting with one of the messengers? There seems to be something — a ‘resonance’, a bodily intuition — that emerges from listening to stories of others whose egos/minds/selves have ‘fallen away’. Perhaps this ‘resonance’ is ‘all-there-is’ speaking through our intuition, out of earshot of the ‘conscious’ separate self, and listening to it might trigger the realization, or at least a ‘glimpse’ of it, un-consciously.
About a week ago I experienced such a ‘glimpse’, while sitting looking out over the forest near my house. It had the following qualities:
If this is an ‘awakening’, it is not my first, though this one seemed to connect me, through those suddenly recalled memories, to past ‘awakenings’. It felt wonderful, but also completely ordinary and obvious. Oh, that! How could ‘I’ not have noticed?
And I now wonder (since many of these memories were pre-school) if the horror I felt at the age when I first entered the school system, that had me retreating for much of my young life deep inside my head and into my imagination, was just the new separate me concluding that all these separate ‘selves’ made no sense and were awful and full of cruelty and suffering and I was going to hide from them until they went away or somehow all of it made sense.
Or perhaps this is all just wishful thinking, and my brief moment of ‘awakening’ or ‘connection’ was just a daydream.
I can appreciate that the people I love and care about find this ‘going nowhere’ journey, and this belief in non-duality, with its implication of giving up ‘self’ control and the sense of responsibility, frightening, even threatening. Most people believe that what we do and don’t do is governed by a mature sense of self, self-control, self-awareness, personal responsibility, personal choice and ethics. Non-duality says none of this exists and our behaviour is what it is despite the non-existence of all these things.
This seems, understandably, preposterous. How do you explain ‘positive’ changes in the way we behave (“personal growth”) in their absence? Non-duality says it can’t be explained, that apparent changes just happen (or more accurately, since non-duality recognizes that time is also an illusion, that what the separate ‘we’ perceive as changes in behaviour according to some pattern ‘our’ minds conceive and remember as ‘sequential’ on a ‘time line’ in memory and judge to be ‘improvements’, just happen). That Gaia, the astonishing sympathetic evolution of environments, cells and organisms to be self-optimizing and self-sustaining over billions of years and against all odds, just happens. Just a game that ‘all-there-is’ plays with itself. For no reason.
Absurd. Unbelievable. Could only be the belief of a victim of desperate, cult thinking. Yet, somehow, intuitively resonant.
So I apologize to those I love for their understandable anxiety, but I somehow sense that this is all for the best, and that (like others who have apparently been through this) what remains if ‘I’ go will love them even more, and be less anxious and ‘self’-preoccupied about doing so.
And if ‘I’ stay, it will have been an interesting journey anyway, one that seemingly is already bringing about some ‘changes’ in ‘me’ that are healthy and calming: I still catch myself getting angry, sad, anxious and fearful, but these feelings pack less of a punch and pass more quickly, as if they are being observed and soothed. I feel myself wanting less, not so much being more accepting of what I have and what is, but more giving up hoping and striving due to a sense that striving and hoping and yearning and aching and dreaming don’t make any difference to the outcome, so why stress it?
So to some extent this ‘journey’ is over, since while I’m still curious about all this (and love to talk about it ad nauseam with those interested in the subject), I sense that self-less ‘awakening’ and ‘liberation’ will happen, or won’t. And if they happen, ‘I’ won’t be around to take credit, or lament the consequences.
Although I’ve always been a radical (at least in the original sense of the term), nothing I’ve written on this blog has stirred up a lot of controversy. You’d think predicting the collapse of industrial civilization this century, or ‘coming out’ as poly (choosing not to commit to any exclusive romantic partnership) would have done so.
My articles on being vegan tend to have been the most provocative (people seem to think I’m judging them if they choose not to be vegan), but a close second has been my relatively recent admission to have given up on environmentalism and activism. I strongly support ‘deep green’ local resistance and direct action against environmental and social atrocities, but I no longer donate to large scale ‘environmental’ or social justice organizations or participate in protests or letter-writing campaigns because I don’t see them accomplishing anything.
For this I’m labeled a defeatist, doomer or hopeless pessimist, undermining important ‘progressive’ actions by my overt lack of support. But I’m not criticizing people who choose to do these things. And I don’t think opting out of such activities precludes my outrage over the brutal extinction of wilderness, natural habitats and non-human species, the grotesque suffering inflicted on farmed animals, the poor, the people of struggling nations, the old, the sick, and the victims of abuse.
What’s happened to me, I think, is a combination of:
So my outrage is about the outcomes of industrial civilization’s activities, not at their alleged perpetrators. And that outrage is not so much intellectual or emotional as it is intuitive, a sharing of the collective pain of all the creatures on this beautiful planet, past, present and (at least in the near term) future. It is a mix of anger and sadness, but not anger at, just anger that it isn’t otherwise. One of the songs our local Song Circle regularly sings cites the four qualities that are (apparently) left after the dissolution of the illusory self. The qualities are:
Loving kindness Compassion Unselfish joy Equanimity
What can one do (if one in fact has the free will to do, or not do, anything) if one believes that our most broken and destructive systems are unreformable, that we are all doing our best, and that we cannot be other than who we are, when the only ‘tools’ we have left are the four qualities above?
One can still take local action — cleaning up a local wetland, blockading the forced eviction of a neighbour or an environmentally damaging local project, helping a neighbour out of an abusive situation, celebrating small environmental and social justice victories, facilitating or mentoring or helping resolve conflicts. You can see the immediate effects of these small kindnesses, and they are mostly enduring results. I’ve tried to capture these modest activities in my now-well-worn ‘preparing for collapse’ graphic below.
One can love and be kind, doing as little harm as possible and helping out in small important ways as much as possible. One can convey compassion and support. One can spend and share and celebrate the joys of everyday living. And one can be equanimous, keeping one’s wits to do what is required in the moment when all around are losing their heads and overreacting unhelpfully.
That’s not the same as “doing nothing”. Equanimity isn’t indifference, lack of caring. It’s being keenly aware of the situation and which interventions are, and aren’t, effective, and staying as unattached as possible to outcomes one cannot control or predict.
I think that’s a good thing.
You might ask what action might be appropriate if a despot, a xenophobe, a psychopath, or an even worse racketeer than the current gang in power is elected in the US or somewhere in the EU and that country devolves into murderous systematic violence against its most vulnerable, and its avowed ‘enemies’. I have no idea. Even equanimity has its limits. But what is ‘in charge’ of this world now if not a psychopathic, desolating, heartless, indifferent and endlessly cruel global culture? If individual tyrants and brownshirts give cause to rise up and overthrow the bastards, why doesn’t the same apply to civilization culture — why aren’t we rushing to smash it and end it as quickly as possible? Is it that we don’t want to admit that we’re not ready to do that, since many of us with some degree of wealth and comfort benefit so much from it? Or is it that we don’t want to admit that we know, in our hearts, it can’t be stopped?
PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END
A Demon Haunted World: TD0S at Pray for Calamity has taken up the kind of regular, thoughtful, precise and passionate writing about how the world really works that I now do much less frequently. Excerpt from his latest essay:
To be against civilization is not to be in favor of some inhumanity towards others, but simply to believe that urban development, infinite growth, ecological destruction, social stratification, agriculture, etc. are ultimately unsustainable pursuits that are dooming our possibility of existing very far into the future. Further, the anthropocentrism inherent in such societies results in the widespread extirpation of the other beings with who we share this planet…
More is happening in the space around you than you can possibly imagine. Your body is equipped with various sensory abilities that allow you to gather information about the world around you, and this information is used to generate a picture of existence that you as a biological entity can use to go forth and attain your survival. This picture exists in your mind only, and it is further shaped and formed by your particular biological makeup, as well as the cultural programming that you have been inculcated with since birth. The world you see is not the world I see, let alone, is not the world an owl, or a butterfly, or a snap pea sees. Human societies have a habit of claiming that through their sciences that have been able to package and interpret reality as it is. The fun sets in when we notice that each of these societies that has claimed such a handle on reality have all, in fact, had different descriptions of reality. Again, more is happening around us than we could know. We are filtering. We are constructing from the pieces we capture. We are naming and simplifying and manufacturing volumes of symbols. In a sense, we must do so so as not to be crippled by the overwhelming weight of all that we experience. But ultimately, more is not included in our picture of the world than is included. The cutting room floor actually contains more reality than the final film playing out in our heads.
Filling the Void: Another fine piece of writing by TD0S, this time a bit of an existential rant on time and collapse. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link. Excerpt:
Collapse is a very odd fascination. I cannot help but think that such an interest is a by-product of the civilized mind. I also cannot help but think that the collapse so many people fear is related to their perception of time, which is in its modern form, shaped by the superstructure of our society. Capitalism has commodified our time. People in our culture sign thirty year mortgages, they make promises to pay for cars and phones and anything that can be bought with a credit card. The entirety of neoliberal capitalism is predicated on the notion that there will be more energy and stuff tomorrow than there was today. Imaginary wealth in the form of digital notations, be they named “stocks” or “bonds” or any other “investment vehicle” exists purely in an abstract future space. Civilization already has us living within the confines of abstractions built from so much collective imagining, and these abstractions form the foundation of an even more illusory notion of time in which we have convinced ourselves that we exist. When predominantly western, white, middle class people fear collapse, what exactly are they even talking about? I posit that they are actually anxious about the destruction of the future, by which I mean a constructed notion that does not actually exist… Past, present, and future are clunky attempts to place ourselves within this abstract notion we ourselves have imagined into being. This understanding is culturally informed and not a hard and fast representation of reality. Not surprisingly, modern industrial civilization has imagined time into the most expedient and efficient of forms for the benefit of production: the straight line.
Preparing For a Beautiful End: From Utne, a lovely interview of a couple in Victoria BC modelling how to prepare for collapse. Thanks to Phorus Castana for the link.
China’s Slow Unravelling Begins: TAE explains how, despite the tens of trillions spent trying to bolster China to pull the industrial nations out of the long recession, China’s artificially-created economy has started to crumble.
Pretend to the Bitter End: Jim Kunstler explains how perception is reality, but only for a while.
Richard Heinberg’s Civilization Reboot: Richard’s COP21 recap is full of interesting, and impossible, ideas. Count how many alternative ways there are of saying “we really need to…” without identifying any “hows”. Not his business, I know. Replacing them all with “if we could only…” puts a more realistic and discouraging, if still fascinating, spin on it. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link.
The End of Cheap Oil, and Cheap Debt: Gail Tverberg explains the constraints that the limits to cheap oil and cheap debt put on our growth-addicted economy. Thanks to Sam Rose for the link.
How Much of Its Citizens’ Food Could Your City Optimally Produce?: Much, much less than you’d think, even with lawns and roofs and open spaces repurposed as gardens. Thanks to Tree for the link.
And Now, the News: XrayMike recaps the latest, all-bad, news about runaway climate change, and humans’ rather inadequate ‘efforts’ to address it.
Cartoon by Jonathan Roth from Is It Utopia Yet?
All About Co-ops: TESA releases a great study guide packed with resources about the cooperative movement and how to become part of it.
Anonymous Online Comments: With his usual wit, Rick Mercer proposes that online commenters be required to divulge their identities.
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL
Non-Sequitur comic by Wiley Miller
America’s Big Fat Hate-On: A new report reveals just how deep and broad the rage in the American heartland really is.
You Can’t Not Buy From Us: The Corporatist UK government moves to ban ethical boycotts of its cronies’ businesses.
America’s Poisoned Water: Between fracking, industrial waste, deregulation and decaying infrastructure, the water supply of more and more Americans grows increasingly toxic. Great news for the bottled water industry! They say the sign of a failed state is inability to deliver safe drinking water to its average citizens.
That They May Serve: A new study indicates that half of Canadian soldiers were child-abuse victims.
FUN AND INSPIRATION
NASA photo of Jupiter and Ganymede, from Hubble.
Why We Can’t Stop Child Abuse: If you really want to understand how and why complex (social, political and environmental) systems are so able to resist all attempts at change and reform, this is the article to read. The brilliant Jill Lepore explains that policies that try to deal with this problem swing back and forth between two equally terrible evils, and that dealing with the non-obvious and horrifically complex underlying problem is utterly unaffordable, even if we could somehow acknowledge and agree to address it.
Michael Bolton’s Jack Sparrow: Just funny, irreverent silliness. A bunch of satires rolled into one.
John Oliver on Donald Drumph: Just in case you are the only person in the world who hasn’t already seen this.
People Who Can See Colours You Can’t Even Imagine: Some people, most of them women, have extra visual receptors. Thanks to Tree for the link and the one that follows.
Picking a Mate by the Numbers: How soon scientifically to give up looking for the perfect partner, and go with your best bet to date.
THOUGHTS OF THE QUARTER
Mutts cartoon by Patrick McDonnell
From Brian Doyle‘s The Way We Do Not Say What We Mean When We Say What We Say in the March 2016 Sun Magazine (available to subscribers only):
We say yes when we mean I would rather not. We say no when we mean I would say yes except for all the times yes has proven to be a terrible idea. We say no thank you when every fiber in our bodies is moaning oh yes please. We say you cannot when what we mean is actually you can but you sure by God ought not to. We say no by not saying anything whatsoever…
Perhaps all languages began from the music of insects and animals and wind through vegetation. Perhaps languages began with the sound of creeks and rivers and the crash of surf and the whis- per of tides, and even now, all these years later, when we open our mouths to speak, out comes not so much meaning and sense and reason and clarity but something of the wild world beyond our understanding. Perhaps much of the reason we so often do not say what we mean to say is because we cannot; there is wild in us yet, and in every word and sentence and speech there is still the seethe of the sea from whence we came, and unto which we will return, which cannot ever be fully trammeled or corralled or parsed, no matter how hard we try to mean what we say when we say what we think we mean.
From PS Pirro, a new poem Death Toll:
When the snow comes we stay in the house
with mugs of strong tea and honey,
fleece and flannel, buffalo plaid and log-cabin quilts,
The fire burns steady, kettle set to simmer,
it mists the air like hot breath against a pane of glass
We press our fingers to the frozen edge, co-mingle
our heat with the last light of the day.
In the quiet golden corner El Tio sits before his ledgers,
turning a pale green page to scan the names
of all who asked for one last solstice,
one last feast of Epiphany, scheduling payment,
sending invoices, tallying his bottom line by candlelight,
he calculates the weight of souls and payroll
for the psychopomp, holding out his cup to us
that we might fill it from the kettle one more time.
From Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut (thanks to Sheri Herndon for the link):
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch’
From Brené Brown (thanks to Emily van Lidth de Jeude for the link):
People call what happens at midlife a ‘crisis’, but it’s not. It’s an unraveling — a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.
From Sy Safranski‘s latest book:
As I walked along a crowded street yesterday, something I’d read that morning by the Dalai Lama came to mind: ‘All living beings want happiness and not suffering.’ And, for a moment, I stopped noticing how different everyone looked. Behind our astonishing differences was something even more astonishing: our shared yearning to be happy and not to suffer. It didn’t matter whether we were consciously aware of this. It didn’t matter that we usually delude ourselves about the source of true happiness and look for it in all the wrong places. What mattered was that every single one of us wanted the same thing.
From Annie Dillard:
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
I do not know how [collapse] will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival. In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw. Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire. Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.
(some further pondering on non-duality; image above by the author)
even die-hard non-dualists
(who say it is hopeless, impossible
to ‘do’ anything that will make
the dissolution of the self more likely to happen)
acknowledge a resonance
that seems at least to clue the self
into thinking that its understanding of what is real
is somehow not quite right,
without knowing why.
perhaps instinct is the ‘voice’ of that resonance,
the whisper of hidden truth, an inkling,
a self-doubt that at least opens the possibility
of the self’s dissolution, leaving only
look: the tree is real,
but not in the way the mind perceives it.
mind sees patterns, makes meaning.
but these are just thoughts, renderings.
what self calls ‘this tree’ is in reality
an unfathomably complex and inseparable part of all-that-is —
it is turtles all the way down.
it is not ‘this tree’ that the self-mind sees as beautiful;
it is all-that-is, of which ‘this tree’ is just an instance,
the mind’s representation, a glimmer.
the self wants to know ‘this tree’ as finite;
it analyzes it, names it, tears it apart,
looking for what it cannot find or even conceive of.
still, it cannot help but find it beautiful,
and it cannot help
not bearing the thought it cannot be known.
wild creatures would seem
to have something-of-a-self,
in moments of existential stress,
but then shake off the illusion fast enough.
ever the doubting thomas, i wonder:
is the dissolution of the self, its non-existence
just another idea, another way out,
another trick of the too-smart-for-our-own-good minds?
so now: even more radical:
no ‘One Consciousness’, ‘Awareness’, or ‘Presence’,
no time, no matter, no mind, no one, no thing, no self —
all illusions, and not even illusions of some one.
no perturbations, sensations, perceptions, conceptions.
no purpose, no reasons ‘why’.
‘all-that-is’ is no thing, inconceivable,
beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend, or to imagine.
requiring no observer, no perceiver, no one and no thing.
beyond the twin follies of spirituality and science.
beyond quantum, which is as far as we can understand.
just all-that-is, of which an infinitesimally small part
are our illusions, and the illusory selves that have them,
and everything we thought was real, and is.
but not really.
Lately there has been some suggestion that “Peak Oil is dead” — that because of the recent drop in demand and price for oil, we will never again see high oil prices and will never run out of oil.
What this conclusion misunderstands is that it’s not about running out of oil, it’s about running out of oil that our economy can afford to extract. If oil cost a million dollars a barrel to extract, we would never have mined most of it, the industrial revolution would have stalled a century ago, and human societies would quickly have reverted to a subsistence local agrarian existence with a much smaller human population and much, much less industry and technology.
Oil was a remarkable discovery. Each barrel replaces the equivalent of about 6 person-years of unassisted manual labour. Our industrial economy and global civilization have been built on the ability to employ cheap oil to do the work of billions of people for next to nothing. We continue to depend on that. Our GDP growth correlates precisely with the consumption of oil, and has essentially nothing to do with innovation, technological ingenuity, economies of scale or ‘doing more with less’. When we run out of affordable oil, the game is up.
What is ‘affordable’ depends a lot on the health of the economy and on the incremental cost of extracting each harder-to-get barrel of oil. For most of the last half century, what was affordable was somewhere between $30-60/barrel. When oil prices have soared to the $100/barrel level, the economy has almost immediately started to tank.
The chart above shows the supply/demand curves for oil, in general terms, over that 50 year time and, most likely, the 50 years to come. It’s a bit oversimplified because supply and demand is also affected by stocks in storage, but the amount of oil that can be reasonably stockpiled to cushion again price shocks is pretty small — certainly not years’ worth.
‘Business as usual’ over the last 50 years is shown by the supply/demand curves labeled S0 and D0, intersecting at around $60/barrel. This is a price that historically has been high enough to allow continued exploration but is low enough that consumers and industry can afford it and still make a profit (and not go into unrepayable debt). When OPEC (or political events) have conspired to constrain supply, the supply curve has shifted over to the S2 curve, and demand has necessarily been reduced to the D2 curve, leading to a $100/barrel price (where S2 and D2 intersect). This has proven to be an unsustainable price, and political pressures (i.e. wars, and threats to OPEC partners) have always been applied when the price has reached this level to get suppliers to pump more oil and move the curves back to the S0/D0 $60/barrel level.
But it’s a difficult balancing act. As cheap (inexpensive to extract) OPEC oil rapidly diminishes, and as the remaining oil becomes more expensive to extract (e.g. tar sands, fracking), the point is reached where $60/barrel is no longer enough to warrant continued exploration. And, as we saw in 2008, whenever our teetering, debt-laden (and cheap oil dependent) economy falters, and demand falls even slightly, the price can plummet to the point where even more traditional exploration and extraction become uneconomic. At this price the economies of many OPEC countries also start to unravel, many of which are politically unstable to begin with.
So let’s look what happened over the past year, when the price plummeted to the $30 level. Here are (again somewhat simplified) the factors that led to this:
This was a ‘success’ in terms of devastating the oil-dependent Russian economy (which requires much more than $30/barrel to be a viable producer due to their extraction costs, which are much higher than the Saudis’). It also devastated the less-oil-dependent Canadian economy and Canadian currency (which fell from above-par to 69 cents to the US dollar as a result). It quickly destroyed the fracking industry and has seized up almost all of the projects to produce more expensive oil (the Tar Sands, deep sea, Arctic etc.). So now there’s a huge short-term surplus of supply (there is no place to put any additional surplus), but the longer-term supply (which requires a price of at least $60/barrel steadily increasing to $100/barrel and beyond to develop economically) looks to be collapsing.
On top of this, the disastrous economic policies of the last 50 years, trying to squeeze out a few more years of ‘growth’ in the industrial economy by artificially lowering interest rates to approximately zero, to get consumers to buy even more by going even deeper into debt, have reached the end of the line. They have not and do not appear capable of working any more. We have reached the point at which the ‘real’ cost of oil, needed to power GDP ‘growth’ and enable the globalized industrial economy to continue, is now higher than the exhausted, debt-ridden, artificially stimulated global economy can afford to pay.
What this will mean is that in future, in a whipsaw fashion, we are going to see a combination of spikes and collapses in oil price, in a cycle that will end in both global economic collapse and the end of large-scale oil production and hence our oil-fuelled industrial culture.
First, we will see some brief and unsustainable resurgences in price, from the current S1/D1 curve price of $30/barrel back up to the stratospheric levels of the S2/D2 curve price of $100/barrel and beyond. This will happen as the global supply of cheap-to-produce ($30/barrel and then $60/barrel) oil evaporates. There is not much of this left to begin with, and we can’t create more of it by subsidizing oil production even more than we already do, because our economy essentially runs on cheap oil — without it there’s no money to subsidize anything.
While brief periods of $100/barrel oil will temporarily spark new exploration and development, this price is, as we have repeatedly seen, unsustainable. With $100/barrel oil, demand will inevitably and drastically shrink, even at a horrific human cost — we simply cannot afford to pay for it. So as the longer-term supply of (especially cheaper) oil shifts left (i.e. decreases) as cheap OPEC supplies are exhaused, moving supply to the S3 curve, demand will also shift left (i.e. decrease) as consumers and entire economies, unable to pay for the more expensive remaining oil, collapse, moving to the D3 curve. The intersection of the S3/D3 curves is, again, the depression-level $30/barrel price. But notice how far to the left this intersection has shifted on the chart! The recent shenanigans and economic stumbles have not drastically decreased global oil consumption (the point on the horizontal axis below the S1/D1 curves at intersection 1, relative to the point on the horizontal axis below the S0/D0 curves at intersection 0). However, the future economic and cheap-oil-supply crashes will catastrophically decrease consumption (to the point on the horizontal axis below the S3/D3 curves at intersection 3).
Intersection 3 is the end game for the global industrial growth economy and the globalized civilization that depends on it. It is not the passing of Peak Oil as Hubbert might have envisioned it, since there will be lots of (expensive to extract) oil left in the ground (good news for climate change, though almost certainly too little too late to stave off the end of our planet’s long stretch of stable climate).
What intersection 3 represents is the passing of Peak Affordable Oil. As this complex interplay of economic factors works its way through in the coming decades, we’re going to see some whipsawing in oil prices (and prices and levels of just about everything else) between hyper-inflationary, and deflationary, Long Depression levels. This will be the hallmark of the Slow Collapse of industrial civilization. Get ready for a rough and uneven ride.
presence is just the whispering
of some subtle quality
exploring what it might be
to be otherwise than just
those who say they have awakened
seem at peace, but somehow disengaged.
smart people all, have they merely learned
to fool their selves?
where skin touches sand
sand becomes an extension of body
as body melts into the earth.
where skin touches air
the same temperature it is
the boundary between them dissolves —
the breath of body
is the earth
what i want is always changing
and never real.
what i want, and want not to want
is impossible, perfect, effortless.
it is the stuff of stories.
when the stories wear thin
the want subsides,
leaving an empty space,
inviting another want to arise,
another impossible story.
why do we want to read
about made-up heroes and heartbreak?
life is unreal enough.
so i write my own stories,
of beauty and pleasure and endless joy
and lose myself in them instead.
needs, wants, pleasures
not so different really.
in the midst of feeling great pleasure —
beauty, discovery, passion, calm —
don’t we want it to go on forever?
don’t we already want a next time,
a next, addictive step?
our true being, what we are
are tendrils of Presence.
our selves are merely actors
play pieces in involuntary motion
believing them selves real, separate,
in control of things.
life, time, matter:
all just perturbations of Presence.
when our selves think they’ve found the grand theory,
the origin, the start, the edge, the god particle,
all they’ve discovered is
one more layer of turtles.
this simple act of seeing
what we are, behind our selves
infinite, eternal, unfathomable,
cannot be done by our selves.
it is an astonishing feat,
an opening, surrender, leap
into the unknown.
it is self-defying, super-human, god-like,
a vanishing act.
in gentle moments, walking in lamplight,
sitting on the deck in candlelight
or on the ocean shore by the light of the moon,
i am more at peace,
more open to the possibility of Presence.
i am more aware of sense-perceptions
when they are not shouting:
soft lights, wind through trees, birdsong,
caresses, the taste of raspberries, the scent of lilacs.
only then does the noise in my head relent,
the machine sounds rumble to a halt
and for a moment i can nearly see.
image: by monica and michael sweet, hawai’ian sea turtles, from a print in my own collection
Last night I dreamed about a strange and wonderful ritual. The dream was set in my past and featured a group of about 15 close friends and family members at that time, who had gathered at someone’s house to celebrate something called “Co Day” (apparently referring to any or all of “community”, “colleagues” and “cohabitants”).
The highlight of “Co Day”, in the dream, was a ritual called an Appreciation Circle. We were sitting in a circle with candles around us and an array of cards, each depicting a positive attribute like compassion, patience, or green thumb, in front of us. Each of us took a turn being the honouree, starting with the youngest member there. Here’s how it went:
Anyone was free to decline to be honoured as their turn came up. At one point in my dream a family pet became the honouree (for steps 2-5 only)! At another point in the dream someone said they had two more Appreciation Circles to attend with different groups of friends, family and colleagues later that “Co Day”.
It was just a dream. But though I may have unwittingly embellished it in recalling it when I awoke, it seems to me that the idea of Appreciation Circles and a Co Day make a lot of sense. I’m not much of a fan of rituals, or of ‘official’ holidays, but I found this dream, and the ritual and holiday that unfolded in it, a strangely moving experience.
Maybe I’ll try it someday, when I’m next in a group of close Co’s.
image: visionary permaculture group using the Group Works exemplary group practice pattern language cards — photo by Gene Stull; these are not the ‘positive attribute’ cards that appeared in my dream, but they would do in a pinch!
image: creative commons CC0 license from pixabay
The theme for a recent ‘rhythm meditation’ retreat at my house was healing. Since my current preoccupation with meditation is mostly about learning to deal with stress more effectively, it was very much on topic for me. Healing (including self-healing) is also one of the five pillars of my preparing for collapse model.
If you trace the words for ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ back to their roots, they refer to the idea of wholeness and correctness, things being ‘intact’ and ‘as they should normally be’. There is growing evidence that prehistoric humans lived extremely healthy lives, so anything other than excellent health was an aberration, and the real danger to the health of early humans (apart from the obvious one of being eaten) was accident, not illness.
We modern domesticated creatures are not so fortunate. Most of us are subject to an enduring and growing host of illnesses, both physical and emotional, from an early age, attesting to our unnaturally massive numbers (living in unnatural proximity and anonymity), and living a very unnatural and unhealthy lifestyle — typically featuring lifelong poor nutrition, dangerous and unhealthy living conditions, recurring and debilitating trauma, and high levels of chronic stress.
As a result, we are all to some extent ill, physically and emotionally, and all engaged in a difficult, lifelong and often unsuccessful healing journey. How, then, might we best conduct our own healing journey, and help others along theirs?
Modern life offers us a limited number of strategies. We can help heal ourselves and support each other (or not) through self-awareness and self-knowledge, through letting go of our attachments, through loving unreservedly, and through empathy, compassion, giving and forgiving — ourselves, those we care about, and those we are in community with. But many, for a variety of reasons, will probably never acquire the capacity to do these things.
Some may find value in conversational ‘talk therapies’ or by spending time in wild places. Some will be fortunate enough to be surrounded by love, and have the freedom to rest and recover. Others will find at least temporary relief through distractions and diversions from their pain and dis-ease.
I’ve been thinking lately about what other ’therapies’ are available to us for our lifelong healing journeys. Although I’m increasingly dubious about how much ‘free will’ we have to change our beliefs and behaviours, there are some therapies that would seem to be available to all, if only we are aware of them and willing to try them. Here’s a list of some of them that have worked for me:
As part of my ongoing health regimen, and especially at times when I’m feeling unhealthy, I try to incorporate as many of the above therapies as possible each day. Even when I’m feeling great, these therapies often deepen my sense of joy and pleasure, help me to be more present, equanimous and at peace, and make others happier in my company.
May you be whole, as you should normally be. And may we live long enough to see a world where this is once again the way we normally are.
so now I see the sense of Gaia,
the collective Intelligence of all-life-on-Earth,
a single gently-balanced ‘organism’
in the endless process of becoming,
through evolution not as ‘progress’ but as exploration —
Gaia as one intelligence, one organism, one ‘environment’
of which each of us is a part, but not apart
and, too, I see the sense of ‘non-dual’ oneness,
that there is only infinite eternal Awareness, ‘the quality of Being’,
that there is no time, no ‘self’, no separateness, no ‘thing’ —
and that all life and all ‘existence’ is just the expression of Awareness,
its creation, its exploration into its own true nature,
and that we are all that Awareness, a part but not apart
but now I wonder:
what is Gaia if not a ‘thing’?
is it the ’embodiment’ of Awareness?
and if that’s true,
does that mean that all-that-is-Gaia is just a game
that Awareness plays with itself?
a game of solitaire?
photo: earthrise, seen from apollo 8, via NASA, on wikipedia (public domain)
Many people find it hard to believe I can be, on the one hand, resigned to the utter collapse of our civilization culture in this century (not suddenly, but over several decades of great hardship and struggle), and, on the other hand, think it likely that after this collapse the small number of human survivors could well live a more idyllic and joyful life than anything available to our species in this civilization’s 30,000 year long march.
We can, of course, not possibly know. I can’t even say that these ‘senses’ I have about collapse followed by utopia are even ‘beliefs’. The longer I live and the more I learn the more these future scenarios seem to make sense, but they stem from intuitive and emotional and sensory ‘knowledge’ more than any intellectual wisdom. I will say that I am a skeptic, inclined to second-guess anything that I am tempted to believe, and suspicious of my motivations for ‘believing’ anything. Do I want to ‘believe’ in the inevitability of collapse because it obviates the need for me to do anything to try to stop it or mitigate it? Do I want to ‘believe’ in a utopian future for post-civilization humans because it alleviates my guilt about the destruction my species has wreaked upon this beautiful, delicately-balanced planet? I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure.
I do think it would be impossible for me to lay out a coherent and rational justification for my sense that these are the most likely future scenarios for our species. And what difference would it make if I could? Who would I want to convince, and to what end, especially if my sense is that nothing we do now will affect these outcomes anyway?
I think the reason I’m so interested in these imagined future arcs of events is that I am by nature a writer. I can’t not write, and chronicling the last stages of a truly remarkable culture as it has burned through the planet’s resources so quickly as to alter the planet’s climate and precipitate the sixth great extinction of life upon it, seems a worthy task for a writer.
My fascination with life after collapse also comes, I think, from my compulsion to write and my joy (and, I’m told, exceptional skill) at imagining possibilities. What an amazing story!: A species so convinced its culture is the crown of evolutionary creation that it destroys the balance of the planet to keep that myth alive, after which its survivors learn that that very ruinous culture was all that was keeping the species from an unimaginably idyllic life!
So I have basically given up trying to convince people that our civilization will soon end, or that succeeding human societies will be more sustainable and joyful (and marginal in the global web of live on Earth by then). And I have also given up trying to convince people that our true nature is as parts of One Consciousness, and that our selves, minds and sense of time are illusory (if not delusional).
When you write about this stuff, as I have been for years, there is an expectation (1) that you’ll engage in a discussion with readers to justify and clarify what you’ve said, and (2) that you’ll provide readers who share your perspective some ideas on what they should “do about it”.
I enjoy the comments and suggestions from readers, but I don’t think I’ve changed any minds with what I’ve written. Readers are generally looking for reassurance and clarity on their own views, and some have probably found that here, as I have on other ‘collapsnik’ blogs like the ones shown in the right sidebar. There is such cognitive dissonance in the world between what the mainstream media (and most people) discuss and assert, and my own sense of what is actually happening and why, that it is reassuring to know I’m not crazy in my thinking, feelings and intuitions, that others see things the same way. So I’m not surprised other readers seek such reassurance.
But I don’t engage much in discussion (much less debate) about these ideas, since my sense is we each come at this stuff from such utterly different places, and our language is so inadequate to convey them, that discussion is usually pretty pointless. I’d rather move on to some other writing or reading, as selfish as that might be.
And lately I’ve been wary about suggesting what others who share my perspectives should “do about it”, because it’s hard to generalize about this in any useful way when each of our lives is so different. My retirement allows me to do things that people who have to work long hours to stay above water can’t do, for example.
The poster at the top of this post is the best I’ve come up with as a general set of ideas for what someone who at least entertains the possibility of near-term economic, energy or ecological collapse might rationally think of doing. It seems only sensible that to prepare for a radically different and unpredictable future, you would start by focusing on knowing, healing and liberating yourself from systems undergoing collapse, and then move on to experimenting with different ways of living that might be useful models during and after that collapse, and building community capacity to cope with that collapse.
That is, if you have the time, personal capacity and resources to do this self-knowing, healing, liberating, experimenting and community-building work.
But although it may seem sensible to do these things, it is not in our nature to do what is sensible. As I have written recently, what seems sensible or rational is not radical enough for our true, feral nature. Our feral nature, I think, is simply to take pleasure (in its original sense of ‘calm delight’) in our lives, free (arguably) of the modern preoccupations and scourges of work, purpose, personal love, intentional actions, conversation, abstract language, abstract thought etc.
Would a feral human really choose to spend otherwise pleasurable time pursuing self-knowledge, self-healing, liberation, experimentation with different possible ways of living and community-building? I don’t think so. No surprise, then, that relatively few people who have the opportunity to do so, do so. I think these are valuable and useful endeavours, and convince myself to spend some time on them, but I know I’d rather spend my time doing pleasurable things, and (once the urgent tasks are done) I usually do.
So what about this blog’s other preoccupation, with realizing the illusion of self? I can tell you that this is not at all a pleasurable activity. It’s infuriating. Again, I can rationally justify spending time in contemplation, inquiry and ‘meditation’ aimed at realizing this illusion, but when it competes with activities that are simply pleasurable, it is no contest.
I can hardly advocate behaviours for others that I am unwilling or unable to do myself. In fact, if the non-dualists are right, then neither others nor I are able to do anything other than be who we are — we have no ‘free will’ to do anything other than what we do — so berating ourselves or others for not doing otherwise is little more than an exercise in sadomasochism.
So if there is no purpose in trying to change people’s minds or behaviours, what purpose remains for writing this blog, or anything else?
As I said above, I think it’s interesting to write about the accelerating collapse of a 30,000 year old culture and the sixth great extinction of life on this planet, about scenarios of possible sustainable, joyful human societies after collapse, and about the puzzle of trying to escape the illusion of self and what success at doing so might lead to. And since I can’t not write, I might as well write about interesting things. They might bring the pleasure of discovery or reassurance or provocation or empathy or curiosity to some readers.
The fact that they can’t, and won’t, change minds or behaviours or the fate of the world is perhaps unfortunate, but beside the point.
We will do what we will do, and be who we are, or seemingly who we are not, regardless. The economy will collapse, or not. Affordable energy will run out, or not. Climate change will make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans, or not. We will discover our true being, or not. It is all beyond our control, and it is all fascinating. We will think about all these things, when we are not indulging our preference for doing things that we find pleasurable, deluded or not.
Regardless of it all, After Us the Dragons. The cast of characters in the comedy-drama of life on Earth will change, and the play will go on. In the lovely, magnificent, infuriating, eternal Now. And the One Consciousness of which we are all, perhaps, a part, will take infinite pleasure in that.
(“After us the dragons.” is the somewhat equanimous statement made by scientist-poet-philosopher Loren Eiseley in thinking about who will inherit the Earth after the disappearance of humans, in his book The Night Country.)