Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

April 24, 2015

What It Means to Let Go

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 22:25

broken eggshell

Most of my energies of late have been channeled into preparing myself to really see, at an experiential level, that my self, my mind, my sense of being all-of-a-piece, my sense of separateness, my sense of self-control and my sense of time are all illusions, conceptions, ideas that are extremely useful in surviving day to day, but ultimately false.

As I wrote last month, my reason for this search, and this strange journey, is to learn to cope better with stress, instead of trying to avoid it and hide from it.

With some effort, I have been able to appreciate intellectually that these six ideas are illusory; the arguments for their ‘real’ existence are flimsy, circuitous and defensive. And I have started along the harder path of learning to let my feelings (emotions) just be felt (without denying or suppressing them in case they hurt too much), and to let my sensations just be sensed (without labeling or attaching meaning to what I see, hear etc.) so that I will be able to cope with the feelings that ‘liberation’ from these illusions might engender. I appreciate why my mind always wants to intervene (with the best of intentions), and I also appreciate the ancient fight-flight-freeze purpose behind our acute feelings of fear, anger and grief (ill-adapted as they are to the modern world of constant stress).

I’ve found the book The Feeling Path by Joe Shirley (who I met during a recent trip to Seattle) helpful in learning to let my feelings ‘just be felt’. Joe’s book teaches you how to ‘map’ each of your “distressing, reactive states” to an at-peace “ideal state” it pulls you away from, and to appreciate that their purpose is “to help you identify the source of an imbalance and correct it”. He writes:

The ideal state you revealed through the Feeling Path Mapping process is not some kind of optimal state for continued existence. It is an ideal. It establishes the origin point for this particular feeling path, the ideal end of the full continuum of feeling states possible on this path. This feeling path has a job to do. Its job is to provide you with accurate, highly responsive feedback about your state of balance in the world. It needs to be fluid, ever changing according to what is real inside and around you. To live with the full capacity to feel, right here, right now…

Allow yourself to feel the reactive state, knowing you no longer have to fear that state. Let yourself notice the positive intention it always had for you. What was it trying to do for you, back then when it first took this form? Now reverse and shift the feeling state back into the ideal. Recognize that the ideal is just that: a beacon, a direction, an invitation to shape your life in ways that create harmony. It is not an arrival place…

The pain you [will continue to] feel will be real, responsive to in-the-moment losses or threats or violations. You will feel it and you will respond to it, and the pain will have done its job and will subside. The pain you feel will do its job quickly, and you will no longer get stuck in suffering, disconnected from reality and perpetuating a reaction from the past. You will be grateful for your pain, your sadness, your fear, because you will recognize it for what it is: aliveness and truth, and the authentic engagement with the awesome mystery of being.

As I continue on this journey, I also appreciate the anxiety of those who worry about what might happen to me (and them) if I am able to really see what I now ‘know’ to be true (there is something unsettling about intellectually appreciating that the very basis of much of what I have intellectually appreciated and valued all my life is illusory and unhealthy). They see a fine line between un-attachment (equanimity) and detachment (emotional insensitivity, inattention, disengagement and withdrawal). They worry that letting go of the illusion of self-control will mean letting go of responsibility and “good” judgement. I harbour some remaining concerns about these things myself, but not enough to turn back.

This journey is particularly hard for me because I realize that, for most of my life, I have been driven by fear and aversion, and have become afraid to feel (in case it makes me melt down or do something harmful) and afraid to pay attention (in case I notice something too hard to bear). As I’ve said, I’m the opposite of resilient, in an age when resilience is becoming essential to survival and usefulness in facing the challenges ahead. While I’ve written that I’m no use to the world broken, I now realize I’m also not much use to the world fearful.

So I’m persevering, identifying and moving aside the inner obstacles to really looking and really seeing what really is, and what is just illusion. Those who have been guiding me in this multi-modal journey are understandably impatient (“just fucking look!“) but I am patient, going at a pace that is right for me, and not (for once) over-analyzing or over-thinking it.

And while the journey is unfinished (and if I complete it, I am sure it will be just the start of a longer if less tedious journey), I am already curious about what the ‘I’ that recognizes there is no ‘I’ will do with this realization, what it will mean to see the world through such utterly different eyes.

Here, to motivate me, is what I imagine it could (ultimately) mean:

  1. Taking just about everything less seriously. That doesn’t mean being dismissive or ridiculing, but rather being more at peace with what is and less driven to change things, to strive, to achieve. Less angry and less blaming (can’t blame your ‘self’ if you don’t have one), and more accepting. There is a Buddhist text and song about what is left after ‘enlightenment’ (loving kindness, compassion, selfless joy and equanimity). I doubt one can reach a state that free from ‘negative’ feelings, but I sense that these four ‘positive’ feelings will be more prevalent in my life. They are already.
  2. More attentive and less distracted. Better able to see what really is and less distracted by attaching meaning, purpose, consequence or intent to it. And hence better able to see what is really needed and how to be of use, with the right, gentle touch.
  3. Dealing, with a mixture of frustration and delight, with how this new understanding of the world affects the language that I use (that infuriating tool that we writers wrestle with so passionately and endlessly). How will I seriously be able to use pronouns if there is no ‘self’? How can I coherently write about anything without using them?
  4. Better able to really feel, to really sense, to really tap into intuition, and to “make sense” of things in an appreciative, open, pattern-noticing way instead of an analytical, reductionist way.

What’s most interesting to me about this journey is that I think it might be fruitless. There is a part of ‘me’ (which I wrote about in my story The Opposite of Presence) that thinks the only journey that I am truly capable of is one of self-acceptance, of embracing my ‘self’ warts and all instead of denying its existence.

If that’s Plan B, it’s a pretty good one, I think. No matter where the journey takes me, ‘I’ will be in a better place than I am now.

I’ll keep you posted. And I promise not to wax rhapsodic at whatever I find, and not to tell you, dear friends and readers, that you ‘should’ (or shouldn’t) make the same journey.

Now I’m going to wander out onto the deck with my mug of tea and stare out into the darkness, at the forest, at the Salish Sea, and the mountains beyond. I’m going to try, once more, to stand still and look until I really see.

April 8, 2015

Several Short Sentences About Learning

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves,Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 17:00

facilitator_group  mentor

  1. The only useful learning experiences I have ever had have been at least initially self-directed and exploratory.
  2. This is despite having attended educational institutions, conferences, workshops and seminars that were generally led and organized by smart, caring people.
  3. Because our culture is so pervasive, it’s hard to imagine a real alternative to today’s institutional educational systems, programs and processes. So it’s not surprising that most people (including most progressives) are horrified at the suggestion that our colossal investment in public and private educational institutions is almost entirely a waste of time and money. But there is substantial and growing evidence that it is.
  4. As Dylan Wiliam has explained (thanks to Michael Wiik for the link and precis of Dylan’s presentation), two preconditions for effective learning are (1) interesting, real challenges, and (2) a belief that this learning is urgent and important. Without them, there is no curiosity, no engagement, real attention or motivation to learn. Self-directed learning also requires (3) the capacity to take ownership of one’s own learning (which takes some effort and practice to develop), (4) a network of accessible mentors and facilitators (and of peers who can learn together from each other), including demonstrators of the learning in the real world where learners can appreciate and practice using what they’re learning, and (5) well-designed resources that provide context-rich learning content, self-assessment tools, and ideas for remedial and supplemental study.
  5. In undamaged (by civilization) indigenous, tribal cultures, everyone is engaged to learn, because at least the first four of the above preconditions are present for young people (and for that matter all tribe members).
  6. Modern educational institutions, on the other hand, generally provide none of these preconditions. The subjects we are “taught” are mostly academic, dry, and unrelated to the needs of the real world. We are taught that our role is to be consumers not providers, and that if we do as we’re told what we need will be provided to us. The capacity for independent thinking and learning is underdeveloped and even discouraged in favour of passively being “schooled”. People doing real, useful work are too busy struggling to make ends meet to afford much time to mentor or facilitate others. And what few self-assessment tools we have are “standardized”, context-poor, and designed to require us to repeat exactly the schooling that didn’t work if we “fail” to learn.
  7. We can’t replace our largely useless educational institutions until we live once again in a society that meets the five preconditions above. That society will eventually re-emerge after civilization’s collapse and retribalization (with the commensurate relocalization, downscaling and decomplexification of everything), but for most, effective learning will be almost impossible until then.
  8. This presents a particular challenge because re-learning essential skills for local self-sufficiency and community-building is paramount to creating the resilience we will need as civilization’s collapse progresses. How can we do this self-directed learning if effective self-directed learning is rendered so difficult by our civilization?
  9. While we’re each going to have to find the first three preconditions within ourselves (and most people who have realized the imminence and inevitability of collapse have, almost by definition, done this), there are both social and technological things we can do to establish the fourth and fifth preconditions.
  10. Suppose you want to learn how to fix (or even build) your own bicycle. YouTube videos can only show you how one person fixes one thing on one kind of bicycle. How might we reinvent online media in such a way that they would replicate, as closely as possible, the personal, iterative, interactive, real-time experience of taking a Bicycle Maintenance 101 course from your local bike shop?
  11. And how then might we supplement that reinvented online learning experience with a network of real-time mentors and facilitators you could turn to, both online and in your own community, and a network of peers learning the same competency so learners can also learn from each other?
  12. And then, how might we further supplement this learning experience-plus-network with self-study resources that include context-rich self-assessment, remedial and more advanced study resources?
  13. We learn much more by experiment, and by making mistakes, than by doing things correctly. Unless we don’t know that they’re mistakes, or why they’re mistakes, or how to do the thing better.
  14. In most cases there’s not much point learning something unless you’re going to practice it regularly starting soon after you learn it. We forget as quickly as we learn. The key to making learning last is, alas, lots of attentive and passionate practice. (Perhaps that’s also the key to making love last. In both “there is no mastery, only practice.”)
  15. We do have our own personal ways of learning, which is why self-directed learning works better than schooling (which can only hope to accommodate a few different ways). By learning with others, however, peer-to-peer, we can actually learn to appreciate other ways to learn.
  16. It’s at least as hard to unlearn something as to learn something new. George Lakoff: “Frames trump facts. All of our concepts are organized into conceptual structures called “frames” (which may include images and metaphors) and all words are defined relative to those frames. Conventional frames are pretty much fixed in the neural structures of our brains. In order for a fact to be comprehended, it must fit the relevant frames. If the facts contradict the frames, the frames, being fixed in the brain, will be kept and the facts ignored.”
  17. If you want a conference or workshop to be a great learning event, write an invitation geared to the five prerequisites, above: It should set out an interesting challenge for attendees, persuade them that this learning fills an urgent and important need, encourage them to believe they can self-manage their way to competency with it, promise to demonstrate it well, and undertake to connect them to mentors and facilitators and resources for ongoing self-study and additional learning. If you can do all that honestly, who could resist? If you can’t, why would anyone want to go?
  18. Conversation is the way most informal learning is imparted. This is because it’s iterative, context-rich, and among people who generally care a lot about the subject. But most of us have poor conversational skills (I confess to this). Improving these skills would make us much better learners (and mentors).
  19. Likewise listening skills.
  20. Our minds resist new ideas, and we’ll often think “I already knew that” when in fact we didn’t. Roger Schank: “Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard. Agreement with a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.” This is a major challenge to new learning.
  21. We learn more from ‘play’ and art than from work. Our minds are more open to possibilities.
  22. We learn more from sensory media (visuals, recordings) than from written text. It’s how we made sense of the world for hundreds of millennia before we invented symbolic languages.
  23. When our intuition and imagination are sparked, we learn more and faster.
  24. Appreciation is essential to learning. You have to care, to be curious, to be open, to be driven more by really wanting to know (just in order to know) than by having to know (for work, or out of fear etc.) to get the most from a learning experience.

And finally, from a post I did way back in 2004, is my list of the top 10 constraints to learning in our modern culture:

  1. We don’t allow ourselves (and society doesn’t allow us) enough time for wonder.
  2. Our workplace activities and our home routines are often repetitious and stimulus-poor.
  3. We don’t do much together anymore.
  4. We get too much of our life experience second-hand (from books & movies, and online).
  5. We suffer from imaginative poverty — we won’t let ourselves imagine, and now we’ve largely forgotten how to imagine.
  6. Our lives are too organized and too scheduled to allow serendipitous experiences and hence serendipitous learning.
  7. In this world full of terrible knowledge and awful realities, we are becoming afraid to learn. We cannot bear too much reality, too much bad news, and we don’t want to accept the awful responsibility that knowing and learning brings with it.
  8. Everything about the current Western educational system impedes and discourages learning.
  9. The media have addicted themselves, and us, to facts rather than meaning.
  10. We have ‘desensitized’ ourselves — we process everything mainly with our left brain, so we no longer really see, really hear, really smell, really taste, really feel. We live, and learn, through a veil of cognition, that makes both much harder.

(Image of facilitation from NCSU; image of mentoring from UConn)

March 15, 2015


Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 16:32

Darren Hopes New Scientist

(image by Darren Hopes from NewScientist.com)

Frequent readers of my blog are likely aware that, beyond my creative works, my posts focus mainly on two subjects:

(1) how the world really works, what state our civilization is in and what we can do to prepare for its inevitable collapse, and

(2) what it means to be human, and who ‘we’ as individuals and cultures really are.

As a result of an extremely stressful situation late last year, I have been preoccupied in recent months with the second subject, and in particular with discovering some means of better coping with both chronic and acute stress. For most of my life, depression was my primary coping mechanism; more recently my body has responded with ulcerative colitis outbreaks. These are understandable but obviously maladaptive responses to stress. The epidemics of depression, attention dysfunction and autoimmune diseases in modern western societies suggest that I’m hardly alone in this. I have labeled these, collectively, “Civilization Disease”, and just about everyone I know is afflicted. “The whole earth is our hospital”, TS Eliot wrote, and his prescription for the disease (perhaps consistent with John Gray’s objective of achieving “an attitude of contemplative gratitude”), is stillness:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

One avenue I have been exploring in my search for a means of coping with this existential Dis-ease is the notion of “self-less-ness”, the idea that there is no “self”, no “I”, no autonomous separate being with free will or agency or control over what happens or doesn’t happen to the body or its contents. The idea is that if I can get my body to appreciate this viscerally, to stop furiously trying to do and be what it cannot, then the self-inflicted damage that Civilization Disease wreaks upon me might cease, or at least abate.

But though I can appreciate my self-less-ness intellectually, I seem incapable of the difficult task of feeling it, experiencing it, realizing it, seeing “through” my self, which is constantly asserting its existence and making this body (and at times others’ as well) suffer for it.

I have recently been studying three approaches to overcoming this incapacity, all of which suggest that it may not require 10,000 hours of meditation or other practice:

1. Gary Weber’s free-online book Happiness Beyond Thought. Gary outlines a series of practices, traditional and modern, that he says can lead you to what he calls “awakening”. He writes: “It is the clear recognition that we aren’t our thoughts or the stories that we tell ourselves. We aren’t the bodies that we worry about so much. We aren’t the sensations that we crave and fear. We are the already present happiness, the still awareness beyond thought within which all of this occurs. That awareness is beyond fear, beyond suffering, beyond death itself… There is a knowing of a deep ‘yes'; of acceptance that you are not in charge, in fact that you are not. Rather than seeing that deep stillness as an observer, you dissolve in that deep stillness. You realize that you are that and have always been. There is an unshakable certainty, a knowing of completeness, fullness and limitlessness beyond any doubt. There is also the knowing that this is nothing special, nothing special at all and that no one created it or has it as an achievement. There is the wonderment that it could have been overlooked for so long as it is so clear, intimate and simple.”

2. Thomas Metzinger’s book The Ego Tunnel. Thomas argues that the illusion of self arises because the model of reality (and of self) that the evolved brain creates to function effectively is integrated, coherent and transparent (i.e. it doesn’t seem to be a model at all; it seems to be real). It is a conundrum to try to rationally appreciate that it is a model when the only tools we have to achieve that appreciation function within that model. He writes: “The Ego and the Tunnel (the way we perceive the world and our ‘selves’) are evolved representational phenomena, a result of dynamical self-organization on many levels. Ultimately, subjective experience is a biological data format, a highly specific mode of presenting information about the world by letting it appear as if it were an Ego’s knowledge. But no such things as selves exist in the world. A biological organism, as such, is not a self. An Ego is not a self, either, but merely a form of representational content—namely, the content of a transparent self-model activated in the organism’s brain… We could say that the system as a whole (the Ego Machine), or the organism using this brain-constructed conscious self-model, can be called a ‘self’. A self, then, would simply be a self-organizing and self-sustaining physical system that can represent itself. The self is not a thing but a process.”

3. Experiential Guides using the method of philosopher Ciaran Healy. Healy learned that it is possible to recognize the illusion of self by examining the reality of experience, by just really focusing on ‘looking’ at how we actually experience our ‘self’ until we see that it does not exist. Some iffy groups (like Ruthless Truth) emerged to try to beat down participants’ (perfectly understandable) resistance in order to ‘help’ them in this realization. The group I recently joined is gentler (and completely free, run by volunteers), and is called (a bit hyperbolically) Liberation Unleashed. Its sole purpose is to help others “see through the illusion of the separate self” and then deal with the meaning and consequences of that realization, which they describe (in Zen terms) as “walking through a gateless gate”.

These approaches all have their detractors, from those who warn that the consequence of this realization will be suicidal nihilism, to those who see it as a means of unhealthy detachment from genuine connection and empathy with other humans, to those who hold that such realization is a tautological impossibility and hence can only be self-delusion.

Ilona, one of the founders of, and my ‘guide’ at, Liberation Unleashed, has been helpful in getting me to the following realization, but so far no further; this is my most recent message to her:

In the book Figments of Reality, Stewart & Cohen describe us as ‘complicities’ — self-organizing collections of cells and organs. Organisms, including humans, are just another level of aggregation of this complicity for mutual benefit, up to the highest level, which we call Gaia, an apparent collective consciousness that clearly has no controlling ‘self’. Thinking back downwards from there, if these complicities have no self, is there some fundamental constituent that does? Clearly not. Again, I get this intellectually, but experiencing it as real still eludes me.

So to answer the question about what these seemingly coherent collections of memories and experiences and beliefs ‘are’, if not constituents of a ‘self’, I guess they are analogous to a ‘program’. I often tell people “you cannot be other than who you are”, which I suppose I might restate as “what you think of as you is just a program that has evolved to help your body’s complicity survive and thrive in concert with the rest of life on Earth”. Then we get into the semantic debate about whether that ‘program’ is one’s ‘self’. Hopefully I will be able to work my way through that next.

[So my concept of ‘self’ is that] it is a program (or set of programs), a set of memories, ideas, beliefs, experiences stored in neurons in my brain (and in my gut), that the constituents of my body use to decide and act (e.g. to fight a disease parasite, to run from an attacker, to console a hurt friend) in a way that is optimal for the health and survival of the collective, the complicity that comprises what I self-identify as ‘me’ and the complicity of my community and of all-life-on-Earth. The content of these memories, ideas etc. are all stories, which don’t exist; they are just ‘made up’. But these memories, ideas etc. do exist and collectively they comprise what I might choose to call my ‘self’. There is no ‘I’ in control of them or in control of the process/program that determines how they are drawn upon to produce decisions/actions. But as valid as the description of ‘self’ above seems intellectually, I cannot seem to transcend the intellectualization of it and experience or feel ‘self-less-ness’.

(The concept of ‘presence’ is similarly an illusion, an invention; in fact the entire conception of “now” and “present” and “time” is just a useful modelled representation of apparent phenomena in the ‘real’ world, much as the scenes in a film (and the pixels that display them) are useful and compelling representations of reality. As scientists (even Stephen Hawking) are now realizing, time does not exist either (and formulae about the real world become much simpler and more precise representations of reality when the concept of time is done away with). Somehow it becomes easier to believe the self does not exist when something else (time) that seems to exist is understood to be a fiction. So when I say that I want to learn to be more ‘present’ to cope better in the moment with stress, perhaps what I really want is to appreciate viscerally that there is no me to be ‘present’ and no present to be ‘present’ in. It is hard (but exciting) to imagine what that might feel like.)

One of the veterans of Healy’s experiential guides approach, who calls himself (or herself) GhostVirus2011, has become disenchanted by the high failure rate of the guides and the number of people they have alienated by their rigorous (or some might say obstinate) approach, but is still in the process of trying to formulate a better ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to personal ‘liberation’ from the perception that the self is real.

The key element in the approach that the guides lead you through is called “looking” at your direct experience. As valid as my conception of ‘self’ as a program (as I described above) may be, I am told it will not be of any use in ‘realizing’ self-less-ness. Ilona is clearly impatient with my intellectualization, and I can appreciate why. (It is the same impatience I have experienced from swimming teachers and dancing teachers and music teachers who say I am ‘overthinking’ what I have to do, that I should just let go and do it.)

Ghost has a whole post just on what this “looking” process means, but essentially it is quite similar to the process in meditation of being aware of your thoughts (conceptions) and recognizing them as such and letting them go, so you just focus all your attention on your experienced reality: what you are perceiving, what you are sensing, what you are feeling, what you are doing/moving — until you realize that these perceptions and sensations and feelings and motions (collectively “noticings”) do not require an actor, a self, a noticer, and that the imagined self and ‘its’ thoughts just get in the way of that realization.

This may not require 10,000 hours of practice, and the realization may come in only a few seconds of focused noticing/looking, but it is not an easy or explainable step-by-step process; some have compared it to the struggle you have seeing the ‘hidden’ alternate view in an image or the sense of 3-dimensionality when looking through a two-lens stereoscopic viewer or achieving balance on a bicycle for the first time. Ghost says it takes courage and honesty but perhaps what it takes most is focus, determination and perseverance; Ghost’s own breakthrough came as follows:

I think more than anything, I was tired of having the constant headache from thinking too hard, in some ways I think that the pattern of self became exhausted and when I smashed through the dishonesty to look in real life, it was actually fatigue of the patterns that reinforce self. I think that break allowed me to realise that I was not in fact being honest. That was it… two weeks of fretting and all for the requisite five seconds of honesty to look at real life. That is how long it took me, when in reality five seconds is all that is required.

I have spent many hours over the last month trying to do this, and if as the guides say frustration is an indication you’re on the right track I must be very close. I do sense that I am close. I am skeptical about all this but persuaded by the sheer volume and diversity of people who have succeeded in this realization that there is something to it.

I’ll keep you posted, though if I experience a breakthrough, that in itself will likely be of no use to anyone other than me. If it happens, judging from what others have written, I expect I will not call it enlightenment or awakening, but rather just ‘realization of self-less-ness’. What might change over time as a result, in addition to my capacity to cope with stress, are some of the ways I interact with the world, including my writing (human languages are intractably bound up in this sense of self, beginning with pronouns).

I also appreciate that this ‘realization of self-less-ness’ is probably a one-way trip and a first small step to other changes that will happen in me. After all, the neurons in our brain have self-organized all our lives to reflect and sustain our self-centred worldview, and the sudden realization that there is no self will probably require some gradual rewiring to accommodate. Ghost describes it this way (I have taken the liberty of correcting Ghost’s spelling and grammar):

Suppose I dragged you to a mirror and said ‘you are a monkey, look’. When you looked in to the mirror, you saw the reflection of a monkey. Your whole world view would shatter. You look at your body, it’s covered in hair, you were always quite short, you look at the very primitive opposing thumbs and then at this point the brain will accept that its model of reality needs updating. Of course this would be quite a shock (being turned into a monkey overnight with my genetic transmorpher ray) but this is how the brain works when it comes to accepting an updated view of reality. Once you see there is no self, then reality is updated to incorporate this new fact…

There is further to go after no-self, so it is just one step on a much larger journey. If you have seen it once, that is crossing the gate. It is like taking sunglasses off and noticing the true character of reality. We cannot unknow what we have seen. Nothing changes after the realisation except you get a new angle on suffering and you get a sense of clarity. It is a subtle psychological knowing rather than being something overtly noticeable, so don’t get caught in the trap that there is some seismic shift that happens, or some transition to instant bliss. It is waking up to life as it is, and life is what it is to be experiencing this moment right now. You are still prone to misery, ecstasy, the full range of human emotions, but they cannot consume you in the same way.

This process seems appropriate for me at this moment. Sometimes you reach a stage in your life at which you realize the way you live is not working for you, and something needs to shift. I feel as if I am girding up my strength to walk away from an abuser after many, many years of silent suffering. The only difference is that my abuser is my self.

Walking away now.

February 7, 2015

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 20:01


wallpaper from psp.88000.org

Marshall McLuhan had the right idea about striving to be present in a world that is ever-more absent, preoccupied, disconnected, and distracted. The process to move from absent-mindedness to presence, I am learning, involves three steps, and they are captured perfectly in the famous expression Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (the expression was popularized by Timothy Leary, but at least according to Wikipedia he acknowledged that it was coined by McLuhan).

Turn On means let go of the myth of self and reconnect with and be carried along as part of the staggeringly complex indistinctness and ambiguity of our collective existence, using whatever method works for you — meditation, psychoactive drugs etc. That entails acknowledging that what we think of as our “self” is just an invented story, a collective myth. The emergence of the ego, the sense of self, would seem to be an unintended consequence of our large and protein-rich brains’ compulsion for finding patterns and representing reality through the use of abstract models. These are useful tools until they bring on a psychosis — until “we” believe these representations to be real, and our “selves” to be real and separate. This abstracted sense of separate self and identity is taught to us relentlessly from birth, and it has been reinforced and exploited, with the best of intentions, by our culture.

Our sense of separateness has enabled us to do some astonishing and ghastly things. One of the hallmarks of civilized human culture was the discovery and use of the arrowhead — the ancient invention that allowed us, for the first time, to kill “impersonally” — without putting ourselves at risk or physically contacting our prey at the moment we destroy and devour them. The drone, the unmanned flying vehicle capable of wreaking mass destruction on millions, is merely the latest high-tech manifestation of the lowly and terrible arrowhead. With these inventions we lost the sense of sacredness when one part-of-the-collective-us consumes another, for “our” collective benefit. With these inventions we could, for the first time, refuse to accept the inevitability of our sacred demise as essential food for another part of us, for “our” collective benefit. Our fear and loathing of death was, I think, a direct consequence of our new false sense of apart-ness, our disconnection. To Turn On is to reconnect, to let go of the myths of self and separateness, and to be, real and alive.

Tune In means learn, appreciate and understand how the world, and its complex adaptive systems, really work. That entails acknowledging that complex systems (i.e. all organic, social and ecological systems) are inherently largely-unknowable, uncontrollable, and unpredictable, unlike the mechanical systems we try to represent them as. It entails acknowledging that, by sheer dint of the collective actions of billions of well-intentioned humans, past and present, each doing their best, the economic and ecological systems on which we utterly depend have become overextended, exhausted and damaged to the point they are now unsustainable and are in a process of accelerating and unstoppable collapse. And that collapse is bringing about the end of global civilization culture, and with it a drastic reduction in human numbers and in the complexity of human society and, depending on the severity of runaway climate change, the extinction of either most or all living species on the planet in this century. To Tune In is to appreciate the wonderful and terrible knowledge of where we all are, now, and how we got here.

Drop Out means walk away from this damaging, unhealthy and dying culture, and cease participating in it and supporting it. That entails non-participation in any of the now-global culture’s interdependent and crumbling systems — political, economic, social, educational, health, technological, legal, media etc. It means no longer abiding by the rules of these systems that are killing our planet and which have made us all physically and emotionally ill. Most civilizations end not with devastating clashes among their citizens, but when their citizens realize the civilization can no longer sustain them advantageously, and simply and en masse, walk away from them. To Drop Out is to achieve and act on this realization.

I have spent much of the last decade on the Tune In part, studying complex systems and the nature and history of our economic, energy and ecological systems. It has made me a joyful pessimist — a pessimist because I realize that collapse will bring huge suffering and loss, and joyful because I have given up stressing over trying to reform or mitigate these systems. I am learning to just appreciate the wonder of life and love and learning, and the astonishing possibilities for a much better world after the collapse of this terrible but (in the larger scheme of things) short-lived agri-industrial civilization. It will be a world with many fewer, lower-impact, re-tribalized humans, or perhaps no humans at all.

That part has been easy, despite the sense of grief, shame and dread that the realization of inevitable collapse has brought me. The other two parts, the Turn On and Drop Out parts, are seemingly beyond my current capacity.

While I continue to try different modes of Turning On — meditation and other thought-quieting methods that will hopefully lead me beyond the myth of self towards real presence and reconnection, I don’t feel I’m making much progress. And I confess to being impatient: I give up (too) easily. I’m looking for an easier and faster way. I’m curious to try biofeedback techniques such as those Gary Weber has suggested. I am still too much a coward to try ayahuasca or similar psychoactives that are said to make it easier to reach a sustained state of reconnection. Nevertheless, I am motivated, and sometimes feel infuriatingly close to achieving a breakthrough in realizing that state of presence, reconnection and “self-less-ness” that I know intellectually is possible, and that I yearn for so profoundly.

I can understand why many of those trying to heal from Civilization Disease seek a simpler and more accessible path — such as appreciating their “self” more instead of berating themselves, and such as building self-confidence and personal resilience through self-affirming rather than self-transcending methods. But it seems to me that if you can transcend the self, doesn’t the need to heal it go away?

When it comes to Dropping Out, I am starting to learn some of the essential capacities for personal and collective self-sufficiency, so that I will be ready to be a useful member of a drastically relocalized community when centralized systems reach a more advanced and obvious stage of irrevocable collapse. But I am doing so very, very slowly. I’m still far too comfortable as a dependent of civilization culture, even though I know it won’t last much longer. It’s too early, I tell myself, for many of these capacities to be immediately needed or valued, so I’m pacing myself. If things start to get worse faster, I’ll pick up my pace. It’s not in our nature, I think, to learn things that are not currently of much use, even if we expect they will be sooner or later.

So here I sit, Tuned In, trying unsuccessfully to Turn On, and getting ready to Drop Out. While I’ve done my homework to learn, appreciate and understand how the world works and where we stand, I am by nature a Doubting Thomas, and continue to critically challenge everything I hear and believe. While I’ve so far fallen short of achieving the capacity to let go and reconnect with all-life-on-Earth, it will be a life-long quest, and I take heart from the stories of many people who, after years of struggling with the seemingly-impossible task of “getting there from here”, suddenly find themselves there and wonder why, in retrospect, it was so difficult. Perhaps it’s the existential equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle: I remember the immense struggle and frustration I felt trying to learn to ride, and immediately afterwards I couldn’t understand why it was so hard. And while it is likely too early for me to learn more of the essential skills needed to be of use in real, self-sufficient communities (and which skills to learn will depend somewhat on where that community is and who else is in it when collapse reaches an advanced stage), I have a list, and I’m working slowly away at it (top of the list this year is improving my self-awareness, attention and conversation skills, and learning, at last, to swim and to dance).

These days I feel impatient, dissatisfied and restless, and am not exactly sure what to do with myself each day, or what I am meant to do with with the rest of my life. I have reluctantly realized that I can’t hide from stress and am going to have to live with a lot of uncertainty, ambiguity, seeming lack of accomplishment, and continuing lack of personal resilience for quite a while yet, and perhaps for the rest of my life. Still, at what seems to be another turning point in my life, I am extraordinarily grateful for all I have and how easy my life is compared to most people’s. Unlike most people struggling to survive in an increasingly harsh world, I have had the luxury of sufficient time and resources to Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out. Far from being a slogan about escapism and irresponsibility, it is, I think, a path to becoming a model of how to live during collapse, and showing others how to do likewise. I believe it would be foolish not to take it.


December 8, 2014

Coming Out of Hiding

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 14:04


fear cycle 2014

We are all, I believe, suffering from Civilization Disease, struggling in varying ways and to varying degrees to cope physically, emotionally and psychologically with the stress, anxiety, violence, trauma, brutality, coercion, and the sheer unnaturalness of our global industrial civilization culture.

We are not meant to live this way, and we are all trying, I think, in our own ways to heal from this culture’s incessant horrors, and longing for what we have lost: a simple, connected, joyful, peaceful, leisurely, cooperative, natural way of living.

My way of coping, since I began suffering from the chronic stress-induced illness called ulcerative colitis, has been to try to avoid stress and anxiety altogether, and to avoid situations that trigger my long list of deep-seated fears: The fear of being trapped (physically or emotionally), the fear of injury, pain, deprivation, illness, manipulation, disrespect, humiliation, or harsh criticism, the fear of causing loved ones’ suffering (and inability to help/cope with that suffering), the fear of failure and of being disappointing or ordinary, the fear of loss of self, safety or capacity, and even the fear of nature.

These are ancient fears and anxieties, rooted in a lifetime of (often subtle) hurts, (often unintentional) abuses and pain that I suspect nearly all of us have suffered. Because our bodies were designed to respond to simple fight-or-flight fears, while the new ones are chronic, complex and interconnected, we are genetically and physically ill-equipped to deal with the cycles of endless and recurring anxiety, fear, trauma and grief (depicted in the graphic above) that are endemic in modern society. Hence, Civilization Disease and the staggering toll of violence, neglect and suffering it has wrought. We are all doing the best we can, and yet the disease grows ever worse.

This past month, I have faced the greatest stresses since my retirement nearly five years ago. I will spare you the details for now, since some issues are still ongoing. Suffice to say I have not handled it well. I am out of practice coping with stress and hence am even worse at handling it than I was when I was working and dealing with it every day. I have been physically ill, exhausted, depressed, and feeling crushed by my helplessness to avoid, resolve and prevent crises that bring out the worst in me, to the point of incapacitating me. On the outside, I am dealing with stress better, more usefully and calmly, but inside I’m a mess.

I think I am finally learning that my goal of avoiding stress and anxiety is an absurd one. Life doesn’t work that way. I’m realizing that the things I keep saying I aspire to in my personal healing journey  — the intoxications of love, lust and tropical warmth — are just escapism, distractions that are actually preventing me from living fully, presently in the real world, and learning to cope effectively with and self-adapt to the inevitable changes and crises that we all face and that no one can hope to predict or avoid.

A life driven by aversion rather than intention is a shadow of a life. It’s time for me to come out of hiding.

But I don’t know how. I have some guesses, though. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to lean on and trust others. I’m guessing I’m going to have to find ways to reduce my dependence on centralized systems, which are increasingly fragile and dysfunctional — notably our teetering and unreliable health care, security, legal, financial and technological systems.

I’m guessing I’m going to have to learn to be grateful, more fully inhabiting and treasuring joyful moments, and to let go of the desire for and illusion of control and safety, and the belief that crises and predicaments can somehow be prevented or ‘fixed’. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to be more self-aware that my anxieties and fears stem from ancient fight-or-flight responses, ill suited to the world in which we live today, and when they arise, acknowledge them, respect them, breathe, and try to work around them.

I’m guessing that my newly-learned habit of asking myself, in times of anxiety, to think about how I might look back on this situation five years from now, to put things in perspective, will continue to be a useful one.

But all of this is hard for me. It runs counter to my instincts and is impeded by my pessimism, my distrust of people I don’t know well, my “you can do anything you set out to do” upbringing, my lack of presence, and my long-standing means of self-protection.

So while I’ve received a wake-up call, I’m still groggy, unprepared, aching to go back to the warmth and comfort of sleep. I have the sense I’m on the threshold of a great shift in my life, and that this shift will be a positive one. But I’m reluctant, even now, to give up this foolish stand and move forward. Scared. But here I go.


November 4, 2014

Living With Civilization Disease

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 22:34

Bayt Abdullah Children's Hospice

image above: children’s hospice in kuwait, from the website of the architects, nbbj

“It’s easy to get buried in the past, when you try to make a good thing last”
- Neil Young, Ambulance Blues

There is, of course, only the present moment. The past and the future, who we ‘were’ and who we ‘will be’, are just inventions of our minds. Yet many of us live as if they were real — more real and more important than the present. These are perfectly understandable coping mechanisms. If the best part of our life seems behind us, if we’re grieving the loss of someone who seemed our only reason to live, it’s easy to get buried in the past, to live in the past.

And if the current time seems impossible to bear — the stress, the suffering, the inhumanity, the crises that seem never-ending — it’s easy to invent a story of the future, a better story for ourselves or at least for our children and grandchildren, and then to live in the ferocious hope of that future dream coming true.

In order to make ‘sense’ of the world, our minds create a very simplified representation of reality, one that enables ‘us’ to make quick essential decisions about what to do, now. This capacity evolved because we were fortunate enough, as we made the transition from a spontaneous, present species to the one we have become, to have space in our crania to construct useful representations of reality, and a diet sufficiently rich in proteins to fuel this construction.

So we have evolved from a species that lives presently to one that lives representatively, from one that makes simple decisions in the moment in the real world, to one that makes sophisticated decisions based on a model of time and space that represents the real world. That evolution confers great survival advantages — it allows us to make decisions based on inference and logic, rather than just instinctively. But this evolution comes at a huge cost: We no longer really live in the real world. Our minds have so preoccupied us, from shortly after birth, that we have come to believe that the representation of the world that they (our minds) have constructed for us, is, somehow, reality — not just a representation, but the ‘real’ thing.

Much of this illusion comes from the ‘stories’ we come to accept as ‘true’ and ‘real’ — stories about who we are, about others and the world in which we live, about the past, and about the future. Stories are the most memorable ways of synthesizing all of the sensory inputs we receive into ‘truthful’ representations about the world. Our stories represent reality much the way motion pictures represent ‘real’ experiences. Some of them are reasonable representations; others are pure fantasy, that we believe ‘true’ because of misinformation or misinterpretation or because we just want to, or have to, believe them ‘true’ in order to cope with our cognitive dissonance, trauma, fear, rage or grief. If enough people come to share what they believe to be a similar story, whether it be a ‘true’ representation of reality or a complete fantasy, we call that story a myth.

These representations require us to believe in an invented, fictitious space-time framework of reality, and to believe that this collection of trillions of cells our mind imagines to be ‘us’, separate from the ‘rest’ of reality, somehow exists integrally and moves integrally and smoothly through time. We are, of course, not individuals, and not separate from the rest of the universe, and time is just a mental construct — even scientists now acknowledge that time does not exist and that their models of reality are more accurate when the entire concept of time is jettisoned.

Living largely in our minds, in this fabricated and absurdly simplified representation of reality, this grand illusion, believing that the stories we are told and the stories we invent are somehow ‘true’, it is not surprising that we have become physically and psychologically ill from struggling with the massive disconnect between these stories and reality, from suffering with this tragic frailty of the human mind I call Civilization Disease.

So instead of seeing a loved one die and accepting their death for what it is, for example, we construct this massive story about whether that life and death had meaning, whether that loved one’s cells have been and will be somehow transmogrified into other ‘lives’ in space and/or time, and that their love for us, and vice versa, will transcend space and time and be eternal. It’s the only way we can cope with the sudden, unbearable loss of this intricate story, the wrenching away of this invented representational connection between them and us — when we cannot relate to that death in the real world that neither they nor we ever really lived in.

When we are mistreated, or terrified by some real world event (or even just the threat of it), we have no choice, cloistered in this fictitious world inside our heads, but to assign blame and/or self-blame, evil intention, supernatural cause, inevitability, permanence, and other ‘purposeful’ qualities to this occurrence. We do this by inventing stories about ourselves, others, the world, the past and the future that somehow make sense of the occurrence within the model and representation of reality we have constructed and been told is ‘real’ and ‘true’. We can’t just acknowledge it for what it was, past tense, and let it go, immediately and forever, the way creatures who live free of the scaffolding of artificial represented reality we inhabit, can.

Similarly, we cling to fond memories of the past, longingly, nostalgically, and get buried in that past, and even more disconnected from the present and the real.

And just as we can’t let go of the fiction of the past, neither can we let go of the fiction of the imagined future. We strive, we hope, we dream, we intend, we want more than anything for the imagined future to be better than the imagined present, and we dread that it could be worse. That dream is what, more than anything else, drives our behaviours, actions and decisions. Unable to just be in the ‘real’, no longer accessible present, we live in that imagined future instead, with the lottery winnings, the perfect partner, the never-ending ecstasy, and most of all, the sense of peace, love and joy that so eludes us and fades so quickly from our sad, fictitious representational lives, this motion picture whose plot we can’t follow and whose ending we hope will bring resolution but fear will bring tragedy, that seems real but yet unreal, missing something absolutely essential, some whole dimension.


Five years ago I was still working, living with my ex (because although separated we’d been unable to sell our house) in another province. My dream then for today was to be living alone, on Bowen Island, in some beautiful place with lots of privacy and quiet and a view of the forest and ocean, retired from paid work, and free to do anything I wanted each day when I woke.

That dream has come true in all respects. But it was not an unreasonable dream. Lots of good fortune, but nothing insanely unpredictable or unexpected. The trajectory that took me from there to here was quite plausible, and much of it intentional, given how blessed my life has been.

Only a tiny percentage of the planet would not be thrilled to live the life I live today.

So now I think about what I would like my life to be like five years from now. I dream of living in a warm place all year round, mostly outdoors. I dream of making love several hours a day with lovers who are content with their own lives and content just to do that with me, and who then go home to do whatever they choose to do when we are apart. I dream of spending much of the rest of my time in various forms of play with people who are bright, attractive, articulate, imaginative, creative, thoughtful, emotionally grounded and joyful, or in solo activities, writing, composing, practicing. I dream about not worrying about people (even loved ones, suffering) and things (even cruel, destructive ones) I have no control over.

These are unreasonable dreams. There is no perfect place to live, even if I were to surrender the enormous security of my Canadian health care coverage. Warm places are crowded, expensive, mostly impoverished and made violent by rich corporations and rich individuals displacing the poor, stealing their resources and barricading themselves behind walls. Or they are overrun by gangs and warlords and wracked with suffering that cannot all be hidden from view by resort fences and barbed wire.

There are no perfectly healthy people either, or even people healthy enough to leave their baggage at the door for long and frequent trysts, even if they had the time and inclination for them. Those I would find stimulating enough for play and deep conversation are caught up in their own immediate journeys and struggles, and exhausted from supporting all those even sicker of Civilization Disease than they are. As for ceasing my worries and grief, that could only happen if there were no longer cause for them, which is an impossibility.

And even supposing some of these dreams could be realized — then what? Would I simply long all the more for those not realized, and new dreams even more perfect, even more unreasonable?

A study done by Daniel Gilbert showed that, one year after they lose a limb, people are on average as happy with their lives as those who, one year earlier, had won a major lottery prize. We accommodate. If things are bad, we make the best of them and imagine they could be worse. If things are good, we want and expect them to be better. That is what it means to be human.

If I could escape this representation of reality, this hologram inside my head, and just live in the moment, the way creatures not burdened with this synthetic scaffolding, this veil, are able to do, then it wouldn’t matter where or how or with whom I lived and spent my time. My ‘past’ wouldn’t matter. My dreams of an ‘even better’ life wouldn’t matter, or even ‘occur’ to me. My perceptions of myself and others and the state of the world would just fall away, along with my illusions of control over them, and all the anguish that goes along with all of these things.

But I cannot escape. I cannot be other than who I am.

So what, then, might I do to dissolve these stories, these fictions of my mind, that cause me to be unhappy with my incredible good fortune, that fill me at times with anger, grief and sorrow, and constantly with anxiety and fear, that bury me in feelings of nostalgia for an imagined past or longing for an impossible future? Why can I not be free of these stories when I know that all that I am, and all I need be, is right here, now?

It helps to be clear that my stories of the future are impossible dreams or imagined nightmares. It helps to know that I am not “all of a piece”. It helps to appreciate that time is an invention with no basis in reality, and that my negative emotions are figments of my imagination, artifacts of my mind’s propensity for absurdly oversimplifying pattern-seeking and sense-making, symptoms of Civilization Disease. It helps to know why I am suffering, and from what, and why I am disconnected from reality. But knowing all of this doesn’t make it better. Cognitive behavioural therapy, psych meds, meditation and many other ‘solutions’ are being tested on us, all of them vaunted but (for different reasons) highly suspect treatments with dismal success records. We seem to have invented a uniquely incurable disease, and made the world our hospice.

So maybe I, and others suffering from this ghastly disease of our minds’ making, just need to make peace with our lot, this terribly human and ubiquitous incapacity to just be, here, now, real, healthy and free. Perhaps making peace with our illness is the first step towards grace.

Thanks to Bowen photographer Chanelle Walker for my new blog photo, in the right sidebar.

August 31, 2014

Why I Don’t Want to Hear Your Story

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 12:25

meMost of us have developed a variety of different ‘bios’ for different purposes. We have one for work, that basically describes our acquired skills and experience and what we ‘do for a living’. We have one for meeting new people socially, whether that be on a dating site or just something we relate at cocktail parties or potlucks. (For most of us, thankfully, that is no longer mostly about what we do for work.) It is more likely to be aspirational — what we want to do in our future, and who (known or not yet met) we hope to do it with, though it likely also includes some data like our marital and family status. And then we have a third ‘bio’ that is the story we tell ourselves, and selectively our loved ones, about ourselves. It’s about how we define ourselves: what we love and care about, our purpose and intentions, our philosophy or worldview, and the adjectives and other ‘labels’ we assign ourselves.

Trying to combine these three bios is a messy business. They have different ‘audiences’ and there are many things about us each audience just doesn’t want to know. And most interestingly, each has a different predominant tense: the work bio is past-tense focused (what have we shown), the relationship bio is future-tense focused (what are we looking for), and the self-bio is present-tense focused (who we really are, right now). Sadly, because most of us live such busy and struggling lives, the third bio is probably for most the least developed, the most unknown.

When I was interviewing people, or looking for suppliers at work, I looked at their (mostly past-tense) bios, but I found I really didn’t care about them very much; people selling their services generally know if they have what it takes, and tend to self-select out of the application pool if they don’t think they have what’s needed. So when I was interviewing, I generally took it for granted that the applicants were qualified. What I wanted to know was a bit about their aspirations (to know if they would likely stick around long enough to have been worth hiring), but mostly I wanted to know about who they were right then — what they cared about, what they had passion for, what their personal ‘purpose’ was. That’s what differentiates people most, and what I wanted in work colleagues was shared passion and purpose. Those are the people we want to work with, and who will want to work with us.

But it’s awkward getting to that: We can’t just baldly ask someone, in an interview (or a cocktail party or potluck) what they care about. It sounds too nosy, too personal. Besides, many people really have no idea what they care about, what their personal passions and purpose is, so asking them is just putting them on the spot.

Likewise, when I belonged to OKCupid, the alt-culture dating site, I looked at their (mostly future-tense) bios, but I found I really didn’t care about them very much either; they were useful for eliminating inappropriate potential partners (in my case, those looking for the one perfect person to “complete” them, or looking to have children, or demonstrating a high level of neediness, or lack of intelligence, creativity, curiosity, self-knowledge or self-awareness) but not for identifying people with whom I might have an extraordinary connection. The list of what people like to do ‘in their spare time’ is not very helpful, either, since it really relates to their past story and what they’ve stumbled on that they’ve found valuable enough to continue doing. Knowing someone likes birdwatching or hang gliding or even shopping doesn’t really tell me if I’m going to enjoy their company. No, again, I want to know what they care about, what their ‘purpose’ and passions are — not whether they like seeing a rare Meriwhether’s Falcon, but rather whether they like studying birds’ behaviour to see what it teaches us about our own. Not whether they have liked something they’ve seen or done in past, but whether, based on their stated passions, whether there is something we’d likely like to do together right now.

So how can we tactfully and skillfully ask these questions that unearth who people really are right now, so that we can discover quickly whether the person we have just met is destined to be our brilliant colleague, life partner, inspiring mentor or new best friend?

Asking them to tell their story is precisely the wrong way to do this, in my experience. Most people (including me) are terrible story-tellers, and their stories tend to dwell on past facts and details that mostly have no bearing on what they care about or who they are now, or why. And most people love to tell their stories, because it’s easy and comfortable and they can censor out whatever they don’t like, or think you won’t like. Most people’s stories are polished fiction.

Before exploring what might work better, let me summarize what I think are the 6 most important questions to probe to find  that potential “brilliant colleague, life partner, inspiring mentor or new best friend”:

  1. What adjectives or nouns would you use to describe yourself that differentiate you from most other people? When and how did these words come to apply to you?
  2. Describe the most fulfilling day you can imagine, some day that might actually occur in the next year. As you describe each event in the day, explain why it would be so fulfilling to you. What are you doing each day that might increase the likelihood of such a day occurring?
  3. What do you care about, right now? What would you mourn if it disappeared? What do you ache to have in your life? What would you work really long and hard to conserve or achieve? How did you come to care so much (now that’s a story worth listening to)?
  4. What is your purpose, right now? What would elate you if you achieved it, today, this month, in the next year? What would devastate you if you failed, or didn’t get to try? How did this become your purpose?
  5. What’s your basic philosophy or worldview about why you, and other humans, exist? Not what you believe is right or important (or what you, or humans ‘should’ do or be), but why you think we are the way we are now, and why you think we evolved. It’s an existential question, not a moral one. How did you come to this philosophy?
  6. What’s your basic philosophy or worldview about what the next century holds for our planet? What do you see as your role and approach to dealing with that eventuality? How did you come to this philosophy?

It seems go me that the best way to broach these questions, without seeming too abrupt, with someone you have just met or are just getting to know, is to go first. Be an example of openness and candour that makes it easier for others to follow. I would volunteer my own answers to these questions, probably in the order they are above (i.e. simplest and easiest first), by prefacing my answer with something like “someone asked me the other day…”.

I would answer only the question in bold, unless prompted to elaborate, and then leave open the space for the other person to proffer their own answers. Once they did, or if they tried but struggled, I’d throw out the supplementary questions, especially the story-evoking ones in italics that elicit stories.

That’s it. My newest idea for avoiding small-talk and useless bios, and hopefully finding more meaningful connections more quickly and reliably.

So let me tell you what I care about, my purpose, my sense of who I am and how I see us, now. And then, rather than telling me your past or future story, tell me who you are and what you care about right now. If we find we care about very different things, then we can part company politely, knowing that. And if we find our answers to these questions largely overlap, who knows what might be possible?

My answers to the 6 basic questions follow. If you want to know the why’s and how’s, that the subject for another conversation.


  1. I am above all hedonistic, vegan, deschooled, unspiritual, joyful, imaginative, curious, and reflective. The decision to put hedonistic first is new and deliberate. Etymologically it means “attuned to sweet and pleasant things”. It in no way means shallow, reckless or insensitive. It acknowledges that there is only now, and that ‘just being’ — aware in this moment of what is — sensing and responding presently, intellectually, emotionally, sensuously, and intuitively, is probably the most honest, appreciative and authentic way of being anyone can aspire to.
  2. My perfect day would be spent gently exploring wild and beautiful places, talking, eating, playing, making love and co-creating things with a small group of physically, emotionally and intellectually strong, fit, self-aware and beautiful people.
  3. I care about the ongoing sixth great extinction of life on Earth, and the suffering it is causing. I care about making every moment of this short and amazing life count. I care about knowing how I, and the world, really ‘work’ and how I can be of use to all-life-on-Earth in the years I have left in ways that make a real difference.
  4. For now, my purpose — what drives me — seems to be making the women in my life that I care about, happy, in any way that I can. That may sound strange, but it seems true for me, and brings me a lot of joy in return.
  5. I believe we have evolved, each creature in its complex container of cells and organs, to experience the pure joy of being alive. Just that. Just to be, joyfully alive. Nothing spiritual in that — life emerged as an accident and has since deliberately been working to perpetuate itself when life is joyful and to extinguish itself when it is not.
  6. Because of living far beyond our material means, exhausting the planet’s resources on which we depend, and polluting the planet beyond its capacity to cleanse itself, I believe human civilization will collapse in fits and starts, globally, over the coming decades and centuries, until what remains of humans is a small number of people living diverse, simple, tribal lives a few millennia from now, without infrastructure, hierarchy, technology or even connection with other tribes. I have to believe theirs will be joyful, leisurely, sustainable lives, which is more than we can say of our wonderful, terrible civilization.

August 3, 2014

Three Ways of Being

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 18:50


   Rational Worldview (Way of Being)  Spiritual Worldview (Way of  Being)  Natural Worldview (Way of Being)
 What You Revere  Truth, Wisdom  Higher Being  Gaia
 Major Beliefs  Power of Intention, Science, Logic  Appreciation of Blessings,  Miracles,  Art  Complexity, Emergence,  Unfathomability of Nature
 Means to Self-  Fulfillment  Self-Knowledge, Self-Management,  Understanding of Reality  Selflessness, Self-Awareness,  Being of Service  Reconnection, Generosity
 Centre of Being  Intellect (Head)  Emotion (Heart)  Senses/Intuition (Body)
 Most Respected  Activities  Work, Learning, Contemplation  Prayer, Meditation  Compassion, Appreciation, Play,  Communing
 Some Favourite  Words  Critical Thinking, Integral, Coherent  Manifest, Sacred, Divine  More-than-Human, Biomimicry,  Biophilia
 Predominant Political  Philosophy  Progressive  Humanist  ‘Green’

As part of my research for my latest creative work, I reread my friend Indigo Ocean’s book Being Bliss. It’s a remarkably ambitious work that’s recently been reprinted, and Indigo is fearless in telling her own harrowing story to illustrate that the journey she recommends for us is possible for anyone. Here’s a brief synopsis of the book:

  • The thesis of the book is that you can achieve self-realization through a combination of setting intention (being clear about your goals, day by day) and living in accordance with that intention (through a regular practice of paying attention and being alert to what is really happening, self-empowerment and discernment in what you choose to do and not do, and letting go, being open to and leaving space for the realization of that intention).
  • Much of the book is focused on ways to free ourselves the self-limiting thoughts that keep us fearful, disconnected, and caught up in our egos and the stories in our heads. She stresses that the objective is not “self-improvement” but the realization of one’s true nature. She quotes Osho as saying “When you think about freedom, you think as if you will be there and free. You will not be there; there will be freedom. Freedom means freedom from the self, not freedom of the self.”
  • The book includes several exercises (each to be repeated for three days) designed to give even the skeptic a sense of the possibility of achieving this freedom, and it introduces a broad spectrum of different meditation techniques that you can try until you find one that works best for you.
  • She describes her own ‘Ascension’ yoga practice. It starts with aerobic activity of your own choosing, and then a choice of your own asanas (yoga poses) with shavasana (lying on your back in a relaxed, deep breathing position) before the first and in between each few poses. The shavasana breaks should be contemplative, appreciative and as full of positive energy as you can manage. The final poses should be balancing poses, and the concluding shavasana should be one of total relaxation and gratefulness, and for the setting of positive intentions as you end the practice.
  • She also summarizes a form of ecstatic dance consistent with this practice that might work better for those who struggle with meditation, and the form might be of interest to DJs who put together ecstatic dance sets. She recommends that if you dance alone that you do so free of disturbances and as much as possible with eyes closed. The music set she recommends is the following sequence of song types (~5 minutes each): (1) simple rhythm (connection to 1st chakra), (2) funky rhythm (2nd chakra), (3) hard driving (3rd chakra), (4) a beloved melody (4th chakra), (5) moving/inspiring (6th chakra). [My first playlist using this sequence worked quite well; it was (1) Pumped Up Kicks (Foster the People), (2) Young Black Pearl (Shydeeh), (3) Doly (Quatre Etoiles), (4) Om Namo Bhagavate (Deva Premal — the non-chanted version), (5) Shine (Joni Mitchell), followed by a suite of Empire of the Sun, T-Vice and Cinematic Orchestra songs.]
  • The book concludes with some practices for grounding when you’re trying to cope with negative emotions, and some counsel on relationships, specifically about how helping each other heal is a sacred responsibility for us all in this broken modern culture.

In writing the book, Indigo tacitly keeps coming back at each subject from three different perspectives, to appeal to readers with fundamentally different worldviews about how to make ourselves, and the world, more ‘blissful’. I would call them the Rational, the Spiritual, and the Natural ‘ways of being’. The table at the top of this post describes what I think are the key elements of these worldviews. I think it could be very useful to think about, for those of us who often find ourselves working at cross-purposes with people who share our political and philosophical sensibilities but see the world through these different lenses. Many of us may straddle or vacillate between them, and many books have been written trying to ‘reconcile’ rational and spiritual worldviews, but perhaps it’s more important that we just appreciate the differences and how and why they have arisen, and accept them.

Indigo takes great pains in her book to use the ‘language’ of all three worldviews, so she doesn’t alienate readers regardless of where they are coming from. We would be wise to do likewise, I think.

June 21, 2014

Just Begin: A Meditation

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 00:59

why we do what we do

I spent today outside, among the trees, silent, naked, just paying attention. It’s part of my rather clumsy presencing practice. This is what occurred to me during this meditation-inquiry-contemplation session.

There has been a conversation going on inside me almost my whole life. But at some point in childhood, around age 7, I became unable to hear it. The conversation was among four ‘factions’ that make up the complicity of me: the intuiters, the sensers, the feelers, and the thinkers.

None of these factions is located in any particular part of my body. Living creatures are more complex than that. In fact these factions aren’t really ‘things’ at all. In a real sense, we are made of processes, not components. What we perceive as living ‘stuff’ — tangible collections of atoms or cells or other components — are merely vestiges, images, imaginings, at a point in time. But time is just a concept, unreal (as any informed physicist will tell you), a made up convention, so “points in time” are similarly unreal. So this ‘stuff’ we imagine “we’re” made up of is just an abstraction, a convention, a model to make sense of this staggeringly complex world.

So these four factions that make up me are just processes, ways of knowing, ways of perceiving, ways of making sense.

What’s more, the convention of calling the collection of stuff and processes that are/happen within our bodies “us”, is just another unreal model, a simplification. Most of the cells within “our” bodies are genetically unrelated to “us”, though without them “we” would quickly perish. And most of the processes that affect us transcend in every sense the boundaries of our bodies: they are the processes that are making us “everybody-else” as EE Cummings put it, processes that are collective, associative, neither initiated nor controlled by us, yet very much part of the processes that make us “us”.

Unfortunately, our brains are not cognitively capable of appreciating this beyond an abstract level. We cannot ‘see’, except perhaps under the influence of ayahuasca, that we are not individual, not a ‘thing’ or set of ‘things’, not a ‘self’, not in any way separate from all-life-on-Earth. Our ‘being-alive’ may express itself through our bodies, but it is not our bodies, nor is it the part of us we abstractly call our ‘minds’ — those plodding, oversimplifying pattern-seeking organs invented to coordinate our bodies’ movements and sense-processing functions, that now imagine themselves to be ‘us’.

So, in this conversation, the thinkers and feelers and sensers and intuiters are talking among themselves, trying to make sense of all this, despite our brain’s interfering and increasingly dangerous oversimplifications. Trying to do their best, in good Darwinian style, to ensure that the actions of, and upon, our cells and organs are ‘healthy’ — good for ‘us’, us being the complicity of our components and processes and inseparably those of all other life on Earth.

So what happened to me at age 7 that this amazing conversation was lost to me, or at least to the parts of me that I came to recognize as ‘me’?

I think what happened first is that I became afraid to feel. Unlike how I was during my idyllic first few years of life, by age 7 feeling had become too risky, too unsafe, too painful. The joys and the pleasures just weren’t enough to compensate for the suffering that came when I allowed myself to really feel. Too often feeling meant falling victim to the terrible negative emotions of fear, anger and sadness that were triggered almost non-stop in my interactions with other people and our culture. I couldn’t bear all the suffering that came from witnessing the cruel reality of this hard, terrible, unfair world.

But we can’t, of course, just stop feeling, unless we’re one of those rare and unencumbered psychopaths who have mastered not-feeling.

So instead, what I think happened when I was 7 was that the thinking faction of me cut itself off from the feelers, pretended they were unessential, unimportant, weak. What I was feeling became ‘divorced’ from what I was thinking. This is because, as Eckart Tolle describes, our large brains can easy push us into a vicious cycle (the red circle in the chart above) of egoic mind (fictional stories that our culture has told us are true and ‘factual’) and pain-body (the negative emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, shame and grief that these stories invoke in us). This is shown in more detail in the chart below:


So, returning to the top chart again, it’s perfectly understandable that my thinker and feeler factions, at age 7, should try to divorce, to separate my thinking from my feeling, to short-circuit the vicious cycle. My thinkers didn’t want my distressing stories to trigger painful negative emotions, and my feelers didn’t want my negative feelings to recall and reinforce traumatic stories. So “I” stopped listening to their conversation.

My intuiters and sensers were quickly rendered incoherent by this disconnection. Sensers can’t make sense of what they’re sensing, and intuiters can’t integrate what they’re intuiting, without the holistic feedback of a conversation that integrates all four ways of knowing/being. So now when I see beauty (as I did today) I feel good, and I appreciate it aesthetically, but the feeling-good is thoughtless and the aesthetic appreciation is unfeeling. Likewise, my intuitions can’t be trusted as long as what I intuitively ‘feel’ can’t be rationalized, and what I think intuitively reasonable can’t get emotional confirmation. So my sensers and intuiters have become discouraged and disoriented, and, all thanks to those damned childhood fears, all-of-me has become, essentially, incoherent. Damaged. Disconnected.

Guess which ‘side’ my brain took in the ‘divorce’? The safe, ‘rational’, trying-to-be-unemotional side, the side of the thinkers. So I lived inside my head for much of my life. Avoiding my emotions (except for brief periods of fearlessness when I was madly in love). Ignoring my senses. Distrusting my emotions.

Note that our language sees these four factions as so integrated it overlaps the words used to describe them. Sense is a word that describes what both our thinkers (“making sense of” and “sensible”) and our sensers (the five “senses” and the word “sensual”) do. And feel is a word that describes what both our feelers (“how are you feeling”) and our sensers (“feel this”) do. And then there are the phrases “makes intuitive sense” and “gut feel”. When these factions of our knowing/being become incoherent, so must our use of these words.

As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of “self-improvement”, so I don’t have expectations of reconciling and healing this disconnect and re-becoming coherent. I’m still afraid to feel. “No use to the world broken”, I say.

But it seems to me that these four factions are still talking, still sending messages, still trying to communicate. That’s a part of their, and our, prime directive of being healthy, and my brain’s short-circuiting of the conversation doesn’t change that, though I imagine the unanswered messages are probably a little confused by now. Here is what I think they’re saying, that I’m not hearing, at least most of the time:

Intuiters and sensers:

Just begin. Go outside. Do stuff. Little, non-scary things. Moonlight walks. Scented candles. Path lights. Sound of the surf. Every day. Just be, as attentively as you can. No pressure. Breathe. Let yourself not think so relentlessly. Close your eyes, feel the sun, hear the birds, smell the rain. Listen to us, just a little bit. You know everything is wonderful, amazing, magical; forgive yourself for not feeling it, not yet. It will come back. It will come again. It’s OK to be discouraged. It’s OK to be afraid.

Now, open your eyes. Look, and keep looking. If you get tired, rest and then try again. You remember what it’s like to really see. You can still do that. You’re not that damaged.


Ask yourself why other people’s happiness is more important to you than your own, why the only way that you can be really happy yourself is when you’ve made someone you care about happy. And you call yourself a misanthrope! And try this, you’re smart: Imagine coherence. Imagine what it’s like to be really present, what you would be doing, how you’d be feeling and acting. And imagine (since you probably can’t remember) who you really were, and imagine you are that again, imagine and picture what it’s like to be a process not a thing, to be a complicity not an individual, to be an inseparable part of all-life-on-Earth, not apart.

During a previous presencing exercise you wrote this, and several people wrote and said you were really on to something. Awesome writing, man! Writing on all four cylinders. Think about it. Use it next time you are trying to become more present:

How do I imagine, in my moments of inquiry and contemplation, my normal state of living if I were able to awaken, connect, and realize who/what I (and the unity of which I am inextricably a part) really am, every moment?

I imagine myself in a state that is at once very relaxed and very aware. A state where my intellect is largely at rest (and damn, it needs a rest!) and where my emotions are calm, even, compassionate, and playful — not “under control” but just at peace. A state where my senses and instinct come to the fore, with my senses acute, noticing, connected, taking in, feeling-at-one-with, enjoying, and my instincts are ‘directing’ ‘me’, gently, letting go, letting things come, just being present, being generous, ‘touching’ appropriately when that ‘touch’ would be helpful.

No longer my ‘self’.

I imagine myself being just a part, flying, floating. Green and blue and white, flowing and glowing.

Softening. Getting lighter.



When you’re dead you won’t feel anything. You’ll be safe, then, you’ll be free, free from the bondage of your fears. But in the meantime, you’re running out of time to really feel, fearlessly. Yes, you could fall in love again, but that euphoria, that ecstasy, is transient. Too easy. How much do you still have to lose by listening to your feelings? How much do you have to gain? You remember, don’t you, what it feels like to really feel. To really be alive. That’s the story to remember, to recall, to tell yourself and tell others. Why not take a chance, a calculated risk? No hurry, whenever you’re ready. But you know you’re nearly ready, don’t you? Your impatience could set you free.


May 29, 2014

What the 1960s Were Really About

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 00:20

Jo Jo

During the late 1960s, like many of my peers, I wrote lots of poems and short stories that featured pretty young people with flowers in their long hair –gentle, spontaneous, uncivilized “children of the Earth”. Joanne, the love of my life at the time (pictured above) challenged me on the one-dimensionality of these characters, and their lack of complexity, but that was what I wanted the world, and my own life, to be — simple, unmarred by trauma, untouched by the weight of civilized culture. Wild and free.

At the time it seemed political — we were all about peace, ending the war, protecting the environment, civil rights, freedom to be whatever we wanted to be. And many of us were idealists who believed our generation could accomplish anything, and that it was our responsibility to remake civilization in accordance with those ideals — peace, love and joy. In my more hopeful moments I still sign my messages with those three wishes.

dan o'neill 2
Dan O’Neill cartoon from the 1969 Jefferson Airplane CD Volunteers

My political worldview revolved around the belief that it was “the system”, “the machine”, “the empire” that was to blame for everything wrong with our world, not individuals, that even the most monstrous of us was simply another victim of this system that gutted us of our humanity, our connection, our capacity to bring about positive change. That was my first inkling of what complex systems were like, how impossible they are to reform, and the source of the great disillusionment that plunged me into a deep depression through much of the seventies. I felt like a wild creature caged, unable to find any way to freedom, but constantly telling myself it’s never too late to break free and reunite with my fellow idealists and save the world, or at least a few of us.

The person who recovered from that depression was not me, but a poseur, safely bunkered in his own head for the next quarter century, broken and quietly disconnected from reality.

Now, with the benefit of a decade studying our culture, I’m finally able to make, I think, some sense of what happened in that astonishingly brief and amazing era of the latter 1960s, and why, like me, the movement seemed to fall apart.

I now realize that we’re all broken, wounded, made ill by the chronic stresses of our omnipresent civilization culture. “The system” not only destroyed the planet and prevented us from our plans to “save the world”, it damaged all of us, filled us with the anger, fear and sadness that we articulated so well through our music in the 1960s. And what we espoused and sought — peace, love and joy — was not just an idealistic plea for sanity and revolution, but the very antithesis of the anger, fear and sadness we were feeling caught up in and sharing with each other. It was an escape from the suffering that stemmed from that stress-induced anger, fear and sadness, that we wanted more than anything. And escape we did — sex (and love), drugs and rock and roll were (and still are) our escape vehicles, our way of coping with and sublimating our anger, our fears and our sadness.

We embraced “free love” and casual, frequent sex with true escapist passion — nothing is more effective at making us feel less fearful than the potent cocktail of chemicals that love and lust arouse in us. Nature does this deliberately — she doesn’t want us to be too fearful to express our love to a potential partner, or too fearful to get carried away when that partner says “yes” and hence make babies and protect them with our very lives. Likewise, drugs help us escape from our sadness and grief, and music often helps us escape from both anger and sadness.

When the whole world seemingly embraced this prescription for peace, love and joy, we mistakenly took their jumping on the bandwagon as sympathy and solidarity for our idealistic cause. We thought that we had become the first generation in history to overtly reject the messages and beliefs of our damaging dominant culture en masse, and the first generation privileged enough to hear and follow the desperate message of need for self-healing and reconnection that our bodies were giving us.

What we didn’t realize is that many (across the political spectrum, and people who were apolitical) who seemingly signed on to the movement had a much simpler agenda than ours.  They didn’t want to join us to “smash the system” that was causing the suffering and damage, and replace it with a humanist utopia. They just wanted in on the sex, drugs and rock and roll that were easing our pain, to ease theirs. Like us, they wanted escape. They shared our pain, but not our ideals. In many cases their choice of sex and music was (and is) violent and misogynistic, and their choice of drugs was (and is) the opposite of “mind-expanding”.

We found ourselves, after this revelation (in retrospect not surprisingly) alone, embittered, exhausted and disillusioned. While some of us “flower children” are still fighting the good fight, most have lost faith or health or energy or moved on to different priorities.

LOTM suzanah be kind

We are meant to be wild. We are suffering, every waking hour, from the chronic, relentless stresses that never give us rest. Our bodies are hurting, our souls are beaten and disconnected. And we’re fighting a system that is larger than all of us, that no one can control (or ever could), that no one is to blame for. We’re all doing our best. Our escapism isn’t hurting anyone, is it?

Well, of course, it is. We’re hurting ourselves, because the “peace, love and joy” we feel under the influence of oxytocin and endorphins and testosterone and alcohol and dope and a wall of sound are transitory, addicting, unreal, disconnecting and ultimately unsatisfying. As long as we live in their fog some would say we are not really alive. And as tempting as it is to say “the system is broken, it’s too big to defeat or to fix, it’s collapsing anyway, so wake me when it’s over”, if we live that way we are, I think, living a shadow of a life.

So what is our responsibility now, those of us still crazy after all these years to make the world a better place, and those of succeeding generations who never got the chance to blow an entire civilizational reboot, as we thought we did? What are we wounded surgeons to do? I have written a lot lately about four modest actions: (1) relearning essential skills, (2) learning to create and build community, (3) living an exemplary, self-aware, purposeful, joyful life as a model for others, and (4) healing ourselves and helping to heal others. And, I should add, supporting those activists driven to do more, those driven to fight the system without expectation of significant success, even as it crumbles. Surely this is enough to do?

I think it is. But the fourth of these actions — healing ourselves and helping to heal others — is essential for each of us, and we cannot hope to do it very effectively as long as we keep succumbing to escapism. That escapism isn’t just sex, drugs and rock and roll either. It’s escapism in our work, in our entertainment (TV or movies or online distractions or books), or in the mall, or the casino, or any other unnatural place we go or unnatural thing we do just to feel good, just to get away, to be numb to the pain for a while.

I’m not sure there is any escape from escapism. It’s natural, it’s human, it’s completely understandable that when we’re suffering we want to escape. I confess I’m an escapist and that this is probably impeding my ability to be more present in the world, more really alive, more able to pursue the four actions above. But I don’t believe any more in self-improvement or “self-help” programs. An escapist is part of who I am, now, and it’s enough, I think, to recognize that everything that’s happened before and since the 1960s has quite understandably made me this way. I suspect there are many like me, of every generation. We all have our coping mechanisms. I am tired of insulting, patronizing prescriptions to “face your fears, move past your anger, and learn to cope authentically with your grief.” They are like telling a paralyzed person that with practice they can learn to walk.

Better, I think, to know and accept who we are, and appreciate how we got here. The 1960s were a blast, and despite the half-century hangover I wouldn’t have missed them. They taught me so much — about what is possible and what is not, about myself and “my generation”, and about what it means to belong, and to feel, and to ache, and to dream, and ultimately, to fail. No shame in that.

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