Links of the Quarter: May 28, 2015

Cathedral City CA

subdivision in Cathedral City CA, built (as you can see) in the desert; photo by Damon Winter in the NYT

So, here’s the thing:

  1. All “growth” in the economy, for at least the past half century, has come from producing and consuming more (mostly oil-based) energy, in total and per capita. All of it. Without finding and burning more and more hydrocarbons at an ever-faster rate all over the globe, there would be no “growth”. The belief that growth comes from “innovation” is simply wrong.
  2. The industrial economy is absolutely dependent upon “growth”. All investment markets are based on the presumption that profits will grow at a rate much faster than inflation. No growth, no incentive for investment. Without the presumption of perpetual growth, stock markets would collapse, and with them housing markets, currencies and the rest of the economy. That’s why this economy is so insane.
  3. Since the 1980s, it has become all-important for governments to perpetuate the myth that there is and will continue to be “growth”, and that the population as a whole benefits from it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Actual inflation rates, using un-manipulated data, have been hovering near 10% for years, not near-zero as reported. Actual unemployment rates are near 25% even in the most prosperous countries. Actual GDP “growth”, adjusted for real inflation, has therefore been negative for decades. On a per-capita basis, very negative. Highly positive for the 1% mind you, but very negative for everyone else. By loaning ever-increasing amounts of money to people at artificially depressed rates (rather than the double-digit rates called for by real inflation), the average taxpayer has the illusion of becoming more wealthy, since assets are rising (though debts are rising faster). Net worth in real terms for all but the super-rich has been and continues to be in free-fall, and for most is now less than zero.
  4. There is no longer any pretence by any government or large organization that the staggering debts they have accumulated will ever be repaid. As debts become due, they are simply rolled over to new debt issues with large new borrowings added on. And the banks create new debt every time they print more money or loan or invest. This can only continue with the assumption of perpetual and accelerating growth, and the assumption that interest rates can be kept far below real inflation rates through the complicity of banks, governments, corporations, media and regulators, indefinitely. Both assumptions are preposterous.
  5. So the global economy now teeters on the edge, supported by two massive lies: That the economy is actually growing and can continue to do so forever, despite the finiteness and growing extraction cost of the oil upon which it absolutely and utterly depends; and that the mind-boggling and accelerating levels of debt that have been racked up are sustainable indefinitely — that people (mostly unwitting taxpayers) will continue to loan and invest money in a globally bankrupt economy in the expectation that future generations will somehow come up with some miracle to enable its repayment and some other miracle to enable growth to continue forever. As soon as those holding these debts lose faith that these miracles will inevitably occur, the economy is toast. Stocks, investments, houses and currencies will plummet to near-zero levels, oil-fueled production will grind to a halt, assets will be liquidated to repay debts, trade will evaporate, and the longest and deepest depression in human history will begin. For most it has already begun.

This is why, considering the alternative “first collapse” scenarios of energy/resource exhaustion and runaway climate change, my bet is still on economic collapse as the first domino in the series that will herald the end of our civilization. I would be surprised if it is more than 20 years before this first domino falls. Extreme weather events and climate change will then just add another level of immiseration to an already desperate situation, as it will take out human-built infrastructure and essential resources (food, water, forests, and the means to keep temperatures within human livable limits) far faster than any human effort could hope to recover from, even with a healthy economy. Then we will see a Great Migration of humans, similar to what occurred during the last Ice Age, except instead of a few million people in motion, it will be a few billion.

It is both too early and too late to do much about this at the community level (all bets are off about what political and social systems will survive even early stages of collapse, and where), but a personal program of self-learning, self-healing, appreciation and self-liberation is always and especially timely when we cannot know what we will have to face. The work, as always, begins within.

My friend Bodhi Paul Chefurka writes:

Now That I Know…
I will live the rest of my time here as mindfully and lovingly as I can.
I will never stop learning – about the world, about other people and about myself.
I will strive to be compassionate to all beings – especially to those people who are still asleep.
I will treat all hardships as opportunities.
I will cause as little harm as I can manage.
I will have compassion for myself over any harm I inflict because I cannot avoid it.
I will express gratitude for the incredible good fortune I have experienced simply by being conscious and self-aware at this moment in history.
I will discard all blame, anger, guilt and shame – these emotions are obstacles to growth.
I will forgive us all for being the flawed miracles that we are.



LOTM schumacher college poster

poster for a course by Schumacher College

This Is The Way the World Ends: Oxford researchers list the 12 most likely “first dominos” to fall as our civilization falls. They have economic collapse at #8. Close but no cigar. The rest of the list is interesting, with most of the crises on the list actually being consequences of the “3 Es”: economic, energy or ecological collapse. On the other hand, Jordan Greenhall has the order about right. So does Tom Lewis in his renewed alarm over peak oil. Thanks to the NTHELove group for the Oxford link, Jon Husband and others for the link to Jordan’s post, and Tim Bennett for the Tom Lewis link.

Long Past the Point of No Return: Ex-Grist reporter David Roberts, back from hiatus, explains why it’s now impossible to limit average global warming to 2C. Or 4C for that matter. And why climate scientists won’t admit that, in public.

Extinct: Dmitry Orlov weighs in on the probabilities of NTHE (near-term human extinction), and lays out several likely scenarios for civilization’s collapse (but not humanity’s extinction). He also seems to think a Great Migration is in the cards.

Debate: Collapse vs Transition: David Holmgren, Nicole Foss and some less cogent debaters square off in an essential but ultimately unsatisfying debate on whether and/or how to prepare for civilization’s collapse. Thanks to Kari McGregor at SHIFT for the link.

Change They Don’t Believe In: James Kunstler explains why political change is not in the air in the US despite the increasingly desperate situation there:

The American thinking classes are lost in raptures of techno-wishfulness. They can imagine the glory of watching Fast and Furious 7 on a phone in a self-driving electric car, but they can’t imagine rebuilt local economies where citizens get to play both an economic and social role in their communities. They can trumpet the bionic engineering of artificial hamburger meat, but not careful, small-scale farming in which many hands can find work and meaning.

As Night Closes In: John Michael Greer writes about the late William Catton, author of Overshoot and one of the first to warn about industrial civilization’s unsustainability. “When I spoke to him in 2011, he was perfectly aware that his life’s work had done essentially nothing to turn industrial society aside from its rush toward the abyss.”

Megadrought Coming: A NASA/Cornell/Columbia research study shows the intensity and longevity of the current drought in most of the plains and the west of North America. If you live there, you should seriously think about moving. Thanks to Sam Rose for the link. And check out these amazing photos of the folly of urbanization of areas that must import their water.

Ships Going Nowhere: The Baltic Dry Index, showing relative demand for the use of ocean-going cargo vessels, is at its lowest level ever, despite the plunging price of oil. What recession? Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.



LOTM Cherry Blossom Herons Bowen med DSC-0379

photo by a Bowen Nature Club member of a heron’s nest, taken last month

The Importance of Tribal Parenting: What differentiates undamaged indigenous cultures from modern industrial civilization culture comes down to one essential thing: how adults parent their children. If we could relearn their way of parenting, we might be much more resilient and much better prepared for crises and collapse, and so would our children. Thanks to Dark Mountain for the link.

The Virtue of Slacking Off: Working too hard creates a “scarcity mindset” that renders us insensitive, over-reactive and dysfunctional, say the authors of a new book, Scarcity. The answer is to add slack to your routine, as hard and counterintuitive as that may be. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Timothy Was Right: The New Yorker explains how psychedelics are returning to respectability as a treatment for many emotional diseases, including Civilization Disease.

Sharing Economy Corner: A pizza place lets you give pizza slices to the homeless.



LOTM New Yorker complexity

New Yorker cartoon by Jacob Samuel

The Great Natural Supplements Scam: Think you’re using gingko, echinacea, St. John’s wort, saw palmetto, valerian, ginseng, or other herbal supplements to improve your nutritional health? Most likely you’re getting none of these, just cheap fillers, some of them possibly dangerous. Welcome to the world of unregulated “free” markets.

The Police Shooting You Didn’t Hear About: The Fairfax VA police murder of John Geer happened before the current spate and increased awareness of the endemic fear, contempt and violence of our militarized police. It’s the scariest of all.

The Free Speech Crisis: Why self-censorship is more dangerous to democracy and freedoms than imposed censorship.

America’s Subversive War on Arab Peoples and Putin’s Russia: It’s all about money, oil and power, reveals Julian Assange. It has nothing to do with democracy or civil rights. If you don’t believe Julian, you might find Dexter Filkins and Sy Hersh more credible. And the growing xenophobia in Europe isn’t helping matters. Thanks to Sam Rose for the links.

The Decline of Vancouver: Despite its superficial affluence, Vancouver, the city my island is technically a suburb of, is in the late stages of decline. It produces less and less, other than monster homes and extravagant condos. Young people are leaving in droves. Only millionaires can afford to live there. Whole streets of homes are empty, as the city becomes one of the world’s Hedge Cities, where the world’s ultra-rich, many of them criminals, park their money in real estate, convinced that even collapse will be better in Vancouver.

Canada, Where Doctor-Assisted Suicide Is Neither Legal Nor Illegal: “In its unanimous ruling in February, the Supreme Court gave Parliament a year to introduce a new law that heeds the right of consenting adults with a ‘grievous and irremediable’ illness to seek physician aid to end their lives.” The ultra-conservative Harper government has no intention of doing so, of course. In the meantime, everything is in limbo, especially the lives of those terminally or excruciatingly ill. The only hope is that we’ll dump this ghastly government in this fall’s elections, and elect one with compassion. We might even get proportional representation, if we’re smart.

US No Longer a Democracy: Princeton confirms it. Of course, you already knew that.



LOTM Ohmmmm via michel dumais

cartoon by Mandor via Michel Dumais

To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This: Fascinating and astonishingly viral meme picked up by the NYT suggests shared intimacy will almost always lead to love. Of course, the meme has already been satirized by the NYT crosstown friends at The New Yorker. Thanks to Tree for the original link.

Waves: Great video, great little vibe by Mr Probz, transcends genres.

Why You’re Still Single (Based On Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type): Absolutely hilarious, and a little bit scary. Thanks to Alexis Pankerson at NTHELove for the link.

The Fire Knife Dance: A highlight for any visitor to Hawaii.

The Whole Point of Every Relationship Is…: Make your guess before you click the link, then check out the 10 ways to make it happen. Thanks to Ryan Rathje for the link.

A Cup of Tea as a Metaphor for Consent: A funny and wise explanation of the meaning of consent.

Mother of Dragons: A hilarious explanation of the perils of modern parenthood by Heather Havrilesky.

When Birds Squawk, Others Species Listen: Bird language, it appears, is understood by just about every species except the supposedly sapient one.

The Girl Who Gets Gifts From Birds: If only we understood birds as well as they understand us. Thanks to Natalie Shell for the link.

Origins Of Mysterious Radio Wave Bursts Discovered: Some things are actually not all that mysterious, with a little common sense investigation. A must-read. Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.

Toronto’s Terror Tunnel: For two months, Toronto police and citizens were baffled by the discovery of a hidden tunnel leading from woods to an entrance near the PanAm Games tennis facility. Terrorist plots were imagined, as were more silly explanations. Turns out it was built by a couple of guys on a lark, wanting to build themselves a “man-cave” as a sanctuary from the urban tumult above. Police dismantled the tunnel but did not press charges.

Spocking the $5 Bill: Finally — money is actually good for something. Honouring Leonard Nimoy. Or Bill Murray.

Blowing Smoke: A nicotine solution to global warming. From the Onion, of course. Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.



LOTM Chris Kenny 12 twigs via seb

12 Twigs, an artwork by Chris Kenny (thanks to Seb Paquet for the link)

From a speech by Wendel Berry (thanks to Liz McLellan for the quote):

Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.

From Helen Macdonald in H is for Hawk:

I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing – not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of. The condor is an icon of extinction. There’s little else to it now but being the last of its kind. And in this lies the diminution of the world. How can you love something, how can you fight to protect it, if all it means is loss?

And on a related note, from the late Stephen J. Gould in Eight Little Piggies:

We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well — for we will not fight to save what we do not love.

From Jeppe Graugaard, in Transforming Sustainabilities

It appears to me that we have broken open our stories, our ways of telling and interpreting. As a movement in the social imaginary – rather than of people trying to ‘change the world’ – Dark Mountain has opened a door for wildness and untamed otherness to slip back into the lifeworld, offered a way of being which makes it possible to flourish even in the shadow of the enormity. It allows us to embrace and align with our wider relations without requiring us to blow up civilisation in a battle that can never be won.

By retreating to the mountains and reorienting our compass it has become possible to dispel the pull on attention which the enormity exercises on us, to decide to focus our awareness on the dark spots on our maps, on the absences wherefrom new things can grow. Journeying in this range shows that ‘civilisation’ is only one name among many for a pervasive logic which divides the world without anchoring complexity in the greater movement of which we all are part.

At the edge, hearing the faint voices beneath the clamour of engines, it is possible to perceive the soundscape of a world which does not need us to do anything but to listen and to live our questions now.

From Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (thanks to Zack Lehtinen for the quote)

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

Beyond Belief

My latest article, Beyond Belief, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its ninth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).


I‘m not spiritual. Really.

People often ask me if, in my self-proclaimed state of joyful pessimism and contemplative gratitude, I’ve finally discovered spirituality.

I insist that I have not.

Just about everyone I know who self-identifies as “spiritual” also believes our civilization will somehow be ‘saved’ from collapse (by science or technology, or the market, or wise leadership, or human ingenuity, or by a god or gods, or by a massive human consciousness-raising). What good is a ‘spirit’, after all, if he/she/it can’t save you from perceived disaster?

No thank you, no salvation needed here…

Read the whole article at SHIFT.

(image from a Deva Premal fan video, original source uncited)

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 5 Comments

this just being together


“Philosophers will say that humans can never be silent because the mind is made of words. Turning within, you will find only words and images that are parts of yourself. But if you turn outside yourself — to the birds and animals and the quickly changing places where they live — you may hear something beyond words.”  — John Gray: The Silence of Animals

what do we care about
that so desperately needs words?

“without intelligent, informed conversation,
there is no hope for us”, you say
and I appreciate your point

but what if we were simply silent
in each other’s company
(and not while reading books or watching screens,
and lost in language)?

what if we just sat together, wordlessly
contemplating the sun’s rise or the rain’s fall
without the need to comment on it?

what if we just walked together, wordlessly
listening, watching, sensing, feeling
the wind spring up and the thrush sing down,
without remark?

what if we kissed, caressed, tasted each other, mated
without talking, playfully, innocently, gently, unhurriedly
just let our bodies speak joyfully with each other,
teach each other the meaning of pleasure without words,
without the need for articulation, or reassurance?

what if we worked together, without speaking,
just doing stuff that seemed to want doing,
demonstrating precisely how to do it well, and easily,
learning, trying, showing, helping,
letting creation express itself through us?

what if we just contemplated each other, wordlessly,
smiling, admiring, attending, grooming,
looking in each other’s eyes, just present
without voice, and without thought?

what if we played together, wordlessly,
without a goal, or rules, or scores,
but just for fun, to laugh, to move, without constraint,
to dance, to do, as one, whatever we feel?
why is it we have workshops but no playshops?

what if we just held each other,
your back against my chest, or
your face buried in my shoulder,
showing “I love you” instead of saying it?

why do we have to talk, to ruin it with words
that are just labels, really meaning nothing
since we can’t hope to know
what the other is really thinking, feeling, sensing?

why can’t we just be, together, unabstracted by thoughts
and words of who we are and what we think and why?
why isn’t it enough, this just being together?

are we afraid we’ll realize the futility of words,
their uselessness, the foolishness
of our dependence on them for the illusion
of real connection?

what if we could approach the silence of animals?

I wonder if we need words
to fill the space of our relationships
because we have become so disconnected
each of us inside our head, that we have lost
the sense of communion, of being a part,
that needs no words to be expressed.

what madness has so obsessed
our sad, distracted minds
that we no longer know the comfort
of belonging to all-life-on-Earth?

the swallow and the spider and the wind
are telling us, showing us
how to just be, together.

hush the noise inside your head
and realize that there is nothing
but this
just being together.

image: cormorants on pam rocks, salish sea; photo by the author

Posted in Creative Works | 5 Comments

Poster: The New Political Map

The New Political Map 2015

Full-sized downloadable PDF version with hyperlinks here. I have added in the names of seven people I greatly admire (all, sadly, middle-aged or older white males) who have written articles or books that I think exemplify worldviews F through L. In the PDF version, clicking on the names will open links to these articles in your browser.

This is not to say that these people exemplify these worldviews; nor are they the authors of the ‘taglines’ I show in the poster for purposes of defining and differentiating the worldviews. Most of us have multiple and changing worldviews across swaths of this map, which is only sensible when new information is constantly surfacing. No one knows for sure what the future will hold, and we need to keep our options open and work together on initiatives where we share a common purpose.

Hope you find this useful.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 6 Comments

Poster: A Community-Based Resilience Framework

BLOG BIT Community Based Resilience Framework rev

Thanks to some suggestions from Transition Network co-founder Ben Brangwyn and others, I’ve revised and condensed the Community-Based Resilience Framework I published here a few months ago. The two main changes are the elimination of the accompanying explanation (my hope is that this can stand alone as a poster for Resilience groups to use), and reordering it into five “stages”, from the inner work of knowing ourselves better, to the collective work of building community and preparing communities for dramatic and permanent change.

I’ve also eliminated the rhetoric about the inevitability of civilization’s collapse, in the hope that will make this model more accessible to the whole spectrum of groups concerned about the grave crises we are facing.

You can download it full-size as a PDF poster here.

Hope you find it useful.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

Wild Women

owl alan pollard

(photo by my brother Alan)

Over the past two decades, most of what I consider the best creative writing, the best musical compositions, and the best performance and visual art have come from women.

There’s something just odd, I think, about people singing other people’s work, unless the voice of the composer is truly awful. Most of my favourite recent music is hence by women “singer-songwriters” (that’s apparently a genre of music now). What surprises me, as a writer and lover of language, is that in much of this music the words aren’t essential to conveying profound emotional meaning (Sarah McLachlan’s songs come to mind). These songs just reach you, and the role of your conscious mind in appreciating them is pretty minimal.

Likewise, almost all of the art that decorates my walls is by women artists.

In recent years, I’ve found it harder and harder to find music, art or literature that I find worthwhile spending time on. Perhaps my standards are impossibly high or my attention span is impossibly low. I start to read a lot of novels and short stories, but rarely finish them. I can spend three hours in a bookstore, reading first pages and last paragraphs of hundreds of creative works, and leave the store empty-handed.

But this year I’ve found two books that I have read, carefully and patiently, cover to cover. Neither is fiction, though both are highly creative and brilliantly crafted. Both are memoirs — kind of. Both are by women.

Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams is described on the cover as “essays about empathy”, and described in the afterword with the marvellous expression “confessional writing”. It is written in the first person singular but it reads as a collection of stories told by an astute observer, about various experiences of unbearable suffering and how people have and have not coped with it. Revelations about the author’s own suffering emerge with the stories of others’ (people both real and fictional), along with diversions into what it all means, particularly from the perspective of women.

Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is described on the catalogue page as about “hawks”, “grief” and “spirituality” — pity the librarian trying to decide where to shelve it. Amazon has it categorized under “field guides”! It is also written in the first person singular, and is ostensibly about her experience raising a goshawk, but includes lengthy asides about TH White’s life and his experiences with a goshawk, and is mostly about her own life and her revelations about herself and the world around her. Like Leslie’s book, Helen’s invites us to look unsparingly at the author’s true self and what it means to be human, as if we were seeing from the perspective of the ruthless bird.

If you want a taste, you can read a story from The Empathy Exams here, and an excerpt from H is for Hawk here. If you’re like me, that’s all you will need to buy these books.

They defy synopsis much as they defy categorization, so I won’t attempt a review here. What I will say is that the two books share the following (terribly rare) qualities:

  • They are so well written that if you care about what it means to be human, and in particular to be a woman, you’ll never get impatient with the pace. Every word counts. (Readers looking for advice on self-“improvement”, or for a field guide, will, however be disappointed.)
  • The writers’ choice of words is often unorthodox, even jarring, revealing a stark insight into the writers’ true personalities and situations that defies any banal, conventional description. How and where did these two young women learn to write so damned well?
  • These books (like Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words) are extremely hard to read. They depict events and realizations unflinchingly, starkly and unapologetically. The language is so perfect, the choice of words so ingenious and precise, that the reader can’t help but feel absolutely what the writer was feeling, which is, more often than not, excruciating misery or pain. Pick them up and you can’t put them down; put them down and breathe a sigh that you needn’t pick them up again.
  • They give you an astonishing insight into what it feels like to be a woman. At least it seems so to me, someone who is not. After reading these books, I look at all women, and their relationships, and the issues of male privilege and patriarchy, a little differently.

They’re roller-coaster rides for a writer of words. The wonderful prose, the delicious imagery, the astonishing juxtaposition of words to capture something you never quite realized before, leave you gasping. But the truths they reveal about who we are, are jagged and harsh, and sometimes almost suffocating.

My guess is that (a few) women are able to write such powerful books because they are more grounded, more connected with their feelings and their true selves, “wilder” (in the sense of less susceptible to intellectual colonization and civilization’s groupthink), more self-aware and self-honest, and emotionally stronger than most men. These two authors’ writings make me wonder if I could bear to be a woman. And they fill me with awe that anyone can be at once so alive, so aware of one’s own suffering, and so accepting.

Those suffering, without end, in situations they did not ask for and cannot change, know all this, I suppose.

I can only wonder.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 4 Comments

What It Means to Let Go

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.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Several Short Sentences About Learning

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)

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 8 Comments

The End of Politics

My latest article, The End of Politics, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its eighth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).


Here’s the beginning of the article:

If you’ve contemplated the possibility of civilization’s global collapse, you likely envision its social and political consequences to be violent and chaotic — a world dominated by struggle to fill the power vacuum, leading to despotism and ruthless ethnic, class, intertribal and inter-gang warfare.

A study of history, and of collapse scenarios, suggests however that Mad Max, Taliban, clash-of-civilizations, and history-going-in-reverse outcomes (like those portrayed in Jim Kunstler’s wild-west-again cli-fi novel World Made by Hand) are improbable. If the prognostications of futurists and sci-fi/cli-fi writers seem imaginatively impoverished, perhaps it’s because our global human civilization is now so all-pervasive and homogeneous that even creative writers can’t imagine a future radically different from our present, or from our recent colonial and industrial past, projected forward or run in reverse.

If you want a more nuanced sense of what politics in a post-collapse future might look like, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Cultural homogeneity is abnormal and maladaptive: For at least 1000 millennia, up until just a few millennia ago, our planet probably offered a staggering diversity of human cultures, behaviours, languages, and political systems. There was likely very little contact between these cultures, since human population was less than 1 person per 30 habitable acres, and not perceptibly growing, so even ‘adjacent’ human cultures would likely have been unrecognizably different in their social and political makeup. Most collapsnik demographers envision human population quickly falling back to these levels, and similarly low-complexity, low-tech, low-interaction, widely-divergent societies emerging.
  1. Politics is a very recent human phenomenon: The whole idea (and even the etymology) of ‘politics’ came about with the evolution of fortressed city-states: high-density, high-hierarchy, resource-scarce societies where the need for arduous work, slavery and repression of human freedoms meant that the powers of decision-making and law-making needed to be delegated to expert, elite ‘representatives’. The concept of politics was unknown in pre-civilization rural areas, where, presumably thanks to abundance of space, resources and leisure time, politics was simply unneeded. Anarchy worked just fine. Unfortunately, the repressive, political city-states quickly colonized and destroyed the surrounding apolitical societies, and warred with neighbouring political states, until politics became endemic to human presence on the planet.
  1. Political states are extremely costly to run and inherently unsustainable. They require massively complex systems to be constructed, and massive levels of security, repression, bureaucracy, law enforcement, maintenance, concentration of wealth and power, and continuous expansion to acquire ever more resources. These needs grow exponentially as size increases linearly, so political states and civilizations (urban-centric social-political-economic states) will inevitably collapse.
  1. Despots, warlords and gangs require the machinery of a still-functioning political state to operate. They need weapons, security forces and armies, which in a collapsed society are too expensive to manufacture and maintain. They need access to wealth when, after collapse, the preponderance of pre-existing wealth, being either paper or resources (like gold) with no intrinsic utility, will be worthless. They need access to people in power they can bully, bribe and corrupt, but since collapse bankrupts governments there is no one, after collapse, with power to do much of anything. When the collapse is a global one, and everyone is broke, poor, and powerless, there is nothing to do but cooperate with one’s equally destitute neighbours to just get by. The collapse of a global civilization culture means, essentially, the end of politics.
  1. Collapse does not happen all at once — in a week or a year or even in a single ‘fall from grace’. Whether collapse is ultimately brought about by the end of the unsustainable growth economy, the end of affordable energy and resources, or the end of stable climate, or a combination of all three, we will likely see periods of partial collapse and then partial recoveries, until the crises begin to pile on faster than our reeling civilization can cope with them. We will have at least a few years to learn how to deal with collapse, which means we will be able to learn from some of our mistakes. That won’t prevent or mitigate collapse, but it will at least psychologically prepare us for it, so that rather than panicking, most of us will be able to accept it with some equanimity…

Read the whole article at SHIFT.

image from SHIFT magazine

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 1 Comment


Darren Hopes New Scientist

(image by Darren Hopes from

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.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 24 Comments