Goodbye Dave: Letting Go of the Story of Me

wikipedia book burning
image from wikipedia, creative commons CC-BY-2.0
Relax, no, I’m not suffering from a terminal illness, or contemplating suicide, or stopping blogging. What I’m doing is looking critically at the Story of Me, and acknowledging that it is just that — a story, a creative fiction, an invention.

I’m doing so because I realize that over the decades I’ve become pretty attached to, and pretty invested in, this story. I tell it in my bio, I tell it to new people I meet (often in the hopes they’ll be impressed), and I tell it to myself. I’ve realized that I am not my ‘self’, my identity, and it’s time to let go of the story that keeps me clinging to it.

Here are the major elements of this story, in roughly chronological order, and my debunking of them:

  1. Childhood and early adulthood: This is a story of blissful pre-school years just ‘being’, the 11-year trauma after entering the cruel and awful school system, the liberation of one year of unschooling (and flower power and smash-the-system activism and first real love) after that, and then the crushing disappointment and depression of university and the work world.

It’s an interesting, heartfelt story, but I really have no idea if any of it is really true. It is likely just an invention in hindsight to try to fit the facts and make ‘me’ look valiant. I remember some times, mostly in early childhood, that seemed serenely happy, and being unhappy and often depressed much of my school life and work life. But no more than most others, I suspect. Triggers are supposed to stem from childhood trauma and I’ve had my share of bad moments, but I don’t remember much, really, and have no idea if I was really traumatized. Mostly I was just bewildered, unable to make sense of anything, muddling my way through, and quite fearful and socially anxious as a result.

  1. Career years: This is a story of successfully fighting my way up through and around the obstacles of the work world, a long and stabilizing marriage, finding a purpose both as a parent and as an advisor and ideator to entrepreneurs, starting a blog, surviving a horrific illness, downsizing my career, writing a book, and finally retiring.

This story is pretty heavily embellished. In retrospect my work career, like those of just about everyone I know, was pretty much a waste of everyone’s time. I was not a particularly competent spouse or parent. I got lucky a lot. Same synopsis: Mostly I was just bewildered, unable to make sense of anything, muddling my way through, and quite fearful and socially anxious as a result. My illness caused me to wake up somewhat to my obliviousness to life. My blog has been an enjoyable hobby, but it if was all suddenly lost, I really wouldn’t, now, be too upset. I’ve written nothing outstanding or particularly important, novel or insightful. My book was likewise fun to write but, in the end, unsuccessful, full of good ideas that are really hard to implement.

  1. Retirement years: This is a story of regrouping, introspection, self-knowledge, studying human nature and how the world really works, regretting my generation’s failure to realize its ideals and the resulting ever-accelerating desolation of our world past the point of no return, acceptance that we’re all doing our best, finding new loves, rethinking my purpose, volunteer work, and most recently exploring the nature of the self.

This story is overly precise, significantly exaggerated and unduly self-congratulatory. It is written, as I suspect most of our stories are, to create the impression of having made some progress. Lots of furious effort trying to make sense and meaning of the world and of myself, but really nothing to show for it all. I lack the qualities of emotional intelligence and empathy needed to be a good lover or friend, and though my new loves seem willing to settle for consistency and generosity from me, I wouldn’t (and don’t) blame them for looking for something better in a relationship. I’ve had some interesting insights, ‘ahas’, but lack the capacity to express them articulately and practically in ways that can be of use to anyone. I have fancied myself ‘too far ahead’ of most others to be able to explain my ideas to them, but the truth is I’ve just been immensely fortunate to have had the time and resources to think about things, and for all that I’m not particularly good at doing so.

  1. What is Happening Now, and What Comes Next: This is the present-state positional and future-state aspirational story of self-awareness, deepening love, realizing (or making peace with) my sexual fantasies, and witnessing my ‘self’ (and its stories) falling away until what used to be ‘me’ is gone and all that remains is everything-that-is (and always was).

This story is the most preposterous of all, a pure fantasy. Like all future-state stories it is an invention, a dream. We can’t predict or control what our future will hold. It doesn’t follow from our past story, which in any case is also a fiction.

This isn’t meant to be self-pitying or false modesty. It’s just an honest realization that my life doesn’t add up to much, and isn’t ever likely to. I think everyone’s life story, the story that people (especially ‘leaders’ and celebrities) tell of what they’ve done and who they are, is absurdly self-aggrandizing, redacted, and mostly wishful thinking. What we think and what we say and what we do don’t really make any lasting difference, and I sense it’s hubris to believe otherwise.

My story, and I would guess everyone’s story, is ultimately utterly insignificant. A more modest Story of Me might be:

My whole life I have been bewildered, unable to really make sense of anything, just muddling my way through, and I have often  been quite fearful and socially anxious as a result. I have put great effort into many things but have nothing much to show for it. I’ve had some interesting insights, but nothing that’s of much practical use to anyone. I have been generous, but only when I could easily afford to be. I’ve been very lucky. I have become more joyful and fun-loving, but more pessimistic, more curious, and more skeptical about everything, even whether we as separate ‘selves’ actually exist.

In other words, a life of mostly selfish, fruitless, directionless struggle. Sounds about right. Doesn’t seem to be a story that should be hard to let go of, does it? And yet even this more ‘modest’ Story of Me is just a story. It is just the mind’s desperate pattern-finding, meaning-making, a connecting of events and an association of this series of events with a person. Unreal.

Suppose I were to let go of it. Not as some kind of act of contrition, replacing it with a more ‘honest’ story. Suppose I were to let go of the Story of Me entirely.

What then, would I put in my bio? What would I offer as my history and credentials to potential project teammates or employers? What amusing personal tales would I tell to people I’d like to impress? What would I tell myself in deciding what I should do next?

Some non-dualists refuse to offer a bio at all, claiming that to do so would contradict their message that the separate self is an illusion. But that usually comes across as kind of a smokescreen for not having any credentials to back up their message. More often, they offer a somewhat apologetic bio for the separate self that they now realize and admit does not really exist. People want to know their ‘teaching’ credentials, and also want to hear the story of how they seemingly achieved that realization, even when they accept that there is no real path to it, that it just happens. They are not particularly interested in their messengers’ modest, ‘utterly insignificant’ story.

Why do we want to hear each other’s stories? Partly it seems it’s how we relate to people, to discover what commonalities our stories have. If I let go of the Story of Me, will no one want to relate to me anymore? Will I be unable, without this story, to relate to anyone? If I am speaking with people and assert or reply that I have no story because there is no ‘me’ and that I have no aspirations because time does not exist and that it’s pointless to care or worry about anything because there’s no free will and everything is already perfect, it’s likely to be a short, useless and unpleasant conversation (especially if I insist on putting every pronoun, and the subject and object of every sentence, in quotation marks).

It is not condescending or dishonest, I would say, to speak with people in a shared ‘dualistic’ language, even if you think some of its premises are suspect.

I was invited to write a proposal for a presentation this fall on the role of stories(!) and other techniques to elicit genuine change in people’s beliefs and behaviours. A credible bio would have been part of the proposal. It’s a subject that interests me greatly. I am torn about whether to try, but if I do both the bio and the presentation will be, almost certainly, inauthentic, full of the Story of Me. And if I don’t try, I will be troubled about whether in my obsession with non-duality I am disengaging from people and ideas that are at least fun, even if they are probably not really useful. What’s the harm in play, even if it’s a bit disingenuous?

Likewise I have recently met some people whose company I really enjoyed, and to engage with them I told the Story of Me in all its practiced and thickly-varnished glory, still half-believing it myself. In so doing I passed off things that I have come to tenuously believe (things such as Pollard’s Laws*) as things that I have learned, as truths, as personal wisdom. These people clearly liked my stories, and they liked my self-assurance in telling them. What if the next time I meet someone like that, someone I’m intuitively drawn to, I refuse to tell the fictitious Story of Me? What if I just take them on interesting walks, listen to their story, ask them questions, sidestep questions about myself and refuse to offer any credentials, any advice, any personal ‘wisdom’? What if I ‘depersonalized’ my beliefs, my truths, by reframing them as just interesting observations, removing them from the Story of Me?

Without the Story of Me, would I come across as mysterious and interesting, or as evasive, a suspiciously blank slate? Would people like the more authentic, more modest, less talkative not-‘me’ as much as they like the richly storied ‘me’, enough to forge enjoyable new relationships? And what about the people who already know ‘me’? Without the Story of Me, will they still know ‘me’? Will they find the story-less not-‘me’ as lovable? Will they fear that the more authentic not-‘me’ might no longer love them?

And ultimately, perhaps, without the Story of Me, what if anything will be left of ‘me’? Will what is left do anything differently, make different decisions? My sense is that the answer to all these questions is that nothing of consequence will appear to have changed, because beyond the story, the fiction, there never was anyone here to change to begin with.

Or at least that’s my story.

~~~~~

*Pollard’s Law of Human Behaviour: We do what we must (our personal, unavoidable imperatives of the moment), then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. There is never time left for things that are merely important.
Pollard’s Law of Complexity: Things are the way they are for a reason. If you want to change something, it helps to know that reason. If that reason is complex, success at changing it is unlikely, and adapting to it is probably a better strategy.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 11 Comments

a thought-less experiment

suppose that
the world is not at all what it seems,
and that the scientists
trying to map and explain the universe,
macro- and microscopically,
are actually just mapping their minds’ perceptions of it,
perceptions that are no more than the brain’s way
of making sense of an infinitesimally small part
of the infinite complexity of all-that-is,
that tiny part that our senses and instruments
can, vaguely, sense.

and suppose that
what we see as evolution
is just a game, a random experiment,
not anyone’s or anything’s experiment, mind you,
but rather just perturbations
of, say, for want of a better way of putting it,
nothing into everything,
for no reason, no purpose.
and that like fractal patterns of ice
creeping across a window in the dead of winter,
this apparent evolution just plays itself out —
some of the things that emerge continue and flourish,
while others fail and die out,
in infinite variation.

and then suppose that
one of the things that just happened
in this wondrous experiment, one variation,
following from the random emergence of brains
and central nervous systems
in some of the experiment’s creations,
was the imagining of a seemingly separate self,
an unexpected idea of the brain
of the creature in which it resided
that it was, somehow,
apart from everything else.

would that creature thrive, or shrivel and die out?
would this self-referential thing
so punctuate the equilibrium
of that small part of the experiment
that it would take it in a wholly new
and interesting direction
(enabling the invention of time, and space,
and science, and art, for example)?

or would that sense of separateness
be so terrifying, so traumatizing
to the suddenly self-ish creature that had it,
that it would quickly self-destruct,
unable to handle its implications,
the terrible uncontrollable world it conjured up?

or both?

and finally suppose that
(despite the convincing nature of the separate self,
reinforced by other self-conscious creatures
using other strange new inventions
like language and culture)
a few of these creatures suddenly found
this sense of separateness dissolving
until they had lost their selves
and were, again and always
just parts of the lovely, astonishing experiment
of all-there-is.

would (or could) what was left
of these self-extinguished creatures
(using their brilliant and awkward inventions)
persuade the others, still with selves
to join them, to come home, self-less-ly?
and if persuaded, could these others find their way too?

the answer, it seems, must be no:
there can be no volitional escape
from the gravitational prison of the self-made self,
since the self is what gave rise to the prison
and the self is, in the end,
just an idea,
one that cannot forget itself,
an idea that, in hindsight,
as promising as it was, apparently
wasn’t a very good idea after all.

still, if this is true
(and we cannot know)
there might be, if not escape, an inkling
of something that came before the self,
that somehow pokes its way through
the self’s tautological veil
and says, first, that
something is not quite right,

and later, just perhaps, has
(not a path, not a process, not a key)
a glimpse, a remembering
of all-there-is without a self:

of freedom.

 

(illustration from the Pen tarot deck)

Posted in Creative Works | 2 Comments

Buzz in My Back Yard Yesterday

rufous hummingbird

bee pollinating

Posted in Creative Works | 2 Comments

All There Is, Is This

(This is another of my ‘thinking out loud’ posts on non-duality. If the subject doesn’t interest you, you might want to skip this one.)

barsotti truth

cartoon by the late, wonderful Charles Barsotti

About 18 months ago I began a journey, intended to help me handle stress better (something I struggle with a lot), exploring the subject known as ‘non-duality’ (or non-dualism), which some define as the realization that there is no ‘separate self’ (or ‘separate’ anything) — everything is part of a oneness (which some call ‘consciousness’ or ‘spacious awareness’ or ‘infinite presence’, others call ‘your true self’ or ‘true being’ and yet others call simply ‘all there is’, an infinite eternal unknowable no-thing that is also everything.

I began that journey with Liberation Unleashed’s Ilona Ciunaite, and I hung out there for several months, trying to ‘just look’ to see the self as illusory. I then checked out Eckhart Tolle’s videos and book The Power of Now, and then moved on to the videos of other non-dualists (Adyashanti, Mooji, Jon Bernie, Rupert Spira, Jim Newman, and Tony Parsons, in roughly that order). This seems to have been a progression from a more accessible to a more radical non-dual message, and the more radical the expression, the more it has resonated with me.

Here’s a transcript of the Tony Parsons video linked above, that articulates his ‘radical’ message on non-duality:

Separation is the root of all seeking. As tiny children there is simply being. There is no one. Life happens. Regardless of whether a child cries or seems hungry, there is just pure being. And then a moment comes when that tiny being identifies itself and becomes a separate person. At that moment of separation, there is a contraction back into the sense of being limited in the body. “My boundary is this skin, and everything else is separate”. From that moment on there is seeking, and a sense of something lost. ‘Being everything’ is lost in that moment. And being a separate person, an entity looking for everything, begins. From that moment on there is only seeking — until there isn’t.

And that seeking is endless. People we see in the world — wanting to be rich, to have lots of lovers, to have power or whatever they want — all desire is the longing to come home. And home is wholeness, home is being everything, which is our origin.

So oneness arises as wholeness and then plays the game of becoming separate. So the whole key to liberation has nothing to do with the apparent separate person. We grow up and we feel separate, and we learn from our parents and teachers and priests and bosses and spouses that we are definitely separate, live in a separate world, and there is absolutely no doubt that we have a choice, we are a separate individual that has free will and can choose to make our lives work, or not. So what you see in the world is a desire to make people’s lives work, when what people are really doing is trying to fill this sense of loss.

Most people spend their whole lives living like that, trying to fill that sense of loss. For some making money, being powerful etc. isn’t enough — there’s still a sense that there’s something missing. So they look for what’s missing — in religion, in therapy, and in the search for ‘enlightenment’, but all this time there’s an absolute conviction that they’re a separate individual with the choice to fulfil this sense of loss. And when you go to an enlightened ‘master’, you’re naturally attracted to the ‘master’ who still presumes the fundamental idea that you are separate, and that you ‘need’ to meditate or self-inquire or ‘give up the ego’ in order to find what you’re looking for.

And all of that is the ignorance. That’s how the game continues. Religion is the seeking, through ‘individual choice’, for something that already is. What we’re looking for already is this. But all the time there is someone seeking, this can’t be seen. The fulness we seek is timeless and the seeking is in time — “It’s going to happen when I’ve meditated”, or “The answer’s going to be on the next page of this book.” “I’m going to find it one day.” There’s that constant agitation of looking for this. Sometimes it’s gratified for a short while and it seems everything is complete. But that gratification is short-lived and is soon replaced by the longing for and seeking of this.

That gratification and wholeness can never be found until there’s no one looking. It can’t be found by the individual, because the individual function is to look for that. When there’s no longer a seeking, that which is sought, is seen. But it is seen by no one.

So we’re here today to rediscover the key to wholeness. And the key to wholeness is that there is no one. So this is a very simple message, and a very difficult one — difficult because it’s about your death, the death of the individual. It’s about moving beyond the idea that there’s anyone sitting in this room who can ‘do’ anything, beyond the idea that there’s anyone — any separate entity — in this room.

And it’s coming to realize that what’s happening right now, is happening to no one. There’s no one that this is happening to. The whole sense of being separate is that everything that’s happening is happening ‘to’ you, and that everything ‘you’ do affects that and ‘attracts’ what happens.

Liberation is the realization that all there is, is this, is what’s happening, and it’s happening in emptiness. So that all that’s sitting in this room is emptiness. There’s a body that feels, there’s a mind that thinks, but it isn’t anybody’s body or anybody’s mind. It is just what’s happening.

This is so simple that it totally confounds the mind. So what we’re here to talk about is totally beyond understanding. It can’t be understood. You’ll never understand your way to ‘enlightenment’. Nobody ever has. There is no such thing as an enlightened person. Already, all there is is liberation, all there is is enlightenment, and in that there are people looking for it.

So we can talk together and it’s possible that something will be seen, but it won’t be ‘you’ that sees it; it will just be seen. And also energetically, as there has been a sense of contraction (me, I am this body), there can be an expansion, a dropping of that sense of contraction and a moving out into free-fall, into boundlessness, into the unknown. The idea that ‘you’ can know and ‘you’ can do it simply drops away and suddenly there’s a wonderful, free but dangerous place called everything.

It’s very simple: All there is, is this. That ‘thisness’ is totally physical, all the five senses are speaking to you right now. Through all the five senses the beloved is waving and saying “I’m here already. You don’t need to look for me. This is already what you’re looking for. This is it. I’ve never left you. I’m the perfect lover. I’m here already and I sit here watching you looking for me.”…

We don’t function in duality. In the dream we think we do. In the dream we’re absolutely sure ‘we’ choose this and avoid that and do that and not that. This apparent choice ‘we’ don’t do — it is done. You don’t go in and out of duality by choice. There is only what is. Everybody in this room is being lived. There is just life happening in this room. There’s no choice, no will, and nowhere to go, nowhere that anything has ever been. All there is, is this…

It’s not something to ‘get’. Liberation is actually a loss of something rather than a getting of something. The loss is the one that’s trying to get it. When there’s nobody trying to get it then suddenly it’s realized that it already is that. This is it. There’s nothing to ‘get’. Choice and doing apparently happen, but nobody has ever done anything. There’s no responsibility, nothing to forgive. It’s just happened. Breathing is happening. Seeing and hearing are happening, but nobody is doing it. This [pointing to himself] isn’t doing it. There’s nobody doing it. Isn’t that amazing?…

It feels dangerous to the person, because it’s the end of apparent individuality. For the individual who thinks they’re in control of their life, that fallacy that you’re the ‘managing director’ of your life, and can make it continue, falls away, and that feels risky…

There is something that I call ‘liberation’, and with liberation, it’s all over, there’s no one, there’s just life happening, but previous to that there can be an ‘awakening’, a sudden realization that there is only oneness, and then for a while, subtly the seeker comes back and wants to own that. So you can’t say how long it lasts. Awakening and liberation can happen at the same moment, or after a few weeks or longer.

Awakening is not gradual. Awakening is totally immediate because it’s timeless. There’s a seeker looking for oneness and then suddenly there’s nothing. There is no time. There is only this.

The idea in the mind that if you meditate long enough you’ll get to it, is ludicrous. That’s what keeps the story going. The whole idea that there’s something to do to find this is a total denial that already, all there is, is this.

No lovely fluffy Om One Consciousness, just ordinary ‘all there is’, without the veil of the illusory self to make it personal. No Path, direct or otherwise — with no control, no free will, there is no pathway or process or practice or program for the individual person or self to get there, and no ‘one’ to pursue it in any case. All-there-is is beyond the comprehension of the limited, separate, personal, illusory self, as is any understanding of how ’all-there-is’ is that, or happens, or any understanding that there is no ‘why’ , no purpose— it just is. ‘Abiding’ and meditating and inquiry and contemplation won’t help, and may even hinder this realization.

So why keep listening to these ‘hopeless’ messages? Why attend a meeting with one of the messengers? There seems to be something — a ‘resonance’, a bodily intuition — that emerges from listening to stories of others whose egos/minds/selves have ‘fallen away’. Perhaps this ‘resonance’ is ‘all-there-is’ speaking through our intuition, out of earshot of the ‘conscious’ separate self, and listening to it might trigger the realization, or at least a ‘glimpse’ of it, un-consciously.

About a week ago I experienced such a ‘glimpse’, while sitting looking out over the forest near my house. It had the following qualities:

  • It felt more like a ‘remembering’ than an ‘awakening’. Some memories of very early childhood (some of which had been just a blur until then) and a few memories from more recent, very peaceful times, flooded through my body, which felt ‘flushed’ in the way it feels during a sudden ‘aha’ moment, or during feelings of intense love.
  • It felt amazingly free of anxiety or fear, very peaceful and joyful in a ‘boundless’ kind of way. Everything was awesome, more-than-real, unveiled, unfiltered and just perfect, exactly as it was.
  • There was no temptation to grasp onto it lest it be quickly lost again. It was clearly always here, everywhere, not ‘going’ anywhere, accessible always. My ‘self’ would have been anxious not to lose it, but my self was, in that moment, not present. Momentarily, I was not my self.
  • A silly grin came over me, and stayed for hours.

If this is an ‘awakening’, it is not my first, though this one seemed to connect me, through those suddenly recalled memories, to past ‘awakenings’. It felt wonderful, but also completely ordinary and obvious. Oh, that! How could ‘I’ not have noticed?

And I now wonder (since many of these memories were pre-school) if the horror I felt at the age when I first entered the school system, that had me retreating for much of my young life deep inside my head and into my imagination, was just the new separate me concluding that all these separate ‘selves’ made no sense and were awful and full of cruelty and suffering and I was going to hide from them until they went away or somehow all of it made sense.

Or perhaps this is all just wishful thinking, and my brief moment of ‘awakening’ or ‘connection’ was just a daydream.

I can appreciate that the people I love and care about find this ‘going nowhere’ journey, and this belief in non-duality, with its implication of giving up ‘self’ control and the sense of responsibility, frightening, even threatening. Most people believe that what we do and don’t do is governed by a mature sense of self, self-control, self-awareness, personal responsibility, personal choice and ethics. Non-duality says none of this exists and our behaviour is what it is despite the non-existence of all these things.

This seems, understandably, preposterous. How do you explain ‘positive’ changes in the way we behave (“personal growth”) in their absence? Non-duality says it can’t be explained, that apparent changes just happen (or more accurately, since non-duality recognizes that time is also an illusion, that what the separate ‘we’ perceive as changes in behaviour according to some pattern ‘our’ minds conceive and remember as ‘sequential’ on a ‘time line’ in memory and judge to be ‘improvements’, just happen). That Gaia, the astonishing sympathetic evolution of environments, cells and organisms to be self-optimizing and self-sustaining over billions of years and against all odds, just happens. Just a game that ‘all-there-is’ plays with itself. For no reason.

Absurd. Unbelievable. Could only be the belief of a victim of desperate, cult thinking. Yet, somehow, intuitively resonant.

So I apologize to those I love for their understandable anxiety, but I somehow sense that this is all for the best, and that (like others who have apparently been through this) what remains if ‘I’ go will love them even more, and be less anxious and ‘self’-preoccupied about doing so.

And if ‘I’ stay, it will have been an interesting journey anyway, one that seemingly is already bringing about some ‘changes’ in ‘me’ that are healthy and calming: I still catch myself getting angry, sad, anxious and fearful, but these feelings pack less of a punch and pass more quickly, as if they are being observed and soothed. I feel myself wanting less, not so much being more accepting of what I have and what is, but more giving up hoping and striving due to a sense that striving and hoping and yearning and aching and dreaming don’t make any difference to the outcome, so why stress it?

So to some extent this ‘journey’ is over, since while I’m still curious about all this (and love to talk about it ad nauseam with those interested in the subject), I sense that self-less ‘awakening’ and ‘liberation’ will happen, or won’t. And if they happen, ‘I’ won’t be around to take credit, or lament the consequences.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 17 Comments

Links of the Quarter: April 2, 2016

Although I’ve always been a radical (at least in the original sense of the term), nothing I’ve written on this blog has stirred up a lot of controversy. You’d think predicting the collapse of industrial civilization this century, or ‘coming out’ as poly (choosing not to commit to any exclusive romantic partnership) would have done so.

My articles on being vegan tend to have been the most provocative (people seem to think I’m judging them if they choose not to be vegan), but a close second has been my relatively recent admission to have given up on environmentalism and activism. I strongly support ‘deep green’ local resistance and direct action against environmental and social atrocities, but I no longer donate to large scale ‘environmental’ or social justice organizations or participate in protests or letter-writing campaigns because I don’t see them accomplishing anything.

For this I’m labeled a defeatist, doomer or hopeless pessimist, undermining important ‘progressive’ actions by my overt lack of support. But I’m not criticizing people who choose to do these things. And I don’t think opting out of such activities precludes my outrage over the brutal extinction of wilderness, natural habitats and non-human species, the grotesque suffering inflicted on farmed animals, the poor, the people of struggling nations, the old, the sick, and the victims of abuse.

What’s happened to me, I think, is a combination of:

  1. Learning to appreciate that the self-reinforcing complexity of most social, political, economic, biological and ecological systems largely precludes their ‘reform’, and requires waiting for their collapse before trying to rebuild healthier systems.
  2. A growing refusal to blame individuals, classes or groups for what is wrong with the world. We are all doing what we think is our best, and the terrible world we live in is the inevitable result of that. There are far too many of our species, and industrial civilization culture has given us collectively far too much (oil-fuelled) destructive power, which we are using to catastrophic but inadvertent effect.
  3. An awareness that we don’t have anywhere near the free will we think we have. We cannot, individually or collectively, be other than who we are.

So my outrage is about the outcomes of industrial civilization’s activities, not at their alleged perpetrators. And that outrage is not so much intellectual or emotional as it is intuitive, a sharing of the collective pain of all the creatures on this beautiful planet, past, present and (at least in the near term) future. It is a mix of anger and sadness, but not anger at, just anger that it isn’t otherwise. One of the songs our local Song Circle regularly sings cites the four qualities that are (apparently) left after the dissolution of the illusory self. The qualities are:

Loving kindness        Compassion        Unselfish joy        Equanimity

What can one do (if one in fact has the free will to do, or not do, anything) if one believes that our most broken and destructive systems are unreformable, that we are all doing our best, and that we cannot be other than who we are, when the only ‘tools’ we have left are the four qualities above?

One can still take local action — cleaning up a local wetland, blockading the forced eviction of a neighbour or an environmentally damaging local project, helping a neighbour out of an abusive situation, celebrating small environmental and social justice victories, facilitating or mentoring or helping resolve conflicts. You can see the immediate effects of these small kindnesses, and they are mostly enduring results. I’ve tried to capture these modest activities in my now-well-worn ‘preparing for collapse’ graphic below.

One can love and be kind, doing as little harm as possible and helping out in small important ways as much as possible. One can convey compassion and support. One can spend and share and celebrate the joys of everyday living. And one can be equanimous, keeping one’s wits to do what is required in the moment when all around are losing their heads and overreacting unhelpfully.

That’s not the same as “doing nothing”. Equanimity isn’t indifference, lack of caring. It’s being keenly aware of the situation and which interventions are, and aren’t, effective, and staying as unattached as possible to outcomes one cannot control or predict.

I think that’s a good thing.

You might ask what action might be appropriate if a despot, a xenophobe, a psychopath, or an even worse racketeer than the current gang in power is elected in the US or somewhere in the EU and that country devolves into murderous systematic violence against its most vulnerable, and its avowed ‘enemies’. I have no idea. Even equanimity has its limits. But what is ‘in charge’ of this world now if not a psychopathic, desolating, heartless, indifferent and endlessly cruel global culture? If individual tyrants and brownshirts give cause to rise up and overthrow the bastards, why doesn’t the same apply to civilization culture — why aren’t we rushing to smash it and end it as quickly as possible? Is it that we don’t want to admit that we’re not ready to do that, since many of us with some degree of wealth and comfort benefit so much from it? Or is it that we don’t want to admit that we know, in our hearts, it can’t be stopped?

~~~~~

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END

A Demon Haunted World: TD0S at Pray for Calamity has taken up the kind of regular, thoughtful, precise and passionate writing about how the world really works that I now do much less frequently.  Excerpt from his latest essay:

To be against civilization is not to be in favor of some inhumanity towards others, but simply to believe that urban development, infinite growth, ecological destruction, social stratification, agriculture, etc. are ultimately unsustainable pursuits that are dooming our possibility of existing very far into the future. Further, the anthropocentrism inherent in such societies results in the widespread extirpation of the other beings with who we share this planet…

More is happening in the space around you than you can possibly imagine. Your body is equipped with various sensory abilities that allow you to gather information about the world around you, and this information is used to generate a picture of existence that you as a biological entity can use to go forth and attain your survival. This picture exists in your mind only, and it is further shaped and formed by your particular biological makeup, as well as the cultural programming that you have been inculcated with since birth. The world you see is not the world I see, let alone, is not the world an owl, or a butterfly, or a snap pea sees. Human societies have a habit of claiming that through their sciences that have been able to package and interpret reality as it is. The fun sets in when we notice that each of these societies that has claimed such a handle on reality have all, in fact, had different descriptions of reality. Again, more is happening around us than we could know. We are filtering. We are constructing from the pieces we capture. We are naming and simplifying and manufacturing volumes of symbols. In a sense, we must do so so as not to be crippled by the overwhelming weight of all that we experience. But ultimately, more is not included in our picture of the world than is included. The cutting room floor actually contains more reality than the final film playing out in our heads.

Filling the Void: Another fine piece of writing by TD0S, this time a bit of an existential rant on time and collapse. Thanks to Paul Heft for the link. Excerpt:

Collapse is a very odd fascination. I cannot help but think that such an interest is a by-product of the civilized mind. I also cannot help but think that the collapse so many people fear is related to their perception of time, which is in its modern form, shaped by the superstructure of our society. Capitalism has commodified our time. People in our culture sign thirty year mortgages, they make promises to pay for cars and phones and anything that can be bought with a credit card. The entirety of neoliberal capitalism is predicated on the notion that there will be more energy and stuff tomorrow than there was today. Imaginary wealth in the form of digital notations, be they named “stocks” or “bonds” or any other “investment vehicle” exists purely in an abstract future space. Civilization already has us living within the confines of abstractions built from so much collective imagining, and these abstractions form the foundation of an even more illusory notion of time in which we have convinced ourselves that we exist. When predominantly western, white, middle class people fear collapse, what exactly are they even talking about? I posit that they are actually anxious about the destruction of the future, by which I mean a constructed notion that does not actually exist… Past, present, and future are clunky attempts to place ourselves within this abstract notion we ourselves have imagined into being. This understanding is culturally informed and not a hard and fast representation of reality. Not surprisingly, modern industrial civilization has imagined time into the most expedient and efficient of forms for the benefit of production: the straight line.

Preparing For a Beautiful End: From Utne, a lovely interview of a couple in Victoria BC modelling how to prepare for collapse. Thanks to Phorus Castana for the link.

China’s Slow Unravelling Begins: TAE explains how, despite the tens of trillions spent trying to bolster China to pull the industrial nations out of the long recession, China’s artificially-created economy has started to crumble.

Pretend to the Bitter End: Jim Kunstler explains how perception is reality, but only for a while.

Richard Heinberg’s Civilization Reboot: Richard’s COP21 recap is full of interesting, and impossible, ideas. Count how many alternative ways there are of saying “we really need to…” without identifying any “hows”. Not his business, I know. Replacing them all with “if we could only…” puts a more realistic and discouraging, if still fascinating, spin on it. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link.

The End of Cheap Oil, and Cheap Debt: Gail Tverberg explains the constraints that the limits to cheap oil and cheap debt put on our growth-addicted economy. Thanks to Sam Rose for the link.

How Much of Its Citizens’ Food Could Your City Optimally Produce?: Much, much less than you’d think, even with lawns and roofs and open spaces repurposed as gardens. Thanks to Tree for the link.

And Now, the News: XrayMike recaps the latest, all-bad, news about runaway climate change, and humans’ rather inadequate ‘efforts’ to address it.

~~~~~

LIVING BETTER

LOTQ ALT vegan by jonathan roth twin oaks

Cartoon  by Jonathan Roth from Is It Utopia Yet?

All About Co-ops: TESA releases a great study guide packed with resources about the cooperative movement and how to become part of it.

Anonymous Online Comments: With his usual wit, Rick Mercer proposes that online commenters be required to divulge their identities.

~~~~~

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

nonsequitur160304 (1)

Non-Sequitur comic by Wiley Miller

America’s Big Fat Hate-On: A new report reveals just how deep and broad the rage in the American heartland really is.

You Can’t Not Buy From Us: The Corporatist UK government moves to ban ethical boycotts of its cronies’ businesses.

America’s Poisoned Water: Between fracking, industrial waste, deregulation and decaying infrastructure, the water supply of more and more Americans grows increasingly toxic. Great news for the bottled water industry! They say the sign of a failed state is inability to deliver safe drinking water to its average citizens.

That They May Serve: A new study indicates that half of Canadian soldiers were child-abuse victims.

~~~~~

FUN AND INSPIRATION

space-hubble-april-9-2007-jupiter-moon-ganymede

NASA photo of Jupiter and Ganymede, from Hubble.

Why We Can’t Stop Child Abuse: If you really want to understand how and why complex (social, political and environmental) systems are so able to resist all attempts at change and reform, this is the article to read. The brilliant Jill Lepore explains that policies that try to deal with this problem swing back and forth between two equally terrible evils, and that dealing with the non-obvious and horrifically complex underlying problem is utterly unaffordable, even if we could somehow acknowledge and agree to address it.

Michael Bolton’s Jack Sparrow: Just funny, irreverent silliness. A bunch of satires rolled into one.

John Oliver on Donald Drumph: Just in case you are the only person in the world who hasn’t already seen this.

People Who Can See Colours You Can’t Even Imagine: Some people, most of them women, have extra visual receptors. Thanks to Tree for the link and the one that follows.

Picking a Mate by the Numbers: How soon scientifically to give up looking for the perfect partner, and go with your best bet to date.

~~~~~

THOUGHTS OF THE QUARTER

mutts 030416

Mutts cartoon by Patrick McDonnell

From Brian Doyle‘s The Way We Do Not Say What We Mean When We Say What We Say in the March 2016 Sun Magazine (available to subscribers only):

We say yes when we mean I would rather not. We say no when we mean I would say yes except for all the times yes has proven to be a terrible idea. We say no thank you when every fiber in our bodies is moaning oh yes please. We say you cannot when what we mean is actually you can but you sure by God ought not to. We say no by not saying anything whatsoever…

Perhaps all languages began from the music of insects and animals and wind through vegetation. Perhaps languages began with the sound of creeks and rivers and the crash of surf and the whis- per of tides, and even now, all these years later, when we open our mouths to speak, out comes not so much meaning and sense and reason and clarity but something of the wild world beyond our understanding. Perhaps much of the reason we so often do not say what we mean to say is because we cannot; there is wild in us yet, and in every word and sentence and speech there is still the seethe of the sea from whence we came, and unto which we will return, which cannot ever be fully trammeled or corralled or parsed, no matter how hard we try to mean what we say when we say what we think we mean.

From PS Pirro, a new poem Death Toll:

When the snow comes we stay in the house
with mugs of strong tea and honey,
fleece and flannel, buffalo plaid and log-cabin quilts,

The fire burns steady, kettle set to simmer,
it mists the air like hot breath against a pane of glass
jackfrosted opaque.

We press our fingers to the frozen edge, co-mingle
our heat with the last light of the day.

In the quiet golden corner El Tio sits before his ledgers,
turning a pale green page to scan the names
of all who asked for one last solstice,

one last feast of Epiphany, scheduling payment,
sending invoices, tallying his bottom line by candlelight,
he calculates the weight of souls and payroll

for the psychopomp, holding out his cup to us
that we might fill it from the kettle one more time.

From Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut (thanks to Sheri Herndon for the link):

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch’

From Brené Brown (thanks to Emily van Lidth de Jeude for the link):

People call what happens at midlife a ‘crisis’, but it’s not. It’s an unraveling — a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.

From Sy Safranski‘s latest book:

As I walked along a crowded street yesterday, something I’d read that morning by the Dalai Lama came to mind: ‘All living beings want happiness and not suffering.’ And, for a moment, I stopped noticing how different everyone looked. Behind our astonishing differences was something even more astonishing: our shared yearning to be happy and not to suffer. It didn’t matter whether we were consciously aware of this. It didn’t matter that we usually delude ourselves about the source of true happiness and look for it in all the wrong places. What mattered was that every single one of us wanted the same thing.

From Annie Dillard:

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

From TD0S:

I do not know how [collapse] will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival. In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw. Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire. Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 7 Comments

what it all comes down to, part two

(some further pondering on non-duality; image above by the author)

XI

even die-hard non-dualists
(who say it is hopeless, impossible
to ‘do’ anything that will make
the dissolution of the self more likely to happen)
acknowledge a resonance
that seems at least to clue the self
into thinking that its understanding of what is real
is somehow not quite right,
without knowing why.

perhaps instinct is the ‘voice’ of that resonance,
the whisper of hidden truth, an inkling,
a self-doubt that at least opens the possibility
of the self’s dissolution, leaving only
all-that-is.

XII

look: the tree is real,
but not in the way the mind perceives it.
mind sees patterns, makes meaning.
but these are just thoughts, renderings.
what self calls ‘this tree’ is in reality
an unfathomably complex and inseparable part of all-that-is —
it is turtles all the way down.
it is not ‘this tree’ that the self-mind sees as beautiful;
it is all-that-is, of which ‘this tree’ is just an instance,
the mind’s representation, a glimmer.

the self wants to know ‘this tree’ as finite;
it analyzes it, names it, tears it apart,
looking for what it cannot find or even conceive of.
still, it cannot help but find it beautiful,
and it cannot help
not bearing the thought it cannot be known.

XIII

wild creatures would seem
to have something-of-a-self,
in moments of existential stress,
but then shake off the illusion fast enough.

XIV

ever the doubting thomas, i wonder:
is the dissolution of the self, its non-existence
just another idea, another way out,
another trick of the too-smart-for-our-own-good minds?

XV

so now: even more radical:
no ‘One Consciousness’, ‘Awareness’, or ‘Presence’,
no time, no matter, no mind, no one, no thing, no self —
all illusions, and not even illusions of some one.

no perturbations, sensations, perceptions, conceptions.
no purpose, no reasons ‘why’.
‘all-that-is’ is no thing, inconceivable,
beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend, or to imagine.
infinite, eternal,
requiring no observer, no perceiver, no one and no thing.
beyond the twin follies of spirituality and science.
beyond quantum, which is as far as we can understand.

just all-that-is, of which an infinitesimally small part
are our illusions, and the illusory selves that have them,
and everything we thought was real, and is.

but not really.

Posted in Creative Works | Comments Off on what it all comes down to, part two

It’s Not Peak Oil, It’s Peak Affordable Oil

supply demand image.001

Lately there has been some suggestion that “Peak Oil is dead” — that because of the recent drop in demand and price for oil, we will never again see high oil prices and will never run out of oil.

What this conclusion misunderstands is that it’s not about running out of oil, it’s about running out of oil that our economy can afford to extract. If oil cost a million dollars a barrel to extract, we would never have mined most of it, the industrial revolution would have stalled a century ago, and human societies would quickly have reverted to a subsistence local agrarian existence with a much smaller human population and much, much less industry and technology.

Oil was a remarkable discovery. Each barrel replaces the equivalent of about 6 person-years of unassisted manual labour. Our industrial economy and global civilization have been built on the ability to employ cheap oil to do the work of billions of people for next to nothing. We continue to depend on that. Our GDP growth correlates precisely with the consumption of oil, and has essentially nothing to do with innovation, technological ingenuity, economies of scale or ‘doing more with less’. When we run out of affordable oil, the game is up.

What is ‘affordable’ depends a lot on the health of the economy and on the incremental cost of extracting each harder-to-get barrel of oil. For most of the last half century, what was affordable was somewhere between $30-60/barrel. When oil prices have soared to the $100/barrel level, the economy has almost immediately started to tank.

The chart above shows the supply/demand curves for oil, in general terms, over that 50 year time and, most likely, the 50 years to come. It’s a bit oversimplified because supply and demand is also affected by stocks in storage, but the amount of oil that can be reasonably stockpiled to cushion again price shocks is pretty small — certainly not years’ worth.

‘Business as usual’ over the last 50 years is shown by the supply/demand curves labeled S0 and D0, intersecting at around $60/barrel. This is a price that historically has been high enough to allow continued exploration but is low enough that consumers and industry can afford it and still make a profit (and not go into unrepayable debt). When OPEC (or political events) have conspired to constrain supply, the supply curve has shifted over to the S2 curve, and demand has necessarily been reduced to the D2 curve, leading to a $100/barrel price (where S2 and D2 intersect). This has proven to be an unsustainable price, and political pressures (i.e. wars, and threats to OPEC partners) have always been applied when the price has reached this level to get suppliers to pump more oil and move the curves back to the S0/D0 $60/barrel level.

But it’s a difficult balancing act. As cheap (inexpensive to extract) OPEC oil rapidly diminishes, and as the remaining oil becomes more expensive to extract (e.g. tar sands, fracking), the point is reached where $60/barrel is no longer enough to warrant continued exploration. And, as we saw in 2008, whenever our teetering, debt-laden (and cheap oil dependent) economy falters, and demand falls even slightly, the price can plummet to the point where even more traditional exploration and extraction become uneconomic. At this price the economies of many OPEC countries also start to unravel, many of which are politically unstable to begin with.

So let’s look what happened over the past year, when the price plummeted to the $30 level. Here are (again somewhat simplified) the factors that led to this:

  • The US, seeking to stimulate an economic recovery after the 2008 debacle, and seeking to punish Russia for its global political and economic muscle-flexing, conspired with the Saudis to increase the short-term supply of oil (we may never know what the Saudis got in return for this devil’s bargain). First world nations also increased their already-massive subsidies to the oil industry to encourage fracking. The combination of these two factors shifted the short-term supply curve to the right (increased short-term supply) from S0 to S1.
  • At the same time, much of the first world was mired in an ongoing recession that gutted the middle class and reduced available spending. Already at their limits in debt, consumers were forced to reduce consumption. Even as price started to drop as a result, they have chosen to pocket the savings at the gas pump to pay off debts or for other needed spending (the real, double-digit inflationary cost increases in health care, healthy food, good education and other essentials, for example). To add to this demand contraction, the artificially-stimulated Chinese economy ran out of steam and has started a long and painful collapse. The combination of these factors shifted the short-term demand curve to the left (reduced short-term demand) from D0 to D1. The intersection of S1 and D1 is the recent, depression-level price of $30/barrel.

This was a ‘success’ in terms of devastating the oil-dependent Russian economy (which requires much more than $30/barrel to be a viable producer due to their extraction costs, which are much higher than the Saudis’). It also devastated the less-oil-dependent Canadian economy and Canadian currency (which fell from above-par to 69 cents to the US dollar as a result). It quickly destroyed the fracking industry and has seized up almost all of the projects to produce more expensive oil (the Tar Sands, deep sea, Arctic etc.). So now there’s a huge short-term surplus of supply (there is no place to put any additional surplus), but the longer-term supply (which requires a price of at least $60/barrel steadily increasing to $100/barrel and beyond to develop economically) looks to be collapsing.

On top of this, the disastrous economic policies of the last 50 years, trying to squeeze out a few more years of ‘growth’ in the industrial economy by artificially lowering interest rates to approximately zero, to get consumers to buy even more by going even deeper into debt, have reached the end of the line. They have not and do not appear capable of working any more. We have reached the point at which the ‘real’ cost of oil, needed to power GDP ‘growth’ and enable the globalized industrial economy to continue, is now higher than the exhausted, debt-ridden, artificially stimulated global economy can afford to pay.

What this will mean is that in future, in a whipsaw fashion, we are going to see a combination of spikes and collapses in oil price, in a cycle that will end in both global economic collapse and the end of large-scale oil production and hence our oil-fuelled industrial culture.

First, we will see some brief and unsustainable resurgences in price, from the current S1/D1 curve price of $30/barrel back up to the stratospheric levels of the S2/D2 curve price of $100/barrel and beyond. This will happen as the global supply of cheap-to-produce ($30/barrel and then $60/barrel) oil evaporates. There is not much of this left to begin with, and we can’t create more of it by subsidizing oil production even more than we already do, because our economy essentially runs on cheap oil — without it there’s no money to subsidize anything.

While brief periods of $100/barrel oil will temporarily spark new exploration and development, this price is, as we have repeatedly seen, unsustainable. With $100/barrel oil, demand will inevitably and drastically shrink, even at a horrific human cost — we simply cannot afford to pay for it. So as the longer-term supply of (especially cheaper) oil shifts left (i.e. decreases) as cheap OPEC supplies are exhaused, moving supply to the S3 curve, demand will also shift left (i.e. decrease) as consumers and entire economies, unable to pay for the more expensive remaining oil, collapse, moving to the D3 curve. The intersection of the S3/D3 curves is, again, the depression-level $30/barrel price. But notice how far to the left this intersection has shifted on the chart! The recent shenanigans and economic stumbles have not drastically decreased global oil consumption (the point on the horizontal axis below the S1/D1 curves at intersection 1, relative to the point on the horizontal axis below the S0/D0 curves at intersection 0). However, the future economic and cheap-oil-supply crashes will catastrophically decrease consumption (to the point on the horizontal axis below the S3/D3 curves at intersection 3).

Intersection 3 is the end game for the global industrial growth economy and the globalized civilization that depends on it. It is not the passing of Peak Oil as Hubbert might have envisioned it, since there will be lots of (expensive to extract) oil left in the ground (good news for climate change, though almost certainly too little too late to stave off the end of our planet’s long stretch of stable climate).

What intersection 3 represents is the passing of Peak Affordable Oil. As this complex interplay of economic factors works its way through in the coming decades, we’re going to see some whipsawing in oil prices (and prices and levels of just about everything else) between hyper-inflationary, and deflationary, Long Depression levels. This will be the hallmark of the Slow Collapse of industrial civilization. Get ready for a rough and uneven ride.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Preparing for Civilization's End | 5 Comments

what it all comes down to

I

presence is just the whispering
of some subtle quality
exploring what it might be
to be otherwise than just
this

II

those who say they have awakened
seem at peace, but somehow disengaged.
smart people all, have they merely learned
to fool their selves?

III

where skin touches sand
sand becomes an extension of body
as body melts into the earth.

where skin touches air
the same temperature it is
the boundary between them dissolves —
the breath of body
is the earth
breathing.

IV

what i want is always changing
and never real.
what i want, and want not to want
is impossible, perfect, effortless.
it is the stuff of stories.

when the stories wear thin
the want subsides,
leaving an empty space,
inviting another want to arise,
another impossible story.

V

why do we want to read
about made-up heroes and heartbreak?
life is unreal enough.
so i write my own stories,
of beauty and pleasure and endless joy
and lose myself in them instead.

VI

needs, wants, pleasures
not so different really.
in the midst of feeling great pleasure —
beauty, discovery, passion, calm —
don’t we want it to go on forever?
don’t we already want a next time,
a next, addictive step?

VII

our true being, what we are
are tendrils of Presence.
our selves are merely actors
play pieces in involuntary motion
believing them selves real, separate,
in control of things.

VIII

life, time, matter:
all just perturbations of Presence.
when our selves think they’ve found the grand theory,
the origin, the start, the edge, the god particle,
all they’ve discovered is
one more layer of turtles.

IX

this simple act of seeing
what we are, behind our selves
infinite, eternal, unfathomable,
cannot be done by our selves.
it is an astonishing feat,
an opening, surrender, leap
into the unknown.
it is self-defying, super-human, god-like,
a vanishing act.

X

in gentle moments, walking in lamplight,
sitting on the deck in candlelight
or on the ocean shore by the light of the moon,
i am more at peace,
more open to the possibility of Presence.
i am more aware of sense-perceptions
when they are not shouting:
soft lights, wind through trees, birdsong,
caresses, the taste of raspberries, the scent of lilacs.
only then does the noise in my head relent,
the machine sounds rumble to a halt
and for a moment i can nearly see.

image: by monica and michael sweet, hawai’ian sea turtles, from a print in my own collection

Posted in Creative Works | 4 Comments

Appreciation Circles

Last night I dreamed about a strange and wonderful ritual. The dream was set in my past and featured a group of about 15 close friends and family members at that time, who had gathered at someone’s house to celebrate something called “Co Day” (apparently referring to any or all of “community”, “colleagues” and “cohabitants”).

The highlight of “Co Day”, in the dream, was a ritual called an Appreciation Circle. We were sitting in a circle with candles around us and an array of cards, each depicting a positive attribute like compassion, patience, or green thumb, in front of us. Each of us took a turn being the honouree, starting with the youngest member there. Here’s how it went:

  1. The honouree closed her/his eyes, or turned around so they were not facing the circle.
  2. Everyone who chose to offer an appreciation to the honouree raised their hand. One of the people whose hand was raised would nominate someone else with their hand raised to speak next.
  3. Each nominated speaker in turn said one or two sentences with this format: “I wish [name of honouree] success in [something the speaker knew the honouree was seeking to do/be/accomplish]”. [and/or] “I honour her/his [some quality or capacity the speaker believed the honouree exemplifies]”. These statements would include just one wish and/or one appreciation. So, for example, one said: “I wish Catherine success in her search for a new partner; I honour her volunteering so much of her time to helping those less fortunate.”
  4. When all speakers wishing to offer an appreciation to this honouree (i.e. everyone with their hand raised) had spoken, hands were raised again for the opportunity to relate a brief story about the honouree — a fond memory. Silently by consensus, hands were dropped until only one remained. That person told a story starting with “I recall fondly when [name of honouree]…” Only one story was told about each honouree.
  5. As the story was told, the others in the circle (if they wished and thought appropriate) drew from the array of cards in front of them one card depicting a positive attribute they thought the honouree had, and held it silently in front of them where it could be seen by the others in the circle (but not, of course, by the honouree).
  6. After the story had been told, the honouree thanked the circle and responded with a statement with this format: “I seek for myself [something they were striving for in their life], and I offer to you all [some non-material gift they were willing to give others in the circle who valued it].” So for example, Catherine said “I seek for myself the capacity to love and to forgive the people who have unintentionally hurt me, and I offer to you all my famous chocolate soufflé recipe.”
  7. The honouree then opened her/his eyes, or turned around to face the circle again. Thanks were exchanged, and the turn of honouree passed to the next youngest person.

Anyone was free to decline to be honoured as their turn came up. At one point in my dream a family pet became the honouree (for steps 2-5 only)! At another point in the dream someone said they had two more Appreciation Circles to attend with different groups of friends, family and colleagues later that “Co Day”.

It was just a dream. But though I may have unwittingly embellished it in recalling it when I awoke, it seems to me that the idea of Appreciation Circles and a Co Day make a lot of sense. I’m not much of a fan of rituals, or of ‘official’ holidays, but I found this dream, and the ritual and holiday that unfolded in it, a strangely moving experience.

Maybe I’ll try it someday, when I’m next in a group of close Co’s.

image: visionary permaculture group using the Group Works  exemplary group practice pattern language cards — photo by Gene Stull; these are not the ‘positive attribute’ cards that appeared in my dream, but they would do in a pinch!

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

Ten Ways to Heal from Civilization Disease

injured

image: creative commons CC0 license from pixabay

The theme for a recent ‘rhythm meditation’ retreat at my house was healing. Since my current preoccupation with meditation is mostly about learning to deal with stress more effectively, it was very much on topic for me. Healing (including self-healing) is also one of the five pillars of my preparing for collapse model.

If you trace the words for ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ back to their roots, they refer to the idea of wholeness and correctness, things being ‘intact’ and ‘as they should normally be’. There is growing evidence that prehistoric humans lived extremely healthy lives, so anything other than excellent health was an aberration, and the real danger to the health of early humans (apart from the obvious one of being eaten) was accident, not illness.

We modern domesticated creatures are not so fortunate. Most of us are subject to an enduring and growing host of illnesses, both physical and emotional, from an early age, attesting to our unnaturally massive numbers (living in unnatural proximity and anonymity), and living a very unnatural and unhealthy lifestyle — typically featuring lifelong poor nutrition, dangerous and unhealthy living conditions, recurring and debilitating trauma, and high levels of chronic stress.

As a result, we are all to some extent ill, physically and emotionally, and all engaged in a difficult, lifelong and often unsuccessful healing journey. How, then, might we best conduct our own healing journey, and help others along theirs?

Modern life offers us a limited number of strategies. We can help heal ourselves and support each other (or not) through self-awareness and self-knowledge, through letting go of our attachments, through loving unreservedly, and through empathy, compassion, giving and forgiving — ourselves, those we care about, and those we are in community with. But many, for a variety of reasons, will probably never acquire the capacity to do these things.

Some may find value in conversational ‘talk therapies’ or by spending time in wild places. Some will be fortunate enough to be surrounded by love, and have the freedom to rest and recover. Others will find at least temporary relief through distractions and diversions from their pain and dis-ease.

I’ve been thinking lately about what other ’therapies’ are available to us for our lifelong healing journeys. Although I’m increasingly dubious about how much ‘free will’ we have to change our beliefs and behaviours, there are some therapies that would seem to be available to all, if only we are aware of them and willing to try them. Here’s a list of some of them that have worked for me:

  1. Monitor, Measure and Self-Manage: Every body is different, and one great failing of the medical profession (both mainstream and alternative) is believing that you can generalize enough about bodies and minds and illnesses to be able to reliably prescribe medicines to someone based on very limited knowledge of the symptoms afflicting them. A more effective method, in my experience, health self-experimentation and self-management, entails keeping very detailed records of exactly what you eat, what medicines you use and what you do each day, and tracking how that correlates with your self-assessed state of health. After I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, and was (mis-)prescribed steroids, I began a daily tracking of what I ate, what medicines and supplements I consumed, what exercises and other activities I undertook, and how healthy I felt subjectively a day later. Using Excel, I then ran a regression analysis, and ceased the medications, supplements and activities that did not correlate highly to a feeling of health the next day or two, and quickly homed in on a regimen that worked brilliantly for me, and continues to do so a decade later. All it takes is a reasonable skepticism about traditional health care approaches and some confidence in your own health self-management capacity (you can get a math geek to show you how to do the regression analysis, the results of which are pretty easy to understand).
  2. Move: Our bodies are meant to move. Dance, running, qigong, hiking, yoga, martial arts, traveling in a moving vehicle, all fulfill something in us. Movement makes us stronger, fitter, happier, more resilient, more agile. It opens us.
  3. Play: By this I mean having fun without pressure, competition, rules or deliberate purpose. Play relaxes us, fuels our imagination and creativity, makes us more aware and present, and increases our capacity to learn, to relate, to adapt and to be kind to each other, and to just be.
  4. Have Sex: Including solo sex. Sex, and the cocktail of chemicals it releases, heals us, both as a stressbuster and as a form of meditation. It’s important that it not be used as a form of abuse of our partners, and important not to feel guilty about indulging in it, no matter how the social norms of the day judge it. It’s also important, I think, that it not be too tied up in unrealizable fantasy, when it becomes disconnecting instead of connecting. But beyond that, the more, and the longer, the better.
  5. Touch: Massage, hugs, caresses, sleeping together, all kinds of physical contact are good for us. Touch releases many of the same chemicals that sex does, and some additional ones too. It is essential to forming deep relationships and building trust, and establishing our sense of who we are.
  6. Dive into Water: Both the feel and the sound of water, whether it be from a bubble bath, a hot tub, or an ocean, connects us to where we intuitively feel we belong. We lived in water, after all, before we were born. Our bodies are mostly water. Loren Eiseley once described the body as “a way that water has of going about, beyond the reach of rivers.”
  7. Bathe in Warmth and Light: You’ve probably noticed how animals gravitate to sun patches (and even heating vents) as a place to sleep. We intuitively love the healing warmth of a heating pad, a hot water bottle, and the sun. The energy of sunlight and moonlight and lamplight can fill us with resonant emotion: joy and wonder and a sense of calmness and peace.
  8. Immerse Yourself in Music and Art: Waves of sound can ‘move’ us just as waves of light can. Many depressed people find that music has the power to pull them “down and then out through” from a prolonged depression. Music and art affect the same parts of the brain as the emotional and tactile phenomena that release “pleasure chemicals” in our bodies. Music and art are “re-presentations” of reality that can re-connect us to each other and the world.
  9. Less Stress and
  10. Better Nutrition: In The Triple Helix, scientist Richard Lewontin writes: “The most plausible explanation we have [for why infectious disease rates fell in Europe long before modern drugs were invented or the agents of infection were known] is that during the nineteenth century there was a general trend of increase in the real wage, an increase in the state of nutrition of European populations, and a decrease in the number of hours worked. As people were better nourished and better clothed and had more rest time to recover from taxing labor, their bodies, being in a less stressed physiological state, were better able to recover from the further severe stress of infection. So, although they may still have fallen sick, they survived. Infectious diseases were not the causes of death, but only the agencies. The causes of death in Europe in earlier times were what they still are in the Third World: overwork and undernourishment.” If overwork (i.e. chronic stress) and undernourishment (not the same as hunger) are the main causes of illness, what might we do to reduce them? How might we each reduce the stress in our lives and improve the nourishment of our diets? For some this might mean withdrawing from unhealthy relationships, or finding some way to quit their high-stress jobs. For some it might mean learning to make simple, affordable, meals from a wide variety of micronutrient-rich ingredients, instead of relying on “fast” and processed foods. For each of us the road to less stress and better nutrition will be something different.

As part of my ongoing health regimen, and especially at times when I’m feeling unhealthy, I try to incorporate as many of the above therapies as possible each day. Even when I’m feeling great, these therapies often deepen my sense of joy and pleasure, help me to be more present, equanimous and at peace, and make others happier in my company.

May you be whole, as you should normally be. And may we live long enough to see a world where this is once again the way we normally are.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 4 Comments