my meditation place, in the forest beside my new home on Bowen Island
Tuesday is meditation day for me, and I have been thinking about something my meditation partner Melanie told me a couple of weeks ago. We had been discussing what we really care about, and it occurred to me as a result of our conversation that:
- Most of what the media, politicians and other people who want to bring about change (or prevent change) are focused on is trying to affect our beliefs — what we think is true and what we thinks needs to be done.
- For most of us, there is a vast “knowing-doing disconnect” — what we do and what we think/know we should do are very different.
- The reason for this stems from Pollard’s Law: We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. There is simply no time in our artificially busy lives to do what we think is “merely” important. We watch TV, surf the net, chat with friends, and that important project gets perpetually put off. That’s human nature. We can’t be other than who we are.
- What we “must” do, are the urgent things that get done because the pain or fear of not doing them exceeds the pain or fear of doing them. Most of those things are done “for” other people — bosses, loved ones, regulators. Much of this activity is coerced: We don’t want to get fired, we don’t want our loved ones to hate us, we don’t want to go to jail. But a few of the “must-do” things, and many of the “easy” and “fun” things we do, are not coercive. What determines which of these non-coercive things we elect to do? They’re things we care about. That course we’re taking. That show we never miss. The exercise or practice (e.g. blogging) we always find time for, no matter what, even though the sky won’t fall if it isn’t done.
- In short, what drives what we do (voluntarily, after the stuff we believe we have no choice about) is not affected at all by what we believe. It is driven by what we care about.
So what? I think this is hugely important, because if we want to change what we do (or what others do), we should stop trying to change people’s minds, and instead try to change our/their hearts — what we/they care about. Of course, this is easier said than done. What we care about is not especially logical. Why do we care about some things more than others? Why do we not (hard as we try) really care about climate change, peak oil, and the impending economic collapse? I used to think it was because they were too abstract, too impersonal, or too far outside what we think we have any control over.
What we care about is visceral. It can drive us to kill someone who harms or threatens a loved one. It can drive us to suicide. It can make us love, or hate (ourselves or another) insensibly. Until we care enough about something, or someone, or ourselves, we will not do many of the things that we tell ourselves we want to do, hope to do, ought to do. And then when we care there is no stopping us.
What drives us to care about something, or someone? Maybe we have no control over it. Maybe our bodies, our genes, the land speaking to us, and the insidious and lifelong effect of our culture — what we are shown, what is reinforced or punished, combine to make us care, or not care. Certainly the chemistry of love is subconscious, irrational, and largely outside our control. There is, deep within us, a biophilia, a love for all-life-on-Earth that prevails beyond hope. The organisms that make us up also make us care about ourselves, our own preservation and well-being. All together, what makes us care is something that is within us, our raw selves.
Despite all the consumerist propaganda, I think we care about people, ourselves, all-life-on-Earth far more than we care about stuff. But maybe that’s just me. I intend to leave this life with nothing, and I recently managed to move across the country with all the ‘stuff’ I cared about in two suitcases.
If what we care about is internal, intrinsic to ourselves, then how can we change what we, and others, care about? Is it even possible? When we fall in and out of love, when we experience or learn something that makes us love ourselves, or others, more or less, when we find the place we’re meant to live or the work we’re meant to do or one of those once-a-decade acquisitions that just works, what we care about changes. But mostly these events are accidental, and the best we can do is to open ourselves to them, and encourage others to do likewise.
I recently retired, and thanks mostly to good fortune rather than anything I did, or was born with, I now have a lot of choice in my life, and almost nothing that “has” to be done. I indicated that these choices are guided by three First Principles — generosity, valuing time, and living naturally. But in observing what I am actually doing, versus what I intended to do, I’ve come to realize that I’m trying unsuccessfully to flout Pollard’s Law. With fewer things that “must” be done, I am spending much of my time doing things that are easy and/or fun — various forms of play, and not much of the reconnecting, activism, and reflecting work I expected to be doing.
Since I’m not into material “stuff”, who and what I care about basically breaks down into three categories:
- I care about myself (how I use my time, my health, happiness, learning, imagining/creativity, love, freedom, presence, integrity, ‘natural’ adaptability, ‘nobody-but-myself’ authenticity, and the beauty of my ‘place’).
- I care about the inner and outer circles of my gravitational community (finding the people I’m meant to love and work with, and then being generous with them).
- I care about all-life-on-Earth (being a part of Gaia, and reducing its suffering).
What I’m actually doing is all driven by these three categories of what I love. If I map that against the five categories of what I intended to do with my time once I’d retired (reconnecting, capacity-building, activism, model-creation, and taking time for personal joyful activities), it basically reiterates Pollard’s Law — Since there is no longer anything I “must” do, what I’m doing is what’s easy and what’s fun. I’m not practicing reconnecting, building capacities, involved in activism or new model-creation. I’m talking about these things because the ideation is easy and fun. Actually doing them is hard work. I’m not blogging (much), working on my film/novel, learning anything new, or accepting any new obligations, commitments, scheduled activities or responsibilities.
What I’m actually doing is: exploring my new home, spending time with those I love, talking about things that I find interesting, participating in live local entertainment, enjoying the passage of time and not having anything that “must” be done, and enjoying meeting new people and seeing if they might be people I could love. Lazy, easy, fun stuff. Those who know me tell me that I owe this to myself for awhile, but I’m not so sure I’ll ever get restless with this simple, easy life. I agree with John Gray that humans are (and have always been) preoccupied with the needs of the moment, and I’m delighted having no needs of the moment, so I can just do (or not do) what I want. Very selfish. Very human. Very natural.
I believe that we need to bring a quick end to industrial civilization, and specifically that we need to stop the Tar Sands and industrial agriculture. I believe we need new models, like the transition, permaculture, intentional community and unschooling movements, to help us cope with and replace dangerous and unsustainable systems. I believe we need to build personal and collective capacity to help us adapt to the inevitable catastrophes of the next generation, especially the collapse of the industrial economy, fossil fuel energy and ecological systems. But look at my behaviour, and it’s pretty clear I don’t, and won’t care enough about any of these things to act until I absolutely have to. What drives me right now is what (who) I really care about — the three categories in the list above.
That was what emerged from today’s meditation. I was striving to be present, in the moment. But instead, I found it easier and more fun thinking about why I’m not accomplishing what I had intended. And I’m not sure there’s a cure for that.