She Stood Irresolute Outside His Door


cartoon by hugh macleod

I don’t want to feel too much. I couldn’t bear to work at an animal shelter, or visit a factory farm or the Tar Sands.

I’m afraid that if I feel too much, I might become even more fearful than I am already. Afraid to lose what I have, what I am. Afraid to live.

I realize that I am driven by aversion to (the many) things I am afraid of*, things which cause me stress, rather than being driven more positively by purpose, intention, or desire. That’s kind of an empty, numb way to live, and one that’s not very useful to the rest of the world. But probably not uncommon.

So I have not really undertaken, or promised, to do much this year or in the future. There is some validity to my excuses: It is both too early and too late. The Jevons Paradox and other attributes of complex systems mitigate strongly against our ability to change them. And there is some value in just ‘being’, and hence aware and able to do what is needed effectively in the moment, rather than making a lot of commitments to doing things in the future and hence overextending oneself. But I think the main reason for my planned inaction is fear.

fear cycle

I’d like to believe my ‘presence’ practice could enable me to get out of this ‘fear cycle’ and transform it to something more natural:

presence cycle

But that’s not who I am, and I no longer count on getting to that place. I have to self-accept. That was the joyful ‘aha’ in yesterday’s poem and in the works that inspired it (apologies to those who took it too seriously).

I have said that what I want to ‘be’ in 2014 is imaginative, provocative, and articulate. These are things I am, rather than things like ‘present’ that I am not and will likely never really be. I can be a conjurer, a provocateur, a crafter of words and ideas without being especially ‘present’. This blog has been, principally, where I offer those capacities of being.

I don’t have many needs, now — I have only ever really needed my freedom, and other than the freedom from the fears that originate inside my own head, I have that. What I’ve been focused on lately is what I want. And I’ve realized that most of the things I think I want (e.g. to live in a warm, beautiful place all year round) are, if I were to be honest, pretty unattainable. For me to be obsessing about them is as unhealthy as obsessing about winning a lottery. So I’m trying to do two things with my unrealistic ‘wants’: (1) understand what’s behind my wanting them so badly, and (2) let them go. As my self-awareness has grown, understanding what’s behind them is pretty easy. But to my surprise, I’m finding that letting go of them isn’t as hard as I thought.

That frees me up to focus on the wants that are relatively attainable (e.g. finding a new Ayurvedic massage therapist), and on the more modest and practical wants that take the place of the unrealistic ones I’m letting go of, and how they can be realized, soon. They’re somewhat self-indulgent but they feel right on my ‘to do’ list. I can see myself checking them off quickly, and enjoying the results. There’s a liberating feeling to having almost no ‘needs’ and few ‘wants’.

So that brings me back to what value I can offer to others in my circles and beyond. How can I heal at least a bit from this frozen, broken, fearful state in order to be able to offer my talents as conjurer, provocateur and crafter of words and ideas more effectively, courageously and boldly, instead of reticently? Or is wanting this healing just another unrealistic want I should let go of?

I recently wrote this letter to a friend:

I really liked the Francis Weller lecture. The other stuff you sent me was harder to relate to, perhaps because my grief is not about death or loss (other than perhaps my loss of innocence) so much as it’s about the ongoing suffering and imprisonment of all life on Earth — it’s grief about agonized living not about dying.

I think that this grief has led me to disconnect (most of the time) — from my body, my instincts, my emotions, and all life on Earth. That disconnection, I think, is relatively common among men, at least in Western society. It’s a means of coping, with fear, with sorrow and grief, with anger, with loss of control. But it means we can’t relate to healing practices in the same way that those who are more connected can.

I also am unable to relate to ritual or ‘spirit’ connection. I can appreciate intellectually that the purpose of ritual is often communion and creating a safe space for the expression of one’s fears and sorrows, but I have no real desire to have (or help others have) such a space. Perhaps that’s the essence of misanthropy, but that’s where I am. While I can accept intellectually that time is nothing more than a mental construct, the idea of connecting with ancestors or descendants just seems absurd. And my appreciation of complexity allows me to grasp how all life on Earth is connected, and how what ‘is’ is an emergence, a complicity of all life (Gaia theory), but that appreciation doesn’t enable me to accept that I can have some kind of ‘spiritual’ connection (beyond recognition and respect) with another individual creature.

I’m with Weller in his argument that a “hardened heart” is the antithesis of resilience, and he’s probably right that development of resilience (through enabling a healing of the grief we all carry) is best done communally. But despite that, I’m thinking I might at least initially have to find a different healing vector than the one your group is employing together — one more about self-exploration than ritual, and more about personal courage than communion. A different and probably longer learning path, perhaps, but maybe the one I have to follow.

So that’s where I am, as 2014 begins. You’ll probably see more creative/imaginative work (including video, music, games and other forms of play) on this blog and elsewhere from me, and a substantive Manifesto on Embracing Complexity. I might also invite you to a small group video conversation on some issue we both seem to care about, which we might record and publish.

Mostly, I think, and hope, you’ll see me (or not) being more playful, faring forward. Play is, I think, a good practice for a conjurer, a provocateur, and a crafter of words and ideas (hence the title of this post). It’s also probably a good tool for dealing with fear, and for healing. And, perhaps, for learning to be humble, effective and even a bit more present. Obscurity may be pin-headed and unkind, but ambiguity leaves room for improbable discovery, evocation, and magic.


* My principal fears these days, if you’re curious: fear of being trapped (physically or emotionally), constrained or demanded upon; fear of suffering: injury, pain, deprivation, illness, causing/inability to cope with with loved ones’ suffering, humiliation, criticism, failure (e.g. that my creative work will never be very good), anomie, being ordinary; fear of loss of love, security, pride and control; fear of others’ irrational, cruel, disrespectful and manipulative behaviour, and my (over-)reaction to that behaviour; fear of nature (sigh).

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3 Responses to She Stood Irresolute Outside His Door

  1. vera says:

    Sigh. Dear Dave, I have followed this blog for so long…; once, it was an exciting place to be, wonderful to share your journey. Now, I see mostly self-obsession and repetition. I’ve wondered, not just once, what may have happened. Perhaps, you discovered upon your retirement that all those things you had been advocating, like interactivity, resilience, reskilling, radical community, and others, well, that they were nice in theory, but you did not really want to live them. That instead, you’ve wanted a solitary life in a plush mini-mansion, safe from risk. While half-heartedly continuing your one man show here in the blog… could it be more because of previous investment than anything else?

    I remember people giving you some wistful feedback a few years back, and you responding that you are tired of disappointing people. I confess it sounded to me as a way to avoid, to deflect. But then, maybe you were just smarting from past wounds, as happens to all of us. In any case, my message here is not that I am disappointed; quite the contrary. Sad, yes, but also grateful. I have cared a great deal over the years as to what happens in this space you’ve created, studied avidly the ideas you pioneered or showcased. It has been an amazing ride, an amazing long-lived journal of inner and outer exploration. And I would consider it a personal failing if I just disappeared without saying something. Too many others have done that, or so it looks from the comments. You’ve been a fellow traveller in the best sense of the word. I want to thank you for all the gifts you’ve given us, your faithful blog readers and fans.

    Wherever you go, there you are. Godspeed. :-)

  2. Contrary to the previous comment, I’m not saddened by the development of this blog, or its author. One issue I think blog readers have with blogs is that they like the way they are when they first discover them – much as with musicians or bands – but are loath to allow them the creative space to change lest they should fail to like all of what the artist creates. I’m all for more creative space.

    On my own blog I oscillate between critique of our planetary predicament and exploring my own thoughts/life/issues. I am a whole person, not just the author of stuff other people want to read, and my blog is the space where I express all of what it is to be me. On the occasions where I have revealed personal things I have felt guilty if I have followed it up without also posting more of the critique that brought people to my blog in the first place… I do worry about losing readers if I am not always giving them what they want. But then again, I’m not a product, I’m not marketing myself, and I ain’t making any money from my readers, so perhaps they can patiently wait for my next post if they want to read something different? But then, I don’t think it’s too much to expect humility from someone who reads a blog titled “The Overthinker” ;-)

    I appreciate sharing in the journey of what it is to be Dave :-) There are many people going through the journey of coming to terms with a planet in hospice when there is little we can offer but palliative care, and it does something to us – something we can’t control. We are just along for the ride, and I, for one, think it helps to see how others are coping with the ride.

    Cheers for sharing :-)

  3. Mike Marinos says:

    Thanks Dave for this post and this record of your journey. The whole grief thing? I was definitely opposed to it as a contrived and silly middle class luxury – until it seeped into my life 6 months ago. Luckily at the same time I came into contact with the work of Stephen Jenkinson and Orphan Wisdom Farm. Grief is rooted in self examination and personal courage. It is a skill that has to be learnt and it is required of us to be human. How surprising.
    Looking forward to the conjuring.

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