Seems there is always more to say. I was reminded of this by (among other things) the varied and valued responses to my last post, which between them show that you don’t have to look far to find an alternative perspective. It’s time to try one, here.
While I’ve spent many words on Vivid describing how modern industrial civilisation has evolved to stop us from living life vividly, I have admittedly devoted less energy to ideas for developing the attitudes and actions that might help counter our culture’s numbing effects.
Now, my own energy levels having bottomed out (with the exorcism of the remaining hope I’d been nursing that our global problems, in all their magnitude and depth, might be amenable to small-scale projects created by privileged people operating from within the safety of, and according to the rules of industrial capitalism), it’s time to climb back up and look at the view afresh.
Funnily enough, small-scale community actions seem more appealing after the down-time, probably because (post-exorcism) I no longer expect them to solve anything.
It’s an interesting exercise to apply that famous quote from Einstein: that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. It leads naturally to the conclusion that the solution to our planetary crisis will come from a change in our way of thinking. So, for example, some of us try to think local instead of global. But then others (like me) wonder why things look largely the same. Ah, we surmise, it’s because we haven’t changed our thinking on the right scale: we must change it more fundamentally, more far-reachingly, more deeply. (Which is precisely where I ended up: see the closing statements of last post).
This is valid, but is still missing something. To find the something, we can try challenging an assumption implicit in the process of applying the statement.
What I mean is that perhaps we should question not just the kind of thinking that’s needed to solve the problem, but the idea that we should be solving a problem at all.
We are faced not so much with a problem to be solved as with an intractable conundrum that must be assimilated as a defining feature of what we are as humans and what we were always going to be. It is more a rite of passage through which we must pass as a species; a predicament that we must face.
At this stage it’s hard to know whether we should be reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Brave New World, Garden Planet or something else entirely by way of preparation; whichever your predilection there’s no doubt that we are approaching a dramatic turning point in our evolution: a traumatic yet inevitable outcome of our determination to convert the diversity of planetary lifeforms into human biomass (as Daniel Quinn so uncompromisingly describes it) by way of trying to make ourselves whole once more.
So now, the problem-solving books having been dispatched to the bin-end of the post-enlightenment print-run, community action feels just fine, on and for its own scale, to its own ends, and within its own limits. As one person reminded, even small actions can sometimes have big effects, and even when they don’t they can spread ripples of positiveness throughout their area of influence. Who can argue against that? Plus, if they start to close the loops, even just a bit, by joining up people, land, nutrient cycles, energy cycles, social circles and anything else that ought to be connected but isn’t, they are making a little bit of this fractured world a little bit more connected, and those parts will feel better for it. Can’t argue against that, either.
Yes, it would be nice if enough personal transformations combined to effect a cultural shift; or if transition towns became the new normal; or if a green new deal at national level might grow enough teeth to stop pollution, iron out social inequity, allow local self-governance and provide life-enhancing employment for all, and it’s a shame that none of this is likely to come true. But I’m open to the possibility that all these things, in their own way, are the first signs that people are finding ways to explore and express a different conception of reality. The ability to do this will be key to coping with the rite of passage that looms. How things look, after (or if) humanity comes through the other side, is anybody’s guess and probably none of our business.
And while it is true that each of us — well-intended activist or not — contains elements of the destructive tendencies of our society, it is also true that each of us — corporate profiteer or not — carries elements of the compassionate, loving aspects of our society. So although the good intentions of the activists are, for sure, largely drowned out or co-opted by the tidal wave of the culture in which they operate, there is another side: that the apparently malign intentions of the destroyers are counterbalanced by the fact that they too are people, often constrained by cultural conditioning and commercial imperative to act out rational bad behaviour but, deep down, wanting the best for those they love — and only prevented from loving more widely by those very constraints.
There’s a cliched-sounding line that I overheard recently, which I hadn’t come across in quite the same form before and it was this: “Always look for the best in people, for if you do you will find it”. What made my ears prick up was the bit on the end: “you will find it”. Not you will probably find it or you will surely find it but you will find it.
Of course. The looking creates what you are looking for; the way in which we behave when we look for the best produces a different result from the way in which we behave when we look for something else (like the worst). Quantum mechanics operates on the human scale, too.
It made me think: rather than (or as well as) finding solutions to problems, how about using human-scale quantum mechanics to explore, express and actually create a different conception of reality, by asking different questions, intended to get different answers? Probe the corporate profiteers, the politicians, and all the rest (including ourselves) with different questions, asked in different ways, with different intentions: chances are we’ll get different answers.
The trick will be to work out the questions that are needed to breathe life into the answers we want: the ones that reflect the compassionate, the connected, the truthful, the vulnerable and the mortal in us all and that might just plot a route to the heart of goodness that lies submerged somewhere in our strange and distorted society.
It’s true, there is always another perspective.
So, when it comes to wondering how to live life vividly, perhaps we should ask ourselves: what reality is it that I want, exactly? And then ask new questions of the world, and fine-tune the questioning, until the reality we want bounces back at us. Life is vivid not just when we go for more walks in the woods, grow our own vegetables, go to the opera, strum the guitar, laugh, climb a mountain, eat with our loved ones or play with children, but when we decide it is time for it to be vivid, because we are ready for it to be vivid, because we give ourselves permission to allow it to be vivid. I suspect developing the ability to do this can take some time.
What do I mean by vivid? I think I mean what life is like when everything is vibrant and resonant with presence and realness; when each moment feels like a privilege to experience, through this temporary assemblage of cells and energy that is us and our bodies and minds, through which life is living itself. I think I mean when our awareness captures a sense of something akin to the hunter-gatherer state of consciousness termed ‘paradox’, so intriguingly explored by Morris Berman in Wandering God.
(It’s impossible to do his wide-ranging and perspective-altering study justice here; but for a taster, Berman describes paradox as “… a diffuse or peripheral awareness … simultaneously focused and nonfocused … not characterized by a search for ‘meaning’ … . [that] includes holding contradictory propositions or emotions simultaneously; [and] sustaining the tension of this conflict so that a deeper reality can emerge.”)
Is vivid related to sacred? I’ve been asking myself this question. (I’m careful about using the word though, possibly as a result of reading a personal ad in the paper once that offered prayers to Scared Heart.)
What is sacred, anyway? I quite like Charles Eisenstein’s description of sacred in the essay in which he introduces his book Sacred Economics, although it’s a bit over-infused with ecstasy for my own particular taste:
“In the presence of the sacred, we are moved to the very core of our being, we feel reverence and awe, humility and amazement, and a profound sense of gratitude. … It can happen when I observe an insect or a plant, hear a symphony of birdsongs or frog calls, feel mud between my toes, gaze upon an object beautifully made, apprehend the impossibly coordinated complexity of a cell or an ecosystem, witness a synchronicity or symbol in my life, watch happy children at play, am touched by a work of genius.”
For me, there is another dimension too, which is all about relationships, or more clearly, about relating. To me the sacred is less in a something and more in the exchanges between things. This makes sense of the importance that indigenous philosophies give to interconnectedness, for it tells us that the connections are what give us life, spirit, reality.
It’s about the energy transfer between sun and leaf; the love between people; the nutrient exchange between soil, root, fruit, you and soil again; the gluons between quarks; the milk between mother and child; the gifts between friends; the gravity between heavenly bodies; the river between mountain and sea; the flow, the movement, the information, the message.
Oh all right, it’s a bit cheesy, but it works for me. For one thing, it stops me looking for the sacred “in” things (“I came to the stones but I couldn’t feel anything – I don’t think they work”) and reminds me that we each create the sacred when we consciously link with an other and dissolve the sense of being separate from that other.
So I’m suggesting that a vivid life is focused on and rewarded by a regular sense of some sacred flow, which ultimately closes a circle, together with the freedom to create that sense, which means the freedom to enjoy and connect with other things and beings.
(Personally I rate nature, people, life, water, our bodies, movement, beauty, art, music, death, dance, sharing, writing, community, laughter, meditation, meditative exercise, food, sex, landcapes, running and other exuberance, the cosmos, love, and work that aids the sacred flow rather than disrupts it, as important things to connect with or through — rather than computers, meaningless or destructive work, immortality obsessions, text messages, status, material possessions, financial wealth and so on (as you might have guessed). But in the spirit of freedom I’d leave it up to everyone to make their own choices.)
(Oh and by the way, it explains why for me, facilitated workshops, constitution-writing exercises, energy descent planning and lengthy meetings discussing idealised change in technical terms held in stuffy rooms whose walls are lined with faded oil-paintings of long-dead, self-important bureaucrats, do not allow the sense of the vivid. The confines of bureaucracy and legalities diffuse the energies and mediate the bonds.)
When one or more ‘sacred’ or vivid connections or aspects work in synergy, surely that’s when the most passion and energy can be liberated. (Sex and love; music, bodies and dance; art and community; nature, food and people; land and beauty…) The convergence of a large number of these things seems likely to give us the best chance of finding the spirit to wriggle through the coming bottleneck and still, on the other side of it, feel able to live a vivid life.
There are examples of such convergences, and they will be the subject of the next post.
Which is pretty much all I have to say, except for one more thought. On top of creating a sense of the sacred in our relationships and looking for (= finding) the best in everyone else, there’s something else that might inject something of the vivid into life.
This something can diffuse or sidestep things that stifle the sacred.
This something draws on humour, irreverence and the guts to rock boats. It gives us the temerity to ask taboo questions; the nerve to look right into people’s eyes and invite them to speak their truth; the confidence to help them find what it is that makes their heart sing. It is the deep commitment to a disarming, generous, persistent, anarchic, rebellious, beautiful search for honesty. Combined with the occasional bout of silliness.