02 February 2011

How to get to Carnegie Hall...

I have now written several things on the 'oracle' and on 'mental models' which all seem so bad that I don't know what to do with them. I am going to assay another on the Tarot and the I Ching, but I wanted to say what I feel hampers those other pieces first, and that will require a small piece itself. When I begin to write them I notice a tendency in myself to try to explain where my feelings about the topic come from. I make some attempt to situate the subject within a larger systemic framework. The difficulty in both cases is one of recursion. Both topics themselves are specific sorts of frameworks and a means for understanding such frameworks. In talking about them it can seem necessary to me to lay out the specifics of that, which turns out to be very difficult and hard to read. This is difficult not because it can't be done, but rather because it simply takes pages and pages before I feel I can even get to the subject. I realize I will have to go back and re-work this as well, but I plan to post it as it is and ask your patience and tolerance... I pretend to feel better about this knowing that if you are reading any of this that it is by your choice you are doing so... and I will hold you to that. This is rambling, mostly incoherent, deeply flawed and perhaps not so useful in any real way, but I assure you it is much better than the 5 or 6 other things I have been trying to write.

In the case of the 'oracle' it seems necessary to me to create a kind of taxonomy of ways of relating to and making meaning out of the oracular endeavor. In order to do that it seems necessary to dive into developmental models of the self. In order to do that it seems necessary to explore a diverse set of teachings and frames that are esoteric to say the least. I do not assume that people are familiar with such teachings and frames, though I have no real evidence for such an assumption. I do not assume that I necessarily understand such frames. So in addition to the recursive challenge, which leaves me even less intelligible than usual, there is also the question of 'authorization.' I do not have any authorization whatsoever and do not feel particularly self authorized. I do not even want to be authorized. This makes it difficult to author something. I find that for myself I am far more interested in a kind of self-verification that serves as a basis for self-authorization. In that process it seems necessary to me to actively move in one's own life from the conceptual to the lived. This is a process of bringing something that might be a concept or interesting idea into the domain of something that is lived in one's life, as a practice, at the very least.

What we are considering is how exactly something moves from an interesting idea to an actual practice or something that can be considered a realized or lived aspect of one's life.

Mental models, the oracle, dialogue, etc. at some point are all just interesting ideas, at best.  How do they become 'real' in my life and what is involved in that.  There are several models for this.  In one model we might distinguish between naming something, being able to recognize something and authoring something. At the level of naming the model or idea is just a concept.  We may have memorized something about it and be able to reproduce that information.  This can be a kind of 'dangerous' moment of practice since we tend to want to enforce our memorized ideas and can relate to them in a right/wrong moralistic sense.  We learn active listening or non-violent communication and then begin to violently punish people who are not adhering to our memorized and technical understanding of these things.  At a certain point we might begin to recognize the presence of the active model in our own lives and in the world around us.  This is the moment when the idea, as such, begins to migrate into something that more resembles a lived practice.  We are on the edge of being able to assume a kind of responsibility for our own participation in the idea.  Choice about our enactment begins to emerge, but is not fully realized.  Eventually, in the sense of this as a developmental process, we can self author what was originally an idea.  Imagine a progression from memorized scales and chord progressions, through the ability to hear and reproduce these, to finally being able to improvise and author music yourself and with others.  We essentially become fluent.

Another way this is talked about is the model of 'knowing that you don't know,' 'knowing that you know,' 'not know that you know,' and 'not knowing that you don't know.'  Or sometimes this is talked about as 'conscious competency,' 'conscious incompetency,'unconscious incompetency, and 'unconscious competency.'

These models are themselves all descriptive or an imagined process and are themselves initially just an interesting idea.  As such people take different approaches to learning based on these.  Many systems of learning are based on the rote repetition of something until it becomes a motor skill, neurologically habituated or some such.  This can work of course and is even necessary, but from my point of view this sort of process is insufficient.  One of the places a distinction is made is in martial arts when people refer to internal and external martial arts.  In the external martial art we might practice a punch or some discrete application again and again until it is natural to us.  It becomes muscle memory.  Then when in a circumstance that matches this motion we 'automatically' carry it out. The factors that determine our success in the execution of the now natural mode are things like speed, mass, etc.  Though of course this is incredibly useful and constitutes a mastery of sorts, it also has some problematic areas.  The motion is of a piece.  Consider a punch.  In the mind of the practitioner it starts a certain place and way and finishes a certain place and way.  The whole of that is understood as a punch and is the 'technique' that has been mastered.  In many ways it is related to as an irreducible particle.  One must have a sort of prefigured interpretation of events that allows the reductionist view of a 'punch' to be meaningful.  We therefore have an optionality of techniques, perhaps based on principles.  The is essentially a process of naming and recognition.

The premise of an 'internal' martial art (neijia, 內家) is quite different.  The principle is 'first consciousness, then chi (energy), then matter'.  Though of course 'practice' is required for this, and that practice can indeed externally manifest in a way that is more or less indistinguishable from an external art (weijia, 外家) the context for the practice is very different.  My initial research in China was looking into how modern ideologies such as Marxism and Capitalism were effecting these practices.  Marxism in particular is based on the assumption that matter is prior to consciousness.  The highest forms of neijia are formless.  What occurs is moment to moment structural coupling with the world, however that is occurring.  There is no 'punch' per se.  We are fluidly awake.  In the external there is essentially a 'blind spot' that occurs between the instigation of a technique and the 'delivery' of that technique.  Eventually we can become 'awake' during that blind spot, but again this is a very different process.  The internal practice has more to do with consciousness as a kind of sensitivity or awareness and the structures of manifestation fluidly associated with that.  A particular relationship is not insisted upon, though since in this example we are also consciously structurally coupled with the world as a whole, we attend to structural integrity and balance.  For the most part the previous models I have pointed to for how a 'concept' becomes something real and lived in one's own life do not apply.  We are not coming to some, any, moment with a mind that is pre-divided.  There is often an argument about which is 'better' neijia, or wiejia.  This is a silly argument in my opinion, since the use orientation and context are so different.  Both have their own consequences.

There is an additional complication in this question of how something moves from concept to something lived.  We, most of us, suffer in this moment a kind of confusion about the abstract and the real.  Much of what we view as absolutely real and necessary is completely abstract and unnecessary.  Much of what we view as abstract is quite real.  This is easiest to understand in the context of business perhaps.  When entering a business environment or a human system that calls itself a business I often inquire about this.  I try to determine what people are treating as real.  What do they view as necessity?  What is the basis for decisions?  To oversimplify, 'money' is the basis for this reality in many cases.  I suspect to lose a few of you here.  In my view there is nothing less real than money.  In its current, debt based form, it is a recent and completely abstract invention.  It is the proxy for many things that are much more real, though we view them as less tangible.  We are confused.  It is not that money does not have 'impact' on our lives.  All of that impact is a construction.  

I was in a meeting with the executive team for an international corporation in which the said they had a 'shortfall' of USD$4 billion dollars that they had to make up.  Look at that sentence.  To them this was not only a big problem, but also self evident.  I told them this was a complete illusion and that there was no $4 billion shortfall.  It did not actually exist.  After getting over their hilarity, dismissal, offense and outrage at my statement, they asked me about it.  I asked them to tell me exactly how they had arrived at such a figure.  In essence they had compared themselves to like companies and the value and growth of those companies and then looked at their own performance and determined that they were $4 billion behind.  OH NO!  We are $4 billion behind! Tighten your belts!  Man the torpedoes!  Sharpen the plows, or swords or whatever the heck we are supposed to sharpen, just get on it!!! Really.  Perhaps you are persuaded as well of their case?

What are the assumptions?  Assumption number one is that some self-identified "we", as corporation,  should be in existence and remain in in existence in some particular way.  The particular people in the conversation are also vested in the survival of the corporate 'we' and self-identifying in that way, explicitly and implicitly.  Is all this abstract or real?  It is abstract in the extreme.  "Things" go out of existence.  Their form is constantly, constantly changing.  We create abstractions to defend against this.  At the level of any conditionality, that is, when not considering a totality, 'it' is all changing all the time.  The overwhelming reality of organizations and individuals is that they go out of existence.  Is this subject to debate in some way?  It is a completely artificial abstraction to insist on something else.  Secondly, in this case they are insisting on and assuming not only on perpetuity of existence, but also a kind of limitless growth and a specificity of identity defined (abstractly) by a market place tied to an abstractly valued commodity.  There is no question at all of whether we want to continue to exist or exist in this way. There is no real question about the consequences of successfully addressing the $4 billion shortfall.  Un-askable.  There is no real question as to whether we wish to continue to exist in this form, wherein a created $4 billion shortfall is a constructed consequence that occurs as necessary.  The perhaps not so subtle difference here is a shift from the entire construct of a $4 billion shortfall as a self evident necessity to something we are actively generating and choosing.  That is, it is a shift from pretending that the self generated context of metaphorical survival is a priorly given condition to understanding our role in, and the consequences of, authoring and participating in such a context.  In this particular case, as you might imagine, their are very real consequences on human beings, the eco-system, and bio-systems of the planet.  You have all seen and felt consequences of this particular conversation in that particular corporation in your lives.

It is probably too much, but perhaps we could take an example of a specific practice and wander through it a bit, in a messy, disorganized fashion together?

Consider the notion of 'unconditional positive regard.'  As a concept this means to assume that the actions of anyone at any moment have a positive intent in the world as they understand it.  It means that our actions are correlated with the future as we imagine it.  That future itself can have all sorts of different qualities.  It might be an extrapolation of some memory or even something that is habituated.  If we understand that all conceptual thinking and perceptual thinking is a process and so a process in and of memory, then the future is in almost all cases something remembered.  In this sense the context of action might be tradition, or ethics.  In this sense it might be past based.  It might be a construction arising from a kind of ideation.  We typically call this vision, itself often a complex construct.  It might be a procedural or predictive future and even technical.  Such a future might be given by some notion of survival, asserted as a kind of necessity and based on a constructed identity, that itself seems neither constructed nor conceptual.  A future might arise from a qualitative or even formless context.  That might be fixed or emergent.  All of these aspects might create the context for us in which our actions become meaningful.  We might ask about the fundamental, starting proposition for such processes of memory that in turn generate the context for action.  In what context, if any, are such processes of thought and memory taking place, as we understand that?

These involve the metaphors we have of time and self as well a host of metaphors associated with those.  That can all seem pretty conceptual.  Our memory and representation of reality seems much more real to us than reality itself.  Perhaps we have had 'peak moments' of some sort where something about this has broken down or been by-passed in some way.  How then do we practice?  How do we move between the apparently conceptual and something that is a lived reality for us?

One of the things this does not mean is that we prioritize the frame of 'unconditional positive regard' as if it itself were separate from us and real.  It cannot be meaningfully asserted as a separate concrete reality.  It is not a moralistic proposition.  We are not in a process of imagining that we should be regarding some one in the world in this way.  Ultimately it is also not procedural, though when we talk about how to practice it may seem so.  Insistence upon the moral value of some proposition (naming as definitional) actively keeps us in a domain that is conceptual.  

I truly cannot speak for anyone else in these sorts of things, but I can say for myself that 'unconditional positive regard' is not initially 'natural' feeling for me.  Even at the level of an idea, I have noticed that it can be offensive to many people.  People will often initially relate to it as a kind of unrealistic magical thinking about the world.  Eventually such practice as I am beginning to suggest reveals something for us about the fundamental metaphors and states we are enacting and animating.  A recognition of that fundamental activity of animation is required.

How could such a practice or idea be offensive?  We have learned better.  We have learned that not everyone has a positive intent.  We are quite persuaded of this.  In fact, since we die, we are quite persuaded that the world altogether does not have a positive intent.  What does this mean though? When we say this aren't we saying something about the context of positive intent being consistent with some form of our own self-identification?  Positive intent with regard to what or whom?  

Practice then is not the moment of feeling good about everyone as some prioritized state.  That would be more like a form of weijia.  Practice is more about noticing the feelings, thoughts, actions, and state of any moment.  Practice of unconditional positive regard is then noticing where I am in any moment about that.  Practice includes noticing that I do not care about 'unconditional positive regard' one tiny bit, if that is my condition in the moment.  If someone's actions do not seem to me 'positive,' then this is primarily an indication that I do not understand the context, or future, in and as a part of which those actions take place.  It is possible that I may never understand.  I may feel that I understand, but then disagree, but that is a different order of conversation.  On the other hand, I may agree with something about another's actions in some way, but this also does not constitute practice.  Until I have entered into that first reflection on the context for what I perceive and conceive of as action, other conversations are not even particularly available or meaningful for me.

Suppose I am lucky enough to notice someplace where I am very clear I do not hold someone in positive regard.  (It is not like I am suffering from a shortage of this or anything.) Perhaps this is particular to me and some offense or injury I imagine having received and lives on in my memory.  Perhaps I have inherited something culturally or in some other way.  Perhaps I habituated some way of regarding that person based on what occurred for me as irrefutable evidence of their ill intent over time.  This does not mean that I then think something like 'oooh they mean well' and dismiss all these feeling and thoughts.  This is not about explaining away, coping with or justifying actions.  Quite the reverse.  I look into the matter.  This has at least two components to it.  

What is the structure or nature of my own sense of being offended; done unto?  What future I am living that I feel they are violating?  What is my investment in those memories and self evident quality they have for me?  The very construct of some them as separate 'other' is already a set up for me being offended, betrayed, abandoned, etc.

What future are they living such that these actions would make complete sense?  This conversation itself also has levels within it, for me.  I will say as a side note, that if you have not at least explored these questions do not imagine usefully intervening in someone's life where you, or they, feel there might be some sort of problem.

If I am able to engage these sorts of questions, then there are levels of conversation beyond that.  For instance, does the action create the intended future?  How does this work in their understanding of it?  How does it work in mine?  Can we test it?  What has happened so far?  If it does seem to create some intended future, does the successful manifestation of such a future have consequences?  What are those?  If the action consistently fails to create the future, what are the consequences of that?  If we continue to engage in an action that consistently fails to create some intended future, what future are we actually serving?   Having these sorts of conversations is not really meaningful or even possible until we have explored the initial context.

So this is by no means a process of telling oneself "I should feel good about people, and when I do not I am a bad person", etc.  That is exactly how such a practice remains a concept and quickly becomes an enforceable ideology.  

Except in the moments when I might happen to feel good about someone, often because I agree with them in some subtle or overt way, or they are 'useful' to me in some way as I understand it in that moment, I do not necessarily 'feel good' about people.  I am intolerant and impatient.  I am suspicious, doubtful and fearful.  I consider myself very manipulative, though I do not always animate that.  The practice of 'unconditional positive regard' is like consistently turning over a rock and looking at what is under it, though it may not seem this way to an observer.  In great part it is because I have all this apparently 'inside' of me, that I engage in such practices.  

So far we are only talking about the observational and perhaps energetic aspects of such a practice, which begins to create the basis for it 'moving' from the conceptual to the actual.  (There is no 'it', so 'it' does not actually move, though it seems so.)  I feel people often make a mistake in imagining that such 'observational' activity is passive and itself conceptual.  I would assert we are doing this all the time in some way.  Typically however, the ways in which we are doing it are fixed and meant to optimize or express fixed, often unexamined, values and metaphors such as: our own metaphorical survival, efficiency, making a difference, etc.  It is incredibly 'active' and disruptive to engage in this sort of "mere" observation, when that is done not at some imagined distance, but rather as an immediate participant who is also enacting, or the field in which arises, what is so observed.

"Practice" is called such because it is most useful not in the moments when I am graced with a beautiful feeling about others and the world, or when those distinctions of 'other' and world as 'other' are not present, but rather when the 'other' is present for me.  

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